Our Mighty Mite

You came into this world without warning,
like a tornado at 7:00 in the morning,
surprising and arriving a month early,
turning your parents’ world swirly,
and sending us miles and miles south
to learn more about you than just word of mouth.
In the hospital we met and you surprised me
and I quickly surmised, see,
you’re one tough little mite
to show such grit in this fight.
Now you’re growing stronger every minute
showing everyone you’re in it to win it.
And even if you didn’t make it home Sunday,
I know you’ll get there by Monday…
Someway.

This bit of one-handed, sleep-deprived rhyme is the story of my new granddaughter, who was in a couldn’t-wait rush to come and make the world a sweeter place. I wrote it while holding her tiny body on my chest. If that isn’t inspirational, I should hand over my poet’s union card.

Advertisements

Playing in the Twilight

My childhood was rather short,
being the oldest of our brood.
I learned about duty and care
of kids while still a kid, too.
I had a gray-bearded soul
from my childhood until now,
when I’ve taken the baton from
middle age’s aching hands to begin
this next circle of existence,
they call senior citizenship.
But my soul isn’t interested
in trotting the anchor leg of life.
It hears sounds like children playing,
drawing it off this rutted cinder oval
to traipse cross country and enjoy
what it missed while Life whizzed by
and I stayed in my lane, pumping
like a piston, in a ’52 Chevy.
Yesterday, I picked up a basketball
and played a game of 1-on-0 like
the kids always did. I crossovered Life,
let one go, swishing it and thought,
“How great is this game!”

And Crown Thy Good…

At the end of the bar, I saw old Mason Snyder sitting in his semi-usual ruminating funk, so I decided to slide my beer down there to here him out and see if we could repair the world a bit together.

After asking why the long face, Mase said, “Last week, I saw a study that broke down the average life expectancy in all the States and the spot with the longest living residents–at 85 years–was in some Colorado ski resort area, while the shortest are in Oglala Lakota County, South Dakota, where on average, people there can expect to live to age 67,” Mase said.

“Beyond the obvious disparity, is that what’s pissing you off so much?” I asked.

Mase had a long pull on his Bud, took a deep breath and said, “I saw some news bunny ask if the lives of Oglala Lakota County residents there were so short there because they died of boredom out there in the high plains.”

“Uh oh,” I said, knowing the righteous wrath coming in three, two,….

“Yeah, honey, the type of boredom that sets in where you have no prospects to change your life from the grinding poverty of being members of families who’ve essentially been prisoners of war for a century and a half. The type of boredom that drives people to drink and drug themselves into oblivion because they lost the home version of the Manifest Destiny game show. The type of boredom that causes kids on the Pine Ridge Reservation to kill themselves at a ridiculously high rate,” Mase said in his indignant and borderline angry tone when he talked about the treatment of America’s native people.

“That’s pretty tragic,” I said, feeling both sad and guilty watching Mase, who was of mixed Navaho and German heritage, take another gulp of his beer and the breath to go on.

“Oh, and by the way, Miss Talking Hairdo, that average life expectancy was for the whole of Oglala Lakota County, where
the numbers just a few years ago for Pine Ridge Reservation residents only were 52 years for women and fuckin’ 48 for men– 48 years of age and done,” Mase said, spun on his stool and stalked out the bar entrance.

“What the hell was Big Chief Bottom-of-the-Bottle going on about?” Charlie the bartender asked me in the wake of Mase’s diatribe on the mistreatment of red folks by the sorry-ass  Great White (absentee) Father over the years.

“C’mon we’re as guilty as any White Americans in not doing enough–or anything–to help these fellow Americans live better, safer, healthier lives,” I said in my own Mase-stoked righteously indignant tone.

“Yeah, well you tell him for me if he–and you, for that matter–expects to get his firewater in my joint anymore, he’d better keep it down or, better yet, take his whiny shit to some liberal fern bar, ’cause us real Americans don’t want to hear it,” Charlie said, flipping the channel from the fifth inning in Cleveland of another one-sided Mets matinee loss over to Fox News Channel.

A poor pass at my Day 24 effort for Story-A-Day May. The prompt was to write a “Sonnet Story,” one with 14 sentences and carried the sonnet structure, save for no rhyming or anything like that. Just twelve sentences of any length, with or without rhyme or meter. I don’t think I hit the mark of a Petrarchan nor Shakespearean sonnet, but at least it’s written and the data is absolutely correct…and shameful. 

Tomorrow, Yesterday and Today

As she flumped down onto the macramé throw covering her grandmother’s old sofa and clicked on the television, Alice Ann Gibbons was thankful for the bag of Cheetos, the can of Dr. Pepper and the coming escape from reality in the new show she’d discovered on channel 66.

She didn’t know its title because it was always on and never broke for commercials, which made offloading that Dr. Pepper a last-second decision. She could barely tear her eyes from the screen while she had it on, and she had it on every day now.

It’d been another day at Jackson Junior High School like all the others. One in which Alice Ann wished she could be home-schooled, or maybe just disappear altogether.

Things weren’t much easier in elementary school, where the kids always teased her about her too-big nose and too-little eyes, but junior high school had become agony. This was where she’d been shoved into the interior of more lockers than a week’s worth of bologna sandwiches. Where whispers and giggles about her thick-lensed glasses became jeers and howls while they were tossed about the classroom. Where the choice left to a sensitive 13-year-old girl of being bullied every day or totally shunned and isolated was never a decision. She was either or both and never by her own choice.

But here on the saggy old couch in her grandmother’s basement, where she’d always spent her after-school afternoons and early evenings waiting for her grandmother to get home, she would always read teen urban fantasy books, books about teen heroines in dystopian societies and science fiction novels with spunky girl lead characters. All the type of girls she longed to be, but knew she never would.

One afternoon, having finished her latest book and with nothing left to read, Alice Ann turned on the television and clicked through the channels, hoping against hope she’d find something as interesting and full of imaginative possibilities as her books. Her grandmother’s basic cable service offered a quite limited menu of options during the hours: comedy reruns, twenty-year-old crime dramas, cable news, vapid teen and tween shows and alleged reality tv programs. She went from channel 0 to 60, the end of Grandma Gibbons’ basic cable tier, but kept her thumb on the clicker, flipping through five channels of snow and white noise until it hit channel 66.

There she saw a girl her own age staring into the camera as if she was looking directly at Alice Ann. She usually was dressed in tight-fitting outfits of stretchy material that Alice Ann would be embarrassed to where, but intrigued her nonetheless.

“What in the world is this thing?” Alice Ann said to herself the first three afternoons she watched. She’d watch the girl push buttons with her thumbs on the surface of, and talk into, a shiny flat instrument as thin as a third of a deck of cards. She’d see the girl, whose name she learned was Allie, look right at Alice Ann but talk to girls named Bella and Quinn. And sometimes the room would be empty, save for the flashing of lights and the gurgle of Allie’s aquarium.

But on the fifth afternoon, Alice Ann’s natural curiosity hit a wall when three things happened.

First, Allie started typing into a keyboard of some kind that she balanced on her lap, speaking as she typed: “May second, 2077.”

“What”” Alice Ann said.

“Today, I think I found a lead on my great-great aunt. Turns out she’s that famous author…”

“Alice Ann, I’m home!” Grandma’s voice called from upstairs. She was home an hour early and Alice Ann hadn’t cracked a book for homework yet.

“Um, down here, Grandma,” Alice Ann said as she muted the television and opened her Math book.

“What in the world are you watching, honey?” Grandma Gibbons asked.

“Oh, just this weird show I sometimes turn on while I do my homework. Mindless stuff. I’ll turn it off.”

“Why bother, Alice Ann. All that’s on the screen is static.”

“What? You don’t see…?”

“Dinner in thirty minutes, honey. You keep your Channel 66 white noise on and keep working. Just don’t flip it over to that stupid MTV,” Grandma said and scooted upstairs.

“No, of course not, Grandma. Thanks.”

Alice Ann turned to the television screen and saw Allie smiling while staring intently into the camera. She turned the sound back on just as Allie said, “Yup, now I’m gonna find out more about you, Aunt…”

“Allie, dinner!” A tall teenaged boy poked his head into the bedroom and shouted.

“Get out of here, Gio. I’ll be down in a minute. I just need to close this research file for my family history project.”

Who the boy left, Allie turned to the camera once more and clicked something on her desk.

“Okay, you, I know your real story’s out there somewhere and your either gonna tell me it or I’ll dig it out myself. I know this back cover bio is bull,” Allie said to no one but just as easily to Alice Ann.

She held up the book and Alice Ann saw the blur of a book cover framing a photo of a dark-haired woman with a prominent nose and close-set eyes.

“Yup, now that I’m sure, I understand why I always read so much of your stuff and want to write my own stories,” Allie said as she looked at the back cover. “And now I know where I got this silly name of mine.”

Before Allie put down the book and headed downstairs for dinner, Alice Ann caught a look of the cover of the book Alllie held. On a blue field were the words, “Tomorrow, Yesterday and Today,” and below that it read:

“By Six-Time NY Times Best-Selling Author A.A. Gibbons.”

For Day 2’s Story-a-Day May piece, I was charged to write a story based on the following prompt from best-selling author Jerry B. Jenkins:

 A socially awkward girl in her early teens is a latchkey kid, alone at home after school as usual. Flipping through channels she lands on one she soon realizes only she can see—and it’s from the future.

I worked pretty quickly, but this is the first draft sketch of an idea for a story about as far from my wheelhouse as I want to reach. And that’s what makes Story-a-Day May so damn much fun.

Answering Our Babies’ Cries

A crying baby

The first time I recall hearing
a baby cry was my brother Billy’s.
I was three and a half.
He was a miracle.
I thought it a loud, odd sound,
as natural as Grandpas’s wheezing snore.
There’d be three more crying babies
in my childhood, each with its own
timbre and nuance, a siren call
for mother’s warmth, attention
to some other want or both.
As the oldest, I learned to provide
one or the other, but not both.
When our babies were born,
my reaction was much the same, except
now I’d bring my all, lightning-like,
to their language-less calls.

A man can learn almost all
the child’s Mother tongue, with its
own glossary and grammar, its single
flagstaff punctuation mark, with a gasp
for a comma. As I’ve grown older,
other babies’ cries became muffled,
yet annoying and more easily ignored.
Then along came my granddaughter,
who echoed the lilting lever that’d
pry me from my rest to assuage
her difficulties as her mother’s had.
But her cries didn’t disturb
my sleep like her mom’s. But
the crying of those starving or
gassed babies on the news did.
I still understand their message…
in any language.

Day 6’s NaPoWriMo poem combines the two prompt sources from yesterday. One for a poem about a sound, the other a poem looking at its subject from different points of view. I’m no Wallace Stevens with multiple POV poetry, but I’ve heard babies’ cries from every angle and level of auditory ability and each one affects me differently.

Cradles

furnace-saskatoon-pro-service-mechanical-heating-saskatoon-768x433

They each hold their positions
of conscious unconsciousness.
One on her side, her back, her side,
gently rolling in a sea of slumber
only a child floats upon.
The other, in his soft chair,
head back, closed eyelids a’twitch,
whispering the tender tune
of the chain saw’s lullaby.
The house is quiet, save for
the call and response of
the gentle snores of toddler,
grandparent and furnace,
all keeping harmony with
the breathing of nearby homes,
each suspended from the dreamy
winter afternoon sky by tendrils
of exhalation from their chimneys
swaying in the breeze
like a nursery of cradles.

Any similarities between this scene and mine and my granddaughter’s afternoon here in cold and sleepy upstate New York are completely coincidental. Yeah…sure.

More Than a Man Behind a Beard

P003224

The Santas have come
to the malls again,
carried in by the warm breeze
from ovens opening to release
the Thanksgiving turkey
to its joyous greeting and
Black Friday leftovers demise.
These red-clad stand-ins aren’t
really the jolly one, though.
Just like Teddy Bears aren’t
named Teddy and definitely
aren’t bears. Not really.
Well, they are in the imaginations
of children and those who wish
to hold onto memories from childhoods
too early lost to revelations
from the older ones who still
feel anger about losing theirs.

I wonder if the shopping mall,
sidewalk and Salvation Army
Santas enjoy their roles as
symbols of something lost
or soon enough so. Just as
they’ll lose their jobs
come the 25th of December.
If I was one of them, sitting
on my photo prop throne or
ringing my alms-seeking bells,
I’d prefer to think I’m grasping
a month in my life, mere minutes
over 30 days, perhaps as some
child’s lifetime memory of something
pureand good. Something greater than
just a man behind a beard.