Summer/Palm Beach, FL

Summer nights in Palm Beach
you can almost wear
the heat around your neck
on a multi-colored lanyard
smell the night air drifting up from the
Boca ghetto 20 miles to the south
watch the bejeweled sky light up
like the gems in the shops on Worth Avenue
expect everything – you can afford it can’t you?
don’t drink the water
was it worth the hangover?
was it worth the Jacques Selosse?
that you’d ordered – spilled
for that special occasion
Don’t ask the waiter who couldn’t wait
to steal your Lana Marks bag,
don’t count on him,
he’s a traitor who’s fled West.

Keep up appearances
and don’t forget the dogs,
you’ll need them to keep you company
at the Breakers
after the politicians have left the room.

SO
talk the talk and enjoy the ride.

It ends in West Palm at the dog track.
It ends in a seedy poker room
with half a dozen guys smoking cigars
and talking legalized pot.
It ends in a sunset you will never see.

Safety in numbers/surviving the inquisition

So there’s safety in numbers?

don’t believe any of it

don’t think that you’ll be that face in the crowd

the guy in the Macy’s parade wearing the hat

the guy in the bank line wearing patent leather shoes

don’t think that you are part of a movement

…there is no movement.

Don’t read the papers…they don’t exist

Don’t think you will survive the inquisition

they know where you are

they know you’ve worked in shipping

for the past seventeen years, and

they know you’re 63 years old and

you drink too much.

They know you…they can pull you out

of line whenever they want

and stick a cold, soup-line finger into your chin

ouch…it’s 1932 all over again

bite your lip. Stand up straight.

So let them do it.

You’re a little punch drunk now.

In half an hour you’ll realize that

…none of it matters…

You’re Just a frazzled old beatnik at heart

Writing poems, and

telephoning friends before

looking around for a bus ride out of town.

a short poem about eternity

don’t talk eternity with me
until you’ve sailed out to the offing in a rental boat
and considered the molecules in the sea
and the sand on the shores of the Dry Tortugas

don’t remind me of the million year rain
or the damned great beasts,
just curl up behind me in the night
when the wind is high and the last new moon
of the year is about half a mile behind
(and remind me that the old traitor
is afraid of the dark)

It’s raining so kiss me
like there is never going to be
another geologic upheaval
don’t pretend that you and I
have not been smooching
like this for at least
ten thousand years.

Take off your clothes
and listen to the waves
slap up against her hull,
she’s been around for a while
but she will never sink,
not here
not tonight

 

 

 

toothache on Sunday

 

Don’t say it doesn’t hurt

just go down to the clinic on Fremont

where the 83 year old

dentist with the

rented drill hangs his hat.

Be there at 8AM and ask if he has

had a drink today.

He doesn’t care if you

pay today, so

ask if he can drill

a little carefully

(is he steady?).

Can he send you back

to the brick factory

intact?

Ask if he can pull the

offender out of line.

Make him press

the arrogant bastard up against the wall

and put a pistol to his head,

make him talk, and

threaten him like an aging

third world dictator

with a glass eye

and a case of syphilis.

Old dentist doesn’t take shit

from any offender

or so he says…

I say,

screw the orders

screw the old dentist

with his rented 1950’s drill

“give it a rest old man”

there’s no oil in that hole…

no gold in that mine

I’ll just kill the pain

with a stop at the Freeway Pub

I’ll tell them all

I have 97 more years left in me,

At least, so

they can’t stop me now…

…if it’s not one thing

it’s something else,

pain is good for the soul.

 

 

Remembering 2/26/1993

Sometime in late January, or early February, 1993, I sloshed my way through the streets of New York City’s Financial District, toward the World Trade Center. At the time, I was working as a consultant in the IT department of a Wall Street bank. The technical recruiter for my consulting company had invited me to have lunch with her at the Atrium Café, located in the Winter Garden, just outside of the Trade Center. My contract at the bank was winding down and she had a new opportunity that she wanted to discuss with me.

It was a bleak day, with a cold wind blowing in off of the freezing waters of the Hudson. I remember thinking I wished I had rescheduled this lunch as I trudged up Wall Street to Trinity Church, past the graveyard where Alexander Hamilton, Robert Fulton (and many other notables) are buried. I turned right and walked up Church Street for a bit before turning left to cut across to Liberty Plaza Park where I often lingered on pleasant summer days.

My favorite bench in Liberty Plaza Park featured a life sized, bronze sculpture of a man in a suit and tie, sitting on the bench, preparing for a meeting by checking his essential items in an open briefcase. The name of this popular piece of sculpture is “Double Check” by the famed artist, John Seward Johnson. On nice days, I enjoyed spending a bit of my lunch hour sitting beside my friend “D.C.” with a coffee and a book. But not on this day. I was frozen to the bone and my feet were soaked after stepping off a curb into a puddle of slush. Nevertheless, I nodded to D.C. as I hurried by ‘my bench’ resolving to return on a warmer day.

The Winter Garden was one of my favorite places in lower Manhattan. Situated at the end of a 400 foot pedestrian bridge that spanned West Street, connecting it to the World Trade Center, this atrium was a world apart from the often bleak, windswept, slushy streets of downtown New York. With its fully grown palm trees and tropical foliage, the spacious Winter Garden was a refuge for downtown office workers seeking an bright, cheerful place to lunch on days such as the one described here.

I don’t recall much about that lunch date, except I was in no hurry to rush back to work. I remember that we lingered for some time over coffee, watching the hundreds, if not thousands, of mid-day visitors to lower Manhattan pass by, hurrying away to a million destinations. I did not know it then, but this would be my final lunch in the Winter Garden.

In late February I travelled to Atlanta for a conference. The weather in Atlanta was not much of an improvement over the weather in New York. It was cold and wet. On day two of the conference, a freezing rain fell on the city covering everything in a layer of treacherous ice. By Friday, February 26, I was ready to go home, and I was grateful that the conference ended at noon. Another storm was approaching the Atlanta area and I wanted to get out of town before it arrived. I breathed a sigh of relief when my early afternoon flight home lifted off right on time. Two hours later when I got off of the plane at Newark’s Liberty airport, it was apparent that something had happened while I was airborne. Something big. Heavily armed police were everywhere, many with dogs. There was tension in the air. None of my fellow passengers had any idea of what was going on.

I know it’s hard to believe in this day of smart phones, in-flight wi-fi, tweets and newsfeeds, but I made it all the way to baggage claim before I actually found someone who knew what was happening.

“Didn’t you hear,” said a lady beside me at the baggage carrousel, “they’ve blown up the World Trade Center.”

Shocked, I rushed to the nearest pay phone to call my wife to find out what was going on. (Remember – this is 1993 and cell phones were more or less a luxury item. I would not own one for another three years.) My wife explained to me that while the World Trade Center was not ‘blown up’, a powerful bomb had gone off doing extensive damage. Lower Manhattan was totally sealed off with all bridges and tunnels closed as authorities feared other acts of terrorism.

All in all, six people lost their lives that day, including 36 year old Monica Rodriguez Smith who was seven months pregnant. Ms. Smith was doing mundane office chores in her basement office when the bomb exploded. In addition to the six deaths, over 1000 were injured.

Because of the magnitude of the tragedy eight years later on September 11, 2001, the events of the 2/26 World Trade Center bombing are sometimes overlooked. Today, however, I am remembering the day and the victims of that first attack, a day that shook the world for so many of us.

*

On December 31, 1994, my wife and I celebrated the approaching New Year in an Italian restaurant in New York’s Little Italy neighborhood. For that night we’d booked a room in the recently reopened Marriott Hotel in the north tower of the World Trade Center. Once known as the Vista hotel, the new Marriott occupied the first 22 stories of the north tower and had been closed for a year and a half for reconstruction after the terrorist attack of 1993.

The next day we strolled the deserted streets of lower Manhattan, walking between the World Trade Center and South Street Seaport. I took my wife to all of my old haunts. In Liberty Plaza Park I found my friend “Double Check” and we paused for a picture. That was my last visit to the Park and the last time I sat beside D.C. on the granite bench. The next time I would see a picture of D.C. would be in photos taken of the aftermath of 9/11.

Liberty Plaza Park sustained heavy damage in the 9/11 attacks, as did my friend D.C. The park would later be rebuilt and in 2006, it was renamed, Zuccotti Park. My friend D.C. sustained damage in the attacks but he was refurbished by Johnson, and now, renamed “Makeshift Memorial”, he has been returned to the park.

I am glad he is home.

me and dc

With my pal Double Check (D.C.) in New York City, January 1, 1995

don’t change a thing

don’t change a thing
please
don’t move
the McCoy pottery vase
that has stood
on the cherry wood table
in the front room
for the past 16 years,
leave it where it is…

leave the paper roses
where you found them
on the porch swing,
crumpled and soaked
in port wine,
leave the keys to the
’75 Chrysler New Yorker on the
Grand Hotel Key Rack
beside the basement
stairs
remember
it’s all in the details,
so don’t move anything
if you don’t have to

pretend
it’s morning again
So just – roll over,
it’s only 8 am
sleep for another hour
after all, the trains
don’t run on Sunday
later on
we’ll take the dogs out and
let them run
along the shore of the lake
just don’t change a thing
I’ll turn my hat around
and wear it backwards
I will offer you a clove cigarette
and a cup of black coffee
we’ll walk to
the railroad bridge
and we will put our back
to the summer wind
but we won’t change
a damned thing
ever, if we know
what’s good for us.

Big Torch Key 2003

last night I recalled
the white granite counter
where we placed
our empties
on the last night
we spent together
in the house on
Big Torch Key

Do you remember
that third-floor
mattress…
that
lumpy, damp,
Keys,
rainy season
mattress?

Remember
how you said
you would
go back to Pensacola and work
in a pancake house
during spring break
before you’d ever
spend a day fishing
with me
…ever again…
remember
the debris

on the floor,

the empty bottles and
a dozen or so
purple, plastic cups,
some once
filled with

Old Oak rum,
others with
Fairbanks port,
dead soldiers…
lined up and
catching rain water,
on that last night
we spent together

wasn’t there a
cell phone left
on the dock in
the afternoon rain?

and wasn’t
your lavender, bikini
left to dry on the center console of
the Boston Whaler?

do you miss me?

 

Screw technology…
the Old Man himself
calls the shots and
marches on
with or without us

lazy palms lean into the
late spring breeze like
there will never be
another storm

I remember how
I found you asleep

and

I kissed you on the cheek

at sunrise

dry land sailor

write me a little
poem
a day or two after I die
that’s all I ask,
just type it up
on some borrowed
copy paper from
the back room at
Ryan’s Irish Pub.

Type it on that
Olivetti typewriter
that I keep
oiled and ready
on the back porch.


no need for
something flowery
make it a little
gritty,
think:
the Missouri River
at flood stage
and

Just
think:
Rock Island, Illinois
think:
Brockway trucks

think:
St. Paul, Minnesota and Kansas City

Or don’t make anything
of it,
just keep it inside of you
and call
the El Cortez Casino
where you know I would go
when the chips are down

when the spirit is free
and

say to them…
be on the lookout for a
roulette hound

a dry land sailor

a hundred dollar millionaire

the dogs are all you can bet

with any success

“you damned dry land gambler”

you told me that lots of times
so why not
bet heavy on the long-shot dog
I’ll look for you at
the Palm Beach Kennel Club

 

New Year’s eve storm

let me wait out the storm right here

let me smoke cigarettes in the truck stop

let me order a plate of ham and scrambled eggs

let me pour on the tabasco sauce, let me

pay 85 dollars for someone to wash down

the Peterbilt before the five hundred mile

run to Spokane

don’t let anyone tell you that the

New Life Church of Christian Brotherhood

has all of the answers

or the Pope or the Dali lama

don’t let anyone get in the way of Progress

don’t flag down the latest politician

looking for a free bus ride

call a cab if you need one but

don’t expect to get off without paying a dime

it may be New Year’s Eve in Times Square, but

it’s still just another day in Kansas City

Philly and Evanston, Illinois.

and in Paducah.

expect little – pay a lot more

that’s the best way out, take the express lanes

if they are open

push it to the floor if you must but

watch out for oncoming traffic

lyrical ghost

The lyrical ghost
is usually 9 miles ahead
of me
he runs on fumes
and caffeine
so I don’t try to catch up
…he’ll run out of gas
the sorry old goat
he lives by his wits
but I don’t
let him
taunt the Old Man…
I give him
a porch to sit on
when he passes thru town
when the moon is new
and he has
that old dog with him
…that 15 year old dog that sits behind the
cane chair…
chewing the cockleburs out of his fur
that old black dog
he’s stiff in the joints
(the black dog)
I make the damned ghost
swear that he will be gone
half an hour before daylight

The lyrical ghost
says there there is no
ride like a 68 Bonneville
no piece of highway like
I-49 South
no mountains like
The Boston Mountains
no land
like east Oklahoma and
the Cookson Hills
and nothing like a big block Pontiac screaming across five states in one night
don’t take the guard rails with you,
compadre
keep it between the ditches
count the lines,
smoke ‘em if you got’ em
give it your best and pray you live until Sunday
no hubcaps needed
no state troopers need apply
he’s a damned outlaw

get up when it’s still dark
check the oil and the brake fluid
kick the tires
call for the black dog
and then just drive away

I hear him rattling around
downstairs
nights when I can’t sleep
and Leah works until
4Am
at the casino
I hear him come in through
the back door
I hear him
throw his keys at the
hook by the basement door, then
he puts
Dave Dudley
on the Philco,
he plays
‘Fireball rolled a 7’
on the record player
after that
all I can do is get up and
write a poem