Marching Back to The Twilight Age

Across these shadow-filled decades you probably wouldn’t remember how we’d sit there on our beds and submit our lives and times to all the oh-so-mature, badass examination that only eighteen-year-olds possessing a 2-S or 4-F Selective Service deferment or a Draft Lottery number higher than 200 could muster. Through the tawny, fuzzy-framed lens of five beers each or the gray-white haze of ultra-clarity that you’d acquire from that illicit psychoactive agent you harbored in your sock drawer, artistic, philosophic and geopolitical certainty would hang in the air like soon-to-incinerate paper lanterns strung from one side of the room to the other. Occasionally, the rocket’s red glare of your proselytizing the work of Salinger would send me scooting for safety behind the cover of my Shakespeare, Twain and Chekhov. Do you remember falling to sleep to Zeppelin, Dylan and The Dead? How about the phony bomb threat someone tried to pin on the Black Panthers that emptied the dorms on our first night on campus? Can you recall how we wandered around the quads and stared at easily a hundred of the first girls we’d ever seen wearing clothing — actually or, most likely, in our dreams — more easily removed than high school uniform jumpers, wide-belted low-hipped bell bottoms or even a tight-ass mini? Do you recollect any of those deliciously salacious silhouettes of their Promised Land projected through each of the nightgowns by the fire trucks’ lights? I only just thought of them, sitting here with this faded old photo of her. I wonder whatever happened, since we never did. Those will never be the good old days, though, since so much bad since then blocked the light of the good. But the faintly outlined memories I saw today through something like those old chemically induced dorm goggles make me happy. I guess I could call them memories of the Twilight Ages, since at this age I’m living in now sure as hell feels like a Dark one.

I don’t wish you could have been there, but you probably had to be to fully understand this. It was a time of great social and political upheaval faced by kids who had lived through a just-averted nuclear war touched off a relatively few nautical miles from Key West, by burning racial divisions and flaming American cities, and by many an American boy about to turn 18 who sweated out if his next birthday recognition would include a card that read: “Greetings.” Guys my age tend to talk about their youth as “the Dark Ages.” But they really should be called the Twilight Ages. Today scares me in a whole different way.

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I am, I was, I

I
I am
I can
I want
I take
I can take
I can take more
I can’t take more?
I can’t take?
I can’t?
I’m not?
You
I’m not
I couldn’t
I couldn’t take
I couldn’t take more
I can’t
I can’t take
I can’t take more
I can’t take any more
I can’t
Take
Any more
And now you.
I just can’t
Just can’t
Just
I
I am
No more

A mind full of faces and places that mean everything and nothing races nowhere. Well, just here. Just here. Unwell.

Kind of Unkind

“The years have not been kind,”
we’ve often hear people mutter
when they maybe saw some starlet
from their youth on TV wordlessly profess
herself the victim of her excesses,
her exes,
and usually an excess of gravity.
But at least she’s still able to tell
the tales of those years
when they made sure she
always had the right light,
an ex who was the right height
(or at least his wallet was),
and access to the right might
to keep her in sight of a public
who one day wouldn’t notice
she’d disappeared like another day
into night.

I mention this only because I looked
at myself in such retrospect today,
side-eying the mirror,
taking the measure of the man as I might
someone I’d not seen in years.
I there found a guy with more tread
on his face than the figurative tires
upon which he’s bumped along his winding race.
But I’m only a victim of my overabundant daydreams,
always believing a shiny kind of something
lay out there for me, even if for years
most have been but unkind mirage.
Like the starlet, though, I’m still here
to tell, admittedly with not much gravity,
tales of years I one day hope to profess,
while not always kind, have been
in excess.

Yes, I’ve been away from all this for a while…and then I went took a month off to introduce myself to my newest granddaughter. And maybe a little to my ever-gloomy self. So, like that little shorty I spent June with, it’s time to start standing up, looking up, and maybe babble some new stories. Today was my first step. Yeah, I may have fallen, but I always get back up again, eventually.

The View From the Precipice Through Gray Eyes

As I sit with her sleeping on my chest,
I wonder how her world will be
if she gets the chance to be my age.
Will she ever be able to swim
in a clean lake, hide beneath a dock
where you can clearly see all the way
to the shore from beneath the water?

Will she ever return from a visit
to The Great White North and be greeted
by border protectors who only mildly mistrust her
because she might be hiding duty-free booze
in the trunk, rather than meeting scowling guys
who mistrust everyone coming across
the Rainbow Bridge who have the dark tan
and jet black hair I did at 18?

Will she be free to read, write and speak
about anything, in any manner, for and against,
as I have my whole communicative life?
She makes a wiggle and opens her gray eyes
for a second, sees someone who loves her
holding her close, safe and warm, and I wonder.

Will she one day hold her grandkid and realize
what a special thing we had in this little town,
in her Grandpa’s old big-hug country
I once thought was full of possibilities,
back before the precipitous fall into
a land of Not Anymore?

I’ve always wondered, with both my granddaughters, the blue-eyed and the gray, how the future will be for them. It’s always been windy at the top of this mountain, but these days I worry more than I ever have a rank gust could blow us off.

Divided

In basic math, they call the resulting number of something divided by another something a quotient. For instance, the quotient of 6 divided by 3 is 2. In elementary school, the teachers snuck a test by us to quantify each of our abilities to learn. The test generated a number called an Intelligence Quotient. Here’s the confusing thing, though: In mathematics (or arithmetic, as we called it back in the post-abacus/pre-calculator days) you divided two numbers to come up with a quotient; with the IQ test, it was the intelligence quotient that did the dividing of all the students. This bothered my sense of fair play and caused Barbara and Terry to sit on the other side of class. I asked the Sister why and she said it was for the best. Then I asked to go to the boys room. On my way back to my new desk, I snuck a look at the list she used to divide us. I found my name next to a number. I returned to my seat and pondered how they could divide 1 from 32 and come up with 147. Dumb asses. And they wonder why I hated math.

For Day #5 of the PAD Challenge, we were charged with writing a poem based on the word or concept of “intelligence.” I quickly — and I mean before breakfast quickly — came up with this prose-like thingamabob recalling how the black-habited powers that be separated some students from others after we took a certain weird test. I usually obeyed authority. I’d question the hell out of it to see if it deserved it. I wonder if that’s why some teachers always said I was a smartass?

Case of the Forgotten Words and Remembered Faces

The mystery is why
I keep thinking of them,
remembering instances
of one on one
from years on years ago,
when I can’t recall
what I ate for breakfast.
I remember freckles,
blue eyes with gold speckles,
sweat droplets clinging
to an upper lip, or not,
the smell, the texture,
the taste of their skin,
each of the names of
the ones that changed me,
and which one would call me
Joe, Joseph, Joey or
even by my whole name.

But I can sit here and
reach into my head to toss
its books and papers all over
for ten minutes just trying
in vain to find one simple word.
Maybe something like
“cardinal” or “radiator”
or “duvet” (I’m sure one
of them had a white duvet
with a blue paisley design)
that should to be as close
to my virtual hand
as backspace or DELETE
ought to be at this moment.
But I see I’m finished now
and can forget all this
emotional ephemera
until some other day.
But I can’t. And for that,
I must remember to be grateful.

Day 4’s effort for PAD April ’18. This one required taking the word “Case” and using it in the title, like “Case (something or other)” and then writing a poem based on it. And that’s what I just did. I wrote a something or other.

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.