Hell Hath No Fury

“You don’t have to do this,” Lottie said as I was about to finish Landro in the alley.

“After what he did to you?” I said. If Lottie wasn’t there, I’d have killed him already. But with her it was like having a good angel on both shoulders. She was my worst good influence.

“I don’t want you do it.”

“I don’t want you to either,” Landro said through lips I’d split five ways.

“I don’t want you to get in trouble for something I…”

“You didn’t do anything, Lottie. He’s a coward and needs killin’,” I said.

“I didn’t mean it,” Landro said, a tear in his voice and a torrent streaming from what was visible of his right eye.

I should’ve shot him when he came out of the bar, but I was walking Lottie home, still jumpy as a kitten.

“Her thtockings showing, riding astraddle that plug with the missing shoe, giving me the eye. She was asking for it,” Landro said.

I kicked him again. He was asking for it.

“Ted, take me home. Please.”

“All right. Landro, you’re lucky this girl’s more forgiving than any saint.”

I guess my threat worked. Landro was gone in the morning. Never saw him again.

Week later, some Buffalo Soldiers found a body about twenty miles from town. Said Apaches left him naked, face smashed in by a rifle butt, manhood tossed in a patch of cactus. Two sets of tracks.

Funny, one of them had but three shoes.

A 250-word story drafted for Siobhan Muir’s weekly Thursday Threads contest. Had to use phrase “You don’t have to do this.” I led with it and followed that trail. This one will be expanded into something even more grown-up someday.

My Figment, Your Poet

Here you are again,
sitting, standing,
floating in front of me.
There but not there,
inevitably as real
as I can make you.
And yet I’m your captive,
one of my own imagination,
one who who lives to see you
and loves to please you,
one who chronicles
the never-weres in clicks
of never-wills,
one who almost never can
without you.
Then I realize it’s time
for you to go again,
fading into the light.
At least until tonight,
when you return, floating
on a river of blackest ink
across my ceiling dark.
And I, your poet, without a pen.

As Big As That, As Small As This

When I close my eyes,
I can see you clearly.
Not from a distance, like
from all these years away,
but as if you were standing
right in front of me.
And if you really were here,
I’d still not see you,
not as you are, since
I’d be looking through
my glass with the rosy hue.
The one that magnified everything
about you into massive things.
Colossal, monumental, unrealistic.
That’s obsession for you.

I always thought you saw me
through that glass, too,
only from the other end,
where I looked so small.
Diminutive, unimpressive, quixotic.
I never did see you as you are,
a deep and complex forest,
rather than an array of pretty trees.
Too bad I believed the trees,
who saw a pesky weed.
You never were as really big as that,
and I never really as small as this.
So we never really were, were we?

Day 27 called for a “massive” poem. I don’t have the wherewithal today to put together some Homeric monster epic. Nor even an abridged version. And you don’t have the time to devote to reading it. Wait for my book. So here’s an equally fictive piece about how we can blow the normal up out of proportion, as well as diminish it into a gnat. Get rid of that rosy glass, y’all. Left out in the sun, it’ll burn everything down.

Table for One ~ A Rondeau

Table for one, that’s what I get
Since we no longer talk, and yet
I’m not alone like other men
Might be in bar, cafe or den,
Since here you see the place I’ve set.

That’s no surprise to you I’ll bet,
Knowing how I would sit and fret,
Even at this lonely, this Zen
Table for one.

Sure, there have been others I’ve met,
whom places in my life I let.
But only you are with me when
My obsession cries through this pen.
Two ink stains we’ll leave at this wet
Table for one.

Wherefore and Why

He thought he’d search today
for that old photograph.
And he was not sure why.
They never talked anymore,
the bloom off that rose like
the youth off that old image.
But still he rummaged,
through notebooks and pens,
books and file folders,
memories and other memories,
real and imagined.
And he was not sure why.
Until then he found it,
dogeared and scuffed,
within a spiral bound
remembrance he’d created
when he wasn’t looking,
not even thinking of it.
And he was not sure why.
But there was the smile
that lit so many dark days
and darker nights, like
the sun continues to glow
in its recalled place
behind his closed eyes.
And then he knew why.
With one smile he knew why.

I’d Love It Otherwise

I’ve talked about you so, so many times
you would think by now I understand you.
But no, seems you’re just a frame for these rhymes.
In my heart, I know it’s all I can do.

Because you are that thing that makes me weak,
and weakness has always been my power.
While your touch has ever been what I seek,
even touched, I’d more than likely cower.

If one day, emotion, strength and insight
might somehow stir me to honest action,
you’ll know I finally won this long fight
between truth and a fantasy attraction.

It feels just like demonic possession,
my love’s just another great obsession.

Day 9 of my NaPoWriMo poem-a-day challenge, a two-fer. When asked to write a Love and/or Anti-love poem, I ended up writing one that could be either…AND both.

Mything You Like No Other

For the past hour I just sat here
looking with warmth at your photo,
wondering if your voice is still strong
or more voce sotto.
Would your hair still be to your shoulders,
the consistency of satin
or, like mine, thin, patchy and
some other adjective from the Latin?
I discovered this picture of you
at the bottom a drawer
while I was looking for something else
and it opened a rusty-hinged door
to memories I try not to think
of all too often
while living through my days
with a heart you once did soften.
But that’s how it’s been,
since you were my obsession,
akin to Helen, but I was a weak-sauce Paris
and you were arrogant Menelaus’ possession.
And now, like her, you’re committed
to the dustbin of myth,
long-hidden within a pile of others
where apparently you were fifth.
Understand, this doesn’t mean
I didn’t love you any less,
only that there were four others
to whom I’ve already written poems, I confess.
So one day should you pass a hobbling
old guy who looks familiar in some way,
he probably won’t remember you
since I tossed you out with three others today.

Hey, don’t judge me too harshly. I’m just trying to get my old poetry gears to turn again. They’re currently covered with rust and moss after sitting here for months in a puddle of mud and tears. And, just so you know, this is a bit of poetic whimsy. Right? No, I don’t have something in my eye.

The Duke of Tryon Court

Dave Clemente would walk around the neighborhood, ostensibly for exercise, but really he was inspecting everyone’s curb appeal, like he was the Duke of Tryon Court and we neighbors his vassals.

If your lawn was a little shaggy, or some dandelions decided to pop their little butter pat knobs above the grass, Dave would be like, “Off with their heads.” And he would pretty much tell you exactly that.

“You know, Ben, you’d better get control of those dandelions before they go to seed. I don’t need any parts of those little puffy tops finding their way to my lawn,” he told me two years in a row. The fact that I lived six doors downwind from his place didn’t matter. I and my lawn were just one of the invasive species that had taken over his verdant domain.

In truth, no one took better care of his lawn than Dave. Or more interest in everyone else’s. I would see him when I would go out to fetch the paper at dawn, positioning his sprinklers for maximum coverage, one inch of water in the ground per day, each day a third of the lawn catching his godlike decree of showers that kept his greensward looking like a billiard table straight from the factory.

I’d wave to him later as I walked out to the car on my way to work, but he didn’t notice very often. You could see him eyeballing the arc of the sprinklers’ spray, nodding approvingly at the way, if the sun’s angle was just right, it would drape a rainbow across his lawn. His head would follow each sweep of the sprinkler, left to right, right to left, mesmerized by the gift of life he was imparting to the organism that his house wore as a mantle.

If grass was supposed to be purple instead of green, Dave’s lawn would be the most royal of purples.

I sometimes would imagine what it would be like to be in his head, gauging everyone else in the neighborhood’s lawns against his own. I would watch him stalk the sidewalks, turning his head a bit sideways to observe if any of our lawn’s had grown irregularly over the past week since mowed on Saturday or Sunday.

“You need to check the level of you blade deck, Ben,” he’d say. “Look how unequal your cuts are. Lopsided and, well, trashy. And you really should stick to one kind of seed instead of those cheap blends. See how the rye grows faster in this weather than the fescue?”

“Um, no.”

“Here,” he’d say and pull me down to knee level and then tilt his head to the side again like he was sighting a sniper rifle. “See how those rye blades are popping up like moles out of their hole in relation to the red fescue? Makes it look shaggy as hell. And speaking of moles…”

“I gotta go, Dave. I think I left the tub running.”

“Okay, and that reminds me. One inch of water over the whole lawn. Gotta water deep to keep those roots well hydrated. Can’t let your lawn turn brown when everyone else is trying for green,” he shouted over my shoulder.

Like I said, Dave practiced what he preached to the nth degree. He treated his lawn as well, if not better, than he treated his kids. Which, if I had his kids, so would I. Wild little buggers, but probably since he wouldn’t let them play on his precious grass.

You’d see little Marisa doing cartwheels on everyone’s front lawns all the way down to the Cramers’ place, where she’d play tag with their kids. All around the outside of their house, including the front lawn. I’d find Dave Jr. running under the spray from my lawn sprinkler on those days I remembered to give it fifteen or twenty minutes of shower time. Kid would leave the lawn a muddy mess. But my son would join him, so I couldn’t bitch too much. I’d join, too, on those hot evenings.
Besides, what’s the sense of having grass around your house if you can’t enjoy it?

And where was their Dad? More often than not, he would be peering down the breadth of his lawn, flat on his stomach on the driveway, ruler in his hand, making sure the height never deviated more than a quarter of an inch from three and three-quarter inches. Then he would move to the middle, lie on his belly again, and do the same thing for all 360 degrees of that island of hoped-for fescue perfection. And he’d see to it with a pair of surgeon’s scissors.

I once wondered where his obsessive-compulsive bent in turf grass science came from. Dave hadn’t attended agricultural school, he was an IT guy. His father was an accountant and his mom stayed at home with the kids. I did notice some old family photos on his hallway walls once at a Christmas party. One showed young Dave and his Mom and Dad and brothers—all wearing the same little outfits with matching bow ties and two-tone shoes—seated on the couch. On the clear plastic-sheathed couch. Next to the clear plastic covered lamps. Feet dangling above the snow white carpet with the clear plastic runners leading back to the camera and across the whole living room.

I once played golf with Dave and instead of shooting the breeze as we walked the course, he would point out how the greenskeeper had done this to fix this part of the course and how he should have used that to keep a certain green from having darker green spots. I asked him how he knew that and he said his Uncle Carmine, who was a greenskeeper at a public course in Jersey, had taught him all this.

I once asked Gracie Clemente if Dave’s Uncle Carmine had ever been to their house.

“I imagine he’d be proud to see the efforts of his nephew.

“Carmine? Dave doesn’t have an Uncle Carmine. Oh, you mean Carmine Verducci. He was just a friend of the family. Sort of a surrogate father for the Clemente boys, since their dad was always working late hours. Dave and his Mom took Carmine’s death really hard,” she said.

After that, I didn’t begrudge Dave his idiosyncrasies as much. I may keep a shitty lawn, but I’m not exactly an unfeeling barbarian.

And I felt kind of sorry the day Dave died. We found him out in his backyard, lying on his stomach, his head up, looking and reaching out toward the back of his house.

“Poor man. he must’ve been looking for help from inside,” my wife said.

“Yeah. Sad.”

I say I felt kind of sorry because I knew Dave Clemente died doing what made him happiest. In fact, there was this calm and…I don’t know…accomplished look on his face when we found him. I didn’t have the heart to tell my wife about that few rogue blades of grass in front of him and how the Duke of Tryon Court already had his scissors in his hand.

This story — since I seem to be incapable of digging up sufficient emotion to write poetry lately — was prompted by Canadian writer and writing instructor Sarah Salecky for her “Six Weeks, Six Sense” writing feature. This week, we were supposed to use the sense of sight as a theme. I’m sure I blew the assignment altogether, but this thing just took off on me. I saw that one of her prompt photos and this story jumped out of my head to the page.

Always a Rough Road Between Me and You

“The signs are always in front of you,”
my consciousness has said to me.
“Should have seen that crash coming
from a mile away,” he’ll chide,
when it was he holding the wheel.
I’ve always felt I was a sensitive,
preceptive guy, but where you
might be concerned, I have a cognitive
macular degeneration, a blind spot
smack dab in the middle
of my field of emotional vision.
Perhaps that’s why I never saw,
or maybe I just ignored, the warnings
you laid down for me to let up on the gas.
Even slowing down, though,
the intractability of my
runaway judgment still would collide
with your irresistible force.
The last time, I swerved
at the last instant to save myself
from the inevitable collision
between magnetic attraction and
multiple obsessive-compulsive injuries.
The big problem has always been
what I’d notice from the corner
of my eye as I’d swing past you.
Then I drive for days and days,
looking back into the rearview mirror
with that one eye closed, pondering if
your warning was merely another Caution
or a Detour/Do Not Enter.

For Day #11 of April 2018’s PAD Challenge, I was asked to write a “Warning” poem. Some people just don’t see the warning signs, or maybe they just choose to ignore them. Either way, they tend to regret it down the road. Life’s short, you’d do well to pay attention and accept with gratitude everything about your journey’s sights and sounds. Be a shame to miss some good stuff because you exited Life’s highway too soon. Or maybe you just should have walked.

Such Fine Memories

Such a fine memory
I have of you.
Of you walking by me
in the moonlight glow
from the window.
I remember sensing
the scent of you
that night like
your silhouette wafting
though your nightgown.

Such a fine memory
I have of you.
Of you beside me
all those nights,
so close I could not sleep.
Of your warmth
touching my body
as palpable
as your kiss.

Such fine memories
I’ve carried of us
all these years,
how you’re always there
when the music plays,
when the room goes dark.
But there never was an Us,
never really was a you.

Just fine memories.

I was due for something new. This is at least that.