That Nothing We Shared

I wish we could talk,
just talk,
but then I realize
talking always
got in the way.
I’d say something
just to fill
the vacuum between us,
and since words
won’t carry across a vacuum,
you’d intuit in your way
that I’d said something
I never meant.
I never blamed you.
I don’t like blame.
Though, if I did,
I’d blame the vacuum,
the nothing we shared
which was everything.

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That Last Hug

“How are you today?”
I ask too often,
speaking it into that empty space
where something of you remains.
Not like a photo,
since my memory is of someone
who probably doesn’t or never did exist.
This is the space where
I’ve kept something you wore that
conveys more than a fuzzy, faded look
of care-less I never did accept.
Even with years of hanging
in the back of my mind’s closet,
I can hold it by the hand,
impart some of my own warmth
to it, hoping it might echo
the sense of a hug and the aroma
of perfume and sweat that’d
mean more to me now than a slight smile
suspended from red-reflected eyes
an Instamatic caught in
a moment of surprise…
or maybe disappointment.
So I ask, “How are you today?”
though I probably wouldn’t
recognize your voice,
just the warm smell of you
from a last hug I made last.

You’d Even Knock First

A guy can scour his life
to collect all the keys
so no one can slip into
his heart without asking.
But it seems one or two
will always escape
his protective diligence.
Maybe one fell from his pocket
that day as he walked out
of their heart.
Or perhaps someone purloined it
just to mess with his key count
when he thought he was safe
from anyone looking into
his unmentionables in there.
Or maybe (most likely probably),
he just slid it under their pillow
or at the bottom of a pile of
memories he left with them.
In that case he’s abetted
his own breaking and entering,
which is interesting
when you think almost anyone
can enter what’s already broken.
But only you would use the key.
Probably would even knock first.

E Pluribus Unum


If I asked you the color of grass, you’d probably say green. And if I asked the same of the sky, you’d offer blue. But nowhere do you see all heaven or earth in just green or blue. Each is made of different hues, homogeneously stirred into something, that at a distance or a squint, we call one color or the other. Is the ocean off Cape Cod blue? Then what is it surrounding Tahiti? Do we call the sky over Raleigh a Carolina Blue? Then what of the firmament above Copenhagen, or looking down on Dresden? Is sand colored Sand? Then what of the landscape of the Kalahari, the Gobi, the Sonora, Sydney’s Bondi Beach? Look closely at all of these scoops of Earth, these swaths and swatches of land, sea and air. No, even closer. There is brown and yellow on the greens of Augusta and St. Andrew’s and Schenectady Muni. There are shades of gray, white and purple in the 360-degree frame of the sun. The agua off Málaga is aqua, but a French blue is more than just un bleu. And I celebrate this panoply mixed together into a single great spectrum. Each has its own way of reflecting the same sun under which we all exist. Together and apart. But the magic of turning primaries into secondaries into tertiaries into a prism’s wet dream makes this world so much better. Mere red, yellow and blue makes for as weak a brand of poetry as a world. The Spectrum makes us so much better. Makes for better writing, too.

E pluribus unum.

In Tennessee Whiskey Veritas

At Pete and Ginny’s cafe cum gin joint, the bar runs from the bright front window down to the shadows by the kitchen door. The light here gets progressively darker as you walk along the mahogany and brass path from our perky entrance to possible perdition, as if you’re diving deeper into the ocean.

Today, it looked like one of our regulars, Ben Frazee, was exploring the Marianas Trench of alcoholic melancholy. At the far end of the bar, Ben seemed to be sucking in darkness as much as booze, like he was hoping to suffocate — or drown — whatever lick of flame he still carried for his now-ex Kasie Dellasandro.

“Hey, Ben. What’s happening, brother? Pete been taking care of you?” I said as I came on shift. He merely raised his chin in greeting, mumbled something and then stared back into his glass, somehow deeper than the six inches of melted silica, Tennessee ethanol and frozen H2O that sat before him.

“Dude, if you looked any lower you’d be staring at the world from under those rocks,” I said.

“Does it matter? Maybe that’s what I need, a different point of view, like looking through the bottom of this glass. Even at six bucks a shot,” Ben said as he sucked down that last puddle of whiskey. Then he crunched on an ice cube and I shivered a little.

He pushed the glass toward me, saying, “Y’know? Things looked much better. Gimme another glass of enlightenment, Kenny.”

“Girl trouble?” I asked while shoveling him his Jack and Coke.

“Does it matter? All us birds perched on this mahogany are here for some sad reason, otherwise we wouldn’t start drinking at noon on a Tuesday. Now would we?”

“Well, that makes the boss glad. But even after five years of distributing liquid psychotherapy, sometimes serving the tail end of this early crowd makes me feel kinda guilty.”

“Don’t. I’m fine. We’re all fine. And no bitch will ever drive me to drink. Or that’s what SHE said. I can drive just fine on my own and if not, then there’s always Uber. Of course, then a bitch might be driving me FROM drink.” Ben, quieted for a second and then let out a laugh at his own drunk joke. But I couldn’t laugh at the poor guy.

“So maybe you might slow your roll for a while. Okay? Make me feel a little better.”

“Aw, okay, Kenny. You know, I always liked you. Straight shooter, good listener, you don’t overdo the ice , you don’t stick any fruity-ass fruit in my glass and you don’t chintz on the whiskey. You’re a saint, brother,” Ben said as he extended his hand to shake mine. When I let go, I noticed there was a ten-spot stuck to my palm. 

I told him the next one was on me, but that would be it for a while. I thought he was going to cry right there, but I wasn’t sure of the exact reason. Sometimes drunks are hard to figure out.

At my break I slipped away from the noise to call Kasie to tell her how Ben was handling their breakup.

“It doesn’t matter, baby. Don’t forget to pick up some milk on your way here after closing time. Gimme a call so I can…turn the on porch light for ya. Okay?” she said. Then hung up.

When I got back behind the bar, I noticed Ben was gone and never touched his last drink. I took a sip before I dumped it. That’s when I realized I forgot to ask Kasie what kind of milk she wanted. I decided it really didn’t matter. I’d go home to my place after work instead. 

Sometimes women are hard to figure out. Just like some drunks. Love is too. But what the hell does that matter, either?

 

Sorry

He’s not too bad a guy. He has feelings as deep, sore and soaring as anyone else’s, I guess. Maybe even more so, we just don’t know. Few have ever seen them as he moved through the vacuum of his days.

I once caught him in one of his brooding moods, the ones maybe you’ve seen or you’ve felt. He broke through the 1,000-mile stare and wall of his self-imposed isolation to look up at me, half-grinned and raised his chin in greeting. He hummed his shrugged-shouldered humph when I inquired how he was.

“So how you doing?”

“I’m doing. Wondering if all this is worth it.”

“All what?” I asked.

“Just doing, being, thinking. You know, like that Descartes guy said, ‘I think, therefore I am.’ Maybe I should just stop thinking so much.”

“That’d be no fun.”

Then he surprised me with, “I’m sorry.”

“What are you sorry for? You haven’t done anything to me,” I said.

“I’m sorry because I’ve never expressed to anyone my regrets for my sins and omissions, never cried at their funerals, never spoke up about how I truly felt, never professed my love to those I should have and never moved on from the ones I shouldn’t,” he said.

“Why are you telling me this?” I asked.

“Because you’re the only one I can and that’s what I lament the most,” he said as we each turned away from the mirror and switched off our bathroom light.

No Direction Home

Around the corner and down a way, just before the main road, two staples hold what’s left of a piece of paper to the power pole. I’d pass it in its fullness on my way to or from when snow still covered everything. It was hard to read then, weather having already faded it, the home printer’s ink running in tears down to the oiled wooden pole. But I knew it was a picture of someone’s white cat that had left the house and not returned. It could have run away, but I doubt it. It could have gone out and run afoul of a winter-hungered coyote, or maybe it got lost in the expanse of white upon which Home happened to be and a car or snowplow had sent it spinning like a snowflake to join the rest of the white on white landscape, maybe until Spring. And now all that’s left of someone’s plaintive posting for their loved one to come back are two staples and a tear of shredded hope. And I thought about the times I have been spun and hunted and lost. When I didn’t know which direction was Home, or if I even wanted to go there. When the dome of sky and the plate of earth are indiscernible from one another, and you look around you for help or escape and you know not which way is the N on the compass, let alone the road to redemption, you just have to find your way within. I once saw a litter of puppies tumbling down a hill toward the busy road upon which I sped by. There’s was nothing I could do for them, surrounded as I was by semis and fulls – the former, trucks and the latter, idiots. I filed that scene as a short loop that runs in my head and heart for thirty years. I have no idea if the little black bundles of bumptiousness hit road level and found a diverting chain link fence there (I pray so) or if a frightening inevitability ended their lives. I just know that they still live within the Home that is me, just as that cat might live in the lives of its family, or whoever saw its snowy invisibleness now indivisibly rendered in the home within them. Whether we know it or not, there will always be a Home for us, grim, gritty or glorious as it may be, in the memories of others, even strangers. Perhaps someday one of them will remember the shred of me when I passed through their day on the way Home. Theirs or mine, the direction doesn’t really matter. We’re Home.

On Day 27 of my Poem-a-Day quest, a “direction” poem. I saw the prompt and could only think of the line from Dylan…Bob, not Thomas. My taste in poets runs toward Minnesota, not Wales. Now, don’t nit-pick if this is a poem or not. It’s a first-draft expression of something within me. Let’s say it’s a prose poem, just for the sake of giving it an address in these last few days of April. A home on the way to May.