The Beard

I found it while culling old photos
that no one need keep — nor even see —
once I’m gone. It shows dark-haired me,
clear-eyed, smiling, hopeful, happy me.
At least I think it might be me,
despite that captured joy and smoothness.
The other reason I’m somewhat unsure of
the subject’s identity is because
the young fellow in these photos has
longish hair and a pretty nice beard.
A full beard, on a face shining with optimism,
even if it is out-of-focus.
I placed the photo in the bottom
of a shoebox in the closet with
the full-length mirror on the door.
The mirror that shows the image of
the silver-haired guy whose mouth sags
on the left side when he attempts to smile,
as if he’s afraid his face might slough off
the front of his head if he gave in
to full expressions of joy.
That’s the mirror where I stare into
the pair of burrows where nest the windows
of my soul. Deep within, it’s like I
can see inside the shoebox behind the door.
I still wonder what happened to that youngster,
but I at least know I can still find him.

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Celebrate, Celebrate

In the service area waiting room,
most of the people waiting
for their cars to be healed
are older men, retirees who sit
and gab about cars they once owned,
or that white Shelby Mustang
they wish they could. Some wear
baseball caps emblazoned with the branch
of the armed forces in which they served
when they were kids.

The 70-something gent in the dark blue
Navy cap caresses the Shelby’s curves
as the bright lights gleam off
the embroidered “CV-34” and “USS Oriskany”
on the front of his cap.
I want to ask him about the fire
on the Big O, killing forty-four
of his shipmates in ’66.
But you probably shouldn’t bring up
such stuff at 10:20 AM in a place
where the only thing to drink
is bad coffee and Three Dog Night
blares a harmonized “Celebrate, celebrate…”

I drain my coffee and recall
my Draft physical and wonder
which of the guys who stood naked
in ranks of eight with me for some
perverse inspection on that
cold tile floor could be sitting
in the blue leatherette chairs
on this tile floor, bouncing
their knees and waiting bareheaded
for their names to be called again.

Been a depressed dry spell for me lately. But being out in the world this morning, seeing guys my age waiting around in somewhat jovial moods for ‘something’ spiked my imagination.

Echoes of Echoes

Today he thought he heard
the voices that once
chilled his spine and
set his chest thumping.
But it was only the soft airs
of old tunes. Perhaps carried
on the cold breeze, he mused.
Alone in bed that night,
he thought he heard them again,
wondering if they who once
haunted his sleep had returned.
A whispered G’night, babe,
a thin Buona notte,
a warm Night night.
It was then he discovered
it was his own breath
on the pillow caressing
his cheek, warming his memory,
sighing a final farewell
to all those dying echoes
of his displaced desire.

Frameless

I don’t wonder so much
about yesterday and tomorrow anymore.
The uncertainty of my margins,
of then and then, of here and there,
of that you and this you and
me and another me, have become
unnecessary fussiness in
my frameless life.
What is certainty in a world
built upon imperfection?
I can rhyme time with mine;
mine is what this time is.
I sometimes think of you
from those days and don’t worry
about a future that never could be.
You think you escaped
my gallery of conundrums,
but I’d ripped you free from those
confining frames years ago.

In serious need of writing something after two weeks-plus on the road helping with a new granddaughter, I dashed this off between drowses last night. What’s it mean? That’s your call, kind reader.

Another Bend In the River

Life is a short thing
we can make seem longer
just by thinking about it.
A night can be long thing
we can make seem shorter
by not thinking at all,
simply closing our eyes
and allowing sleep to snip
short the string we follow
from today to tomorrow.
Time is a river, so they say,
a constantly moving stream
of here to there in its own
temporal course. It has its
gently flowing stretches where
joys float within arms length,
as well as it rippling runs,
swirling eddies of stasis
and buffeting rapids where
Time can speed you along
as easily as it will beat you
fearsome sore for the toll.
I’m speeding by one of the final
waypoints on my journey. Only now
I spend my time sorting through
the remaining recollections
of this trip, though not as much
as I ponder the flotsam of memories
I’ve lost to relentlessly restless nights.
I see only a life unspent playing out
in the spaces where missing experiences
once were laden, albums and journals
lost, floating me lighter and higher,
speeding me along to some great sea where
I’ll become another drop, a vague dream,
drifting eternal in a night never-ending.

On the Rocks

It was a quiet Sunday afternoon as Andi Simkins positioned the empty glasses in the dishwasher, poured the detergent into the dispenser, clicked shut the door and pressed the buttons to bring it to whirring life. Other than the one in her hand, she’d run out of clean rocks glasses.

Andi fished a handful of ice from the freezer and clinked them into her tumbler. From the liquor cabinet she withdrew a new bottle of Ketel One, gave the black top a vicious twist to break its seal and poured enough into her glass to turn the pile of crescent-shaped cubes into miniature icebergs.

She walked into the family room and settled into the sofa, took a large sip from her glass and placed it on the cocktail table next to the copy of Jami Attenberg’s “All Grown Up” she’d started three times (because her sister insisted she read it) but never got past its first thirty pages. She picked up the book for Try #4, but after six page-flips she gave a resigned sigh, picked up her glass and took another great sip.

Andi looked into her glass as the vodka rested for a second in her mouth then slid down her throat. She was surprised at how the sunlight sifting through the vertical blinds was converted into rainbows by the cut glass, the ice and the vodka. But then the glow changed to neon tangerine and Andi’s eyes grew wide at the color and quality of of the light that painted the gray room a citrus hue, but locked it and her behind the black bars of the blinds’ shadows.

Pulling aside the blinds, Andi gave a little gasp and shaded her eyes. She finished her vodka and thought she’d pour herself another. She turned and took a step toward the liquor cabinet, but stopped and faced the scene playing out beyond the patio again.

Lifting her glass to her lips, she sucked in the dilute dregs of the vodka and a couple of ice cubes, which she crunched between her teeth.

“Joel, you’ve got to hurry up here and see this,” Andi called to her husband down in what Joel Simkins called his Subterranean Lair.

“I’ll be up as soon as I finish this part of the Times crossword, hon,” Joel replied from his leather lounger. And I could hear a football game providing Joel’s background soundtrack from his 50-inch flatscreen Samsung. She often wondered why he needed a drive-in movie screen down there when he used the television primarily for ambient noise.

I guess because he can, she thought.

“Lemme see…54 Across…seven-letter word for skyline,” Joel mumbled to himself, just an Eagle player intercepted a pass directed toward a late-afternoon sun-blinded Giant receiver. That sent the Philly crowd into a high-decibel frenzy. Joel looked up at the screen and recalled his last trip to the City of Brotherly Love. Business. Always business. But Philly was where he struck up his special relationship with Patty Diana, who’d since become known as his “work wife” around the office.

Andi, still watching the sunset, transfixed and hopeful, called one more time, “Joel, please, you’ll miss this if you wait much longer….”

And when he didn’t answer, Andi sighed once again, stood by the patio window, watching the spectacular demise of another day in the overall autumn of things.

It reminded her of all those afternoons spent looking out the back window of their third-floor walkup. Bathed in their own glow, Joel would comb his fingers through the tangle of her auburn hair as she’d beam at him with her gold-flecked blue eyes. Over the expanse of apartment buildings, they watched the sun sink, a searing communion of light and heat, beyond the southwestern horizon.

The sunsets were dazzling, Andi recalled, as well as how the encroaching darkness would be spangled in sprays of stars, even with the bedroom door closed. In tonight’s gloaming, the shadowy bars had expanded into an overall darkness of nebulous freedom or solitary confinement.

Andi had to admit, though, tonight’s sundown had its own melancholy charm — like a fire decaying into glowing coals — when viewed through a fresh glass of Ketel One on the rocks.

The third of my efforts based on one of five Story-a-Day September 2017’s Week One prompts. This one called for using or being inspired by the phrase “The sunsets were dazzling.” I remembered an old Five Sentence Fiction outline I whipped off one afternoon back on the job. I rewrote it with a bit more meat on its protagonist’s bones. Photo by the author.

Total Eclipse

How dark it became when
the shadow fell between us,
some celestial body or karma
casting a silhouette that’s yet
to find another path.
That’s how it goes when we
stand still and never try
to find the light once shared.
I wonder if what illuminated us
as we sailed through the void
was really just the twilight margin
between shadow and light
from which only a step—
false or otherwise—would cast us
both where sight of neither of us exists.
I used to ponder who would be
the first to stumble back
to the relative warmth
of that old penumbral frontier.
I don’t anymore.
This eclipse is total and I
dare not look at that space
where a face used to reside,
unless it’s total blindness
I’m really looking for.

A roll-out-of-bed-and-just-write no-subtext ramble. Morning mush. You can go back under the covers to the warm, safe…and dark…now.