This weekend I finally started getting rid of some of my late Mom’s stuff. I found a few things in what my mom kept of my past. My LOOOOOONG ago past. It appears I did not write my first poem in 2008 or so. My first swing at creating what might be verse was in 2nd or 3rd Grade.
And, true to your present-day poet guy, this piece plays with rhyme the way a cat does a mouse, batting it around before knocking it off altogether. Plus has an abrupt, though so-Joe Hesch ending
Apparently I had to write about Creation:
First light was made.
Second sky and sea.
Third dry land and plant life all.
Fourth sun and moon and stars of light.
Fifth fishes and birds oh so bright.
Sixth beasts of earth and creeping things.
I guess both creators rested on #7
When I think back upon those days,
I remember only one textbook
the nuns parceled out to us, their
semi-sentient little lumps of clay.
The catechism’s soft covers of sky blue
and white reminded me of a sky full
of wispy clouds half-hiding my view of heaven.
Mom already dug the foundation of her child’s
certainty that the Hereafter nestled
behind that star-strewn real estate
above that some called The Firmament.
But black-habited virgins swinging rulers,
sticky gold stars and glow-in-the-dark
rosaries required to teach me
the necessary tenets for gaining admittance
into that divine eternal housing project
only brought blink-inducing pain and
phosphorescent bling. The same as if
I devoured all the Sugar Smacks to get to
the prize at the bottom of the box.
So my faith stood built upon those
flurried clouds, apparitions of such
small substance that persistent breezes
whispering gossip about Fathers X and Y
and one of my fellow acolytes blew
enough doubt to topple it. They tore
from me my willing but rickety belief
in the unbelievable as easily as an
abused and angry boy ripping those soft
cerulean covers from their holy rule book.
I was asked to write a poem on the subject of Faith. I don’t think this is what they had in mind. I want to believe in something bigger than I, in earning the fabulous prizes available for one who lives a good life, a life of treating others as he would want to be treated. But so many of the men who served as the arbiters of the rules of the road to that Better Place, men I knew personally, carried souls within as black as the outfits they wore without. I still lead that good life as best I can, because it’s the right thing and…well, just in case. But that’s Hope, the surviving little brother of a Faith I fear shaken to its foundations apparently built upon sand.
Close-up of sparklers against blurred background, Getty Images
You could feel the effervescent burns
on your little hand, like incandescent
bubbles from a flaming ginger ale,
as Dad held your wrist,
writing your name in the silver-gold spray
of your first sparklers.
Your eyes would shine in the darkness,
watching the J-O-E-Y form before you,
then seeing the glowing ghost trail
of what would become a shining touchstone
of your childhood’s memories —
the smoky aroma of hotdogs,
of drippy watermelon,
the vinegary sweetness
of Grandma’s German potato salad,
your first taste of beer and
how something barely legal
almost always felt so good.
As I said before, when I was a kid, fireworks were illegal in New York State, though we were allowed to have sparklers. I’m not saying I know this story to be 100% true, but the feelings and images sure as hell are.
I recall the days snowless Spring returned to the old neighborhood. We’d bring out our bats and rubber balls and pace off baselines in my grandfather’s vacant lot. First base would be the red and amber back-up light on Julian’s new Buick, the one whose tail fin I crashed with my knee legging out a slow roller to third. It caved in. I was out. Such Springs disappeared once the sproing of ball hit by a wooden bat birthed the plonk of a well-hit drive bouncing high off the Giso’s once-unreachable wall cleared the shattered glass-sparkled field rather than just the bases. Our games became shortened not by rain, but by Miss Mary’s threats of calling the cops for the offense of hitting liners that shook her knickknacks off perfect shelves above plastic-covered furniture. Baseball Spring’s noises disappeared when we discovered the bounce and bump of three-on-three basketball. We shot from April to September at the bulb-less fixture hanging over the abandoned parking attendant’s shack. My dad eventually hung a real hoop, though. I think it was right after we learned Presidents could die, and die of something other than natural causes.
A sunshine Spring day memory free write. Contrary to popular belief, I’m not so old to have played baseball in knickers (and a freaking tie!) like I believe one of the kids up there is. However, we did occasionally roll up the cuffs of our jeans to Major League height….just because.
As my days flick off the calendar like autumn leaves after first frost, with them falls more of my memories. Perhaps they actually are the leaves of a lifetime journal, now scattered into capricious winds by the callused hands of a winding-down clock. I’d have forgotten so much by now if not for the magical talismans I wear that provide me with palpable evidence of the acts that mapped my vessel’s journey. See this one on my left wrist. Isn’t she a bitch? That’s when I climbed a chair I’d nudged to the stove and tried pushing myself higher by placing my wrist on the hot burner. I recall this vividly, but perceive no images, just sensations, deep and scorching. It’s kept me from striving too high, lest I get burned once again. The other talisman, I know not which came first, pocks my right forearm with shiny spots. I doubt you can see them unless I get it dirty, as a two-year-old might. Then my arm develops its own X-ray, showing my maybe-earliest injury. It’s my reminder of what it’s like to pull down what you do not know—a reverse lesson of look-before-you-leap. In this case, a bubbling pot of pea soup. These are hard-earned lessons for a toddler to learn. For a man, too. I could show you more, but these I prefer not to recollect, like the scars on this heart. They’re self-inflicted, too, by a man who never took anything away from them. Just more pain.
Here’s a true free-write. A block of a prose poem prompted by my old friend Kellie Elmore, who asks today for us to try recalling our very first memory. The fog of time has stolen those particular truths from me, but these are my reminders of them. Typically, they involve pain.
Back when life was as black and white
as the picture on the TV, but I had dreams
like Dali and Van Gogh fevers,
I would wake Saturdays before 7:00,
click on that glass-fronted magical
piece of furniture and stare at the whoooing
salt-and-pepper of its teeny screen’s jumble.
When the Indian Head test pattern appeared,
I knew I was mere minutes from visiting the bears,
dogs and sea serpent I’d waited all week for.
The only colors in the room came from
my dimly lit PJs, imagination, and handfuls
of sugar held together by a baked mash of grain
called breakfast I shoveled dry into my mouth.
These days I wake from dreamless sleep
at 5:00 AM and stare into the hi-def nightmare
of dolorous newscasts that bathe my
already too-gray life with their garish gore,
pied bar charts, and happy-talking hairdos
who paint it all into chiaroscuro philosophies
of right and wrong (or Right and Left).
They shovel all of this by the handfuls,
dry, into a head that would much prefer
the company of time-traveling canines,
pic-a-nic basket-filching bears, and a long green
Plesiosaur (an assumption proved true by color TV)
who would come and save me from all this severe
adulthood when I call, “Help, Cecil, help!”
A post-birthday Old Guy poem. Maybe some of you “seasoned media consumers” will get it.