It’s not like it used to be,
so many of us old guys say.
But I overheard a twenty-something
whisper that to her girlfriend
the other day in the checkout line.
And I wondered what a kid would know
about the nebulous “used to be.”
How could she relate to changing
what was on television by getting up
from your seat, walking across the room
and twisting the dial to one of
the only four channels that existed?
In pixel-ridden black and white.
Coming out of a piece of
wooden living room furniture?
How could she understand a time
when the scant coffee shops we had
were pretty much limited to an
artsy neighborhood, a block or two
up from the head shop,
where they sold weed
surreptitiously in the back?
What would they know of atomic
missile crises and street-filling protests
over racial injustice,
environmental destruction and
“Impeach the Bastard?”
Then I blinked out of my reverie,
as the girls, with matching tattoos
on their necks, gathered their cloth
refillable grocery bags and walked,
hand in hand, out of the store.
I thought. “No, it’s not
like it used to be.
But, that’s okay, really,
’cause it is.”
If you have been lucky enough, as I, to have lived through the Fifties, Sixties, Seventies, etc., maybe you can relate. If not, trust me, I’ve seen this before. But it did take protest to turn things around. Maybe not all at once. But then, folks from these times are used to instant information, communication and gratification, fast as a 64-bit architecture can spit. Patience, children. Such things take time. Like it used to be.
It all used to be so spontaneous,
how the ink would flow, run down the page
in a warm and thinly coded letter.
Writing these would be easy as a walk
with the sun and breeze at our backs.
We had a run of seven years like that,
when the fruits of the unspoken communication
tasted delicious on my mind’s tongue,
even after I’d previously suffered
another tangled trip and fall in this, my garden
where bloomed songs of elation and sorrow.
Lately, though, my heart has made
each new walk a downwind slog in a gale,
where the rain will blind my soul,
each drop a barb in my heart leaving behind
a scar that wouldn’t allow it to open
and beat to its full extent.
But along comes this thinning of the clouds.
Never a clearing, a dome of blue instead of
this blanket of the blues. Just enough
of a hint of light that I see things
not as they were, but as an example
of what they are. Not yet as they could be,
because we haven’t written those days yet.
In these moments, the ink once again runs,
the letters sometimes smeared by falling rains.
But you still remember what they might mean.
Here’s a poem I wrote today instead of the Story-a-Day effort I was supposed to write. I’ll do some of them later, I hope. No, this prompt was to write a story using each of the following words.: ink, previously, work, breeze, seven, run, delicious, example, spontaneous, and barb. These prompts always brought me a lot of joy, because they were a game, a competition between the dark and light angels of my creative soul. Today, the light one has her moment. Tomorrow, as I said, has yet to be written.
I knew her when I was younger,
she’d smile at me every morning
when we’d stand up in class and
talk to the flag and the cross.
She was so pretty then, adventurous
and friendly, the Supermodel-in-training.
She helped all the kids, even new ones
transferred in from other neighborhoods.
But some big kids mistook her friendliness,
for weakness, twisting it into some
unspoken promise of a good ol’ time.
They used her in indulgent perversions
of power and possession.
When we got older, those big kids
corrupted her, trotted her around, showed her off,
gave her a new face, new boobs, new persona.
My friend became so addled by all
of their push, prod and promises that,
in the end, she’d do whatever the big guys said,
even nod hollow-eyed when they lied about her.
I barely recognized her in her obit t’other day.
You may have missed it, being so busy
doing what they let you think you want to do.
I’m told they laid her next to her mom,
who men used, debased and scarred until
she was unrecognizable, too.
I wrote most of this poem, originally titled “Liberty Has Fallen,” almost four years ago. I based it on my friend Kellie Elmore’s prompt of a picture called Fall of Liberty, which I think was something like the one illustrating this marginally updated version. In four years, not much has changed. Maybe just the volume’s turned up.
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.
“When I was born,”
recalling his youth.
Not, “In my day,”
like other old-timers.
used the expression
the Great Depression.
Today I’m the same age
he was then,
though not nearly as old.
I see when
he looked back, he saw
each day as new morn,
he’d be reborn.
I wanted to use the last Story-a-Day Week One prompt, “When I was born…”, for a story, but ran out of time. I saw my old friend Joy Ann Jones was running a new series looking for 55-word poems, so I’m trying to do justice to both. And since today is my birthday and I’ve reached “that age,” I decided to write knowledge-of-age poem. So there you go…
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 the relentlessly
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.
I started out with a length of golden thread
with which my life’s tapestry one day would be read.
But, Oh what a tangled web I’d weave
when first I set out not to deceive,
but to become he who I’d be proud to call Me,
the man I and they always wanted me to be.
But I was the guy who’d fall for a girl
who’d never fall for me, and instead would curl
into the arms of another’s possession,
only strengthening my ardor into obsession,
which always clung stronger, in fact like a glove,
to my oft-scarred heart, than affection or love.
I was the man who with artful words
built billboard ads, where nested birds,
upon which footnotes called “news” were hung.
I crafted webs of truths (full, half and un-)
to snare those who’d read them with their heart,
missing the fine print and calling it “art.”
As a youth I somehow viewed, through history’s haze,
certain learned men, who back in their days
owned other men, as being “of their time”
and somehow not as culpable of the same crime
as those who’d as soon destroy the constitution
they built and defended, for their “peculiar institution.”
This web, strung with self-deceit and knotty lies,
supports and ensnares he I’ve come to despise.
So I bid you and they and the old me goodbye,
leaving behind the smug mug I wore while I became I.
I hope you’ll forgive me my many transgressions
and pray for any and all divine intercessions
on behalf of the boy who always meant well,
but ultimately found he wove his own private hell.