Maybe Once Upon a Time

Once upon a time, 
I will sit on the end 
of the dock with you. 
Our toes will dip into the lake 
and now and then kick up 
diamond mirrors of sky and clouds, 
dock and shore, you and me. 
This very well may be a fairy tale, 
for many reasons, 
not the least of which is 
we have no lake and 
the lake has no we.
But that doesn’t cool the warmth 
of your shoulder against mine,
or warm the cool water splashed 
on our legs and faces 
or dim the smiles that we’ll share,
once upon a time.

Twenty Steps Forward and Nineteen Back

When I was little and we kidded ourselves about how safe the world was, I’d sneak out in the early morning from the Franken-camp my dad built onto Grandma’s little trailer, through the dew-sopped grass, past the communal bathrooms and from there to the beach on Snyder’s Lake. That’s where I’d introduce my now sand-crusted toes to the night-chilled water and the minnows who also felt safe there in the shallows. That early, the lake looked like it had been spilled onto a 100-acre platter overnight, even though I knew it dropped twenty feet fast if I wandered another twenty steps forward. But I was happy standing there with the awakening waves washing grains of sand off my sore toes. Through the mist, I could hear the squeak of the sailboat kissing the Miller’s dock, trying to make their motorboat jealous. And the water was so clear, I could see the sunnies and bass having the minnows over for breakfast just out in front of me. But mostly I heard the waves whispering everything was going to be all right today for a barefoot ten-year-old who stepped on the hidden remains of a hot sparkler last night in the darkness. I’d be fine just as long as I stood at least ankle-deep, refrained from that twenty-first step without my snorkel and mask and didn’t eat until they made me. That’s how I could stay in the water without a cramp Mom threatened I get if I didn’t wait a half-hour or so after my meal. No, I didn’t believe her either. I didn’t have a towel to sit on and I didn’t have anyone like you to sit with all day or when the sun disappeared over the other side, when the water got quiet and the lightning bugs made the lit-up houses across lake look all wobbly. Shame we gave it up in a few years, when the world and so many people decided to show how scary they really were. But most of them never had a lake to sit in front of that could wash away sand, worries, and years if you took no more than twenty steps forward and nineteen back.

This was supposed to be a nice little poem about my childhood summers on Snyder's Lake over in Rensselaer County, NY. I didn't foresee it making so much of a cannonball dive of memory on me. So I just kept writing and we'll call this a prose poem or something. I'll do a real lakeside poem for you later. Until then, thank you for joining me and don't take twenty-one steps without your snorkel and mask. It's quiet down there on the bottom, but a little cold. 

By Dawn’s Early Light

At 5:30 the past three mornings, 
dawn's snuck into my bedroom uninvited. 
It peeked around the edges of the drapes, 
mute beneath the hum of the fan blades.
Across the floor it padded like 
a big old white dog, leapt up on my bed, 
flumped its head upon my pillow, 
and stared, its breath hot and tickling 
my eyelids open. But it wasn’t Sunday’s 
light and heat reveille kept me from slumber. 

No, my mind now sprung from its own rack
and began pelting me with questions 
like a bedside five-year-old who asked 
the why and why not of certain things. 
Once you try telling a mind to go back to sleep, 
your snooze is over. I couldn't answer that pest, 
his dog nor the busybody Sun, because these were 
our same old whys and why nots I've tossed to 
by moon glow until past midnight for years now. 

The Juggler

I'm not one given to dropping the ball, 
but keeping three in the air is tiring.
Maybe I’ve lost it, youth, talent and all,
‘cause multitasking’s now hard on my wiring.

While I’m centered on one, two can get free.
If I split vision on a pair, it’s one.
But when I try keeping them all, 1, 2, 3,
my once-easy performance comes undone.

So what’s an old juggler supposed to dare
when his act’s become too much to go on?
Best if I toss them all up in the air,
and when they come down, be dead and gone.

What if I dropped while they’re still above?
What if I’m the first of us to fall?
Would you be the one who’d show me your love
like I’d pick you up? But you’re not a ball.

You’re not some prop I would catch and then toss.
This is no act, not some story I told.
If I fumbled again, I couldn't bear the loss!
See, you’re the one I wish only to hold.

This piece originally ended on a really down note. Like death wish down. And that's not where I am today. Everyday life can be a struggle, and this lonely writing life can make it worse. That's when the inspiration angel on my shoulder reminds me it's gonna be okay if we just keep listening and talking to one another. Thanks, angel.

Just In Time

There were so many things 
I didn’t know, 
back when I didn’t know 
I’d need to know them.
Always wondering in the wrong
direction when the answer
was right in front of me.
Often, I’d uncover some 
oblique knowledge while 
the ground tipped beneath 
my feet in your presence. 
That’s why my ability even 
to ask the right questions,
let alone understand the answers, 
was based on the just-so tilt 
of that pretty head. 
Your sideways nod would send me 
loping away in embarrassment, 
a mope who’d never understand us, 
or even myself, until 
it was - almost - too late.

What It Always Really Was

Turns out those dim old reveries 
were only the dreamy memories 
of a man sustained 
more by wish than reality. 
Eventually, though, he realized 
wishes are just hopeful dreams, 
images of someday somethings 
without substance, even though 
they can feel so real they'll 
spur a heart to galloping 
almost as cloppity as a touch 
from the one who spurred them.
In the end, though, it was you 
who turned this someday something 
into a reality. No one else could’ve 
tended it for so long, never 
letting it die, just waiting for 
the right time to bring what it 
always really was into full bloom. 

Worth Every Step

Most of the time the I wonders 
come to us at night as we lie 
staring up into darkness from the 
cotton sheet coffin we share with 
all the doubts, regret, guilt and 
disappointments with ourselves 
for the rights or lefts we decided 
to take on this funereal trek of a life.
Before we nod off, we may retrace our steps
and imagine how things would be 
if we’d chosen the other tine at each fork 
in that road, which is a silly exercise.

We say we love each other for who we are,
and who we are has been forged by those
wrong turns and gutless fears, stupid choices
and ill-expected cheers that came up 
tsks and moans along this route that’s 
led me here. But without them, our journey
would be akin to that of a donkey attached
to a wheel grinding grain or pumping water - 
lives with purpose but without passion, 
direction but no desire. And most painfully,
ones with a You and an I…but no Us.
Ones worth not one more step.

The Echoes You See In the Dark

Remember when you were afraid of shadows, 
how they’d invade your space 
in the sunlight’s glow?
Or was it while you were alone and worrying 
about how this or that might
grab you from below?
A shadow's merely an echo of the shape
of something gotten in the way of
where light wanted to be.
A void that lies flat, folds or bends upon
light’s intended destination,
back then quite scarily.
But life moves on in its petty pace and 
most of your fears have ebbed 
as with it you’ve grown.
So most shadows have lost their powers 
to frighten you, day or night,
except, perhaps your own.
Wonder how those didn’t scare you while 
we cut You and Me pieces 
from light in the park.
Y'know, I’d give up even my own shadow, 
to help you brave those echoes 
you still see in the dark.

Like A Rainbow Through a Broken Window

Back in the old days when they 
used to get together, neither of them 
really invited the other inside for a visit. 
Both were having such a good time 
together, each shining their lights 
upon the other, it didn’t matter. 
They came close, but always kept 
where they came from in 
the shadowy background.

Each place full of rough relatives and noise, 
disrespected girls and beaten boys 
and neither wanted the other to know
they were denizens of such dark,
desperate and despairing places within 
their hearts. But one day he followed her home, 
past the beatdown and the mean,
the unspeakable and the rotten unseen,
and he watched from behind some of 
the same kind of debris he knew so well.

She entered the room where she was she 
even when no one was looking.
There, he saw her as the candle in that 
broken window, the bright spot 
amid all the things she didn’t want him 
to know. But he’d seen it all before
in the same kind of spiritual slum 
in which he awakened each day, 
from which he walked, always focused 
on her rainbow light he saw refracted 
through that shattered window like a prism.

98 Degrees of Separation

I don’t know why it is I find 
the midday heat on this searing 
summer day so very uncomfortable 
when all I’ve ever wanted was to be 
wrapped in a certain 98-degree embrace.
To wander outside right now 
would be an act Sir Noël Coward could 
most definitely write a song about.
Not that I wouldn’t mind being 
thus immortalized, but I am neither 
an Englishman nor a dog. 
Though to dream I’d ever find myself 
melting into anywhere other than 
noon’s shadowless sidewalk rather than
some evening into those not-very-tan arms…?
I must be quite mad.