The Axe man

the Axe man flies business class
from the West coast
and he takes his humble place
in the little room off the kitchen
at 8AM on Monday morning

He wears a paisley tie
right out of nineteen seventy five

but he carries himself with
grace through the
morning coffee clatter

…all eyes are on the
guy from
the Bay Area
nobody speaks to him
nobody asks how his
wife enjoys life in
Burlingame or if he
has two kids
or three
or if he drives a Volvo
or a Land Cruiser

…nobody gives
a solitary crap about
UCLA…

…you don’t care that much
about the Axe man because
of the numbers game
and you know it’s
just a game
for the ball-busting
number crunchers

…the Axe man takes it all
in stride – he has figures
on his side
temperamental figures
ephemeral figures
workable figures
undeniable facts

you want to ask the
Axe man if he takes his
work home with him
if his wife ever tosses
a dinner plate in his
direction, or if
he has a sister
incarcerated somewhere

of if he has a brother
who drank too much

most of all,
you want to ask him
why he hasn’t bought
a new necktie
in this century
but you don’t

…you have
to pack.

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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

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

bird in the house

if you can’t write it
easily,
walk away
because
poems write themselves
just
wait for awhile, wait until
late at night
when the bird that got in
when you opened
the door
to let the cats out
flyies across the
bedroom,
in gentle arcs
mocking you

as he sits on the ledge
over the bureau
and says things to you
that you
do not understand
…be patient
wait for him
to pass low
and dangerously near
the ceiling fans and
watch carefully, because soon
he will be
circling the California king
…coming in for a landing…
…he’s got no scruples…
the bird…

to the bird,
the winners and the losers
are all
the same

…go
get the broom
and
chase him away and then
yell to the dog
and say
that there’s a
bird in the house
so bark like hell…

…free him,
…you can’t let him stay
all night long!!
…you can’t kill him either

So
let him out
through that tear in the
screen on the back porch
and when he is gone
take your yellow notepad
and your fountain pen
and pour a Fairbanks port
and sit on the porch swing…
…listen to the night river wind
whistle through
the boxelders
in the back yard

…you’ll find the words

…dig them up – exhume them
like you did yesterday
when you wrote that
half assed
poem about that coke dealer
you knew when you were about
20 years old

or
when you wrote
that dismal poem about the last
time you talked with Leah
on the phone
when she was in Spokane
and you were at home
in the old house
on the Delaware
and about
Memorial Day
ten years ago
when you visited the
soldiers lying at peace
in that graveyard
up in Duluth

you might
write about the night
in 1987 when you
buried Riley
in the pasture
behind the house
with his favorite bone
and it will all come so easily…

So

Enjoy it
Because…
…soon it will be
over
and you will
recall that

the bird

is gone

and suddenly

you miss

him

salad days

salad days…
we used to think
we’d have them
around forever
so we’d always
love them and
keep them
booked
for at least
the next
forty years

lots of time to
till the garden
in the spring and plant
the next crop of
radishes and snow peas
how about the Giant Pumpkin?

maybe next year…

time to drive up to the
Water Gap one more time
with the dogs and
camp out on the
worst night of autumn
when cold
rain drives you from
the dime-store
tent

…find a buyer for that
damned kayak that’s taking up
so much room
in the shed

time to

look for a fuel pump
for the ‘64 MG Midget
you have on blocks
in the garage

time to
buy a coffee pot
finish the novel,
paint the barn
play Vivaldi
in the hayloft
at dawn
AND
write a poem
about antiquity,
float a
rowboat on the pond
kill time
with a friend
playing gin rummy
down at the vet’s home
shoot one more
game of snooker
with that guy from
Council Bluffs
and
write a travelogue
shoot skeet
play hard to get…

…salad days…
you’re all in
and
you’re still green
aren’t you?
like The Bard says

enjoy it
because you
must, and
don’t dispair
when it’s over
just write it
all down
while you still
can

The man behind the keyboard

Part 1

Last night I began cleaning the 1926 Underwood typewriter that I bought at a flea market. I have never tried to restore a typewriter, so for some helpful tips in how to do it, I turned to the internet. There, I found lots of people who do know how to do it (just Google: restore vintage typewriters). One restoration expert said to start out with lots of clean cloths, cut into 6 inch by 6 inch squares. Following his advice, I cut up an old t-shirt and went to work.

Using only soap and water as the cleaning agent, I soon discovered that I was lifting a particularly nasty looking, yellowish/brown substance from the surface of the heavy metal chassis. Upon closer inspection, I soon recognized the substance: it was nicotine. Considering the age of the typewriter, it is entirely likely that much of its working life may have been spent sitting next to an ash tray into which countless cigarettes may have been extinguished. Smoking in offices was at one time not only allowed, but more often than not, the norm.

My younger co-workers at the office where I work today find it incomprehensible that smoking would be allowed in an office, but as I have often explained to them, prior to the mid-1980s, smoking was not only allowed in the work-place, it was almost in-vogue. At least it seemed to be so on the U.S. East Coast, my geographic entry point into Corporate America.

The nicotine encrusted typewriter took me immediately back to the late 1970s. It was around then that I began my first job as a technical writer, starting as an entry level writer for an engineering company in suburban Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C. The company had only one client, but it was a big one – the United States Army. My department handled technical documentation. In short we wrote Army manuals, and we wrote lots of them – tons of them as a matter of fact.

Nearly everyone in the department was retired from one branch of the US military or another. Everyone, except for a handful of junior writers (like myself) had a brass nameplate on their cubicle identifying them by name and branch of service. Each carried the abbreviation “Ret.” , or retired, as the suffix to the service branch, as in Captain J.T. Soandso, USN Ret.

The head of our department was a retired US Air Force Brigadier General (USAF Ret.). The General was rumored to have been a personal friend of famed General Curtis Lemay, but that was only a rumor…I cannot confirm or deny. In any case, unlike General Lemay who was a cigar smoker, our general was a pipe smoker. Within an hour of his arrival at work, his office was as fogged in as Thule Airbase during summer thaw. If there were any complaints as to the General’s propensity for fine pipe tobacco I never heard it. Non-smokers could just hold their breath as they passed his office.

In fact, if anyone at all ever complained about the air quality in our office, I don’t remember it. Nearly all of the writers were smokers (actually heavy smokers), and it is unfortunate that some of them eventually succumbed to smoking related disease, but that’s another story entirely. All in all, they were a fine group of individuals, and I consider myself lucky to have had the privilege to work with them. Many were decorated combat veterans and I learned a great deal on that first job of mine.

It was a hard working group too – 12 hour workdays were not uncommon. Pretty impressive for a group largely comprised of retirees. Perhaps it is no wonder that it was at this company that I met a man who I consider to be, the only true workaholic I have ever met in my life. This would be Lt. Colonel Wilson, United States Army, Ret. (rank and service branch are factual, but Wilson is a fictitious name – let’s just leave it at that).

More on Lt. Col. Wilson in my next blog, but for now I have a typewriter to finish cleaning.

change,

“Life is about change…”
…says the new VP of sales
to the sweaty
gaggle of lackluster
regional managers

…says the cheating husband
to his sobbing
soon-to-be, ex-wife
as they sit opposite each other
in the back booth of
the Tollbooth Diner at
around 4AM

…says society queen
after announcing
her elopement
with the gardener
shouting it out
to all present
at Thursday afternoon
book club

…says the stammering pastor
to the confused flock
as a last, but lasting
ad lib
to conclude
an otherwise fine
sermon on the sins of the flesh.

…says the physician
to the amputee

…the educator to
the dropout

…the defense attorney
to the recently imprisoned

…the orderly
to the restrained

…the old to
the young

…but it’s all a ruse

I think
a gigantic bogus ruse…

no one really wants change
we all want to circle the

drain

circle the

town square in the
64 VW Beetle forever

poem tiff

remember last July in Miami
you – in your Lily Pulitzer dress
me in my Korn t-shirt
cargo shorts and
indigo flip-flops
sitting at a bayside table
…you smoking
like you’d never heard
the news about that
habit
me drinking gin martinis
and both of us
talking about that
poetry reading
in Broward
a couple of weeks before
where the guy with the
glass eye killed it
with that poem

the poem you can’t remember the name of

and you said that it
was the finest poem
that you’d heard in
the past decade
and I said that if
that guy didn’t have a glass eye
that you wouldn’t
have regarded that poem
so highly

so we had a tiff over
the poem
…damn poem tiffs
three quarters of an hour later
the waiter comes back with
our check

saying to me that
my Visa card had been
declined
some days there
is no easy way out.

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