Not For Naught

I looked up from within my clear,
in-plain-sight brooding spot, Today,
and discovered once again it began with
a different kind of F than Monday.
Another week had passed and once again
my life didn’t matter any more
than last Friday and all the ones before.
Accomplishment, I’d never seen, heard
nor even sniffed. Joy lay on the scale
of few and far between,
carried forward on the backs of Yetis
and others never seen.
I wondered, “Why do I stay here,
why do I even try?” Is there something
wrong with me because I don’t care if I die?

Living’s become just moving from one day
to the next, week trudging after weeks,
until the tap on your heart’s shoulder
comes and a voice like Johnnie Cash’s speaks:
“Brother, it’s closing time.
Forever o’clock, no one here gets a pass.
What is it behind you leave?”
We both look down into my brooding glass,
where once a heart did beat, and see I
left no legacy, nor any name to fete.
Just piles of words I wrote for you
(yes, dear, YOU) that even I forgot.
But if you recognize yourself here when
I’m gone, my living was not for naught.

Ten-minute, before-bed scramble because sometimes I do wonder.

Waited Too Long

There was a smell of Time in the air tonight …
what does Time smell like? ~ Ray Bradbury

As I passed her on the street,
it hit me like a flash of light,
blinding me for a second like
headlights in my face on a dark night,
numbing my body and deafening me
to where all I could sense was
that aroma for the life of me I couldn’t place,
but stopped me cold like when you can’t
match a name to a face.
Then I recalled it was the perfume
you wore back then,
the one that filled my head with
the drop and the spin
a certain someone can make a boy feel
where he comes undone,
losing all sense of time and place.
Except I remembered the moment,
felt the heat of your body,
saw your face
and heard your breathing with ears
that no longer hear.
I turned and looked but, of course
you weren’t there.
Just a ghost that floated by on this
warm night’s air, like that night
where we stopped time, capturing it
like fireflies in a jar,
only to lose them all when you left
me in that bar.
One more deep breath and I moved along,
because, like Time, you waited for no man
and I waited too long.

A second poem in response to Annie Fuller’s latest Writing Outside the Lines double-header of prompts. This one is using that Ray Bradbury quote. Now onto the stories that go with these poems.

The Love of His Life

Unrequited Love by Cold Tommy Gin

“What’s his name? he’d ask.
“Does it matter?” she’d say, losing focus
as she saw another’s perfection in her mind’s eye.
“No, not really,” escaped around his smiling shield.

Falling in love — which he felt was her
falling into obsession — was what she loved most.
“So he’s The One?” he’d say.
“Oh, yes. And he’s crazy about me,” she’d reply.

Reflexively, the corners of his mouth bowed up,
as he’d recall all the times she’d run to him
with that same expression he fell in love with
in sixth grade, flashing that same spark
that melted his heart, burning down his hopes with it.

He never thought to tell her the truth
each time she’d run to him like a little girl
excitedly showing a new doll to her best friend.
Because her best friend was who he was.

He couldn’t bear losing her smiling face,
the intimate warmth of how she’d whisper to
him, bringing to flaming life any embers
of his remaining hope, even knowing
they’d burn his heart to ash once more.

“Tell me about him,” he’d say, feeding
more fuel to the torch he’d compulsively raise
in these dark moments just to ensure
he’d be able to see the love of his life again.

An exhausting and exhaustive final poem on Day 30 of my NaPoWriMo poem-a-day challenge. I combined the two prompt sources one last time, using Robert Lee Brewer’s charge to write the title “The (Whatever I Want)” and taking off from that, as well as NaPoWriMo.net’s prompt to write a poem about something that happens again and again. Let’s just say they fell into my creative wheelhouse of steering through love, loss and the the shoals of what lies between. Thanks for putting up with my obsessions and writing compulsion during this month. Hang on tight and wish me luck, tomorrow starts Story-a-Day May.

Love Like a River

Photo by Joseph Hesch © 2014

I can feel the breath on my face,
in waves as cool and metrical
as the current slaps the shore
in its Spring sprint to the sea;
or as warm and moist as a lover’s
sleeping against me on a summer night,
languid, as if waiting for me
to crack her still surface
as if it was ice, to entice those
ripples of movement that would

echo

echo

echo

until coming to shimmering rest
like a sigh on the shoreline.
How many times have I wished
to float with her, letting her guide me
to her mouth, ignoring others’ views
of her boundaries conquerable only by
the arch artifices of arrogant men?
They’ve never appreciated her music
as I have, never watched how she reflects
whoever gazes upon her, be it the
drifting clouds above waving like flags
on her breeze-rippled skin, or my face,
still as a statue’s, as I seek answers
to questions I’ve never been able to ask.
It’s then I realize she’s done that
all along in her constancy, her depth,
her shallowness, her ever-open blue eyes
I’d fall into right now if not for the fact
they’ve absorbed me, absolved me first.

For Day 29 of my NaPoWriMo poem-a-day challenge, I was to take one of my favorite poems and find a very specific, concrete noun in it, then free-write associations – other nouns, adjectives, etc. Then I was to use that original word and the results of the free-writing as the building blocks for a new poem. The original poem I chose was perhaps my favorite, William Stafford’s “Ask Me.” For what it’s worth, this process is one I use all the time in writing new poems and stories.

Whole Worlds Inside This Tiny Old Box

On its outside, it’s not much to look at, just
a wooden box, six slabs of worn, tan-painted plywood
held together by nails and a couple extra screws
I drove into it so it wouldn’t fall apart last winter.
Inside is even less impressive: just bare wood
bearing the stains of rain leaking within, as well as
the outline of the small ski slope that blows in
whenever the blizzards breach its ill-fitting door.
It all smells of damp domestic pinewood.
But inside that dark interior, new places visit me.
The bill for my car comes from Philly,
Bev’s anniversary card from Florida. The travel mag
teases me with views of Nova Scotia, a river cruise
on the Rhine and exploring the dusty red-gold
beauty of Arizona.
It’s an adventure each time I walk down
the driveway in my tiny suburban world
and reach into the vastly wider one stuffed
within its corners. I still get as excited as
the seven-year-old whose world didn’t extend
more than one block from our house on
Bradford Street in Albany. But inside, my
imagination still transports me as far as
these creaky old boxes perched on my lawn
and shoulders can take me today.

Day 25 of NaPoWriMo called for a poem descriptive of a small space. I chose inside my mailbox, which, while cramped, still transports me to places I’ll never set foot except in my imagination.

One Final Shout of Faith

The old man sat on the bench,
chin to his chest, as birds throughout
the park sang paeans to new life
after the near-death of winter. Yet all
he heard were his own thoughts. Some murmurs,
some plain-spoken facts, but none the shouts
that accompanied his life as he roared
from childhood to old age.
His memory had leaked away the words
to his hymns in praise of life.
Even their echoes within his earthly temple
had been quieted by his body’s
decrepit decline. He’d lost his faith,
the blind confidence that, even in the face
of the worst, something good would happen,
or he’d will himself to make it so.

It mattered not if it was an act
of some deity, the last-second shift
in the winds of pure luck, or his own pluck.
Yet here he sat, in the deepest winter
of his life, a pile of sagging humanity
held up by one last tenacious memory.
He rose on unsteady legs and whistled
a breezy alleluia the birds understood
and began walking, always keeping the winds
to his back. Something said they’d
carry him the rest of his journey.
Maybe one last shout of faith.

On Day 24 of NaPoWriMo, a poem of one man’s faith, not necessarily in some deity or luck, but in his own ability to move mountains. Or maybe just find a way around them to the other side.

Last Kisses

A soldier kissing his girl goodbye at Pennsylvania Station photographed by Alfred Eisenstadt,1944

Oh, sure, it was ardent, urgent, but
lacked the passion of those before, like
a period differs from an exclamation mark.
It lasted long, but it was the firmness,
the desperate I’m-not-letting-go
of its embrace that he remembered most.

It wasn’t the deep dive into
that warm pool of inviting flesh
in their other kisses, but it’d have to do
because this was their last kiss before
not seeing one another for a long time.
It felt as if she was kissing him
on his deathbed.

And on the other side, a boy kissed
his love that one last time, as well,
and surprised himself with the stiffness
of their lips against each other,
pressed hard together, like one would
in glue two things one to another.

Warmer, more expressive, were the tears
trickling down and mingling on all
their cheeks. Lips can lie.
Lips can speak in languages unknown
or misunderstood. “Auf wiedersehen,
meine Liebe” would be lost on the
girl who heard “Goodbye, my love.”

But tears speak the same language.
They express love, fear, warm hope,
even bitter finality on the lips that
could never profess that in words alone.
Even in a last kiss.

On Day 23 of NaPoWriMo 2017, a poem that has the title “Last (Something).” In my bleary-eyed wake-up half-hour on this Sunday, this story of two soldiers, each on opposing sides, speaking different languages though feeling the same emotions, came quickly to my mind and notebook. I love when that happens. I hate that its theme and truth ever have to happen.