It was never supposed to be this way, I heard her say amid the din of Starbucks. And that was all I heard. There was silence among the voices for a second after that. I glanced over my shoulder and saw the 20-something girl with her brown hair cinched into a ponytail I thought might be metronomically fun to run behind touch the glass face of her phone. I saw the joining of two minds, maybe even two hearts, glare from the morning sun and then fade to black, only to be replaced by little figures, icons with no religious meaning, save for the worship of celebrity and people she called friends who she’d never met before. I felt sad for the girl, as I waited for my overpriced cup of joe with “Joe” written on the side. I guess her It grew into something she had not expected and didn’t desire, a wish unfulfilled, a hope crushed, a lesson hard-learned. I’ve had my share of “never supposed’s,” hard times and bad choices, go-away lines and harsh voices. They’re a matter of thinking ahead into a too bright sun and behind at smiles bathed in a dimming twilight with a myopic eye behind rose-colored glasses. The coffee fogged my specs, clouding my position in the now, but I knew it would pass. All I had to do was let it cool a bit before I gulped it down. You see, life’s built upon a foundation of scars and you learn such things after a few scaldings.
They stomp at the gate,
lips pulled back,
keen for the start.
left and right
at their competition,
they push forward
as the starter
checks his watch,
jostling for that
There! an opening,
and one just in
from New York
darts for daylight,
pounds down the lane,
edging the one
in pink and green
who lost a shoe
at the eighth pole.
on the picnic table,
the victor exults
the first race
of the meet.
It’s 7:02 AM,
If you’ve never seen the 7:00 AM dash for prime picnic table turf at the Saratoga Race Course (which opens for its 147th meet today just north of my home), you’re missing a primal competition that rivals Saratoga’s Travers Stakes, the famed Summer Derby of American horse racing. And now, the great secret: In six decades on this earth, in this place, I’ve never once attended a day at the races. But I have a vivid imagination.
You don’t know if you’re good enough
You can bet your dreams will be battered
So just go after what you love.
~ John Gorka, Out of the Valley
I marched into the park from Madison Avenue,
staring down green-stained grandstanding Moses
as he poured parlor tricks from his rocky dais.
“I always thought you might be one of them,
you being published and all,” I said to him.
Just to bust his ass, I strode past the Lake House,
waved my arms and parted groundbound pigeons
like the Red Sea. I don’t think anyone got me…again.
All I wanted was to look up from reading my words
and see someone in Albany share a little joy.
I figured Bronze Bobby Burns around the corner
might intently sit to listen to my poems.
Squirrels scattered like rolling whitecaps
as I approached and stood in the poet’s shadow.
I read him some Albany pieces, ‘cause
I remember when the city and I had a love affair.
At the end of Champagne Tommy,
tulips nodded in the breeze, the bells
in City Hall applauded To Wander Adrift,
and a kid wearing big headphones walked by,
rocking his head to But Don’t Touch.
To my right, a robin chittered and
flapped his wings in the dirt, so I read an encore —
Whisper of Light. It was enough.
I knew my old girl didn’t hate me.
Yes, hello, I’m….
I’ve been down this road before, buddy.
You’re the Robo-Operator Guy who bears
a more than passing aural resemblance
to that Voice of Old Testament God
proclaiming His thou-shalt-nots at the airport.
No you can’t have the last four digits
of my Social Security number!
I used to just press “Zero” and jump
to a human to share my insurance,
health, or credit card problem with.
But nowadays, I’m a button-pushing,
Yes/No enunciating spelunker scrambling
deeper into your echoing cavern to
a Lost Civilation call center in Atlanta,
Omaha, Jersey City or Bangalore.
Click?? What was that click? Hello? Hello!!
I wish I spoke Spanish. That lady
who asks me to press “Numero dos”
sounds so much more accommodating.
I’ll bet she wouldn’t…
“Welcome to …” Yes…Yes…No…
Day 24 of Poem-A-Day April 2014. Writer’s Digest wanted a poem titled Tell It to the….(Whatever). I’ve had more than a few of these “conversations” lately, so this came in a rush. Might read that way, too.
PS: And, I swear to God, just as I was finishing this posting, I received a robo-call from an outfit I do business with about ordering new equipment!I guess this piece was…destiny. LOL
McQueen jumped his bike over the velvet rope out front, screeched to a rubber-burning stop at the door and gave me that wild-eyed expression of his where looks like he took a life-sized bite of something raw and is holding it in his mouth, but then decides to swallow it, because he’s Steve McQueen, King of Cool, damn it.
When he swung through the door of this gin mill, he couldn’t help but hear burly Papa goading Archie to bust him one in the chin, but Archie, tan and suave and dressed in wool trousers, an immaculate white shirt and red speckled cravat, turned and oh-so-cooly told Papa to throw his own rum punch, because he’s Cary Grant, damn it.
Both elbows and almost his chin on the bar, Bukowski yelled at Papa to shut the fuck up, because Buk was communing with and tossing back his spirits and the spirits knew old Buk just as they knew young Morrison in the corner, another LA poet like Buk, but without the staying power of the pickled old man with the gin blossom nose and nicotene stained life, damn it.
As always, from the outside looking in, I wondered what made these bastards so special, redolent of Cool, like Kerouac in the back, snapping his fingers as Miles rasped an aria into his trumpet, his back to Jack and Kind of Blue, which happens when you’re Miles’ Kind of Cool, damn it.
I thought I’d figured it out, flipping up my collar, puffing out my chest, scribbling on a napkin about beer and bimbos, squinting feral disdain for the uncool in the street, when McQueen put his arm around my shoulder and steered me like he did his 650cc Triumph TR6 Trophy outside–which he told me not to touch–and said, “If you gotta try hard to be cool, kid, you’re too square for the life, but, really, that’s okay…Oh, and stay home.”
To many, I am only a ghost,
something from their past
that occasionally returns
to bump and drag my chains
quietly across their memories. Even
in their presence, I am little more
than a see-through aggravation.
You are a ghost, too,
something from my past
that is always there
to bump and drag my chains
across my sleepless memory. Though
you’ll never return to my presence,
you’re as real as words on paper.
I’ve never been afraid of ghosts,
but their haunting…this haunting…
Red-faced from effort and failure,
the six-year-old stood atop
the tree stump and blew
through the tight circle
of pinched and cinched frown,
spitting wet Bronx cheers into Nature.
Good and angry, desperate and defeated,
he jumped high off the stump and,
on his way down,
a sweet tweet of exhalation
escaped his loosened lips.
And thus, through airborne error,
my whistle was born in mid-air.
Life is often like that,
one horrible failure after another,
crushing the spirit until
that last breath it squeezes out,
and you take that leap.
If you’re lucky, the unexpected eureka
comes from it. You may call that
serendipity or Kismet,
five-dollar (or drachma) words
for five cents of dumb luck.
Like when I cast my sinking soul
into the dark void and
an angel untied its bindings,
teaching it to fly.
Now soul believes it’s a songbird.
Here’s a Sunday morning free write in response to my friend Kellie Elmore’s Free Write Friday prompt: Serendipity. Sharing it with the folks at dVerse Open Link Night, too.