trains and bicycles

Many, perhaps most or indeed, all of us, daydream from
time to time.  Some choose to sit in the quiet of morning
while watching the silence of a golden sunrise, others
may choose to sit with a book and devour its contents and
some may choose a park bench as a ‘people watcher’…

The are countless ways to visit the recesses of the mind.
My friend, Daniel, loved classical music, old bicycles and

Now I wonder…did my friend Daniel ever exist except in my

Elton John knew Daniel…

“Daniel is traveling tonight on a plane
I can see the red tail lights heading for Spain
Oh, and I can see Daniel waving goodbye
God, it looks like Daniel, must be the clouds in my eyes.”

by Elton John and his lyricist Bernie Taupin  (1973)


And now, Daniel as I was introduced to him:


daniel listened to bach’s toccata and fugue in d minor
while resting in the shadow of pachelbels canon

music brought tears of empty remembrance
of days at his mother’s worn and beaten piano

daniel, an only child, now seventy-six and quite old…
sat alone but for classical sounds and memories

the constant drone of tinnitus flowed like running water until
with no hope to stop the hindrance, he played it into his song

sleeping with music beneath his head he once dreamed
of steam locomotives, bicycles, and flying machines

but still it was the music of his soul that lived on
in that part of his heart that stored treasures and dreams

with closed eyes daniel could see notes floating like apparitions
streaming with the ease of fat cotton clouds of a summers day

he could feel every piece of broken wood and each chipped key
on that old piano where he learned to dream

songs never came easy, songs never came at all
but daniel heard music in his heart that his fingers never felt

he saw steam locomotives, bicycles, and flying machines
and heard bach’s toccata and pachelbel’s canon in d minor

was it the perceived smell of cornbread from the kitchen
the rhythmic pelting sounds of rain against his windowpane

wherever memories are born and whatever awakens them
tears are okay when played on the concerto of the heart

crossing gates dropped and bells rang out a railroad symphony
as an approaching train’s whistle gave rise to the melody

with closed eyes he heard bach’s toccata and fugue in d minor
while resting in the shadow of pachelbels canon and steam locomotives

daniel had long since learned that the music of tears
is felt only in the silence of the heart





On a park bench in Oceanside California I observed this man and woman, sitting less than a foot apart, watching ocean waves and seemingly counting approaching pelicans and scattering sandpipers. As I leaned against a rail watching and learning, I knew somewhere along the line that they would not speak nor touch. They sat so closely together I assumed they were there as a couple. Then to my surprise…well, read and see…you decide.

his hands
his hands told the story more than his face
always looking to the ground
eyelids covering his sins from earlier days
his hands kept one another company
clasped like eager lovers
yet wrinkled and broken with time
her hands
her hands told the story more than her face
lips painted crimson, eyes darker than dawn
regurgitated and void of respectability
her hands sandwiched together in prayer
skin loose from borrowed days
abused by menial labor
yet preserved in the same softness as her soul
his tears
his tears were earned in moments of yesterday
when silence was louder than words
and the hush in his mind was as the quiet before the storm
his tears were brushed away by hands
cracked and furrowed like a plowed field
yet they created a stream of their own
a path of least resistance
falling freely in the form of discarded memories and lost hope
her tears
tears born in her belly flowed from her heart
her eyes a conduit from which they streamed
brushed away by feeble, shaking hands
chapped and sore from swollen joints
and twisted aching fingers, moist from flowing tears
they poured freely as a graceful river
leaving no lines of demarcation
marinated as rejected remembrances and vanished hope
they sat
they sat alone, together
unspeaking, not touching
allowing a gentle breeze to wipe away their tears
he stood and slowly walked away
to the north
and she
unhurriedly promenading
turned to the south
looking over her shoulder
to the north
her tears had dried

blue boat

This photo was taken with my focus on the sandpipers…a short distance from the Santa Monica Pier, looking seaward from Palisades Park…then this magical boat appeared and I lifted it from an existing photo and inserted it into the aforementioned scene, closed my eyes, and watched Tuesday morning and black coffee unfold…therein was born the story of ‘the blue boat’…


blue boat

one tuesday morning he simply quit
left his pole in the boat for some other fisherman
perhaps a younger man with fingers still strong
and a gut left for fishing a short distance offshore

sandpipers scurried about as if they had found new purpose
this weather beaten, still sea-worthy vessel looked like heaven
painted like some serenity blue sky on a calm-seas day
with no sign of quitting…until he sat down on that tuesday morning

somehow the smell of coffee caught his senses
and the joy of pulling in a struggling fish was lost in the black
so he walked to the pier and waited
as memories rolled in as frequently as eternity timed waves

was it the day he bought the boat?
perhaps the weekend he painted it?
or when he pulled in that first fish (however small)?
was it the drowning of his troubles for thirty years?

tuesday morning…there was some fishing to do
expediently, his fingers, like his mind, were young again
just a short distance off shore the fish were calling
who needs black coffee when you own a blue boat?

the bronze lady

bronze lady beneath oak tree



This young lady has been laying in my house for years.
I have walked past her countless times and rarely looked
her way. Then one day, as if calling out to me, I looked and
there she was, burnished bronze. I wondered…what would
she look like beneath an old oak tree? I wondered and so…

I’m trying to figure out what exactly it is I write…I suppose I
consider myself more of a storyteller than a poet (if that
matters). However it is classified, here is another short
story…a figment of my imagination. Hope you enjoy.

the bronze lady
she was bronze
looking this way or perhaps that
and yet i saw her, quiet…even silent
hiding beneath her wide brimmed hat
stretched on a blanket
was she a shadow?
a memory?
a dream?
a wish?
was she once part of a monumental bronze statue?
did she adorn a portion of an ancient greek courtyard?
or was she melted from an axe head…
or a weapon of war?
she is beautiful
was she formed as a model struck a pose?
have i known her…
in the flesh before she became bronze?
perhaps now i will appreciate her
perhaps once i loved her
in her silence she waits
hiding beneath her wide brimmed hat
stretched on a blanket
in her silence
i wonder
so many questions swirl around this silent lady
no answers
only bronze
photo & text: tolbert

two soldiers

two soldiers

war had taken part of his mind
most of each arm
yet he smiled when a kind lady dropped a coin
rolling in a circular motion in a shallow stainless-steel bowl
stopping only when bumping into crumbled dollar bills

he guessed from her voice that the coin would roll clockwise
war had taken his eyes
so it was part of his game, to guess, as he thanked her
and caught a whiff of perfume as she walked away
maybe a lawyer? he wondered

his dog, tha thứ, lay at his side, an old yet faithful companion
only tha thứ’s eyes moved as another coin struck the stainless-steel bowl
a child, the old man guessed, based on the slight noise the coin made
a young child with kind parents
his expressions of ‘thank you’ were multi-directional
wishing to give thanks to all involved

the next coin was almost hushed,
and dropped from an even closer hand
as if placed onto the bottom of the bowl
falling flat, rolling in no direction
“thank you,” the old soldier said
somehow he knew the coin was given by a fellow veteran
“bạn được chào đón” he heard the words back
followed by a strong accent proclaiming, “you are welcome.”

“your dog’s tag, i like it.” the man with an accent continued
tha thứ…in your language is ‘forgiveness’
so i say to you, fellow soldier
“cảm ơn bạn rất nhiều,”
that is “thank you so much.”

tears fell from the sightless eyes of the american soldier
tears also from his vietnamese counterpart
“cảm ơn bạn rất nhiều” said the vietnamese soldier
repeating in english, “thank you so much”

the skinny arms of one old soldier squeezed tightly
around the other as yet another coin was dropped
this by a tall, fast walking man who did not slow at all
counter-clockwise the old soldier thought
as he managed a weak ‘thank you’ through the lingering hug
tears, he thought, are kindred
tears, whether from a soldier with no sight
or his one-time enemy, able to see his brokenness
are kindred

time waits for no one

I saw an old man waiting, staying out of morning until it came to him. He finally stood, tall and slender, and it occurred to me that he was so thin he might need to borrow a shadow if he needed to see where he had been, His wrist watch dangled on his arm,barely held on by his hand and I thought of the painting, “Time Exploding”, by Salvador Dali. This scenario reminded me that songs and memories and the colors of morning are all here for us to enjoy…but only for that season of life that is shorter than we first imagined.

Time Exploding Salvadore Dali

time waits for no one

like mulberry branches over a split rail fence
twisted green with sangria bulbs

he waited in rusted silence
as sounds from yesterday danced in his head

songs barged in,
packing themselves in darkened corners
and disturbing attics
left to die in their own melodies
quietly still

lyrics, marinated and drowned
suffocated by once-loved memories,
now lay limp as lifeless clocks
embracing minute hands
motionless and quiet as a circular parade

no one saw the tear in his eye
nor the tremor in his hand
as he waited in a darkened doorway
for the light and warmth of morning

his posture held him captive
punched in like a deflated basketball
unable to lean back
where relaxation and stillness once comforted him

soon he would stand tall
his slender frame borrowing a shadow,
his step into the day calculated,
a reminder
to look both ways before crossing

the couple

the couple

wordless, quiet
they sat throughout the morning
watching waves coming in
going out
silence formed like white caps
flattened on silken sands
sliding back and forth
like sweaty bodies in an erotic movie scene
they labored in spent memories
as if giving birth to times before yesterday
forgotten in some lead-lined vault
left to wilt woefully in regret
his stop-watch was a gift from her
her knitting needle, from him
both for days such as this
when waves were as predictable as her next slip stitch
his thumb could no longer push the stem
to activate a never moving second hand
her fingers too frail
to pull her slip stitch through
so wordless, quiet
they sat throughout the morning
watching waves coming in
going out
“it’s a nice day to enjoy you.”
he finally said.
“and you.” she agreed, dropping her needle.
“and you.”

the coffee shop lady


the coffee shop lady

i watched her from two tables over
fidgeting with mismatched salt and pepper shakers
her pencil-like fingers moving them methodically
as though they were pawns on a chessboard

her tea, like her body, had long ago lost warmth
now contained in a paper cup and plastic lid
where angel’s hair clouds once pushed
like cotton circles against celestial seasonings splashes

an oversized oval-shaped chipped broach
held her too-shiny blouse modestly shut
three buttons from the top
slightly off center to cover any indecency

her smile was warm, engaging each new patron
and with kind eyes she appeared to weep for their sins
knowing that none who crossed her path
was righteous

i watched her fingers as much as her eyes
blanketed with skin looser than her morals had ever been
and i felt ashamed that i had not known her as a child
perhaps i would have lived life better





tin cup music

as mornings grow colder i am reminded of a woman curled next to a steam vent in an effort to warm herself. a small tin cup like you might find in an army surplus store was positioned near her exposed face as the cold nipped away at her dignity. some faces are unforgettable. hers was one.

tin cup music complete

tin cup music

life’s story was etched on her face
carved with pocket-knife memories
rubbed in with grammar school erasers
and colored like heavy wet fog
on a stinson beach winter’s morning

smiles were kept tucked in her pocket
until a coin rang out like handel’s messiah
hitting the bottom of her tin cup
a reminder of how far she had fallen
in a life written like a fourteen-line sonnet

noise from darkened streets and shadowed corners
became comforting street sounds
as she curled in her coarse wool army blanket
now clutched to her chin and pushed by her toes
until she found sleep in her cocoon of warmth

then a little girl jumped on chalk-drawn squares
skipped rope and laughed while running into the wind
and peeked around corners in games of hide and seek
oh, she chased her puppy and hugged her kitten
in dreams constructed with yesterday’s pieces

awakened, she wondered when she last cried
tears no longer fell easily
and the gurgling complaints in her belly
reminded her that morning erased dreams
as easily as dreams erased the pain of living