Leaving the Nest

What’s it like to be free,
to no longer feel the weight
of it all upon your shoulders,
not bear so much upon your back
of what you can’t even see?
Is it like a life spent in the sky,
unbound from that which would
bring you down among we
who think we’re un-free?
We are silly sometimes,
wishing we were loosed from
our chains that truss us
to the day-to-day track,
expecting an oncoming train
that may never arrive atop us.
You thought you might be free
when you flew off from your
nest built of broken promises,
and curse-propelled spittle.
But that wasn’t freedom.
That was escape.
And the only escape that makes
us free is the one where
the spirit slips the ties
of You and Them, You and Me,
You and its nest over which
all bid adieu with a quiet “Amen.”

Day 23 of my poem-a-day NaPoWriMo quest. Had to take some time away because all my girls were in one place at once for the holiday. Priorities, y’all.

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BINGO

On August 5, 1971, if you asked one of us ’52 Leap Year baby boys what his lucky number was, he’d probably laugh a nervous laugh and tell you 366. Though any number from 200 to 366 would feel quite charmed. On that date, I already carried what you might call an unlucky number, 1-A, Draft Eligible. Like the others, I waited to see where my birthday landed in the Selective Service’s Draft Lotto, a government-sponsored game of chance most guys hoped to lose. When some suit in a suit pulled my Lucky Number — 46 — I was fairly sure I or my commanding officer would one day soon send letters to my parents from an APO somewhere in Asia. At my Draft Physical, where medical corpsmen poked and military doctors prodded lucky losers, one doctor discovered this, and another verified that, which changed the right-hand half of my unlucky numbers — 4 and 6 — into a luckier letter — A. This 4-A spared me the fate of most of my peers huddled close as brothers on that dark January day in downtown Albany. But in the years since, when I observed so many of those guys come home casualties of that life-changing gamble the U.S. forced us to play, I feel conflicted about my eventual Lucky Number. But for one day before or after our births, we all could be sitting here unharmed, pondering the cosmic vagaries and auguries set in motion by the casual spin of a giant bingo drum.

On Day 8, of my poem-a-day NaPoWriMo challenge, I was supposed to write a “lucky number” poem. I’m not sure this qualifies, but we’ll call it a prose poem.  It’s not what I wanted to write, but it’s the first thing that came to my mind. Blame my cock-eyed depression-stoked version of survivor’s guilt.

The Stolen Years

It’s hard to calculate the lost years,
since I’m not sure if I should count them
one by one or exponentially against
my sell-by date or shelf-life.
What does it matter? They’re gone.
I could make a good case you stole them,
with your easy intent to hurt,
with your puerile propensity toward
always feeling the aggrieved
when you’re actually the aggrieving,
with your win-or-lose, life-or-death
binary way of looking at life,
just as long as you’re the one
on the plus side of the ledger
when the buzzer sounds.
But what does it matter? They’re gone.
I’ve tried recovering them, casting nets
like this one to capture my lost good life.
But like my life, they’ve gaping holes now,
through which so much has slipped
I can’t seem to hold them.
And as I sail west toward that horizon,
I have to admit, they’re gone,
and it matters.
It matters like hell.

Day 5 of Poem-a-Day April. Today’s prompt: a “stolen” poem. I just sat down ten minutes ago and these thoughts came rushing to me. I’ll choose not to parse their meaning, though in my present state of disrepair, I’d no doubt get even my own meaning wrong. Nevertheless, here it is. Number 5. You may discuss among yourselves.

Before We Get to Trail’s End

I do ponder what’s to come
out ahead on this long hike.
Maybe because I can sense
trail’s end could be just over
the next rise. Whether toward
sunup or sundown I don’t
even guess, since I keep my gaze
low, to the right and the left,
lest any roots or hoodoos
choose to trip my dragging feet.

I’m not racing anymore
to eventually get where
we all shuck our loads and sleep.
Who’s to say who’s a winner
or loser when we all get
the same prize at the finish?
Did I mention how I try
not to look behind myself
to see which racer’s making
that final kick to beat we
mere stumblers, our packs chock full
of the aches and memories
we’ve picked up along the way?

And while I’d like to recall
the places I’ve been and the
things I’ve seen out behind me,
this road’s been a curvy thing
so one can’t look back too far
anyway. Perhaps when I
hit the finish line, I’ll peek
inside my pack and all those
memories will come tumbling
out for me to see. I hear
that’s what happens anyway.
But wouldn’t it be so great
to share a li’l sneak right now?

Let’s.

Footprints in the Snow

As I descended into the basement,
lit only by a ground-level window,
I mused on my soon-enough internment.
Oh, I know. How morbid, depressed. How Joe!
Guilty as charged. But sometimes I ponder
any non-spiritual afterlife
that may come my way like I ponder those
piles of my life living under the stairs.
What’s to become of us, the dusty stuff
and I, once I trip on a rainbow?
So today, I began throwing away
bits of the life I never really had.
Yellowed newspaper stories I wrote when
I knew not how to be a reporter,
stories quoting me when at last I did.
Books of knowledge I didn’t really need
and second place trophies that showed I did.
Pictures of my young face, aged face, old face
chronicling how I forgot how to smile.
And dust, so much dust, maybe dust to dust
of someone else who one day figured out
we walk through life and all we really leave
behind us are footprints in the snow.

Black, Two Sugars, Shhh…

“Why do you do that?” my girlfriend Sara asked.

“Do what?” I said, since I am a simple man.

“Why do you insist on using that cup every day? Even after you’ve washed it, it’s still a stained mess,” she said.

“Because,” I said, since I am a simple man and she probably wouldn’t appreciate my mansplaining.

“And that’s it? Because? What the heck does that even mean?”

“It means it’s more important to me than some shiny new cup. I’ve had this cup for twenty-some years,“ I said.

I stared into the coffee, black as the nights in the Arma Mountains, when to make any sound would offer Taliban fighters enough intel to blow you away, or even five of your buddies.

I was about to take a sip when Sara noticed more of the interior of the cup.

“I mean, look at that. It’s so scratched and stained, I don’t know what to say except ‘Why?’” Sara said. I’m sure she was just trying to plumb the depths of my male mind.

She was right, though. Its interior wore the dark scratches where thousands of turns of a spoon or field knife had stirred two sugars into it. If we had sugar.

Finally, I took a sip of my coffee and it scalded my tongue. Again.

“Damn it, Sara. I keep it because it’s important.”

“Gahhh,” Sara huffed and stalked away.

“If only…if I had held my tongue,” I thought. With Sara, too, for that matter.

Wrote this 250-words of less story for Siobhan Muir’s Thursday Threads feature. I was supposed to use the phrase “if I had held my tongue” anywhere in it.  Oh, and somehow think of a wee story in which to place it.  No idea where it came from.

We Star Rovers

In Jack London’s The Star Rover,
the warden at San Quentin
wraps a man serving life for murder
in a cocoon of canvas, The Jacket,
to break his rebellious spirit.
How many times have you (or I)
felt crushed within the constraints
of our Jackets, the class, gender,
race, religion, duties and all the
turns of the fabric of our lives?
Do you, too, lie in the darkness
of your nightly solitary confinement,
alone in this prison full of souls,
and dream the What If or
the If Only of your one life?
The prisoner withstands his torture
by entering a trance state,
in which he experiences portions
of his past lives.
Last night, I shed my shroud
of Here and Now, reliving the day
I fought the British on Lake Erie,
only to lose that life in the blast
of a 24-pounder hit amidships.
It was then I wondered,
“In which life do I sail now?
Which will I see of yesterday.
Or will it be a million tomorrows?”
Perhaps we’ll meet again in one,
slipping the bonds of our
unforgiving jailer minds.
I’ll bake files within
these cakes I write you.
All you need is to take a bite.