Truest of Care

Let’s clear the air,
let down our hair,
go on a real tear.
It’s time we dare
our secrets to bare.
Yeah, even go There.
When we were a pair,
not really, but somewhere
more than one and a spare,
I couldn’t help but stare
at that hot chocolate pair
of eyes you wear,
even when you’d glare
at me with your hair
on fire, temper aglare.
I was caught in your snare,
though you weren’t aware
of setting one anywhere.
So let me just declare
I never meant impair
our friendship so fair,
based on trust, a flair
for art and respect I bear
for who you are and ne’er
will forget the rare
thing we once did share.
Not true love, truest of care.

Better late than never (or, God forbid miss a day with only three to go). Life finally got in the way of art. Here’s NaPoWriMo Day 28’s piece, a poem in something resembling Skeltonic Verse, which I’m sure I screwed up. But I had fun running my version out with each line ending with a word rhyming with “air.”

Last Kisses

A soldier kissing his girl goodbye at Pennsylvania Station photographed by Alfred Eisenstadt,1944

Oh, sure, it was ardent, urgent, but
lacked the passion of those before, like
a period differs from an exclamation mark.
It lasted long, but it was the firmness,
the desperate I’m-not-letting-go
of its embrace that he remembered most.

It wasn’t the deep dive into
that warm pool of inviting flesh
in their other kisses, but it’d have to do
because this was their last kiss before
not seeing one another for a long time.
It felt as if she was kissing him
on his deathbed.

And on the other side, a boy kissed
his love that one last time, as well,
and surprised himself with the stiffness
of their lips against each other,
pressed hard together, like one would
in glue two things one to another.

Warmer, more expressive, were the tears
trickling down and mingling on all
their cheeks. Lips can lie.
Lips can speak in languages unknown
or misunderstood. “Auf wiedersehen,
meine Liebe” would be lost on the
girl who heard “Goodbye, my love.”

But tears speak the same language.
They express love, fear, warm hope,
even bitter finality on the lips that
could never profess that in words alone.
Even in a last kiss.

On Day 23 of NaPoWriMo 2017, a poem that has the title “Last (Something).” In my bleary-eyed wake-up half-hour on this Sunday, this story of two soldiers, each on opposing sides, speaking different languages though feeling the same emotions, came quickly to my mind and notebook. I love when that happens. I hate that its theme and truth ever have to happen.

Calling Time When You’re Down 0-365

I remember those nights
that edged into day where
I’d sit, pencil in hand,
pondering how to overcome
that day’s opponent…
every night, every day, too.
Obsession and fear kept me
drawing up new tactics that might
steal a victory once the clock
started running. Should we press
from tip-off to buzzer, trying
to impose our weak will to turn
them aside from our goal?
No, that’s a task too difficult
to accomplish one-on-one. Inevitably,
we’d opt for a passive defense,
hoping to shield and slow them from
getting inside. But that merely
prolonged the inevitable, just like
every other time. I’d crawl off
to bed, resigned to another defeat
in this seemingly endless season
of losses. It’s record was 365-0 and
I couldn’t take the losing anymore.
It was then I admitted, pride be damned,
I’d ask for help. Even I couldn’t beat
Depression alone.

Day 20’s NaPoWriMo poem, combining prompts for a task poem and one incorporating terms from a sport or game. After thirty years of coaching basketball, I knew more than enough jargon. After more than thirty years of the fruitless task of trying to beat depression by myself, I finally took on some assistant coaches. Still don’t win all the games, but my record’s improving all the time.

Just Like Every Other Day

I used to remember
those times I
was blown away,
cast like sand
from where I’d stand
to watch you, while
winds capricious
into my youthful visage
carved what now is age.
But not today.

To my mind, you might be
a cloud of dust,
amorphous, nebulous
and just
impossible to grasp.
Though if I could,
I’d hold you tightly,
where I stood,
as in an hourglass,
and you’d never blow away.
Not then, not tomorrow,
not today.

This morning, a moment.
I, as ever, alone and
staring in a mirror at
these ancient scars,
vivid as a clear
summer night’s stars,
those stellar sands,
sifted through my own hands.
And I heard a voice say
“You recall how I got them
like was yesterday.”
“I guess,” I replied,
but it always hurts like
it was just today.”

More mushy verse from my mushy brain for Day Two of NaPoWriMo. A poem based on Robert Lee Brewer’s prompt: “not today.”

Keep the Change ~ 3rd Street, Albany, 1968

“Oh, it’s’a Friday already? Come in, come in,” Mrs Dargenti would say most weeks. The old Italian lady would invite me across her threshold and fish a buck and a half out of a gold-clasped change purse each week for her daily newspaper.

I can still smell the pungent bouquet of garlic, oregano, basil and olive oil, with a hint of what I’d someday learn was anise. From the living room walls, four generations of strangers, captured in First Communion piety or Wedding Day solemnity, intimately stared across the entry at me.

The living room furniture glistened under plastic coverings, preserved like Wednesday’s leftover lasagna, protected from time and tipped wine. I imagined everything inside was like it always had been, except now the sounds of Papa and the kids were replaced by the voices of Jerry Vale, Dominico Medugno and lonely sighs in italia.

Across the street in the three-story walk-up, six families lived (twelve, if you wanted to be accurate as a census), the hallways cloaked me in darkness while the air choked me in its closeness, redolent of boiled cabbage, piss, weed and something more felt than seen or smelled.

If anyone opened the doors to you, it’d usually be as far as the chain lock would allow. If that lock was off, you weren’t invited past the threshold.

“Whachoo want?” any resident younger than fifty would say if anyone even answered the door. I’d tell them I was collecting for the newspaper delivery. Inevitably, they’d say to come back later, tomorrow, next week, when no one would answer my knock.

But if Mrs. Symonds, the matriarch of the family answered, sometimes she’d open the door enough for me to see inside, where a dingy sheet covered the sagging sofa. A pair of mismatched sheets hung from curtain rods on the two front windows, providing a modicum of privacy from without.
Within, however, there was no such thing. Four rooms and a bathroom left little space to fit the grandmother, her son, her daughters and her daughters’ children.

If Mrs. Symonds paid, it would be apologetically for two of the four weeks she owed, and it would be with three crumpled singles she’d pull from her stained housecoat. I’d eat the balance of the other two weeks, cutting another three bucks into my earnings for the month.

I really didn’t want to go back into the building. The soundtrack from the other three flats, sometimes say James Brown and others maybe Marvin Gaye, never drowned out the backbeat of the looped percussive bang of my heart when I climbed to the second floor. Not after a guy I’d never seen before stepped out of the shadows by the stairs and cut a memory into my chest.

Later, when my connection to newspapers was to fill them with words instead of delivering them, I drove along my old paper route. There, the home that once preserved its past still stood. It now sported an out of character, unpainted front step of cast concrete, it’s aluminum railing canted to the left. Lengths of stained green vinyl siding sagged or flapped from its sides.

Across the street, a vacant lot stretched like a glass-strewn grave where the other house stood. If it was a fire or some stillborn plan for a new building that brought it down, I’ll never know.

The truth is, despite an effort to preserve some hazy, idealized past or merely survive the present, the future can be as cold as that thin blade, as hot as the desperation and anger crouched behind locked doors and beneath staircases and as inevitable as the fact you may be able to go home again, but home may not be there to greet you. Especially not with a buck and a half. Forget any ten-cent tip.

In retrospect, you can keep your change.

Don’t know why or from where I wrote this. Just started scribbling in pencil on a notebook page. Maybe Inspiration has run its course in my life. These days, it feels like that housecoat pocket of Mrs. Symonods.

Dead Wrong Dead Reckoning

From that first moment he saw her,
he was sure.
Or so his story goes.
He envisioned her as Hesperia,
nymph of incendiary sunset, while
the deck beneath him soared
and dipped upon the swells
and troughs of uncharted oceans.
He never admitted this to her
until years later, another
of his rosary of miscalculations.
But, to the fearful man, merely
tossing adrift on her sensuous sea
brought such exquisite terror.

After the truth escaped him,
and she warned him off
her shameful shallows,
he dove headfirst anyway and
dashed himself upon the rocks.
The death of his hapless hopes
in her storm-tossed seas
didn’t kill the dreamer, though.
Only as a castaway did he discover
she actually was the red sky at morning
and he just another wrong-way
mariner lost to the vast
emptiness, steering his course
without compass, so dead wrong
by his own dead reckoning.

Free written poem based on the following quote from Annie Fuller by Jay Asher for her Writing Outside the Lines Challenge:

“… know me …
don’t just see me with your eyes …”

Perhaps this lost soul should have looked beyond her sun-bright gifts and into her shadows to ensure his bearings before he was lost.

That Kinda Smile

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Today my friend wondered
the last time he saw your smile.
That’s a real smile, not one
of those practiced, pleasant lip curls
with a peep at pearly teeth.
He’s sure you’ve smiled plenty
since then, he just wasn’t around
to see it. And then he ordered
another Guinness.

He can’t remember his last
real smile, relying instead
on grip-and-grin hearsay from
well-meaning, white-lying,
“How-’bout-another-beer?” sweet-talkers.
As far as he’s concerned,
their affirmation of his full-toothed
happy face is akin to receiving
a trophy for sitting at the end
of a CYO basketball team’s bench.

Graphic confirmation remains
as dubious as a half-moon,
full-color, “Say cheese” moment
from Sasquatch or Nessie.
Rather, most photos depict him
sporting a smirk, wearing a wince
or hanging a lopsided half-rictus
upon his face that frightens even he
who shaves its haggard crags daily.

He believes, perhaps the last time
he actually, spontaneously,
perhaps even laughingly smiled
was in honest reply to yours.
He added that chances of repeating
that would be like discovering
George Washington’s dental X-rays.
But he told me he’s willing
to start digging around
Mount Vernon whenever…you know.

And then he kinda smiled.