The Deal

Life has loveliness to sell. ~ Sara Teasdale

If I had the strength, I’d
steal some, because I don’t think
I’ll ever trade for it once more.
I recall it felt like holding you,
your eyes piercing mine, inspecting
the inventory left upon
the shelves of my soul.
That’s what loveliness feels
like, like holding you in my
ever-weakening arms once more —
priceless, though it’s cost me
so very much of my life.
Would that I had more days
I could barter for that loveliness,
but my stock has grown scant.
I exchanged them for moments
of the loveliness I felt you share
in my daydreaming yesterdays.

I’m not feeling too well these days and mortality has suddenly become my wingman. And, like a lot of people who feel thus, I go back and audit the balance sheet of my life’s black-ink experience versus the red of its too many hopes and dreams, and I’ve found how much I’m in arrears. Don’t waste your life’s assets, children. Splash that ebon ink all over your ledger’s pages until it’s full of nothing but black and the balance reads zero. It’s like they say, “You can’t take it with you.” This poem is in response to my friend Annie Fuller’s Writing Outside the Lines prompt up there of a quote from the prolific early 20th Century American poet Sara Teasdale’s poem “Barter.” Hence, my title.

So Easy, So Easy

The first time I heard you
in ‘68, I stopped as if
a rider pulled my reins and
I heard a someone shout, “Whoa!”
It was my own voice.
When I finally saw your face,
those big hot chocolate eyes,
the Cheshire cat lips from which
came an angel chorus that could
coo babies to sleep or roar
the rust off a battleship,
a lifelong crush began.
Now your gift is silenced.
But older me maintains your
image and voice inside,
where that boy keeps burning his
torch to the nail-hard, yet
cloud-soft spirit carrying you
through your days and mine.
The youngsters can’t yet know
what it means to fall in love daily
for half a century with the
unattainable nonpareil. I do,
each time I spin “Heart Like a Wheel.”
Then, it’s so easy to fall in love…

Every now and then, though I try not to think about it, I realize what we lost when Parkinson’s Disease  silenced the brilliant gift of singer Linda Ronstadt, the artist I’ve crushed on since 1968. This poem reads like teen-aged fanboy blathering because one wrote it. It just took about fifty years in the writing.

The Congratulations Door

There was a space next to him
at the bar and I filled it,
because we have our backs
to protect us from affronts.
Right away, I heard him say,
“They’ll tell you,
‘Congratulations,’ when
they close that door behind you.
But they’ll forget you just as
you forgot the others when
you said fare-thee-well.”
I tried ignoring his sour mash,
but he sounded too familiar.
“And then your dying begins,”
I heard him say, as I turned
and saw a man in the mirror
I didn’t recognize, yet shaved
just yesterday. “You know
what’s coming, don’t you?” said
a voice echoing the other.
In the way we feel when
we no longer clutch the wheel,
I closed the door behind me.
and stood before yet another,
Above it appeared words
deeply seared Either/Or.
“Congratulations,” I said,
as toward the next life I sped
and closed this door inside me.

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.

To Do: Now What?

Wednesday, May 24 ~ The Last Day

1.  6:00 AM ~ Wake, shower, shave, kiss Pat goodbye, start commute.

2. Stop at Starbuck’s for Grande Pike Place. Tell barista Alyssa this will be last time I stop by at 7:30 in foreseeable future. Leave $10 tip.

3. Park in Lot C for last time. Try not bouncing like 5th grader too much as you show ID to guard for last time.

4. Pack up the office ~ one box only. Say goodbye to friends

5. Hand in parking permit and ID.

6. Officially retired ~ Check rearview mirror and enjoy the view shrinking.

7. Turn up car stereo to 10 ~ Play “Road Mix”

8. Laugh at commuters cursing on way home.

9. Daydream about what I should have said to He Who Shall Not Be Named boss on way out but didn’t.
Note to self: Fuck him. He’s there for another ten years, if he’s not murdered first. Hah!

10. Instead of gloating, watch out for cops south of Twin Bridges (Now’s no time for first ticket in 30 years).

11. Don’t miss Exit 9 making plans for future.

12. Park car, empty last two week’s Starbuck’s cups from floor behind front seat.

13. Leave box containing 30-year career in garage next to bags of manure, peat moss and other decomposing materials.

14. Take Pat out to dinner to celebrate freedom.

15. Go to bed and dream of all the things you can finally do now that you’re not anchored to The Job.

Thursday, May 25 ~ First Day of Retirement

1. 6:00 AM ~ Wake, shower, shave. Run to Starbuck’s for Venti Pike Place. Leave $1.00 tip.

2. Sit in kitchen, stare at Pat doing housework. Offer to help. Get sent out of room.

3. Take banishment to backyard and wonder about your Plain Language Project and what HWSNBN’s doing about it without you.

4. Resist urge to call work.

5. Wonder when feeling of stepping off cliff, blindfolded, without a net ends.

6. Ask Pat again if there’s anything you can do for her.

7.  Go to Starbuck’s and see what afternoon crowd looks like. (Too many old guys. Can’t relate to Off Track Betting crowd. Remember to bring iPad next time to look artsy.)

8. ? ? ?

9. ! ! !

10. ….

For Day 23 of my Story-a-Day May challenge, I was charged with writing a story in the form of a list. I was dubious if I could make something happen in that format, but I remembered my last day of work before my retirement. Polished with hyperbole and a twist of imagination and here you have a story…I hope.

The Bucket List

My time’s growing short here,
with so many things I’ve left hanging.
But when your end-time grows near,
yet your heart’s still banging,
you make time to pull out a pen
to make the list you never wrote
of things you need to do like other men
before your life becomes an obit note.

But when you hit that certain age,
and a certain diagnosis hits you,
such dreams come easily onto a page
of acts never realized, but are now Must-Do.
I made a difference in lives here and there,
took an airplane’s controls in my hands,
wrote poems, stories and books, unaware
they might take me to some foreign lands.

I’ve never seen the Grand Canyon at dawn,
nor Yellowstone’s natural wonders.
I have seen nature in a newborn fawn,
and I realize that this is a list of blunders
I’ve made in not looking up, the world to spy,
to live each day like there’d be no other,
and tried making a better me for you, so I
could’ve enjoyed this life instead of waiting on another.

Still A Handful

It was supposed to just your standard customer service call, drop off the mid-December supply of oxygen bottles to old Mr. Bentley on Oakdale. Been there a million times. Always a nice visit, except for the fact the old guy still insisted on smoking while hooked up to his Oh-Two.

That’s one of the reasons I always took care when approaching his front porch, because he liked smoking out there. He said his late wife frowned upon his smoking in the house, but obviously he puffed his share to get the take-home version of the COPD Game. And in winter, I would climb the porch and gently rap on the door, not to wake the old gentleman up too abruptly, have him drop his cigar and *POOF* no more Mr. Bentley and maybe some piece of Dan, the AngelAir delivery guy, missing.

It was one of those winter days, the snow out front of Bentley’s was unshoveled, which wasn’t too surprising since Mr. Bentley got winded making himself a ham sandwich. But usually a neighborhood kid or a Home Aid would at least dig out some kind of path past the house and up the walk to the porch. But not today.

I high-kneed it over the snowbank and into the walkway and climbed the four snow-covered steps to the porch. No footprints out there, so I figured Mr. Bentley must still be inside and made a silly prayer that he’d given up the cigars for Advent.

But when I got to the door and knocked, no one came. Mr. Bentley still had the ears of a bat and eyes like a hawk. He just couldn’t breathe well enough to do much more than watch TV, read and write his World War Two memoir.

So, somewhat against my better judgment and feelings of self-preservation, I rang the doorbell and stood away from the half-glass top portion of the front door. I rang and rag, with no result. This worried me a great deal. Mr. Bentley was sharp as any 40-year-old could be in an 94-year-old body.

I tried the knob and found the door unlocked, which was another surprise because Mr. Bentley was an ex-cop and very security conscious. I cracked it open a bit and half-shouted inside, “Mr. Bentley? It’s me, Dan from AngelAir.” Nothing.

Opening the door and walking into the front hall of this old place, I had a straight line of sight to the kitchen and didn’t see Mr. Bentley in his usual coffee-and-newspaper spot at the table near the back bathroom.

“Shit,” I whispered. “Please don’t let me find you down, Mr. Bentley, or worse.”

I moved left into the living room and found the TV on but no Mr. Bentley. But over by the doorway to the dining room, I saw his potted Norfolk Island Pine knocked over, scattering dirt, vermiculite and pine needles onto the expensive Persian rug his in-laws gave him and the Mrs. for a wedding present.

I had my phone in my hand, waiting to punch in 9-1-1 if the unfortunate became a necessity. I turned through the dining room doorway back into the kitchen, having completed a circuit of the first floor. As I looked back toward the entryway, I noticed something I’d missed in my tippy-toeing in——Mr. Bentley’s stair-climbing track seat was still on the ground floor.

That meant, he’d come down from the bedroom sometime this morning, or, much worse, for some reason never made it up there to go to bed.

I looked out the kitchen window and noticed footprints in the snow covering the yard. They’d come from over the back fence and led directly to Mr. Bentley’s back door. I decided the time was right to dial 9-1-1 when I heard the sound of a muffled voice coming from behind the basement door.

“Mr. Bentley? Is that you? It’s me, Dan from Angel…”

“Get me outta here man, this old bastard’s crazy. He’s gonna kill us all,” I heard from some frantic voice that most definitely was not Mr. Bentley’s old rasp.

“Who’s down there? Mr. Bentley, are you okay?”

“Danny? that you?” I heard coming soft from the bottom of the stairs.

“Yeah, Mr. Bentley. Hold on, I’m coming down.”

“Don’t distract him, man. He’ll blow us all the fuck up!” That first voice again.

I took two steps down the stairs and let my eyes grow accustomed to the dark. No one had turned on the basement lights. I turned and found the light switch on the wall to my right and flipped it to ON. What I saw displayed at the bottom of the stairs looked like something from some old John Wayne or Clint Eastwood movie.

Against the far wall, partially hidden behind the furnace was a young guy in a hoodie and jeans sagging half-way down his ass. In his hand he held a silver revolver and he had it pointed at Mr. Bentley, who was propped up against a shelving unit next to the open stairs. In his fist, the old man held something dark, like an oversized egg.

“He’s got a fucking live hand grenade, man. Call the cops or somethin’,” the young guy I took to be an intruder said.

“Drop that gun, dirtbag, or I promise, I’ll blow this place to Kingdom Come. I’m 94-frigging years old and I don’t have a whole lot of quality time left, so I don’t give two shits how I go. This would actually be a hell of a lot better than what’s probably facing me, though,” Mr. Bentley wheezed.

“Call the cops, man. I’m not kidding.”

“If you’re hoping to make it home for Christmas, maybe in about ten years after serving your armed robbery stretch, I’d suggest you slide that peashooter over here and maybe we can work something out, with my brother cops.”

“You’re a cop, too? Fuck me!”

“Uh, Mr. Bentley? I’m calling 9-1-1 now,” I said, and deeply considered going back outside to my van, which would be quite the fireworks display if pierced by hot shrapnel.

“Thanks, Danny. This shouldn’t take long.”

After my call, and keeping the 9-1-1 operator in the line, the next thing I heard were sirens getting louder and louder. And the sound of something metal scraping across Mr. Bentley’s concrete basement floor.

“That’s better, son. Danny? Are the boys in blue outside yet?” Mr. Bentley said. I peered up the hallway and could see the red and blue flashing lights outside, but no police were coming through the door.

“Danny, would you help me up please? I been in this position for about two hours and I’m sore as hell,” Mr. Bentley called.

“I gotta go,” I told the 9-1-1 operator and hung up.

I slowly walked downstairs and found Mr. Bentley holding the silver revolver, which he called “a piece of shit more dangerous to the holder than this hand grenade,” and I got my arms under his and lifted him to a seated position on the second step.

I heard someone open the front door and pad down the hallway.

“Down in the basement,” I yelled up the stairs. Shortly a man in a padded navy blue space suit-looking get-up stood at the top of the stairs.

“No one move down there,” I heard him say through his oversized helmet and face mask.

“Danny, could you do me one more favor today before you deliver my Oh-Two?” Mr. Bentley said.

“Sure, Mr. Bentley, anything,” I said. I mean, what the hell, I was blocked by basement walls below and the bomb squad above anyway.

Could you fish around under the stairs for the pin on this old Mark 2 of mine I kept when I got discharged in ‘46? I dropped the little thing when I fell. Or you could take the grenade out of my hand, but mind you keep the safety down. Either’d be fine. I’ve been holding it a long time and my hand’s getting a little tired.”

“Shhh…sure, Mr. B. I’ll find that little pin thingy for you,” I said and started scrambling under the stairs on my hands and knees.

“Thanks, Danny. Hey, Robo-Cop,” Mr. Bentley called up to the armored bomb squad member, “Think you can shag your Pillsbury Doughboy ass down here soon? Danny’s got deliveries to make and I’ve already pissed myself. But, boy, this is the most fun I’ve had since I retired.”

For Day 11 of my Story-a-Day challenge, I was supposed to work with this scenario:

Your company sends you to meet a costumer at their house. It’s a standard, nice neighborhood.

You ring and ring but nobody answers. The door is ajar, and you enter, calling aloud.

All is in order in the living room apart from an overturned potted plant on the expensive-looking rug…

I had some fun with this first draft. I hope you did too.