Close and Content

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You’d think otherwise, wouldn’t you,
but sleep has never come easy for me.
Not the tucked-in for the night sleep,
not the snuggled close and content sleep.
Mine is the toss and turn sleep,
the stare at the ceiling dark so long
my eyes adjust to see shadows you’d
never see. Shadows I don’t wish to.
I’d never wake you to tell what I see.
I can’t. If I reach right or left
all I can feel is empty.

Covers twisted and fallen, I turn over
and tell my pillow, but a pillow
will only echo what you lay upon it,
no spontaneity or warmth other than
what I put into it. And still,
sleep evades me, or teases me with
a veiled unconsciousness that lasts
maybe an hour or so, over and over.

So the thing I crave most
is the thing I most fear and despise,
something in the dark that pulls me under
and spits me back out like words
I never said except here. That might be
why sleep does not come easy for me
as it does for you. Because you sleep
just fine, right? Tucked in for the night
and snuggled close and content.

Another night, like so many other nights. Haven’t written about my bête noire in a long time. This morning I couldn’t help but. 

The I of the Storm

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How often I’ve waited for
this storm or that to lift
from my life! Just when I sense
the light breaking through all my
dark clouds, I realize a new one
always takes its place, carried by
the sighing breeze of my wishful desire,
maybe to see even one of the You’s
who’ve framed my life in lightning and gale.
It always felt like more than
the vast, baseless expectation of some
mooning teen sitting by the phone,
waiting for The One to call, if just once.
In a now-dim past, an early You
did, but only as a prank. Despite my
embarrassment and tears cried
within, my callow heart remained
unbroken, a green thing still,
ready for the future bending,
twisting, plaiting, drying,
dying, in a dry-twig SNAP
at the willing hands and
unwilling hearts of You
and You and You

and I.

This is the first of a couple of pieces I’m doing for my friend Annie and her blog, Writing Outside the Lines. This week, our friend Heidi Barnes submitted the prompt of using these words in the piece:  phone,  past,  storm,  twig,  light,  green. Nailed it here. Next comes a short story. Oh, and that photo up there is by yours truly. 

Midnight Mass

Over the boom of the juke box playing Dean Martin’s version “Ave Maria,” Don the bartender yelled, “Hey, Chet, don’t you think you should be seeing to your reindeer instead of coming into some bar?” as Chester Bonaparte swayed and limped into The Palais on Broadway that Christmas Eve afternoon.

The whole joint erupted in laughter, even Chet, his chubby cheeks red as the gin blossom nose that provided the pivot point for a face lit by his jolly, if runny, blue eyes, and anchored by his white scruffy beard.

Four hours later, Don tossed Chet for getting humbuggingly belligerent, though still chuckling, with three wise guys from the uptown Brockley Gang, saying, “It’s for your own good, Chester, so you can go home in one piece and make merry, go to Mass, maybe sleep it off and see what Santy brings.”

When Chester stumbled off the bus and then down the stairs to the dark doorway of his basement apartment on Sherman Street, he fell against a jingling package left by his sister Katie, who was an Eastern Airlines stewardess on the Albany to Philadelphia run.

At midnight, the bells of St. Patrick’s pealing up on Central Avenue, Chester lifted his head from the pillow and gave a jolly little laugh at how the empty mini-bottles of Canadian Club, Johnny Walker Red and Smirnoff vodka that he’d hung from a bush he stole from Washington Park sparkled in the flames from his burning kitchen.

 

Threshing Room

Square-cornered morning sunlight pours
through the window and onto the bar room floor,
dust specks floating in the box-shaped ray
crawling closer to the window and a date with noon.
The day crowd only notice mahogany and bottles
and maybe faces, multiplied as in a housefly’s eye,
as the bottoms of glasses rise over their empty horizons.

At the end of the bar, a man in black looks up
from his crossword puzzle, its ink, his vision, smudged
from the slosh of his three-boilermaker breakfast .
He departs after tossing a crumpled buck on the bar
and steps into an afternoon as empty
as his last glass. At a nearby park he sits on
an empty bench in the small mid-day shade.

His suit and the paper bag in which he carries
six cold cans of Genny are stained in their sweat.
He empties and tosses each green can, as if it
was a seed to be scattered by a prairie farmer.
But it’s not. It’s like his days, mere husks left
on the threshing room floor, where the shadows
crawl longer, closer to his horizon and date with night.

Over at the dVerse Pub site, my friend Shanyn Silinski is asking for poems like seeds, growing something from them. As I always do, I twisted that request a little bit, darkening it and drying it to something different. Back to my gritty city poems.

After the Rain

Opening the Door
Opening the Door, photo by Joseph Hesch

After the rain, shoulders hunched
and face clenched into a fist,
you punch your way through
the west wind. It undresses you
with your clothes still on,
stabbing and chilling your skin
like you’re bare-ass in the twilight.
Your eyes open wider after you splash
through a puddle that’ll pickle
your feet in their leather jars unless
you find a warm shelf to rest them on.
Red-shouldered black birds spin their
motorboat wings, tailfeather rudders
yawing this way and that, nattering above
the whole fuss of clothes and shoes
and the cars that spit in your face
as they pass. The same face Mother Sun
wraps in a smile, your sweet companion
in this westward walk to tomorrow.

Another Part of the Scenery

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Image Credit: We Heart It

You walk past it like you walk past
the silent ones in the park,
another part of the scenery,
colorless and ignorable,
even a little dangerous.
But haven’t you always been
a little curious?

What would happen if you
looked into its face, those
vacant eyes crisscrossed
with webs of secrets, perhaps
a little haunted and maybe
looking a little too hard
back at yours.

If you stopped to consider
this shell full of lonely,
would you see its lively times
of childhood, of family
of a vitality stolen when
this house still was
a home?

But we don’t stop anymore.
To stop would require
considering yesterday when
we barely can grasp today.
So we walk on by
because, after all, it’s only
another part of the scenery.

A free write based on the photo prompt above from my friend Kellie Elmore.

Transparent

Each day I enter this mysterious place,
where a wizard looks at the magical amulet
around my neck, almost a cameo
of my younger self, and waves me
into this Domain of Invisibility.

While I walk unseen these dark hallways,
its inhabitants shuffle their papers,
or peer inside up-tipped coffee cups.
But mostly they focus upon the wall
directly behind me, like I was
the lens of a spectacle.

I sit in a magic cell where people
walk by and must never see me,
otherwise I’m sure they’d say so.
I receive their messages in their magic eye
upon my desk, sitting, staring at me all day.

I return each day for the miracle of
that small bit of money which appears
in my bank account each fortnight,
and the other where a piece of mortgage
disappears each month.

But soon, I must leave this place
for the open world. Invisibility’s taken a toll
upon this old man. I wish to spend more time
with those who concentrate their warmth
of vision, touch and voice upon me.

I’m not so sure it will be an easy change
from my transparent way, to
this someday life of opacity,
but it will only be for a short time.

Soon enough I’ll be invisible again,
when all of the others around me
will be invisible too.