It Can Take Your Breath Away

What’s done is done
and your life has to go on
whether I’m there or not.

I knew this day would come
someday.
I just never expected
Someday
would happen yesterday.

But that’s Life
for you
and that’s Love
for you.

You’re never really
looking for it when
it sneaks up and
takes your breath away.

And you’re never
really looking for it when
that gut-punch goodbye comes
to take your breath away,
either

What’s done is done
and life must go on
whether you’re here or not.

And while that’s Life
for me,
I ‘ll always have Love
for you.

I guess you could call this an “anti-Valentine’s Day” poem. It came to me in pieces…like a broken heart. But, as Cicero said, “While there’s Life, there’s Hope.” God willing, Hope will come over the hill someday with a supply of Superglue.

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Red Ink

After lunch, lovely Mary the Secretary
returned to her desk, where a half-dozen
pink and red, foily and doily cards
stood at attention, like gate-mouthed swains,
each proclaiming at least $6.95
of their undying love and devotion.
On the center of her desk, though, lay
a folded sheet of blue-lined notebook paper,
one edge ripped into erstwhile wire-bound,
college-ruled lace. Red ink block letters
spelled out her name, and when she unfolded
the supine note, she saw a heart
and a message ooh-so-neatly written
in the same crimson hand:

I watch you sit alone,
listening to voices on the phone,
ponder if two heartbeats do echo
or mirror-beat as only one that’s let go.
But this is only a dream,
one many nights I’ve seen,
in which I’m not the me
by dawn’s light I see,
but one you’d wish hold you
how you’d want enfold you
on nights it’s your dream to
be held by one who dreams that, too.

At workday’s end, Mary shoved
the phalanx of craft paper professions
of infatuation into the wastebasket
beneath her desk. But she once more
read a note on her desk, gently folded it
and slipped into her purse.
With a winsome smile, she bustled
toward the door, idly saying “Good night”
to Just Jane two desks over.
“Happy Valentine’s Day,” Jane said,
as she waved and ducked back to filling
her spreadsheets. Mary never noticed
the red on Just Jane’s blushing cheeks,
nor the same color ink on her fingers.

Here’s the first of 2018’s Valentine’s Day (or anti-Valentine’s Day) poems/stories. In about thirty minutes, this one bloomed like a hothouse rose. It’s no American beauty, but it’ll do in a pinch. More to come in this year’s bouquet. (I hope.)

Perhaps Among the Ashes a Spark Remains

As my days grow shorter,
this heart grows darker.
And as I look within
more and more, I see
the ashes of fires I made
with the torches I carried.
In what light still filters inside,
I see I’m surrounded by piles
of charcoal, charred remnants
of kindling I stacked and,
with warm words, teased
to flickering life
the gossamer tinder of whoever
I thought we were.

Some died from lack of heat,
others I failed to tend to enough,
and that one over there
you stomped out and kicked aside.
I wander this mausoleum of misses,
and gaze at the spaces
where heartwarming fires
turned to cold-hearted pyres.
Perhaps I’m just trying to find
a memory as I sigh among the ashes.
Or maybe I’m looking
for a spark or glow I might
breathe once more to life
and rekindle a lost friendship
before my own fire goes out.

Spray It

This sheet of white requires
some serious spitting.
A mouth full of dark words
with which I can sully,
besmirch or otherwise defile
this expanse of pure virgin
nothing.

They don’t have to be dirty words,
though I’ve spit my share before.
They can start out muddy, though, I guess.
My desperation requires
such desecration. So I’m marshaling
as much poetic or fictive invective
as this arid mouth can hold.

I can feel it drip down the back
of my creatively parched throat.
And what spittle I’ve coughed up
is this hairball croak you’ve
just read.

Thank God for that.

A tribute to the writers who have experienced the paralysis by analysis of the blank page and even blanker mind. Sometimes you just have to open your creative mouth and let it rip. Just start writing…anything. And so I did.

Like I’ve Seen a Ghost

Lately, her ghost’s been been floating back
into the edge of my consciousness again,
like the first robin showing up each February
as a flash of vermillion in the corner of my eye.
Then disappearing again.
It’s something I’ve come to expect on the downhill run
from the Winter Solstice to the Vernal Equinox.

But I know it’s just my imagination. It has to be.
She hasn’t spoken to me in years and I believe
I’ve even forgotten the sound of her voice.
Also, if she ever spoke to me, I’m sure
I wouldn’t want to hear how her she sounded
or what she said. It would chill my spine
like that February wind that cuts right through me.

Fear? Hell, yeah, it’s fear. It wasn’t supposed to end
this way, my Civic sitting there on those
twisting railroad tracks. It was inevitable, though,
once she pulled out of my station and turned that corner
to her new life. It really was for the best.
Obsession can kill you like some creature of darkness
that’ll reach out to grab you. Tear you apart.

But then, out of nowhere, there she was,
comin’ around that mountain like a reanimated Casey Jones.
I wasn’t looking for that ride anymore, though. I’d given up,
traded in my ticket for this keen parking place
atop the once-shiny, long twin silver lines of hope.
No, I didn’t hear it coming. I’d turned up my stereo
deafeningly loud again, after years of being unable
to listen to it.

The melodies sounded vaguely familiar, but I’d forgotten
so many of the lyrics. So, as always, I replayed them
over and over, again and again, until I knew every breath.
Obsession, right? Reliving and reliving each note
and every word and inflection and inhalation.
And then, there she was, coming on like a snow-blind
Lake Shore Limited out of Chicago.

So here I am today, hanging around in the same old spot,
not sure of the date or even if it’s day or night,
when that flicker of a memory, that flash of a face,
that barely perceptible sound of a voice slices through me
like I’m made of smoke, as if I’m some kind of wraith.
Maybe she’s not the ghost haunting me after all.

I am.

Free-write (which I used to do every Friday) because I really am like that ghost. Full of naught but hazy promises, empty dreams and nothing of substance. I’m a spirit that’s willing, but can offer no creative corporeality. Which is so weak.

She Was So Pretty When We Were Young

I knew her when I was younger,
she’d smile at me every morning
when we’d stand up in class and
talk to the flag and the cross.
She was so pretty then, adventurous
and friendly, the Supermodel-in-training.
She helped all the kids, even new ones
transferred in from other neighborhoods.
But some big kids mistook her friendliness,
for weakness, twisting it into some
unspoken promise of a good ol’ time.
They used her in indulgent perversions
of power and possession.

When we got older, those big kids
corrupted her, trotted her around, showed her off,
gave her a new face, new boobs, new persona.
My friend became so addled by all
of their push, prod and promises that,
in the end, she’d do whatever the big guys said,
even nod hollow-eyed when they lied about her.
I barely recognized her in her obit t’other day.
You may have missed it, being so busy
doing what they let you think you want to do.
I’m told they laid her next to her mom,
who men used, debased and scarred until
she was unrecognizable, too.

I wrote most of this poem, originally titled “Liberty Has Fallen,” almost four years ago. I based it on my friend Kellie Elmore’s prompt of a picture called Fall of Liberty, which I think was something like the one illustrating this marginally updated version. In four years, not much has changed. Maybe just the volume’s turned up.

Charon’s SUV Turns Left at Number 57

The snow’s melting
beneath my window, as
small streams form
along the roadside.
They ring the cul-de-sac,
like some suburban River Styx,
circling my little world
nine times before heading
into the Underworld
of the storm drain.
That’s where the waters
gathered as some great
rainbow-topped sea
before dropping into its maw.
This world has fed them
salt, gasoline and other
poisonous potions we ignore
shrug off like a spring shower.
I’m told to drink the Styx
would render the god silent
for nine years. But to taste
these shining waters might render
a songbird voiceless longer.