Exit Ahead

Whenever that music starts, 
my vision clouds and my mind projects 
a different image before me. 
I try ignoring it, but my focus 
on the imagined more often than not 
supersedes that which is right in front of me. 
Not so bad when I’m at my leisure, 
but at the wheel of a speeding car 
it can be unfortunate and unwise. 
As if I have a choice when the music
moves from my ears to my eyes.
And when the last strains of the song 
fade into the first of the next, 
I wonder how I got from there to here.
No, not from mile marker 12 to 16.
Too often, I look for the answer 
assisted by a memory as full of skips 
and repeats as an old LP played 
over the highway’s tarstrip heartbeat.
14, 15, 14, 15…
14 years, 15 years…
Exit ahead. Here I am.

Listening to the River in the Rain

On those autumn rainy days, 
by the river is where I walked 
with only my thoughts — 
irritants more than companions. 
They would dampen my trek 
more than the gentle spritz 
of lisping meteorological sibilance.
And then those old wondering if-only’s
and pondering damn-it’s would
sidle up to me like panhandlers
who wouldn’t take “Sorry” for an answer.
I never tossed my two cents 
into their jingle-less cups.
I had fewer answers than I had 
ready change for a dollar or five.
No, I tucked my head deeper
between my shoulders and looked
to the Hudson for advice. 
But the river just kept running by,
southbound, constant, always listening,
never saying much more than 
the faintest whisper, never suffering
fools who argued with themselves
in the rain over waters long ago 
crossed beneath the bridge.
That wise old river.

Your Present Tomorrow

I wonder too much about 
someone else’s present, 
who may happen to be part of my past. 
This might have something to do 
with the fact I'll never have 
too bright a future to consider.
The funny part of all this 
remains that the only time 
I’m “present” is when 
I’m chronicling these expeditions 
into a past that’s fictitious at best 
and that other present 
which is not my own.
It’s my sole claim to mindfulness
and I’m only borrowing it.
Well, stealing it. But only
for the hour that I touch
these keys, leaving fingerprints
on your present

Broken Promises

I’ve broken so many 
of my promises to you.
In all honesty, I didn’t mean to.
I hope you didn’t think I broke them 
because they have all been lies. 
I’ve never been able 
to keep a lie very well, either. 
You need a good memory 
to be a competent liar. 
And that is a talent I lost 
through years of falling and
breaking myself, like a promise.
In the end, what does it matter 
the promises one makes 
or the one’s one cannot keep?
A promise is but a wish 
not yet fulfilled. 
Kind of like all those you wished 
I’d never made and
all the ones I wished you had.
I’ve learned the unfortunate lesson
life’s too short to make many promises 
and it’s too long to tell many lies.
All either do is let you down.
Just like me.

The Leaves of Late September

The leaves of late September strut and dance,
on this stage once more before their curtain,
leaf-weaved, falls like October from the branch
of which year’s calendar I’m not certain.

The top of that maple, like a fireball,
explodes in bright orange and yellow flame,
while the rest remains deep green and that’s all,
which, dramatically speaking’s, a shame.

Out my window one bleeds red down its side,
like the climax of a drama by The Bard.
So, rhyming these leaves of fall verse I tried,
in his honour, like a sonnet. But it’s hard.

Autumn’s punctuated my years, it seems,
oft with declaration or exclamation.
But the most painful seem to paint my dreams
with primary-colored interrogation.

The Where and What, awake or asleep appall,
haunting me like some All Hallow’s Eve ghost.
But it’s Who and When, come every Fall,
that to this day shame and pain me the most.

This conflicted view of dead Autumn leaves,
despite the beauty they bring to our view,
stems from something I planted but you aggrieve,
since that Fall long ago when I hurt you.

That’s why I still send out pages of verse,
though I’ll never know on which winds they’ll fly.
But ev’ry year at this time, like a curse,
I’m inspired again by that question. Why?

Photo by Joe Hesch

To See And Be Seen

From this spot onshore,
the sun polishes the surface
of life’s stream into
a shattered mirror,
a thousand thousand diamonds
all echoing a single face
I wish wasn’t mine alone.
Beneath the cracks and facets
in this waterway to a final tomorrow,
swim the wild things,
themselves shining or
jewel encrusted in what
broken light illuminates,
in prism’d angles,
the flashing and finny
feelings you’ve so seldom seen.
Few have ever caught or hooked
my feelings. Just as I
can’t spear yours with my pen
or sharpened tongue.
What does it matter, though,
if whenever they see our shadows
from above they dive
into the darkness at the bottom?
Nonetheless, I still return
to this spot, perhaps expecting
one to breach the crystalline surface,
whether it’s floor or ceiling,
doesn’t matter, mine or yours,
doesn’t matter. Only the proof
at least one truly exists
to one day see and be seen.

Untangling the Letters

They tell me that the letters on the first keyboards, the ones sprung into those marvelous manual typewriters you see in photos collecting dust behind some writer, old reporter (Guilty on both counts!) and Tom Hanks, were set up in alphabetical order.

That makes sense in helping us spell out our missives and stories, since we’ve been singing their A-B-C theme song since we were three or so. But such an array of sentences in the raw were too easy to chase down. Typists cut through the herd of potential words so fast the letters’ spindly legs kept getting tangled, resulting in the expression of words best implied by a letter on each end and a series of <shift+numerals> in between.

Then a man named Sholes asked some speedy typists to help him select an arrangement of keys that might slow down their fingers, thus giving the machine’s type-fisted arms a chance to reload before slugging the paper’s face again. Eureka, swift word-spitting without the necessity of too much untangling slowing things down even more. Well, not too much.

And thus the QWERTY keyboard beneath my fingers and yours was born. The fact that the Remington Company was sold on the idea didn’t hurt its advancement, either. It became the industry standard, the one on the Smith-Corona I used to write useless themes and theses in high school and college and the Underwood upon which I first plied my professional craft of inverted-pyramid yarn-spinning about the living and dead.

The typing gods saw QWERTY worked perfectly well, so IBM even kept it to fire off that little magic ball at the center of my Selectric typewriter. And yes, even with that little gray box that kept its keyboard on a leash, my first Apple Macintosh (this was before we were on a Joe & Mac nickname basis).

And then, along came the cell phone and then the so-called smart phone with its texting to you and tweeting at the world and even word processing programs. But in order to weave all those words that assail us each day, we need a functional keyboard. Done! They just took old QWERTY and smooshed it down into something the size of your laptop’s E-R-T on top and D-F-G beneath, which is amazing, when you think about it.

What’s not so amazing is that the six or seven fingers I’ve used to talk to the page haven’t gotten kept pace with the nano-ization of QWERTY over the past 50-odd years. Thus, words I have never misspelled (even “misspell”) over that time can be scrambled like I was using boxing gloves to type into the Enigma Code machine.

And what about that supposed helper of the fumble-fingered, Autospell? That little devil will often jump the gun on words I’m trying to get down quickly, forcing me to stop and untangle the virtual spindly arms that have turned my typing “Vince O,Conner” to “Vice Gonorrhea.” And yes, that happened to me.

I’ve gone on much too long trying to untie this un-QWERTY snarl of ganglia that’s been keeping me from writing like I used to. Thus I decided to “just write” today. So I hope you’ll indulge me this stream of semi-consciousness I’m sharing. It was nice finding the keys (at least on my laptop, my phone is a lost cause) in the right places again, even if the words they built weren’t what I would wish to find attached to the oval-shaped tap trail of letters that passes for my name.

Yours affectionately,


Another Leaf Out On a Limb

The breath of breeze tickles
the leaves into suppressed giggles
of movement, as if they found
these days inadvertently funny,
like thirteen year olds at a funeral.
And now they droop like eyelids
downcast from some invisible adults’
stern displeasure with their confused
emotions eliciting titters so conflicted.
All my life I’ve been in that one church
yet disparate pews arrangement, by choice
or chastening, belying my free will
my nomadic tail hunkered weeping
among the immature or stifling
a laugh within the grieving and stiff.
And so I sit today, confused, yearning
a breath to stir my leaves before turning
when I’ll rattle and fall, no longer
capable of the laugh or the tear, a hunger
for your words to come again, stir my trees
and produce the fruit we once did with ease.
But let’s not cry over what we’ve lost,
let’s laugh loud and inappropriately
at the cost of our failures and joy.
Someday, I’ll sing you a song, maybe a hymn,
of how we shared this tree, but never a limb.

Or Sigh Again

Every now and then
a face appears to me.
It doesn’t look like that today.
Perhaps it didn’t when I
first sighed at it.
Back then, the connection
between my eyes and the factual part
of my brain sometimes took
the long way through the dust
I kicked up in my heart
and imagination.
In fogs and mirages,
boiled up by sunny hope
to a rose-colored tint,
that face traveled beside me.
I’m just as sure mine
doesn’t engender such reveries,
except occasionally what you see
of me between the title and
a final dot or squiggle
signaling you can breathe now.
Or sigh again.

Dreaming In Black and White

I did half my work
in a lightless room
where touch reigned
as the primary sense
and smell was a miasma mix
between a morgue and
a cruet of oil and vinegar.
And I reveled in it.

But to get there I stored lives
in a one-eyed jewel box
full of light and imagination,
accompanied by the song
of its mechanical acolyte
mirror kuh-lacking
and the squinting blink
of its shutter shih-flicking.

And in that captured moment,
my view of life disappeared,
blinded with hope and
exposed to everyone but me.
Later in that room of black,
when I revealed my vision
to myself, I never felt
so illuminated.

I remember those days
more often since time’s
blindfolded and muffled me.
Their visions and echoes
glow radiant, as does
this dream portrait of you
I’ve kept in vivid
Black and White.