A Case of Mistaken Secret Identity

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I was never the man
you were so sure I was
then. And you weren’t
the one I thought
I knew. You still
don’t know me, but
I probably wouldn’t
recognize you,
through all the ink,
like milk, spilled since
last together we flew.
So now we’re strangers
living carry-on lives,
none of that old
baggage to check.
I could say, “Hi,
I’m just a guy,
on the last leg
of a journey we
each alone trek.

I wouldn’t mind
if you’d be so kind
to be a friend like
I once thought I had.
Perhaps you’d agree
a simple You-and-I We
would be super,
not like the old bad.
I won’t expect
a super-someone then
and don’t you look
for Bruce Wayne.
New connections
we’ll have made and
our rechecked baggage
permanently delayed;
we’d be just you and me,
with no more cases of
mistaken secret identity.

Above are the Chinese characters for “reconciliation” or “to make friends again.”  My old bones must feel Spring on the way to create something in this kind of mood of amity and hope. I’m sure it’ll pass with the next snow or depression blow.

When We Have Faces Again

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Faceless, by Carsten Frenzl

Should I read between this and that line,
if ever I thought it’d be a good time,
I’d see a piece of you here and there, all right.
But I write in the dark, behind a closed door at night.
So if some of you made your way into the room,
and got stretched across my word-weaving loom,
I’d apologize, but say thanks for the light.

But, reach out I never did.
Rather, I stayed here and hid
behind recollections fogged in,
almost, but not quite, forgotten.
Where you became a thought without a face,
and I, in the dark, one with barely a trace,
a memory of a someone locked out, not in.

Maybe we’ll meet some distant day
and perhaps then I’ll hear you say,
“I think I remember you.
You’re the one who
wrote songs that might be about me.”
And I’d say, “Perhaps, yes.
But my memory it lapses.
So these words might’ve happened without me.”

They may be woven of the chaff
of long ago when I’d laugh
at how I let life put me through paces.
I lost sight of you, and a part of me too.
Perhaps, blurred without traces, but
through God’s holy graces, amen,
we’ll finally recognize
one another not just by words, by the eyes…
but only when we have faces again.

When we have faces again.

Because you asked me.  But I thought I’d torture myself (and you readers) and make this writing a bit more difficult on myself–which will ever be my artistic wont–with some sort of half-assed rhyme scheme. Cryptic, I know…even to me.

Only the Smile Remains

She had a bright smile, as I remember,
and I forget so much these days.
But the idea of what’s now a featureless face,
save for the memory of that brilliant double arch
of inviting conviviality, coquettish charm
and orthodontic perfection, floats
before me and I can’t blink nor rub it away.
Sometimes I can still make out her eyes,
deep brown with a filigree of gold
and ebony surrounding the pupils.
I only got close enough to study them
four times, and of those, only once
was with her knowledge, but not approval.

They were as bright as her smile
and were the windows to her troubled soul.
But now I don’t see her eyes too much.
Perhaps my recollection boarded them up when
she lost the lease on her soul.
It doesn’t much matter anymore, since I
moved off on my way, too. But I admit
to missing that bright smile and the times
I’d bask in its illuminant approval,
hear the chime of laughter from inside,
instead of feeling its bite on these,
my long smileless days, when in the mirror
I reflect on my own eyes, and see, and see,
and see…a candle within.

I was writing a story, and the character stopped in mid-draft to tell me this story about himself and the one who is but a shadow on a cloudy day to him now. I’d better put down my poet’s quill and pick up my writer’s keyboard to see what else is troubling this guy. Perhaps its the quote by the Cheshire Cat as he faded away, leaving nothing but his smile: “We’re all mad here.”

Turning the Leaves in My Garden of Days

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Spring’s spring long ago sprung,
the bounce and suppleness
either stiffened or sagging.
It’s a most discouraging disparity
at 6:00 AM, when the gales blow
from the alarm clock and
my limbs and branches creak and
crack as my windward changes to lee.
Now summer’s vibrant verdant life’s
fading to some sere shade of sand,
as if dribbled from and hourglass,
with each later and later sunrise.
The grass and leaves lean toasted
and curved in this oven of latter years.
Even the weeds, habitual and
nagging as they be, have passed
into some crusty form, as if pressed
between the pages of my book of days.
They’re all just reminders
of where I stand today in this garden
I’ve sown, tended, ignored,
forgotten and now chronicle its
changes with sunset’s scarred and
wrinkled hindsight from a window
above it all. Still above it all.

A birthday poem, written in the aerie seat where I still can soar, one more year closer to being definitively old.

Losing Time

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Hand Holding a Scroll by Ruby McQuesten

Time is such a malleable thing, capable of stretching longer than the ten minutes prior to a young boy’s recess bell or shorter than the life pondered by the man three breaths from oblivion.And so it goes with the stretch of she and he, him and her, these two and that pair. Doesn’t matter who. It seems like yesterday we met, but you’d say not long enough since Goodbye. You can mold the passage of those years any way you wish. But I no longer can. Time’s once-springy nature’s grown crusty, dry, fragmenting like crumbs, sifting from my grasp. I wish I could make it stop before all I’ve left is some vacant Now. It’s erased yesterdays but still paints masterpieces of an instant from decades ago. Then they go black. Today, I took that ebon ink and walked it across the remaining scroll of my once-to-now, circling numbers, sketching memories. It isn’t stretchy, but it’s long. I can’t shrink it, but I can roll it tightly, keep it close. It’ll have to do until that final recess bell peals and you can count my breaths while I relive the life I’ve clutched in my fist.

The Hapgood and I

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She sits there and watches me as I think about her, like some ancient Muse of fire that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention. To me, she is a silent litany of mysteries, questions she can never answer and I will never know. And I think I prefer her that way.

She admits being a Hapgood — one of the Boston Hapgoods, a shapely bunch — but she came to me from North Carolina. She’s old, her dark skin cold against my cheek, and I wonder how many cheeks she had pressed against hers in her long life.

Did she ever travel west of the Appalachians? Was the dust of the West brushed from her when our West really was, before it became just another character in a television script, where clean-shaven and well-pressed men never are seen traveling on the trail with one like her. I know the real men of the West did, though. In 1850 they almost all did.

I’m sure she provided for her family, helping bring food to their table, because I can still smell the sulfur on her breath, even after all these years. She still will click back her hammer to half- and full-cock, exposing the nipple that suckled brassy cups of fire in a time before my United States of America went from a plural “are” to a singular “is.”

Did she protect her people from harm? Did she ever spit blind, unfeeling death in anger while in the arms of her man, maybe at another Yankee like her? I hope she never pointed her long brown finger at someone in dusty blue, or at a painted American in red. Even so, that’s why I call her she: Capable of taking care of her family and willing to fight—hard—to do so. I’ve known mothers like that. I sincerely hope she didn’t.

Her silence is probably for the best, though. I know she had no say upon whose arm she rested, how they used her, how they abused her. One of them eventually broke her forearm right where my hand holds her today. Those were rough times.

I’m told she could probably still do what she was brought into this world to do over a century and a half ago. But she’ll never do it while she’s mine. Now she sits and inspires me to think of other years, of other men, of their families and farms. To me, she represents a time when our flags flew fewer stars, when our nights were darker and seemingly flew many more stars than I can see from my porch tonight.

I’m going to find her a simple and elegant place to rest the remainder of our days together. But she’ll never be far from my reach, because to look all the way down to that little bead at the end of her barrel is to look back almost two centuries, to glimpse stories I’ve yet to know from times I’ve never seen, stories the Haploid, in her silent way, will tell me and then we’ll tell others.

I’m by no means a gun guy. Never was. I am an American history guy, one who often writes of those times when this nation still had a frontier. I purchased my antique Hapgood rifle (Maybe it’s a fowler, I don’t know. See? Not a true gun guy.) as a piece of Americana to help inspire my historical fiction. It gives me something palpable from those times to hold, to infuse me with imaginings of what I hope become fictive reality. I wrote this essay last December, as much to spell this out for myself as for anyone else. I needed an explanation for why I — of all people — would own such a device. Simple. To me, the Hapgood is a piece of history I can hold in my hands. This country’s history. Our history. Nothing more.