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

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

Notes: on a final poem

write it fast
it’s your last

so to do it right
you’ll have to
drive out
to that truck stop
a few miles
outside of Harrisburg
PA
at 2AM
ignore the pain
enjoy the rain
find a booth
in the back by
the kitchen and ask
the blonde
20 year old heart-throb
to bring you coffee
and a cheese danish
for the road
and you tell her to
keep the refills coming
because you’re – ‘all in’
and heading for
the long haul

AND

it’s all uphill isn’t it?
like pulling
into Leadville, Colorado
in an 80 ton Peterbilt

so JUST

focus on that
laptop screen
and keep typing

after all

…you’ve been writing

for about seven decades
(haven’t you)…
so write a little more
(can’t hurt)

and
tell them how it is
out here on the edge

and most of all…
…don’t pull back
slam the throttles
to the fucking firewall

but
explain it carefully
to anyone
who will listen
and don’t let up
give it all you’ve got

for another hour

then

you can hit Send

and push this shit off
to that literary journal
in Indiana

 

and after that you can
drive back home
in the Subaru
and roll up
like you’re going
to live another
50 years
and park behind the house
beside the tomato garden
and
tiptoe in so you
don’t wake the dogs
and sleep
until
the Sun
says
no more.

reflections on a reduction in force, circa. 1996

you think
when you have a job
to go to…
…one that
requires that you
wear a necktie
and appear in
meetings with
corporate clones
as well as,
note-taking
corporate drones
and debilitated
veterans of
countless takeovers
…you think
to yourself
that it will last
for as long as you want
…a charade can last forever
and
you believe in your heart
…sincerely…
that the
goodwill pump
in your chest
will beat on
…ad infinitum
and after that,
you say
to anyone who will listen:
“sometime
around the year
two thousand seventy seven
I’ll abandon this madness
for my
ranch out west”

where you’ll
drink a lot
until late at night
every night
like you always have
and you’ll tell war stories
in the only bar in town
to half a dozen
late night
well-heeled patrons
and you’ll
paint
that barn in
the South Pasture
blood red
and write poems
and read Proust
and raise
Siberian Huskies

….and…
when daylight wanes
you’ll learn to love
the sunrise
and you’ll fly that
damned helicopter

and you’ll
go to the Calgary Stampede
one last time
and you’ll tinker with
that old Case baler
out in the shed
every night
after supper
until your fingers
get blue and numb
in the February cold
and then
one night
when you are drunk enough
you’ll pull out that laptop
computer
the one that
you’ve kept locked away
in the safe behind the stairs
packed away with your
forty five
…and you’ll look for him
the one that you ‘furloughed’
in 1996 (or thereabouts) to
see if he ever,
…regained his corporate footing
or remarried
or found his lost child
but ultimately to find out
…if he has
in some way
caught up with you
because
you know if you don’t
do it now
…in the end,
you’ll do it
eventually
on your back
looking up at the
sky

eternal return

maybe Nietzsche
was right

someday,
when they pull
the shades in the
rest-home in Hialeah
…when you are 97 years old,
you’ll open your eyes…

…and there you’ll be

…back

in Hibbing, Minnesota
and it will
ALL
start over…
… you’ll cry when
your third grade teacher
asks why your sister
is in jail
and why your mother
does her wash
at the Load-O-Mat
on Sunday
instead of attending
services at the first
Preysbeterian church

…and why your father
is still in Pensacola
and why your
Uncle Leo quit
the railroad job to
sell Amway
door to door

and you’ll NEVER

ask

the Army recruiter
about the job details
…and you’ll never
ask the landlady
who owns that apartment you will
lease
in South St. Paul
in September 1974
if the deposit
is refundable

and you won’t ask
that car guy in Mason City if the
cherry
Ford Econoline on the lot
has ever had, the
transmission replaced
you won’t ask
any of that

will you?