It’s Making Me Sick

I’ve reached that age where things start going south,
at each doc’s visit I say “You’re kidd’n’ me.”
I think, after she checks my ears and mouth,
“What this time? BP, Prostate or Kidney?”

But those are already on my long list,
and we’re trying hard to get them off it.
When they find something new, I try not being pissed,
but medicine’s become for-profit.

What if I get that corona disease?
It can be deadly for old guys like me.
Copays and premiums, all rising fees,
if you think they’ll go down, that’s unlikely.

My Doc means well, she keeps me upright.
It’s the med bills make me feel sick and uptight.

Who’s The Man?

“Where the hell’s Rosalie?” Pat Bowman asked as he peered over his son Mark’s shoulder toward the front door.

“She was here this morning, Dad,” Mark said with a sigh. He sighed a lot these days, though he tried not to.

“Wasn’t that Becca?” Pat said. 

“Well, yeah. Becca was here, too. A little while ago. Rosalie came this morning, though.”

“I would’ve sworn…” Pat’s attention refocused on the television.

“She’s the one who came earlier, Dad. Trust me.” Mark decided to hold his big inhale this time. Sighing didn’t make Mark feel any better about his father or his own role as Pat’s health proxy and primary caregiver.

Besides, what good would sighing now do? The doctors and therapists explained to him how his father’s condition would become frustrating. Then would come the hard part. Mark closed his eyes and tried not to think of what the hard part would be like in light of the past three months.

“Who the hell thought this stupid ostrich was a good idea to sell insurance,” his father, a retired business executive, said. 

“It’s an emu, Dad. But you’re right. It sucks. Annoying as hell.”

“Stupid fucking bird. Assholes must think we’re idiots. If some ad man brought me this concept I’d throw him out the window. See if he could fly as well as some damn ostrich.”

“Relax, Dad. It’s only a commercial.” Mark was seeing more of these tirades all the time. And they hurt.

He recalled how when they were kids, his sisters Rosalie and Rebecca and he couldn’t go to sleep without listening to their father tell them a silly story.  Never the same one, unless they asked for one. Pat Bowman put the “gentle” in “gentleman.”

Mark thought of the time back at Yale when he the cops hauled him in after trying to score some weed off an undercover. Pat drove from Albany to New Haven in a blizzard to bail Mark out and drive him home. Not once did he raise his voice or issue a profanity. Not one “damn,” let alone a “fuck.”

“You’re better than this, Mark. You know the difference between right and wrong, and the law says what you were trying to do is wrong,” Pat said. 

“It’s a stupid law, Dad. But, yeah. Sorry. I fucked up,” Mark said, his chin to his chest as he stared at the floor board.

“Careful of your language, Mark. Words have power I don’t think you fully understand yet. How you use them communicate as much as what you’re trying to say. I tried my whole life to set a good example for you. Maybe I slipped up — slipped up — somewhere. Always remember, you’re my main man, pal. When I go, I want to say ‘My boy Mark is The Man.’ Not ‘The *blanking* Man. MY Man.”

And so he was.

Mark’s mouth twisted into something between a grin and a grimace thinking of that night. “MY Man.”

“When the hell is Rosalie coming? Was that a car?” Pat said, trying to rise.

“Sit! Yep, It’s Rosalie,” Mark said with touch of relief.

“Hi, Mark. You get some rest. Hi, Dad,” Rosalie said as she breezed into the living room.

“Thanks, Ro. Later, Dad.” Mark said, and kissed his father’s forehead.

“So, is there anything I can do for you, Dad? Need a drink, something to eat?” Rosalie said. Just so she knew she’d have his attention, Rosalie stepped between her father and the television screen.

“Yeah, get outta the way. And can you tell me who that guy was who just left?”

This is a larger version of a 250-word story I wrote (Yes, I WROTE!) Thursday in response to Siobhan Muir’s Thursday Threads  flash fiction mini-competition. It was probably better at 250. Somehow, though, my piece won. Never ceases to floor me when one of my simplistic, minimalist stories garners some bit of approbation. It’s humbling and encouraging. Those are two ingredients any writer needs to make his or her next bit of creative sustenance. 

The Forgotten Man

I am the forgotten man,
forgotten by you and you
and, if I’m not mistaken, by you.
(You know who you are.)
But that’s okay. I’ve forgotten
some of you, as well. It’s
something that happens when
we get older and too long hide
behind walls and in our depressions.
I’ve already lost the memory picture
of my grandparents. And recently,
I lost high school, like it’d been
razed and buried with all my memories
in it. I tossed my yearbooks
in the grave with it.
I like my memory of you, though.
I’m sure it’s mistaken and certainly
isn’t the you you are now.
Which is fine. We all change.
Like this morning, I looked
in the mirror and didn’t recognize
that guy staring into the windows
of my soul through this window
of sad truth. I turned off
the light and we each walked away,
as I heard someone say,
“Forget him.”

Hamlet and Prufrock Walk into a Peach Orchard…

My life’s grasp seldom exceeded its reach.
Most often it brought back nothing but air.
If I’d grasped it, I’d have eaten that peach,
but I’d not get a taste unless I’d dare.

Those times I stretched beyond my fingers’ tips,
you would just laugh and skip away a pace.
And so your flavor never graced these lips,
even when you’d skip back to tease my face.

I know it’s for the best I always failed,
except for these times my words caught your ear.
Like Prufrock’s Love Song, they’ll never be hailed.
I just wonder if I’ve made myself clear.

I’d still eat that peach, I’ve never forgotten,
It’s just overripe. I’ve become rotten.

Ugh. Sorry. For two years, chronic crippling depression has rotted the creative core of this once-prolific and not-half-bad writer. Whatever gifts I had, today present as useless mush. If I don’t get squared away soon, I fear you’re destined for more shoe-bottom sludge like this…or nothing. If I were you, I’d opt for the latter. Still grinding away, though. For me. For now… ~ JH

Prisoner of My Own Device

I have become a prisoner
within this body, this mind,
this world, this life.
While I know I can’t jump
into any others, I also realize
I can’t jump anymore at all.
Meanwhile, they’re all
shrinking around me, this spark
of humanity, of being.

I cannot escape from this world
that exists beneath but one roof,
population: six and one ghost;
this hobbled body that cannot
do much of what it once did;
this mind atrophied by age,
sadness, anger and fear.

I exist in whines and complaints,
poorly expressed, framed within
postage stamps or cards
I’d send only to you.
And I don’t know why I try,
since even I don’t want
to listen to me anymore either.

Soon the air will be gone,
this spark extinguished,
these silent songs choked off.
I know I’m the key to my escape,
but how can I turn
if there is no lock?

I’d tap out this message to you on the bars, but there’s no you there to listen and we’ve each forgotten our secret code anyway.

Class of ’70

I’ve lost so much from
when last we met,
chunks of life gone with a
loss of courage and of memory.
Just like last week, when I realized
I’ve lost high school
from the library where I
can pull bushels of useless facts,
yet not four years of proofing
in the fires of adolescence.
Perhaps that’s because
I never did the fire-walk
across the coals of teen desire,
not for fear of getting burnt,
but more for fear of not.

Oh, there are some scars I find
in the corners where my other
secrets lie beneath the dust,
so I know I got close a few times.
But I can’t remember when.
Maybe the scars were from acid
thrown my way by the guys
with asbestos shoes
and courage to burn.
Doesn’t matter now,
since some of them are naught
but someone else’s history
to forget.
Just like mine.

Masks

Our faces emerge
so smooth and guileless.
But we learn along the way,
as those older ones
teach us how to massage
the clay from which we emerged
into a new mask to wear.
Even the fumble-fingered
can become their own Leonardo,
Rodin or Michaelangelo,
turning themselves into
something they aren’t,
until eventually, they are.

Mask after mask,
thin slip fib or thick layer lie,
we attach to our baby face,
until one day it becomes
the one we wear last.
They grow heavy
after all this time.
They’ve drawn my face down
with the gravity of their artifice.
so much so that I wish
to crack them off my
inner infant’s innocent mien.

All it takes is confession
and a smile, perhaps.
This is not me, I swear.
I am more than words,
more than the lies I’ve shaped,
more than the masks I’ve worn
and you have come to accept.
Though I am not yet that smile.
Touch me, friend.
Let me grip your finger.
I won’t let go anymore.