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.

Pillow

In the hallway I heard him tell her
he didn’t like the pillows on their hotel bed.
“They’re all too hard. You know I like
one softer I can smush they way I want.”
I can understand how someone could be
so picky about their most intimate companion
with whom they share their bed.

Your pillow, will cradle your sleepy head,
catch your sobs and dry your tears
like a mother’s lap does for its child.
You can hug it as you would someone
you wish was there with you,
accepting and returning your warmth.

It can be the launchpad of dreams,
whether you’re asleep or awake,
soaring above you, maybe just out of reach,
or just floating there all night keeping
you awake like a dripping faucet.
It’s probably no coincidence I sleep
with two pillows. One for my head,
while I hold the other in my arms.
They console, accept and embrace me.

We’ve come to fit each other, though not
because I smushed them. Gently, like muses,
they’ve helped shape lofty thoughts,
often of you, that I might write tomorrow.
Or they support me while I push and lift
those thoughts almost all night long,
so you and I can wake next to them come morning.

For Day 21 of NaPoWriMo, A poem inspired by an overheard conversation and also with a one-word title about its subject.

Going, Nuclear

There once lived a tradition
in my United States, one which
mostly petered out following
the dawn of the Atomic Age.
In this tradition, entire familial
crews would board the family heap
and set sail upon the Lord’s Day
to circumnavigate the countryside
of the Free’s land and Brave’s home.

Mom and Dad, little sis and big brother
and every sibling within their orbits
would fuse within a Detroit-made
nuclear containment vessel for no
other reason than to conduct experiments
in fusion. In back, young neutrons bounced
off one another, raising the heat up front,
in any season. Inevitably, the proton
in the driver’s seat would turn and
threaten to turn the ambling four-wheeled
atom around or into an isotope
if they didn’t settle the hell down.

Gas stations and diners of America’s
fruited plains would whiz by as
its purple mountains majestically
strolled along in the distance,
each in their analog glory.
Then along came the Digital Age,
where packs of four to seven
were replaced by zeroes and ones,
and the Great American Sunday Drive
went the way of the buffalo, Dad, Mom,
two of my brothers and a nuclear family once
solid as a wood-sided Ford Country Squire.

On Day 13 of NaPoWriMo, I used Writer’s Digest prompt for a “family” poem. Maybe you have to be my age to really get this one.

My Guilty Displeasure

Where was I when you needed me?
Needed whatever it is one seeks
from another when life deals them
a blow batting them to the lowest
point a person can hit, only
to find you can fall even further
when a friend failed to be a friend?
I was falling too. Falling in
my failure to sail to your aid,
beating myself for listening to
the other voices instead of choosing
my own choices and negating
my nature to nurture those I love.

The cost of becoming lost from
my life’s path was greater than
suffering the wrath of someone
I would never wish to hurt.
But that’s what I do, time after time,
no reason, no rhyme, ever reaping
the bitter fruit sown by a soul
who left the road we walked,
when my shoulders were wide.
I can’t hide from the accusing eyes
reflecting and rejecting the Me
I see not in a mirror, but on these pages
I can’t stop filling with mea culpas
and confessions. But now I know how
to stop the guilt before it can start.
Don’t blindly accede to the advice of others.
Instead, use my head and heed the
Creed of my heart.

Day 12 of NaPoWriMo, where I combined the prompts of penning a poem about Guilt and one that used Alliteration and/or Assonance as feature factors. Hope I’ve accomplished that, as well as the job I try to make most of these reflections do.

Answering Our Babies’ Cries

A crying baby

The first time I recall hearing
a baby cry was my brother Billy’s.
I was three and a half.
He was a miracle.
I thought it a loud, odd sound,
as natural as Grandpas’s wheezing snore.
There’d be three more crying babies
in my childhood, each with its own
timbre and nuance, a siren call
for mother’s warmth, attention
to some other want or both.
As the oldest, I learned to provide
one or the other, but not both.
When our babies were born,
my reaction was much the same, except
now I’d bring my all, lightning-like,
to their language-less calls.

A man can learn almost all
the child’s Mother tongue, with its
own glossary and grammar, its single
flagstaff punctuation mark, with a gasp
for a comma. As I’ve grown older,
other babies’ cries became muffled,
yet annoying and more easily ignored.
Then along came my granddaughter,
who echoed the lilting lever that’d
pry me from my rest to assuage
her difficulties as her mother’s had.
But her cries didn’t disturb
my sleep like her mom’s. But
the crying of those starving or
gassed babies on the news did.
I still understand their message…
in any language.

Day 6’s NaPoWriMo poem combines the two prompt sources from yesterday. One for a poem about a sound, the other a poem looking at its subject from different points of view. I’m no Wallace Stevens with multiple POV poetry, but I’ve heard babies’ cries from every angle and level of auditory ability and each one affects me differently.