a famous family ~ a poem and critique

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her life was couched within parentheses,
which is to say mere mention of her was in passing,
perhaps as she passed, in a whisper of a breath,
in a quick glance away.

we know her name, we know the year,
we know her parents, who went on to have 3 sons.
they lived a fine life, as i understand it,
a life of custom-made mansions, trips abroad,
philanthropic gestures that made
for a life envied by most.

but the loss of a little one must have always been near,
always in the magnificent rooms where guests
enjoyed crumpets and tea, heard lectures
about the unlimited possibilities of the 20th century,
and celebrated holiday after holiday with the family
who felt in every room the presence of another.

i had a paid assignment to write a short piece
about this family, with a quick turnaround,
and in my haste to summarize its members, i wrote:
(Unfortunately, a daughter, Elizabeth, passed away in 1890 at age four.)

i woke up the next day with this sentence in my head.
and my immediate verdict was this:
clumsy writing, at best,
tragic writing, at worst.

some things i never thought i’d say ~ a poem

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i need to wash my mask

which mask looks better – the red or the black

why isn’t that person wearing a mask

when this is all over i’ll feel naked without my mask

 

will this ever be all over

will we ever really be in this together

will we ever see eye to eye face to face

soul to soul i do not know

the last librarian ~ short story (revision) (590 words)

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The last librarian sat behind the information desk and wondered aloud, “Now what?” with no idea where to begin. She wasn’t frightened, though, or even very angry. Mostly, she was just tired of waiting.

All her professional decisions in the past had been matters of momentary importance. Where’s this? What’s that? The why and the how of reference questions. It had been a job based on happenstance, with little romance. Yet now that no one came to the desk to ask for her informed opinion, she felt jilted – like someone left standing (or, in her case, sitting) alone at the altar.

For a while she watched a white moth flitting about down the history aisle. In the light sifting through the high windows it danced its hypnotic dance past shelf after shelf, eventually landing somewhere near the end of the aisle. Seeing this as a sign, the last librarian wandered over to the area where she thought the moth had alighted. The moth was nowhere to be found, but taking a guess as to which book it may have last settled on, she chose a thick volume from the top shelf. It happened to be a book about Mesopotamia. She opened it to a page at random: a photograph of a clay tablet with dense cuneiform writing. The caption read: “Sacred tablets like the one seen in this photo were kept in a special room, with each tablet bearing a classification symbol along its edge, much like the catalog numbers librarians now place on book spines.”

She closed the book, closed her eyes, and visualized a wide room within a temple. From every direction light streamed in through high, narrow windows. In the center of the room stood a slim, erect man (or was it a woman?) delicately running an index finger over a stack of tablets, leaving a long smooth trail in the dust which lay upon the surface.

When the last librarian in the world opened her eyes again, she was jolted by surprise to see where she was standing: not in a Mesopotamian temple but in the same dim aisle of the same dim library she had worked in for years. And the looming shelves all around, filled to capacity with books barely touched, let alone read, sent a shiver not unlike terror through her limbs. At one time she had looked upon this space as a kind of temple, awed by the thoughts and ideas these books contained. All that intellectual striving! All that roving curiosity! But now as her eyes fell upon the faded, brittle spines, some of whose titles and call numbers she could barely make out, she had a visceral understanding of something she had long known. These books, however cherished, were simply vessels. And like all vessels throughout time, they were destined to be replaced by something less cumbersome.

As were their keepers.

At this thought, the last librarian couldn’t help but smile. Finally, she knew exactly where to begin. It was now her time to walk away but not without leaving a personal statement. Her statement, however, would be different from her predecessor’s. It would be an homage of sorts, an homage, one might say, in reverse. It would hearken back to the dawn of time, when knowledge was new, when only light and darkness reigned and the forces of creation and destruction battled for supremacy. And as she closed the old building for the night – a building so cathedral-like in its majesty – at the end of a long, sinuous aisle, she would be wielding the torch.

lone wolf ~ a poem

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you can study me all you want to
you won’t pierce the mystery of me

all right she didn’t really say this
that’s just how i thought it to be

her gaze was aloof and standoffish
no thanks it said please don’t bother

she was a lone wolf of a person
not hungry for what i offered

yet beneath the cold gloss of her eyes
a warm spark would flash now and then

it said study her all you wish to
soon you’ll know the secret within

the hat lady ~ a poem for my mother on mother’s day

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it all starts with a straw hat
and a wash basin –
the dawning of consciousness –
and the hot montana sun
shining on sugar beets where
a child plays at working
in the fields

summers pass and years pass and
the child is an old woman now
who wears other kinds of hats
not just a straw hat with a string
tied daintily under her chin

now she wears hats like the small-brimmed hat
her eldest daughter brought back as a gift
from thailand festooned with red blue and yellow
parrot feathers or the red plastic rain hat
with a wide brim she found for herself
at a second-hand store – a hat she claims
goes with everything

it is in the heat of burbank she lives now
and where around town she shows off her hats
they call me the hat lady she once told me
without the least bit of embarrassment
at kmart when they see her coming
they say here comes the hat lady
and she always smiles in return

for she doesn’t take it as a slight
the workers are her friends she says
and this is somewhere to go
when her apartment feels like a cage
here she can wander the aisles
browsing merchandise she could never
have had as a child

she lives in the present and the past
she remembers when she sat in a wash basin
as her mother and brothers picked sugar beets
in the fields and she remembers how sometimes
she would stoop alongside them playing
at pulling stalks with her small hands
she remembers the straw hat her mother
gave her to protect her from the sun
she remembers the rows and rows
of beets amid the aisles and aisles
that surround her now
it all comes full circle she tells me
it all comes round

and when i see a child’s look of delight
in my mother’s cloudy eyes – the amber
still visible within the cataract blue –
i know what she says is true

corona jerks ~ a poem and a rant

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lockout be damned.
our rights are being trampled.
the government can’t force us to remain at home
or wear masks when we creep outdoors.
they can’t force us not to earn slave wages
at jobs with little or no benefits.
we follow our supreme leaders instead
who we have helped make billions during the pandemic
while many of us still wait for unemployment
checks, stimulus money, small business loans,
or just some measure of comfort and care.
but so what? we agree with our overseers
who have succeeded in locking us down
in a prison of misery and poverty
in a country of extreme inequality
for this fight we wage, this fight
to bare faces, breathe in, breathe out,
in total disregard for ourselves and others,
and also show our military might,
is the only freedom they allow.
Besides, we know if it all goes to hell,
there will be pie in the sky when we die.

a favorite poem by verlaine ~ le ciel est, par-dessus le toit…

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(A perfect lockdown poem, if there ever was one, written while Verlaine was in prison. English translation follows French original.)

Le ciel est, par-dessus le toit,
Si bleu, si calme!
Un arbre, par-dessus le toit,
Berce sa palme. 

La cloche, dans le ciel qu’on voit,
Doucement tinte.
Un oiseau sur l’arbre qu’on voit
Chante sa plainte.

Mon Dieu, mon Dieu, la vie est là,
Simple et tranquille.
Cette paisible rumeur-là
Vient de la ville. 

– Qu’as-tu fait, ô toi que voilà
Pleurant sans cesse,
Dis, qu’as-tu fait, toi que voilà,
De ta jeunesse?

***

Over the roof, the sky is
So blue, so calm!
Above the roof, a tree
Waves its palm.

In the sky one can see the bell
Softly ringing.
On the tree one can see a bird
Singing its lament.

My God, my God, life is there,
Simple and tranquil.
This peaceful rumor there
Comes from the town.

What have you done, o you there,
Weeping without end,
Tell me, what have you done, you there,
With your youth?

 

 

 

in the outpost of never ~ a fantasy of unrequited love

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in the outpost of never i found him. he had that faraway look of someone playing hard to get who rarely gets gotten and the long red-brown hair you can only describe as tresses when they frame a pale chopinesqe face. he was rail thin emaciated even but that only made me want him more.

he wasn’t the type to play around. he wasn’t the kind to hang around. he wanted what he wanted and that wasn’t me but at least he pretended for a while in the outpost of never where there are no promises to keep.

i stood in the frame of the window silhouetted against the setting sun. his hair was a golden red in the fading light his eyes an emerald green. he kissed me then a friendly kiss not a lover’s kiss but i succumbed just the same.

in the outpost of never the room is always warm and fragrant with creosote tumbleweed and cedar. The fragrance coats your body your thoughts your tongue so that you can never taste another.

on moonless nights the door is left open. on moonless nights the coyotes howl. on moonless nights in the outpost of never when you stumble upon the one you love who does not love you back you may want to but you never close the door.

pandemic ~ a poem

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when it all happened
when the bottom fell out
and the center wouldn’t hold
a thought emerged: i’ll call her
she’ll know what to do
she always knows what to do

the mind goes to strange places
when you’re facing a mirror
and you look straight through
when the world defies
your long understanding
of how things ought to be
when a virus rages on and on
as you teeter over a chasm of fear

it is then that your brain catapults you
to another place and time
to a place where you once felt safe
and you yearn for that someone
who was always there to catch your fall
and is no longer here to save you