Better

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I want to get Better.
That’s a word standing astride
the peaks of Good and Best,
while I’m peeking
through its legs at
the unattainable OK.
The relative has become
my life’s superlative.
Medicine hasn’t cured this,
nor have any words.
I’ve consumed both
and left them in puddles
at your feet.

Tears haven’t been a panacea,
a stream under
the bridge of Almost.
And smiles are too dear,
their cost beyond
this purse of lips
that kiss no more. But
still I wish to get Better,
where Good Enough’s
only three flights up.
Where Fine would be
just fine.

That Momentary Beauty

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“Top view of a dandelion” by Angel caboodle at English Wikipedia.

These unwanted memories are like weeds.
They’ll pop up where you think
you’ve got things all neat and
maybe looking pretty. They mar
views of the pastels and primaries
we wish to keep. Sure, they’re green
and bend to the wind, playing
the same tune as those blossoms
in the window box of your heart.
I’ve tried jerking these weeds
from the soil of time, the time
we spent pollinating a failed hybrid
that could never take root.
That’s the problem. I can pull and pull,
but their roots go deep, deeper than
they can climb, and they always return.
I considered poisoning them,
like you did mine, but, then I recalled
the short time they show such
pretty little flowers. I’d miss that
momentary beauty, no matter
how much it make my eyes water.

Rooftop Icarus

I recall how the tiny bits of gravel
on the shingles dug into my bare knees,
leaving them looking like a scraped
old orange with a sample of the
gray or brown grit dug in there
to remind me about the slipperiness
of gravity. About how the higher you climbed,
the greater the fall. About being an Icarus
with denim and flannel wings.
That’s what I most remember, even more
than seeing a larger world from above,
while so much below appeared smaller.
Lying there, the flat of my back to
the pitched drape of decision my climb
to a higher plane offered.
In the morning or evening you had
a choice of staring into that light
or skittering over to the solar leeward side
of the house, where a too-quick move
could leave you scraped and bloody
or sliding with a skipped heartbeat
and then the air-hammer nailing of
that very abridged account of
your existence to the inside of your chest.
Believe me, it is the only time in your life
where you’re happy to end up in the gutter.

Kansas Pacific

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Killing buffalo – circa 1875. A group of men hunting buffalo from the top of a railroad train. (photo by MPI/Getty images)

The great bull the Cheyenne called Pó’otoéné, Gray Face, hearing the hiss, the clang and roar, smelling the wood fire on the wind, jerked his head up from the tough grass that grew at the entrance to the once-quiet cut where his herd had sheltered last year.

It was when he noticed the approaching beast, biggest and fastest hotóá’e he’d ever seen, that he himself roared and pushed his herd out of the cut into the open range, while behind him, the shrill steam whistle screamed as it would for any herd of Herefords back in Illinois to get off the tracks, but this time more a war cry than a warning.

His herd clear of the cut, Pó’otoéné turned toward the approaching Kansas Pacific locomotive, pawed at the prairie grass and stood in defiant defense of his own, until the .50 caliber bullet entered his great heart and the legendary bull that had endured a dozen winters, three arrows, one musket ball and countless challengers to his primacy, fell amid a small cloud of dust and a great gasp of blood.

From his place above one of the first rail cars, Clyde Beene lowered his Sharps rifle and hooted like the still-screaming steam whistle, “Hoo-wee, boys, you see that old sumbitch go down? Now this is what I call huntin’.”

After the War Between the States, a great migration of Euro-Americans crossed the Mississippi and spread west, pushing so much of what was native to the land aside, human and otherwise, often with little regard to any consequences. One example of this was the annihilation of the great bison herds of the northern and southern Great Plains. At some point, it became not only a profitable business to kill the buffs, but also sport for eastern hunters. This story is a meeting of all those dynamics. It’s based on Lillie McFerrin’s Five Sentence Fiction prompt word, STEAM.

I Hear the Angels Humming

Out under the maples, noon light
dappling the scene like drops of sun,
Joe strums his Martin, humming along
his own accompaniment. His fingers
glide along the ebony board,
pressing the strings into tuneful
Cs and Gs, and even the F-sharps
and B-minors that come out like
the ragged brushing of steel-string
corduroy trouser legs when I try them.

I’m a little jealous as I watch
and listen, hacking away at
my fallow word garden,
pressing my uncalloused fingers down
in search of the chords
to some sort of art, too.
Mine is an arrhythmic melody
played on a soulless keyboard,
the worksong of one lost in empty silence.

I heard it first from the angels
who whispered in my ear
the last five nights, while
dark dappled on dark and
my instrument gathered dust
as it lay upon the pillow.
Mine is a solo piece, I know,
but I hear the angels humming
along with me anyway.

When the Poets Got Together

When the poets got together,
it was like when lawyers do.
The same intellectual insecurities
and jealousies, arrogance and aural
daubing en plein air can manifest themselves
in a coffee shop or gallery
the same as in a courtroom or boardroom.
And everyone will laugh,
ha ha, titter, haw,
maybe like a cocktail party laugh,
because we’re all so adult and smart,
so attuned to the knowledge
not many can do what we do
with words, ideas and the courage
to stand there peeling back
the layers of poesy in a cerebral
dance of the seven veils.
Most of us never quite expose
the full monty, just show enough
skin to keep the listeners interested.
Or figuring how big you think
my ass looks unwrapped from this
gauzy ghost or canny canvas of a metaphor?
Ha ha, titter, haw, indeed.

May 4, 1970 ~ Recollection

It doesn’t feel like that long ago, but it is the equivalent of more than the sum of two of the lives lost that day. Believers in peace faced Saturday soldiers over a shooting war a world away from Ohio. Four young people died on campus in Kent that day. So much innocence lost with them. So much anger and sadness and fear took its place. I can still hear it.

A week later, this high school senior and his parents visited the campus he would attend come September. As we arrived in the lecture hall, the head of the campus’ student government was doing what student government heads did those days. He shook his fist and warned that if it could happen in Ohio, it most certainly could happen in western New York.

This of course, put Mom on edge. She never said she worried about me getting shot. I think she was more concerned about me diving into the deep end of adulthood after 17 years in the wading pool. I of course, a worldly-dopey teenager suddenly gushing testosterone for the first time in my life, couldn’t wait to cannonball.

My first night on campus, all of us tucked away in our dorms, we were rousted by the fire alarms and hustled away from our buildings. As we guys meandered around campus on that warm September night, we scoped the girls in their nighties and all considered this extremely cool. No fire. Just cops and fire engines and campus security and girls in their nighties. No harm, no foul.

It was on our way back, after the all-clear, that I heard a cop talking to a fireman, saying that word had it the Black Panther Party in Rochester had called in a bomb threat on campus. That was my adulthood belly flop. It stung a little.

A week later, a day after my eighteenth birthday, I was required to wander (not yet march) into the local office of Selective Service and register for the Draft. A short while later, when the draft lottery numbers were pulled for this batch of eighteen-year-olds, I received number 46 out of 365. That was my belly flop from the high board. Peace with honor became a yearning just for peace.

I only bring this all up because of the date. This anniversary seems particularly poignant for me, maybe because I don’t know if I’ll even be around for Number 50. And because memory has become such a brittle, such a fragile, such a valuable thing to me. And maybe it’s because I’m sensing so many echoes of 1968-69-70 in widescreen high-def, surround-sound these days. Isn’t it terrible and wonderful what recollections of a boyhood crossroads can stir up?

I know now that if it could happen in my United States in 1970, like it happened in a nice midwestern college town like Kent, Ohio, it could just as easily happen for some reason important to different groups of people in 2015 somewhere near all of us.

Sorry, just an old man recalling and thinking out loud. Carry on.