The dilemma

life is habit,
most of it…

some bad
some good
it’s
like that girl
Louisa that you
hung with
when you were
right out of
high school
and filled
with habit-forming bravado

when you were

dreaming about,
flying airplanes
and moving to
Honduras.
And you spent
hours discussing
your future plans
with her over
Grain Belt beer…

She was habit.
When she left
town
saying that she
had no time
for Honduras
and was scared
as shit of flying,
you continued
with
the next
habit…
…the Chesterfields
and chilled white wine…

those two saw you through
mid-town and on
into the outer-boroughs
until you found yourself
clinging to a capsized
dingy one night
in the center of the Hudson River

life is habit,
most of it
some bad
some good

you spend a lot of life
at the Publix
in the produce aisle
inspecting romaine lettuce and
limes,
you spend a lot of life
at the convenience store
weekday mornings
at 5:45AM
pouring black coffee into
a scalding
paper cup…

habits all,

and now
you’re pissed off that your
middle finger is
burned and can’t be used
for at least a week
and you think that you will be
doing this

every day… from now
until
the next century
and you can’t imagine
it any other way
…that is habit

you’re an old
wrangler herding
cows
you’re
an old surfer
looking for a
50 foot wave
you’re an old
farmer waiting
for a summer rain
you’re an old poet
listening to
the dogs snore
under the table
as Chopin plays
on the stereo
as you
stare at a
page on your
yellowing legal pad
waiting for
a scene
so you can
give it life

it’s habit
SO

you
think that you will
be doing this until
the day
that you die

and

you probably will
because
there’s no
way
out

under my thumb

the poem that almost ate
my brain
began as a flashing
cursor on my laptop computer
at 8 pm one night,
long after the
Government office
where I used to work,
in Washington, DC closed
for the day, and a poem

…one that I had thought about
for at least ten hours
took residence under,
my left thumb

THAT

worthless left thumb

THAT

good for shit left thumb
the thumb that has no
meaning for a right-handed
senior technical writer
the thumb that sits on
its lazy laurels all day
while the other 8 fingers
and 1 thumb (the right one) do
all of the work

that left thumb couldn’t even hitch
a ride out of Shawnee Mission,
Kansas in 1977, when sister
told you that you’d worn out your welcome

(yeah, Rightie did all the,

serious
highway 169 work didn’t it …but
you got you a ride anyway, with those Mormons

headed for Topeka)

left thumb thinks
it’s entitled to special
treatment
because it’s connected to your left hand
damned appendage hasn’t done a decent
day’s work in its life.

b.s. I call it
let a finger do a fingers worth of work
like everyone else
call in your markers
pay a finger for a finger
forget the hand
anything less is —
…hand-socialisim

just

make sure that you,
open the hood
jot it down carefully, then
add poetic antifreeze
before you
pull out that poem
that is eating your brain

after that
let
the chips fall where they may
and
when it’s done
nobody cares whether
your left thumb had
a hand
in it or not

the Florida panther

there is a panther lurking
around the shed behind
my house
I saw him last night
his

hungry…killer eyes
glowing in the
Everglades night
like twin lightning fires

in the sawgrass

I hadn’t spotted one since
’08, but there he was
a big, two hundred pound male

…a panther lurking,
waiting for his chance
to move with utmost
grace toward unsuspecting prey
he wants to
…take his name off of the
Endangered Species list
…so he can say to hell with
the environmentalists
and the tinhorn developers
and their lapdog politicians…
AND
when they are gone
& their carcasses picked to the bone
he’ll call everyone he knows
in North Jersey
and in Brooklyn and in Staten Island
and in Philadelphia
and in Grosse Pointe
and he’ll even call
his cousin Rachel,
that poor lost soul who
hangs her palm frond hat in
Panama City and he’ll
announce that
Panther Valley South is alive
and well — and open for business
and he’ll
charge them just two and a half a grand
on their Visa card
for the down payment
SO
don’t dismiss the experience
lightly
…don’t wait for the 18-hole course
to open sometime in the
spring (someday)
…well maybe, wait for it
but don’t plan for it…

you thought that fucking panther
was endangered
didn’t you…
but he lives

JUST

don’t bother to look for him
among the gators
and the snakes –
get out your binos and look for him just before sunset
that’s when he feeds

…look fast and you’ll spot him,
coming out of the grey, twilight mist,
steaking up I75 North, then
pausing momentarily
at the Alligator Alley
toll plaza, before pointing
his leased BMW west
into the
setting sun
toward
Naples

The 4th of July

a couple of years ago
I spotted the 4th of July sitting
on the beach
talking to Memorial Day
both of them,
about fifty yards south
of the Pompano pier
The 4th looking worse for the
light of day
his feet propped up on a cooler
packed with Ice House beer

looking bleary at ten am…

he’d had a long night
and
… I’m thinking he’s looking
a little thick in the thighs
long in the tooth
the years are taking
a toll

…but Memorial D., after all these decades
…he’s still
trim as a race track dog
he’s
sipping an orange soda

…he’s sober as a hanging judge
sober as a Baptist deacon on Sunday morning

Have you been to The Wall lately?
Memorial D. asks The 4th,
4th shakes his head and says he ought to get there
Sometime before end of summer
but he says he’s been busy
with the
Big Holiday
he reminds Memorial D. – there are
ribs and chicken wings
to slather on the grill
and he says that he has
a couple of
surplus
M-80s to toss into his neighbor’s pool
later on — after the sun goes down
“they’re simulated artillery you know
those M-80s
so it’s almost a Military Maneuver
you gotta love pyrotechnics”
The 4th coughs,
lights a smoke

How about you? he asks Memorial D.
You get to The Wall much these days?

I’m all over that place, says Memorial D.
I’ve read every name…I know them all

Every one?

Yeah, every one.
I know them all in Aisne-Marne too

and in Meuse-Argonne

and Ardennes, Belgium

and in Oise-Aisne

and in Manila

and in Gettysburg

and Mexico City

and dozens of others

The 4th pauses
shifts in his beach chair
squints into the late morning sun
(…he has a glass eye
and sometimes it turns inward
and
it wobbles in its
socket when he’s had a few – left to right
right to left)

…you get around don’t you? he says
to Memorial D.

Memorial D. answers slowly
Cautiously
because
it’s the 4th of July

corporate ladder

“don’t worry about your place
on the corporate ladder,
there’s always some fucker
down there, two rungs below
…rubbing two sticks together
– trying to start the fire
to burn you down”

or so says Gus, the new bartender
at the Los Lobos Bar,
but what does he know (I tell myself)
damned bartenders
and their sage words,
all of ‘em
trying to sound like they
know things the rest of us don’t
trying to act like they
have done it all about two
weeks before the rest of us

…they think they’re a sounding board
for the desperate
and they think that we have no place
left to go

Gus asks if I want one more
before he gets busy
with the lunch crowd
but I wave him off
saying I have to get
back to
the office.

wine glass in winter

there’s a wine glass
on the table
on the back porch

by the swing
beside the flour bin
beside the feed sacks
that the cats sleep on

Sadie left it

one afternoon
last fall
when she stopped by
to drink
port wine
with me
and to tell me that she was
quitting drinking
in 72 hours
and to let me know that
she’d decided to forget
“the regimen”
and she was going to tell
the doctors in Philly
that she was going to
move on with her
new life
…in Scottsdale

and
when she left
that day
..she didn’t
rub the tummy
of the Buddha
that sits on the shelf
by
the back steps
and she didn’t
pick up
Lancelot and kiss him
behind the ears
or toss her hair
over her left
shoulder
or remind me to pay
my phone bill…
…I knew she was
gone, so I
left the wine glass

…on the table

where it collects
winter light
at half past three
in the afternoon.

next month
I’ll bring it in
and wash it
and put it away
but for now it is too
cold for me
to leave
the kitchen
and the
cats

So, today
I’ll think of
Sadie in her
sundress
drinking
saying that
if she had another year
she’d
go out to Michigan
and look up her old man
and her daughter
but at the present time

she didn’t think she had it
in her

Thinking about time, Misao Okawa, Van Gogh, and Delmore Schwartz

This week I am taking a short detour off of the poetic superhighway, perhaps into the philosophical ‘weeds’, but nonetheless, here’s what’s on my mind today. A news story that I read earlier in the month at first amused me, then it nagged at me for so long that I returned to the article for a re-read. My take away on the re-read disturbed me.

The article that I am referring to is one of many that appeared on various internet newsfeeds, as well as in the print and broadcast news media. It announced the birthday of the world’s oldest living human, Misao Okawa of Japan. Ms. Okawa, who on March 5 of this year, celebrated her 117th birthday, made her numero uno of the supercentenarians, a supercentenarian being defined as a person older than 110 years of age.

In any case, it was a ‘feel good’ article, and Ms. Okawa, who appears to be mentally sharp, and in good physical condition for a person of her age, had quite a lot to say to interviewers. Most noteworthy of her comments was one regarding life in general.

“It seemed quite short,” said Ms. Okawa.

I was stunned. If the life of the world’s oldest human seemed, “quite short”, what hope is there for the rest of us. As a time junkie, I calculated that Ms. Okawa was 57 years of age when I was born – a lady well into middle age at that time. Now in her later years, her she was telling us that, in effect, it had all passed very quickly.

Get it done, make the list, and make sure you get as much in as you can, because you only have your ‘allotted’ years. That’s what I take away from Ms. Okawa’s interview. If you want to write, paint, improve yourself, or travel to the ends of the earth, there is no better day to put a plan in place than today. If you want to build a cabin in the Rockies, ride a horse, jump a freight train to Calgary, or rekindle a lost romance, do it now.

Some of us are allowed many years, others of us few. Yesterday, March 30th, marked the passing of one who was allotted few years. It was the birth date of Vincent Van Gogh. Van Gogh was allowed only 37 years on this planet before insanity drove him to kill himself in July of 1890. In his wake he left a legacy of art that will survive him by millenniums (if civilization survives that long).

So this is where I am today, midway between Van Gogh’s birthday, and the first of April. Do I have a poem in mind for this occasion…well I do, but it’s not one that I wrote. It’s one of my favorite poems, and it contains one of my favorite poetic lines:

“…time is the fire in which we burn”

This line is from a poem by Delmore Schwartz, titled “Calmly we walk through this April day”. This poem describes an April day in New York City in 1937. I hope that you enjoy it.

Oh…by the way…
Ms. Okawa was asked the secret of her longevity.
She said, “I wonder about that too.”

Mahalo
ed

Sandhills expedition

don’t kiss me good-night
— tonight
sweet Nebraska
don’t let me
die in search
of that
elusive Valentine
don’t call me
names for the sake
of trying to change
my mind
don’t call the place
I’m in – devoid
of sensory pleasure
don’t call the road
I’ve travelled – sublime
or call me one of the
fortunate few,
and
don’t read the last
words that I wrote
to you and
call it literature
or the last poem
I wrote for you
and whisper
the last 4 lines
to me from the comfort
of
your cellular phone
from your loft in
San Francisco
or from your cabin
in Oregon
…so, just let me be
here
in
sweet Nebraska
with its golden half moon
pushing up over
Scotts Bluff
with Wyoming
being its own same self
to the west
and the wind from
Manitoba wafting through
the open windows
of the 1970 Travelall
let me pitch my tent
in the shadow of
Highway 20
…underfed lanky coyotes of
doom howl
in the distance,
give me one more
night
before I go home.

Phil

Last weekend

he cleaned the garage

and sorted the recyclables

and he separated

the plastic bottles from the glass

the green glass from the brown

and he put them into their

appropriate containers

and he stacked the papers

into perfectly arranged sheaves

of old tired news

and bound them with twine

and lugged them to the curb

…and mid-yard…

he  paused to expunge

a delinquent dandelion from their

recently clipped and finely fertilized

Kentucky Bluegrass lawn

and to adjust an errant sprinkler head

so as to insure proper irrigation

of the geranium bed

and he inspected the marigolds

for spider mites

and the chrysanths

for mealybugs

and the vine tomatoes

for flea beetles

after which,

he left his gardening gloves

on the arm of the porch swing

and his rubber muck boots

on the mat

by the front door

and he left his house key in the

candy dish on the entryway bench

his pipe in the agate ashtray

and heated a kettle for tea

and drew water for a bath

and then he

laid on the sofa to rest

and so…

…it was just…

as his widow told me

his time.

The High Line Drifter’s Lament

April is National Poetry Month, so I want to post a couple of pieces of poetry that I have written. These poems have all appeared elsewhere. This poem, The High Line Drifter’s Lament, is one that I wrote several years ago. The High Line is a railroad freight line that runs between Seattle, Washington, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the United States. It passes just south of the U.S., Canadian border, and crosses the states of Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota.

Back during the 1980s and 1990s, the High Line was terrorized by a gang called the “Freight Train Riders Association”. This gang was responsible for lots of violence along this stretch of track, particularly in the state of Montana. People who illegally rode freight trains were fearful.

The High Line Drifter’s Lament

I was riding on the High Line, on a trip across the plains,

Passing south of Enumclaw, soaked from late night rains,

Riding fifteen hundred miles, across the northern tier,

Choking hard on cheap red wine, cursing hard the fear,

I got a second hand Hi-Standard; I keep it in my pack,

I sleep with one eye open, because I have to make it back,

An old timer told me in Spokane, while we were playing cards,

How thugs had come to terrorize the rails and the yards,

They found a man in Kalispell, a month ago today,

He didn’t have a home or name, but now he has a grave,

They’re rolling drunks, and killing men, and raising lots of hell,

Killing them that ain’t like them, and anyone who’ll tell,

They don’t give any warning, and they don’t make any sound,

They’ll shoot you dead and disappear before the bull’s next round,

So I take a chance, I check my piece, keep my back against the wall,

In thirty two more hours I’ll be with you in St. Paul,

By morning light this train will pass, from the mountains to the farms,

And I’ll be that much closer to the shelter of your arms.