Within Close Range: Flying

I dream of flying.

Lifting off the edge of the bluff

and rising quickly

toward the fat, lazy clouds

hovering over the great, grey lake.

Circling the nearby harbor

where scattered sailboats bob,

I swoop and dive

like the swallows nearby,

but seek out more familiar forms

hidden back among the trees,

just far enough

from the crumbling bluff

to put Dad’s mind at ease.

To the glowing kitchen window

and the figure of Mom

in her pink, plaid apron.

Ever regal.

Ever busy

in her blue and yellow kitchen.

I hover there,

in the cool lake air,

listening to the happy clinks and clanks

of pots and plates.

And try to imagine what’s cooking

by what’s wafting through the windows.

Until a strong breeze

lifts the aroma

and me

back over the lake.

Past the sunken, old pier

where giant carp spawn

year after year.

Past the rocky harbor walls

standing hard against the waves.

Until the house

and the cottage

and the beach

disappear,

and I begin to really soar

over endless stretches

of dark and deep.

Unhappy to find my bed

and solid ground

beneath me when I wake.

Florida Days: the teen years

Driving from the airport

to a new winter retreat –

a 20 story high-rise in Pompano Beach –

it’s clear things aren’t as they have been.

Gone are the Mid-Century neighborhoods

with small, tidy bungalows

and pastel-colored apartment complexes.

Gone are the small, neat streets

crammed with big, American cars

and the quiet, inland canals

with their 90 degree curves.

Modern high-rises now loom along the coast,

casting long shadows over these old ghosts.

Smothered by “The Strip”,

a popular stretch of beach –

and the only way to their new place,-

Nonna and Papa are forced to face

nubile, bikini-clad, beer drinking youth

balanced precariously between child and adult

unkempt,

half-naked –

all god-forsaken.

But Gina and I crave this uncharted world,

which we’re slowly cruising past

in the back seat of a tightly sealed Cadillac,

filled with the sounds of Perry Como

and the smell of Jean Nate.

The closer we get to Nonnie and Papa’s,

the older the demographics begin to slant,

until beers and bikinis are soon replaced

by beer bellies and Platex bras.

The upside to the new zip code

is a bigger abode –

and a separate door to the outside world –

or at least to a corridor,

and an unused stairwell.

To Marlboro Lights

and poorly rolled joints,

and late night escapades with girls from New York.

Gone are our grandparents’ halcyon days

of minding their ways.

These are the carefree days of youth.

Of baby oil and B-52s.

Getting stoned in the sauna.

Drinking beers on the beach.

Somehow convincing Nonnie

to hand us the keys.

Of cranking up the radio

and rolling down the windows

to inhale the salty air

and the sweet smell

of being newly licensed.

Of boys on the beach noticing us

and Nonnie –

from high above –

noticing them, noticing us.

These are the Florida days

of pushing boundaries,

especially ones so poorly guarded.

Well past our very strict curfew.

Nonna is waiting and bleak.

She’s worked herself into such a state,

she’s lifted off her bunioned feet.

She cross-examines,

reprimands,

and threatens to send us home;

then leads us in to Papa

in the unlit living room,

Leaden and pacing.

My heart is breaking.

When all is said –

which isn’t much –

he turns his back

and sends us to bed.

The first thing we see in the morning

taped prominently to the fridge

is a newspaper clip with a giant headline,

“Girls Found Charred on Beach”,

and Nonnie,

with her back to us.

Sighing and tsk-ing,

but not saying anything.

Until behind closed bedroom doors,

on an all-day call with her sister, Rose,

we can hear her tell of all her woes;

heralded, at times, in a pitch so high,

dogs throughout the high-rise begin to cry.

This leads to quieter Florida days,

of shorter visits

and solo stays.

Now more observer than the observed;

studying Nonnie and Papa

in their Florida world.

In their well-aged routine of marital malaise.

Wondering if I know what a happy marriage is?

Hours of watching old ladies by the pool;

with their sun hats and cigarettes

and bad romance books;

their games of Canasta,

and over-tanned skin…

wondering if any

were ever really young?

When Papa leaves to tend to the store,

it’s hours of Gin Rummy,

and little more.

Alone with Nonnie,

playing round after round

on the windy, high-rise balcony,

sixteen floors from the ground.

Where 8-track cassettes

of Liberace and Lawrence Welk

teach me tolerance,

and the importance of a wickedly good game face.

Happy to see the rainy skies.

Happy to stay indoors

and in our nightgowns.

The condo is especially quiet.

No washing machine

or television

reminding us of other things.

Other lives.

No dinner out

or big meal in.

We barely move.

Rarely talk.

Occasionally, Nonnie disappears,

returning with something powdery and sweet

or cheesy and crusty

and hot from the oven.

Such deliciously quiet moments

of simply doing nothing.

Oh these my Florida days.

Within Close Range: Florida Days – the early years

It’s a small, but airy, two bedroom

built at the corner of an inland canal;

brightly decorated in yellows, greens, blues and whites,

and perpetually shaded from the Sunshine State.

A peculiar land of tropical scents

and strikingly unfamiliar sights.

Far removed from the only place I know at night,

home.

Put to bed too early,

I lie in the sitting room-turned-my-room,

tossing and turning on the lumpy sofa-bed

for what seems like hours and hours on end.

Listening intensely to the sounds of apartment living

made especially audible by the glass-vented door

opening onto the curved building’s exterior hall.

My slatted portals to an unknown world.

To the sounds of the apartment people

returning from the pool,

the shops,

the grocers,

dinner out.

Of doorbells ringing

and little feet skipping,

and hugs and kisses

and friendly greetings.

Of moist, briny winds

carrying the scents

of jasmine and orange blossoms,

and parking lot asphalt.

And the ladies’ perfumes

as they stroll past my door.

The echo of laughter in the nearby stairwell,

and their happy words

which disappear

with the sudden click of a heavy car door.

Murmurs from the living room TV

add to this strange symphony,

with familiar sounds

and flickering lights

that seep through the bottom of the door,

casting short, cryptic shadows

on the thickly carpeted,

recently vacuumed floor.

Comforting is the knowledge

that Papa is in the room next door.

Feet up,

arms folded high across his belly,

and a large RC Cola at his side.

Grinning at Clem Kadiddlehopper,

or growling at the Chicago Bears.

When Papa finally turns the television off

I lie in the still and unfamiliar dark.

The inland water’s slow, buoyant motion,

lulls me into a deep and scented slumber.

until the morn.

When I linger on the lumpy mattress

and listen to the apartment people

begin their days.

Wooed by the sounds of others stirring,

I stretch toward kitchen utensils clanking

and the smells of breakfast cooking

on the other side of the wall.

Oh these, my Florida days.

Of sand slipping away beneath my tiny feet,

and seashell hunts as the sun dips low;

of Nonnie’s curled and bunioned toes

and skinny, seagull legs

dipping into the foamy waves,

but never past her knees.

These early days of sunset walks

along a stretch of beach

that leads to a lighthouse

and a creaky, tottering wharf

where Papa likes to take a walk.

And I like to walk with him.

Where fishing boats have funny names

and a tiny gift shop,

in a weather-beaten shanty,

sells orange gum-balls

packed in little, wooden crates.

Which Papa buys for his little, Pie-Face.

Of bright, green lizards

skittering across pastel walls,

and pats on the head

by terrycloth clad men

playing cards in the shades of umbrellas.

Where suntanned women

with the giant bosoms

and ever-blooming swim caps

wade in the shallow end,

with big, dentured smiles

for the little one

visiting Lenore.

Oh these, my Florida days.

Within Close Range: Candied Abandon

Something scrumptious always simmering

in an old enamel pot.

Looks to have cooked a million meals

one hopes will never stop.

But as delectable to me as these savory delights,

Nonna and Papa’s home is a sweet-tooth paradise.

A candy-coated, chocolate-covered, fantasyland,

with countless confectionaries ever at hand.

Coffee candy, toffee bits.

Circus peanuts, caramel nips.

Cookie tins with crescents that melt on my tongue,

leaving powdered-sugar fingerprints wherever I’ve gone.

In nightstands, TV stands, and cabinets, wall-to-wall;

in boxes, and pockets, and purses in the hall.

I scan all the shelves for a glimmer of color

through crystal candy dishes in a glass-front cupboard.

On a table right next to the velvety green couch,

I find a lidded coffer that has gone untouched.

Chasing my greedy reflection over the mirrored table top,

I see no misgivings, as I reach for the box.

Those would come later,

when at the dinner table,

Nonna pressed me to eat,

but I simply wasn’t able.

Which is simply

not

done.

Within Close Range: Dinner at the Celanos’

Dinner means waiting.

It means setting the table

with placemats and napkins,

and neatly set silver,

pitchers of water

and plates for your salad;

and waiting and waiting,

as smells from the kitchen,

from sizzling pans and simmering pots,

waft through the house

like intoxicating fog.

Making it hard to concentrate

on anything but the the clock,

and the driveway,

where we turn our attentions

every few minutes,

hoping for headlights.

Stomachs gurgling.

Tempers shortening.

Dad finally showing

and ever so slowly…

shedding his suit.

Un-harried.

Unhurried

to get the meal going.

Though children are moaning.

Haven’t eaten in minutes.

But dinner begins

when Dad’s ready to sit.

And no sooner.

Within Close Range: The Double Date

Home from college,

my dance card empty,

Jean has ignored me

and arranged a double date.

Making my way toward the kitchen

to re-hydrate my bone-dry jitters,

I pass Dad in the den.

He’s sitting in the swivel chair,

with his back to the windows,

pretending he’s reading.

He’s also pretending not to see me.

Isn’t happy about this evening.

With boys ever at the heels of Mia and Chris,

he takes frequent comfort in my constant datelessness.

But really, is the The Garden Journal so utterly absorbing

that my noisy, high-heeled entrance, he’s utterly ignoring?

Not Dad.

Can’t suppress eye roll.

And what about Mom?

Still hovering in the kitchen,

without a purpose in sight.

Both acting like this was my very first date.

Not exactly soothing.

Just need to keep moving.

A difficult task in absurdly high heels

which already feel like burning coals.

Through my water glass,

I watch Dad rotate right

to face the new, oncoming lights

bouncing off the dimly lit walls.

A swivel slowly left,

he’s observing Jean and our dates.

The doorbell’s ringing,

but Dad’s not budging.

Instead, he’s whirled right back around

(that book might as well be upside down).

Can’t suppress eye roll.

I take a deep breath and open the door.

Jean’s smile is enormous.

I look to the floor –

I know she’s trying.

But there’s something she’s hiding –

like he being just about as happy as I am.

Reaching out a limp, wet hand

(What’s this poor guy’s name again?),

I hear swiveling.

Dad’s up and coming.

Then… passing,

without so much as a greeting.

(Eye roll mentally happening.)

And why is he stopping,

simulating a search for something?

Empty-handed, he’s returning.

I can almost hear the growling.

Keeping his fixed glare –

swiveling like the chair –

on both the boys,

until he quietly disappears.

I push my companions out the door,

hoping the night will hide my humiliation

and breath new life into this double date situation.

But I’m not counting on it,

and neither is Dad,

who’s peeking through the curtains,

shaking his head as he calls to the kitchen,

“She won’t be marrying THAT one.”

Can’t suppress eye roll.

Within Close Range: Curfew

Every mile or so,

I glance to the clock.

Hoping time will stop.

Or that it’s not really five o’clock.

The final mile along the road,

I roll down the windows to air out the smell.

The woodland creatures are beginning to shift,

so once in the driveway, I turn the lights off

and roll slowly along, with the engine hushed.

Safe inside, it’s straight to the fridge.

Grabbing cold pasta, I start up to bed.

But a light from the den stops me instead.

And before I can step a tip to a toe,

Dad rumbles from the den,

strong and low.

And I have nowhere else to go.

Perched on his favorite, swivel chair,

he’s flanked by portraits of ungrateful heirs.

Grumbling at the empty driveway

and disappearing night,

he’s been swiveling there for hours

without a child in sight.

Staring at my bloodshot eyes,

he asks if I know the hour,

and things aren’t looking good

for this early morning flower.

“What could you be doing

until five in the morning?”

All at once, the truth pours forth

without a single warning.

I tell Dad how the day was spent

cooking with some friends,

then going to a drive-in

for a zombie marathon;

about the beautiful night

and the shoreline fire,

and the remarkable moonlight

as we waded in the water.

Baffled by my sudden truths,

Dad takes a moment to recompute.

“I’m just waiting for your sister.”

(as the final plot twister)

were the next

and last

words from his mouth.

Equally confounded,

I leave the scene ungrounded.

Looking from an upstairs window,

just above where Dad keeps vigil,

I see the dawn beginning to dance,

and know, poor Mia,

doesn’t stand

a

chance.

Within Close Range: Chief – in three parts

Part One:

Chief is an ornery Appaloosa,

short and fat,

with black spots on the rump of his dirty, white coat.

And the devil in his eyes.

Of little training and no past consequences,

he’s a 9th birthday present from Dad –

whose childhood pets were porcelain cats;

and mostly Mom,

a self-proclaimed Missouri farm girl,

with a steely, stubborn confidence over competence.

From the other side of the pasture fence,

she urges me to remount:

“Make him know who’s boss!”

I struggle to my feet

and limp toward the answer

now grazing on prairie grass and wildflowers.

In between greedy mouthfuls,

Chief raises his wild, blue eyes,

beneath poorly cut bangs –

which I do myself.

(No wonder he’s ornery.)

He’s quietly watching my pained approach

and just as I get within a few feet,

with a flick of his tail, he’s off –

bucking and snorting as he goes.

Mom’s words are unrecognizable

from the far end of the field.

But the tone is clear.

So I move toward my spotted nemesis,

expecting him to bolt at any moment.

But this time, he lets me mount.

It’s all too easy,

a voice inside warns.

But Mom’s is louder.

Barely settled in the saddle,

Chief lifts his head and pins his fuzzy ears

flat against his thick skull.

Grabbing the reins and the horn,

I know what’s coming.

Somehow still in the saddle at the canter,

annoys my little, four-hoofed devil,

who swerves from his path toward a cluster of pines.

Two, in particular.

Which stand a pony’s width apart.

I close my eyes and hold on tight.

Like yarn through an embroidery needle,

Chief threads us between the pines.

Scraped from their stirrups,

my little legs bounce off of the pony’s big rear-end

as we leave the trees for pasture

and gallop toward Mom;

who’s still lobbing impractical words over the fence.

I feel my grasp on the saddle-horn weaken,

as my resolve that I’ll soon be tasting earth,

grows.

And I let go.

Part Two:

Mom thinks a pal might keep Chief calmer.

So early one spring, in comes Billy Gold:

a blue ribbon, well-trained, Palomino,

which we trailered behind the wagon

from his Missouri home.

Chief dislikes the new arrival immediately.

I think he’s dreamy

with his white/blonde mane and ginger coat,

still winter thick and warm to the touch.

Feeding him a carrot,

his hot breath and fuzzy lips

tickle the palm of my cold, red hand.

Mark and Mia remain on the fence.

Watching.

Still unsure of whether Billy Gold –

like Chief –

is tarnished.

In my thickly lined hood,

tied tight against the cold, lake winds,

I don’t understand their warnings

until far too late.

Chief’s powerful teeth clamp down.

The pain in my butt is searing.

I’m howling.

Billy Gold bolts.

But Chief just stands there.

A nose length’s away.

Staring.

As I hop around the half-frozen earth,

swearing.

And rubbing the area already swelling.

My siblings’ shocked silence explodes into laughter,

followed by a closely contested race to the house

to see who’ll be the first to blather.

Meanwhile, a purple-red welt,

banded by marks of Chief’s big, front teeth,

grows and throbs with each step toward the house

where Mom greets me with an ice pack

and an ungoverned smile.

Part Three:

When Chief isn’t trying to shed us,

or eat us,

he’s on the lam.

Devilishly clever.

Expected and regular.

The phone rings.

Mom cringes.

Apologizes.

Then sounds the alarm.

Steering the station wagon straight toward town.

We found him in a graveyard once,

a foggy morning, one fall.

Striking terror in the old caretaker

who thought he’d seen it all.

Until galloping across the graves,

he saw a ghostly, pony-sized sight.

Bad bangs bouncing in the soupy light.

Pursued closely by a tall, beautiful, blonde

in flowing, full length, lime-green chiffon.

His hands still trembling

when we waved from the road,

as we slowly crept toward home

with our pony in tow.

But much of the time, Chief’s antics are close

and off I dash with grain and a rope;

tracking my pony’s sod-ripping route

through the blue-blood, buttoned-up neighborhood,

across disapproving neighbors’ pristine lawns.

From behind their glass houses,

shaking heads frown.

One rainy, spring day, while chasing the brat,

he stopped his bucking and turned in his tracks

to face me.

He pinned his ears, which put me on my guard.

Then that damn pony started to charge!

I was quite sure we were going to collide

When a voice –

loud and fed up –

called from inside.

I dropped the bucket of grain.

I dropped the pony’s halter.

I gathered all my courage.

My universe was itching to alter.

Setting my feet and standing my ground,

I watched him close the gap.

And just as he was an arm’s length away…

I gave him a great, big

SLAP

at the tip of his long, white snout.

Suddenly, all Chief’s piss and vinegar

done

run

OUT!

With a half-hearted snort,

he lowered his poorly banged head,

turning his devilish focus

on the grain bucket instead.

And with noses aligned,

we lingered toward home,

understanding more of each other

than we had ever known.

~from “Within Close Range: short stories of an American childhood”

@dogearedstories.com

Within Close Range: Bullies

Because our home’s so far away,

I’m the first picked up by the bus each day

and the very first stop after school –

which makes every student on our route

sit forty minutes more each afternoon

and me, an unwelcome sight.

Full of hormones and hate,

those in last few rows of the long, yellow bus

moan and groan

as soon as I climb on,

making me nervously skitter to the nearest seat

where I crouch and hide and wait.

The hardcore insults come later

and louder

cloaked in the anonymity of the rumbling and motion

of our rolling prison.

Deaf to what he hears,

the bus driver just stares ahead

and goes where he’s told.

United by the same neighborhood,

in the opposite direction,

they snarl and nip at the back of my neck –

piercing my thin skin.

It’s us versus them,

in every nasty word.

But the “them” they think I am

is absolutely absurd.

When their rabid, backseat words

have more than their usual bite,

I step from the bus

and race to the woods,

searching for a way to shake the hurt

in the thick, dim patches of unpeopled forest.

I disappear among the ember-colored leaves

which cap the many trees of Shoreacres

before the heavy freeze

steals the color from the land.

And there, I simply am.

Where I step to the sound of my breathing,

the movement of the clouds,

and to the busy hush of forest life about,

reminding me to go about my own;

and to heal my wounds

with the comforts of home.

Within Close Range: At the Edge of the Bluff

It’s an early spring day in the heartland.

Anemic, damp and miserable.

Clumps of stubborn snow and ice,

grey and grimy,

still dot the sidewalks and lawns.

Faces look pale and anxious for sun.

After the usual sermon of incense and absolution,

followed by stacks of pancakes and sausages,

we know something is up

when Dad drives past our neighborhood,

further and further from home.

by unfamiliar faces and unfamiliar towns,

until backseat boredom’s about to grow horns.

Passing a tiny town,

and a solid white, storybook farm,

Dad finally slows and signals a turn.

“Shoreacres Country Club, Members Only.”,

reads the uninviting sign.

Swallowed by the dark of the woods,

the wide, low wagon drifts silently down the road,

flanked by a small, trickling brook,

winding past towering trees

and long stretches of green.

Everything is covered in a fine, frigid gloom,

including another set of pretty, white buildings

silent and still on this dreary afternoon.

Passing a faded, old, green water tower,

headless and frightening in the fog,

our destination is finally divulged:

a new home.

I sink further into the wagon’s rear seat,

where the unfriendly neighborhood disappears

and I can see nothing but the thick, dark clouds.

The silence is broken only by the sound of gravel

crunching beneath the wheels of the wagon,

now weighted with disappointment.

We twist down a long driveway and stop.

So inching my way back up,

I survey at the house.

It’s dark and sullen.

Like the day.

And my mood.

Dad says, “We’ll just take a peek.”

But even I know what that means.

So, like prisoners into an exercise yard,

we file from the car,

and stand in an unhappy cluster in front of the house –

which isn’t yellow –

like ours.

Which has no sign of neighbors,

a school,

the Good Humor Man,

or a new treehouse –

like ours.

We’re coaxed to a long row of windows

which look through the cold, empty rooms,

and beyond,

where lies a huge expanse of lawn.

And water.

Racing to the rear of the house,

we stand the edge of the bluff,

looking out over the grand, Great Lake

right there at our toes.

The Windy City silhouette, 40 miles south.

Excitement now erupts for this strange, new place.

This decades-long breeder of unsupervised fun.

First beers.

First cigarettes

And, of course, first bongs.

Secret rendezvous for teenage loves.

Havens for fainthearted runaways

who soon long for home just a few feet away.

Follies of youth are such glorious days.

Until this world begins to erode.

To implode.

And all begin to scatter.

But, oh, what fertile earth it was

living life in the woods at the edge of the bluff.

Within Close Range: Clogs

Lake Forest High School’s West Campus

is a giant, brick and cinder block monstrosity,

designed with all the charm and comforts

of a state penitentiary.

Sterile,

uninviting,

uninspiring,

practically windowless, colorless,

and completely humorless.

Its warden roams the cinder block dungeons

in his plaid polyester sports coat,

smelling of cigarettes and body odor;

wielding his insignificant power

with more brawn than brain.

I’ve done everything I can to steer clear.

But best laid plans…

Still mocking an outdated documentary

on health, hygiene, and the hazards of smoking;

featuring mildly graphic surgery footage,

phony teens in dungarees,

and from a hole cut in his larynx,

a smiling man blowing smoke rings,

I start down the stairs to my next class

but never see past the very first step

because the clog on my right foot has chosen to go ahead –

getting only as far as the arch, instead –

landing my half-clogged foot on the step’s metal edge.

I plunge toward a stair-ful of surprised friends

and new enemies.

Twisting and hurtling through the innocent

and unsuspecting.

Coming down hard on my back.

With the grim, fluorescent lighting above

and the cold, cement floor below,

I am returned to the moment by the moans

of the stunned and wounded getting to their feet.

I attempt to do the same,

but am gently pushed back to the cold concrete.

“You can’t move.”

“I’m fine,” I sigh in response,

attempting to sit up again.

“No,” says our teacher,

as she pushes me back to the ground

(a little more firmly this time).

“I mean, I can’t let you move until the principal gets here.”

“I’M FINE!” explodes off the cinder block walls.

Faces grimace.

The class is soon sent on their way,

while like a one-shoed idiot, there I lay…

waiting…

imagining how the news of my nose dive

is already spreading.

Sprinting unnecessarily up the flight of stairs;

a figure is soon looming over me on the landing –

an oppressive cloud of Aqua Velva and brown plaid.

And now I’m truly wishing I was dead.

Finally ensuring my captors

There’ll be no need for an ambulance,

to lawyer up

– or even help up –

and hobble away,

bruised and humiliated.

Less than two weeks later,

fate becomes a hater –

as I tumble down another set of steps.

People are beginning to wonder.

Including the school nurse,

who meets me at the office door,

shaking her head.

Scrutinizing my footwear.

She hates clogs.

Thinks they should all be put in a big pile

and burned.

Just wait til she catches sight of my new Dr. Scholl’s.

Within Close Range: Anita

Anita was one of those agile girls

whose limber and daring I envied.

Her front flips and back flips,

backbends and full splits.

I couldn’t even cartwheel.

I did a competent somersault,

but it garnered little praise.

So, I spent a good deal of time

just laying in the grass.

Observing.

Awed by long, lanky, bendy bodies –

especially Anita’s –

twisting, turning, and taking flight.

Wondering why and how

she could do such things so skillfully,

when those skills so skillfully eluded me.

Or was it the passion to try?

But Anita’s dexterity

defied the norms of stretchability

because Anita added double-jointed

to her impressive athletic ability.

She’d often demonstrate her loose-jointed trait

by bending her willowy hand the wrong way;

masterfully mis-shaping her long, freckled arm,

as if made of soft, moist, modeling clay.

She could do the same with her shoulders and knees

until her bowed silhouette looked strange indeed:

a favorite umbrella blown inside out

by a rib-bending gust in a strong, spring shower.

Illogical and ludicrous.

Almost cartoonish.

Watching her move I felt ever defeated,

disjointed,

dysfunctional.

A dyed-in-the-wool, tried and failed tumbler.

Forever to watch from the shade of a tree,

where I marveled at my elastic friend,

who could bend,

and bend,

and bend,

and bend.

Within Close Range: an evening with officer gildemeister

Been sitting here for hours,

finding haunted, frightened faces

in the station floor’s contours.

Don’t know whether to be relieved

that the next person I see,

isn’t Dad.

But I was simply standing there

when someone gave me my first beer.

Just before all hell broke loose

in the parking lot of St. Mary’s Church and School.

Everyone saw the squad car.

Everyone but me –

and the boy who got busted with a bong –

but even he’s now free.

The scene’s a constant loop in my head:

beers flying,

friends fleeing,

voices shouting,

me freezing.

Blinded by flashing.

Too late to fling it.

Too late for dashing.

Why did I leave that stupid dance?

I just went to see the band.

Hoping to spark the lead guitar’s flame,

but the flame from a first crush never came.

“Is there someone else I can call?”

I can think of one name, that’s all.

“They have to be adults,” he sneers.

“Dr. and Mrs.” I mumble.

Of course, he knows the teenage sons.

and thinks they’re nothing but trouble.

Dirty, hippy, smartass punks

with long hair and ripped jeans;

thundering laughs and motorbikes,

and EVERYTHING that he dislikes.

At last, a fast-moving figure,

in a tousled wig of blonde,

darts through the doors

with a generous smile

to face the big man with the gun.

A lady of very small stature

she is nearly eclipsed by his size.

“Are you going to tell her why you’re here?”

she looks up to the man and she smiles,

“She doesn’t have to tell me a thing.”

was all she had to say,

stunning the big, little, speechless man

bringing joy to my miserable day.

I suppress the urge to hug her.

But she’ll get a tearful later.

And I’ll be forever grateful

to Inga, my saviour.

The Girl in the Red Velvet Hat

I saw a girl in a red velvet hat with feathers to one side.
Meeting her eyes, I smiled.
She grinned, but shyly turned her gaze.
So I studied her young silhouette
and thought of long past days.
Of ladies in fabulous hats and fitted suits,
with cigarettes and smart comebacks
for men in Fedoras, white shirts and ties
who secretly longed for the sassy, young ladies
in red, velvet hats with feathers to one side.

Coyote

We surprise a small, skinny coyote

as the dogs and I appear from the wash

not far from where she’s also rising from a small ravine.

She sees us first

and tries to make a slow, low retreat

into the scrub oak and pine,

when I see her

and stop.

Holding tight to the leashes

I quietly greet the startled creature

who, instead of fleeing, pauses as well.

The dogs, now aware, wrench my arms,

but I hold on,

smiling silently at the brazen thing almost within reach,

yet standing so still.

And there, we all stare.

Hoping to suggest it best we all part,

I turn from our convergence

and the coyote agrees,

moving away, but in a similar direction.

She pauses for a final look between a gap in the growth,

as if to remember our constrained and quiet trio,

before her shabby, honey-colored hide

slinks over the next ridge

and disappears.

And the dogs and I,

ignoring my instinct to go home,

turn left instead.

One Square Mile

We’d been in Prescott several months

before I felt quite brave enough

to wander a mile of state trust land

neighboring our windy, new hillside home.

Raised in the Midwest, it was like another world

harsh and barren – and continuously warned

of giant spiders and big mountain cats,

poisonous snakes and thieving rats.

Instead, I learned of high dessert ways,

where life and death are on display.

In each cow for slaughter in the shade of a pine;

in the shy, white blossoms of the desert moon vine;

which shun the sun all summer long,

closing their beauty to everyone.

Then as the gentle night unfolds,

so does each petal, bright and bold.

And fleeting.

In every piece of a recent kill,

neatly picked clean from above and below,

until nothing remains but an armful of bones

to bleach and decay in the perennial sun.

Each time I’ve wandered this rolling terrain,

it has begged more questions and felt more sane;

and given me moments I’ll relive again

with a broad, happy smile for all that’s been.

Of days making circles within this wild square,

with the weight of the world or nary a care;

the moment the dogs and I walked up a hill,

where a herd of pronghorn stood scattered and still.

Two dozen, or so, at rest and at play.

Not bothered enough to run away.

Even as the dogs whined and pulled at their leashes,

they just raised their heads, and I stood speechless.

With earthy colors of white, black and wheat,

small groups spread out, but young close to teat.

Watching us.

Watching them.

Feeling the ache of the dogs in my arms,

and wanting to keep all present from harm,

I called for calm and aimed for home,

turning my pack from the wondrous tableau.

We hadn’t gone far when I felt the ground shake.

The once placid herd was now wide awake.

The dogs were frantic. Nearly pulled off my feet.

I turned to see the herd and me just about to meet.

Digging in heels and holding on tight,

I stared to the eyes of the leader in sight.

With the herd right behind, and us just ahead,

it was up to this doe as to how this would end.

At the very last moment, the doe darted right,

followed close by her clan, who were now in full flight.

The spray from her hooves shot into my gape,

as we watched the herd and our narrow escape.

Just the other side of a short, fat tree

the pronghorn passed just feet away.

Turning with the herd, thus turning their keeper,

the dogs spun me round, so I dug my heels deeper.

But instead of the group going forward and gone,

the leader turned back from where they had come!

A dust cloud of pronghorns surrounded all sides.

Dogs yanking and whining and losing their minds.

All I can think is, “Keep anchored! Hang tight!”

And that no one was going to concede this wild sight.

For how could I make someone truly believe

that I was in the middle of a pronghorn stampede?

When the final white butt disappeared in the dust,

leaving us trembling, I laughed – as you must.

“Holy shit!”, I screamed out, again and again,

as I looked for my breath and steadied my friends.

We climbed the last hills of this special square mile,

to our tame, little world, where we’d rest a while

and dream of dust clouds.

the anne show

Welcome to the anne show

Welcome one and all

come and watch her rise,

or come to watch her fall?

No matter what your reason

come see the greatest show

that anyone who knows our Anne

will ever surely know.

She spins just like a moving top

round and round and round

but never does this spinning mass

seem to leave the ground.

No matter what your reason

come see the greatest show

that anyone who knows our Anne

will ever surely know.

The other tops beneath the tent

try hard to follow her spin

never quite understanding

the spin that Anne is in.

No matter what your reason

come see the greatest show

that anyone who knows our Anne

will ever surely know.

Watch her twist and bounce about

within the center ring

ricocheting off the foot high walls

again and again and again.

No matter what your reason

come see the greatest show

that anyone who knows our Anne

will ever surely know.

The thrills and chills aren’t present

but she’ll take you on a ride

dizzy from all that spinning in place

you’ll laugh until she’s cried.

No matter what your reason

come see the greatest show

that anyone who knows our Anne

will ever surely know.

The tickets are cheap but not easy

the seats are always front row

but know that when Anne starts spinning

there’ll be no place to go.

No matter what your reason

come see the greatest show

that anyone who knows our Anne

will ever surely know.

Building up momentum

for nearly sixty years

this spinning top wants no more hands

to keep it spinning here.

No matter what your reason

come see the greatest show

that anyone who knows our Anne

will ever surely know.

But folks just keep her turning

even though the act is done

‘cause that’s the show they paid to see

until it’s time to move on.

No matter what your reason

come see the greatest show

that anyone who knows our Anne

will ever surely know.

So get your tickets while you can

all eyes on Anne at center ring

the greatest show’s about to start

don’t mind the state you see her in.

Have a seat!

Sit right down!

Anne’s about to spin right round

here she comes and there she goes

spotlight racing to and fro

almost breaching the wall ahead

stopped by the Circus Ringleader instead.

Toppled and tired Anne sits in the dark

refusing to spin one more spin

this stage is far too small she cries

I feel so trapped within.

She begs to the leader open the ring

and let this old top go

together she vows as she takes his hand

we’ll put on the greatest of shows.

No matter what your reason

come join the greatest show

that anyone who knows our Anne

will ever surely know.

remember the good times

remember the good times

is all that you wrote

the words i read got stuck in my throat

remember the good times?

when were those?

for I’ve looked as far as my memory goes.

i’ve tried and i’ve tried to find these grand days

but i’m coming up empty

‘cause you’re just one-act plays

of selfish, greedy, immoral plots

never getting what you want

and that’s a lot

remember the good times?

i wish i could

i wish there was something in you I find good

but you’ve lived your life of self-serving deeds

of stealing what you want,

but never need,

of talents gone wasted

cause you’re a damn fool

disappointed the world

hasn’t fawned and drooled

that they haven’t come knocking

to give you the key

that won’t ever come

and won’t set you free

disappointment feeds on asking so much

when you’ve done so little to earn life’s trust

here’s what i’ll remember

and i beg you to, as well

i love you and I truly hope

you give life better stories to tell.

Float

Let me float

in the warmth

and the dark

and the quiet.

Let my weariness subside.

Let me float

away the aches

away the worry

away the want.

Let weightless be my guide.

Let me sink

in the drink

of nothing to do but float.

Let me breathe

long and deep

gotta hold that strong, clear note.

Just keep still

feel the pain

release its grip

on aging limbs.

Fill my chest

with long, slow breaths

letting go and letting in.

Watch the sun

begin to rise

casting red upon the skies.

And as the red seeps into orange

find peace and calm

in the water’s warmth.

From orange to yellow

paler than butter

let myself BE in the pillowy color.

And as the yellow lightens to blue

and the plug is pulled

and the gravity, new.

Take the weight.

Feel the cold.

Face the day.

Be brave.

Be bold.

And keep afloat.

I’m fine.

I’m fine.

That’s what you want to hear.

I’m fine.

I’ll say it loud and clear.

I’m fine.

It’s easier this way.

I’m fine.

Pretending everyday.

I’m fine.

It’s normal to wake in tears.

I’m fine.

Haven’t had a break in years.

I’m fine.

Trying to find that level ground.

I’m fine.

Wondering who I hope will stick around.

I’m fine.

Cause that’s the me you want to see.

I’m fine.

But she’s the she I no longer care to be.

I’m fine.

Losing something which never was.

I’m fine.

Just keep going, cause that’s what one does.

I’m fine.

Trying each day to set things right.

I’m fine.

But waking most days too tired to fight.

I’m fine.

Wondering if death came before dawn.

I’m fine.

And if Mom is alive, how to stay kind.

I’m fine.

Cause every day it’s just the same.

I’m fine.

The same recording on endless play.

I’m fine.

While the rest of the world gets on with its day.

I’m fine.

As hair by hair, my years now show.

As lines overtake my burrowed brow.

As my strength builds, then suddenly goes.

As the walls of my home begin to close.

As each day’s remnants turns to dust.

As I do each day what I know I must.

I’m fine.

I’m fine.

I’m fine.

too bad

you wouldn’t lift my broken heart above your selfish wants

so sad

my anguished words swatted at like tiny, pesky gnats

so sad

the years i gave my all to thee

so glad

extending branches of our tree

so glad

but when my give had given up

so bad

broken and tired i sought your love

so sad

each member of my precious clan

too bad

took the next exit out of town

too sad

leaving this trio to figure it out

not mad

not sad

some times still bad

but glad of the love that’s stuck around

Flies

down in the lean-to,

swatting at flies.

annoying little fuckers,

always at my horses’ eyes.

but that’s flies.

in nothing but shit

they feed and they breed.

pesky and pitiless

and bulging with greed.

never enough

is just one pile of shit,

of biting at ankles

and doing their bit.

they eat at the skin

of the gentle and strong,

who stand there and stomp

and never do harm.

but that’s flies.

appearing in swarms.

one purpose in mind:

feed and breed

off the peaceful and kind.

make wounds fester.

make eyes ooze.

plant eggs in more shit

til the air is abuzz.

such nasty little insects

i relish in killing,

and sending them on

to find light – for those willing.

but my hope is not great

for the pests just keep coming

with their selfish, rotting deeds

and their ceaseless biting and buzzing.

but that’s flies.

so the horses will stomp.

the pests will keep biting.

and i’ll do my best to protect

and keep fighting,

those nasty

fucking

flies.

Death, the Kingbird, and I

Death rapped on our window at dawn

so I leapt from bed and out the door

to shoo it away.

But there, below the window,

in the morning shade of the Mulberry tree

a Western Kingbird lay.

Damn it, I cried aloud to death,

I’ve tried to keep you at bay.

How many window decals do I need

to keep them all away?

You silly thing, I said to the bird,

and scooped to pick her up.

Stunned and afraid

she fluttered her wings,

flipping helplessly in the dust.

With soothing words, i tried again.

cupping hands around my little friend.

Who showed little life.

Who looked near the end.

But I was not interested in welcoming death,

so finding a box and trying my best,

I set the bird down in a soft, cotton nest.

A gentle stroke upon her head

and down her narrow bill.

Her wide, black eyes, now closed.

Her gray and yellow feathers, still.

Death, I see, is stopping by.

So I leave the Kingbird,

– and this mourning scene –

to have a good, long cry.

For the bird,

For the world.

For me.

For death hovers over this house.

It simply can’t be helped

with a 90 year old mother about.

Although uninvited, it came for a visit.

Not much to be done

except to face it.

I returned to the box

with the poor, little bird.

And, once again, I cursed aloud.

Reaching down for one final stroke,

suddenly the Kingbird woke,

and flew in a flash

to a neighboring tree,

leaving me

and death

behind today.

Done is Done

Away they go,

one by one.

Change is change.

Done is done.

Years go by.

Wrinkles arrive.

Needs and wants

don’t always jibe.

Some folk never get enough.

Give too little.

Troubled trust.

Throw that bond

right under the bus.

Time no longer shelters “us”.

Those who once

were all as one.

Away they go.

And done

is done.

Head in the Sand

Of the same womb, but worlds apart.

How in the world did all of this start?

Lend me an ear and I’ll try to explain

why, sadly, all we now share is a name.

That choked by bad choices

you continue to make

in a life that seems filled with less give and more take.

And each time that things don’t work out as you planned

deeper your burrow down the bible – 

your sand.

You say you know its words from begot-ing to end,

but do you understand them,

my brother,

my one-time friend?

Although it’s not my cup of tea,

I get the love they feel for Thee.

What I wonder is what the prophet would say

about the choice you make day after day

to drink that poison,

sip by sip,

handed out by a moron in an ill-fitting suit.

But sip it you do

and little by little

it takes from me what I’d known since I was little.

Lost to false idols and fearing the day

you’ll put those you love-or so you say-

in the middle of the dangerous road, 

Harms Way.

Why?

Do you not see the truth?

Is your ego that frail?

Is it too uncouth?

Please… help me understand.

Or is that poison too near at hand?

Too easy a reach,

such low-hanging fruit,

nurtured by the fear of whatever’s not you.

Is that your testament?

Is that what it teaches?

Never put to practice what, I’m told, the bible preaches?

I’ll stick my to religion –

that of being kind,

of looking after all I meet

with body, heart and mind.

I wish I could halt this destructive path you lead,

knock that toxin from your hand –

show you how you can be free.

But if the love for your mother and Jesus can’t, 

you’ll never

truly

be.

Within Close Range: The Being in Basements

Some are reached by steep, wooden steps,
only at the end of which,
is a switch,
and salvation from the dark;
where cold, cement floors sting bare feet
and we search for cousins playing hide and seek
beneath an old, pine table,
and in cupboards stuffed with moth balls and old lives.

Down other stairs, parents send rapidly sprouting offshoots
(and their weedy accomplices)
to remain mostly out of sight, sound and smell.
New worlds explored in sunless rooms of cinderblock;
where mismatched 13-year-olds kiss, and later tell,
and budding musicians, mid black lights and bong hits,
learn to shake and rattle the house;
while in the dark and in a lawn chair, I learn to hang out.

Some sunken spaces are like snapshots
kept on a shelf in an old shoebox.
Still lives of vinyl bars and swivel stools
and down-turned glasses on dusty shelves, long unused.
Moth-eaten scenes of what might have been.
A gathering place for friends and kin
where woes of the week were drowned deep in cocktails
and lost in card games – or a top twenty song – to which most sang along,
as the stereo spun its new-fangled, stereophonic sound.
Curious but comfortless, being long-deserted and people-less.
Apart from the ghosts in the room.

My favorite sunken places are worn, but happy spaces
in which my favorite female faces
grow leaps and bounds beside me,
unconstrained and nearly unimpeded by upstairs edicts.
Sharing cigarettes, dance moves, inside jokes
and cases of beer bought just over the border;
making evenings fuzzy, and hangovers a new, underworld reality.
Playing pool, the juke box, the fool;
while trying to play it cool
when faced with firsts and friends far more in the know
about nearly everything that happens down below.

Within Close Range: Rocky

You came to Dad as a hired thug,
but found a mentor and friend instead.
And a family who adopted you like so many strays –
the scarred, the scared, the castaways.
Giving you shelter and a place at our table,
away from the streets, the violence and struggle.
Into our home and into our hearts,
like each lovable loser, you’re family now.
Showing duty and reverence to Mom and Dad,
you become a different creature with just us kids;
when you shadow box and dance in an imaginary ring,
reciting poems of your strength, your knock-outs, your wins.
Filling our minds with fact and fiction,
which is which hardly matters when told with conviction.
We hang on every word from your kind, but battered face
and marvel when you flex your “guns” and chew on broken glass.
Your prized possession is a gold championship belt –
that you sometimes like to wear when doing work.
Yet something tells me you’d give the belt away
if you could simply sit and draw all day.
Freeing your imagination and your wonderful art;
which colors the brutal truth of your life
and what you did for the sake of the dollar,
for food for your dog and bread for the table.
With a smile ear to ear and a clue in your eyes,
I sense your words are mostly lies
to camouflage the things you’ve seen,
the things you’ve done.
Thrust into this world misaligned and alone.
Third grade over and you were gone.
Fighting to survive, then fighting on demand.
Forced to do that with your gentle heart and creative hands.
While the real you, the sweet, curious and tender you,
would prefer to make art of comfort and meaning.
A good reason for being.
In your white t-shirt and rolled-up jeans
above ankle-high army boots and a head shaved clean.
you lean on a rake, on a break from your chores,
spinning glorious tales to the curious, young horde.

Within Close Range: Laps

I look into Mia’s bloodshot eyes for the challenge.
And off we go.
Stroke for stroke. 
Lap after lap.
Ten, twenty, thirty.
Keeping an even pace.
No sign of the other’s weakness.
Forty, fifty, sixty. 
Tiring, but single-minded.
Who’ll be first to surrender?
Seventy, eighty, ninety.
I can hear, in my non-submerged ear, Mom calling.
But grumbling stomachs and dinner be damned.
Closing in on a hundred laps, Mom calls out again.
“Okay,” Mia gasps, “let’s stop at a hundred and four.”
Rejecting her offer, I push off once more.
And she follows.
Hundred and four. Hundred and five. Hundred and six.
Mark’s now standing poolside.
Tiny hands on tiny hips.
Dinner is getting cold and Dad is getting mad.
I call an immediate draw.
My opponent responds with a nod.
I climb out, expecting her to follow.
Instead, Mia slowly sinks back in the water.
And with an enormous grin,
pushes off the shallow end
for her victory lap.

Within Close Range: Spring

When wildflowers peek

through the damp, leafy, forest floor,

windows are flung wide open

welcoming in the cool, lake breezes

and the strong, long-awaited smells of spring

in the land’s reawakening.

The thawing corral is heavy

with sweet-smelling muck

flung here and there

by high-spirited ponies.

Impatient to walk barefoot

across the newly sprung lawn

still emerging from the cold ground,

I make tracks across the yard

to the edge of the bluff and back,

coating my toes in mud and early grass.

Spreading spring throughout the house.

Within Close Range – Best Friends

We try to light it squatting beneath an old, planked bridge.

Like naughty, little trolls.

Laughing and cursing the unrelenting wind and an almost empty box of matches.

Coughing.

Giggling.

Coughing.

Startled by the snap of a twig.

Whispering and waiting for something in particular.

Not caring about anything in particular.

Until the tiny roach sticks to my mouth and I wince.

Pulling the burning paper from my lower lip.

Betsy laughs.

Which makes me laugh.

Even though it hurts like hell and my lip is already blistering.

Making me to worry about how I’m going to explain the burn to Mom and Dad –

who notice every pimple.

But then I stop caring.

Content to be beside my friend.

Standing firm against the bitter lake winds.

Feeling happy just to be,

we walk beside the tiny creek.

Sudden cravings hasten our final footsteps

down the deserted road of my secluded neighborhood.

Stepping over acorns and twigs fallen from late October trees.

Side by side.

Stoned.

Smiling in the comfortable silence of a very, best friend.

Within Close Range: The Greenhouse

Defying the somber shades of dead in a Midwestern Winter,

hidden beneath thick, mean layers of snow and ice.

green was something you could see, smell and touch

in Mom’s greenhouse.

Stepping down into its steamy realm was like discovering a distant jungle.

Moist.

Pungent.

Earthy.

Exotic.

I’d sit on the cement stairs,

arms hanging over the metal railing moist from the humidity.

Galoshes and socks dangling precariously.

Watching Mom dig her hands into a soily concoction.

Inhaling strange, sweet smells of bone meal and blood meal.

Manure and lime.

And life.

Nurtured with the same intensity Mom tended her flock.

Passionate and determined all should flourish.

Cultivating her offspring with a unique and fertile mix of love and cynicism,

melancholy, curiosity and eccentricity.

The Gentle Push

The open road before you.

The gentle push I’ll give you.

Toward those who have much more to teach you.

So sure you know its direction.

Blind curves hidden from your youthful attention.

But that’s okay.

It’s fumbling.

It’s humbling.

It’s finding your own way.

You’re done listening.

Because the whole world is calling.

And my long heard words are falling on deaf ears.

But that’s okay.

Cause it’s fumbling.

It’s humbling.

It’s finding your own way.

That will gently push you back to me some day.

The Tightrope

You said you were committed.

I said I’d be supportive.

But the words don’t sit well.

For your actions tell a different tale.

And your dogged words seem far too determined.

Such blind insistence.

Or path of least resistance?

Ever searching for the answers you want.

All the while ignoring the signs along the road

that might lead to the ones you need.

Neglecting the scattered litter

of past mistakes and warring expectations.

Which I beg to witness at a comfortable distance.

Without uncomfortable and conscripted exchanges

between different people

on different journeys.

Anxious to see a figure on the far horizon.

Hoping they find their way to being kinder.

And more grateful.

But the path keeps twisting and returning

and treading over the same old ground.

Now hardened against new growth.

New possibilities.

New love.

Always looking for something more than that they should be thankful for.

And the peace and simplicity and beauty of the generous road just cleared

is suddenly cluttered.

And claustrophobic.

And strewn with dog treats and decorating magazines.

And the trail becomes a tightrope.

With blindfolded eyes set on some illusive prize at the other end.

Trying to balance on the narrow rope that is constantly off-kilter.

Shaken by opposing desires.

Lack of trust.

Pack of lies.

Loving, but misguided intentions.

Desperation.

Ever the victim.

It’s hard enough to watch.

Don’t ask me to take that wavering walk.

I’m happy here on the ground with my family and friends.

Whose relationships I’ve earned.

Not cajoled.

Not bought or sold.

Which need work.

Here and there.

But are always easy and comfortable.

Trustworthy and sincere.

And certain.

Are you certain?

Of it?

Of you?

Of the rope and where it’s leading to?

Are you certain the links of this coupling are strong,

Not bound by fears of a future alone?

Questions I’ll ask from that comfortable distance.

Hoping you’ll find the prize you seek

beyond such blind insistence.

My Friend

My beautiful friend, with the beautiful smile.

Weighted by fear.

Flattened with worry.

Wanting happiness, but not minding your own.

Keep it simple.

Keep it clear.

Take a long, deep breath.

And another.

Take hold of the thing that gives you power.

That powers your passion.

That fills you with fire.

Be fearless.

You’ll soon find the you that smiles more than once in a while.

And makes you my beautiful friend, with the beautiful smile.