the statue on 47th street

the statue on 47th street

 

the statue on 47th street

her lissome fingers touched the piano keys
a tuxedoed man added rhythm with his oboe
while outside the fancy french café
sat a man simply known as a transit hobo

snow fell softly all around him
and in the silence of its sinking sound
his tears were warm on his whiskered face
as white memories piled onto the frozen ground

no one dropped coins into his cup of tin
folks were bundled and warm from the bitter cold
none of them paid any attention to him
i suppose his story had already been told

seems he’d lost his son one christmas night
while carrying gifts throughout their town
now he no longer saw the snow as white
though it painted the landscape on its way to down

but on this night snow was deeply piled
falling around this grieving hobo on the street
yet on his face he wore a broken smile
much like the battered tin cup sitting at his feet

he tightly held a note clutched in his hand:
asking, “are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin?
and will a wise king keep fair his command?
and a righteous man believe what he is doing?”

as a blizzard the snow fell, piling deeply all around
yet no one watched as he sat deathly still
now frozen concretely onto the inflexible ground
never moving again that night, now he never will

today the fancy french café gives him a home
honored as a bronze statue with a cup at his feet
at last the simple transit hobo who died alone
is forever remembered as the statue on 47th street

 

chocolate shops and shoes with a soul

he walked eighty-seven steps from meal to meal
rummaging through too many cans for such a small town
from dented metal barrels he got his fill
before the collection on wednesday when he made the rounds

rain water somehow had the taste of imported beer
and his want of a cigarette bordered on pain
so he pulled the old ashtray up closer than near
and sorted through the ashes one more time again

he craved the touch of raw sex, dripping with sweat
but hookers with needles just weren’t his kind
so in dark corners his hand was all he could get
not much but it was the best an old man could find

when a man has only a single pair of faded jeans
and a button-less collar on a button down shirt
two shoes as mismatched as his misguided dreams
he can only feel as good as yesterday’s hurt

his left shoe was brown, badly worn and size ten
his right, size eleven, stuffed with a cardboard sole
covering the place where italian leather had been
but pieces of cardboard can never cover the hole

so many days he vowed he would stop
no more scavenging through dirty backdoor cans
he felt like a fat boy’s quarter in a chocolate shop
but the quarter, like life, just slipped through his hands

yesterday was chicken wings and a hotdog bun
and roast beef in a blue napkin, tightly squeezed
a bit of a burger cooked a little too done
but all the food was edible so he was well pleased

he said “five more cans and at last i am done.
i’ll give thanks for everything i received today.”
he stepped up his pace to beat the setting sun
then lifted his hands and began to pray,

“without fail, god, you have always cared for me.
i’ve rarely missed a meal and had plenty to spare,
and lord, you’ve listened to my every plea
and when i needed you, god, you were there.”

then he proclaimed america is such a wonderful place,
especially beneath the watson bridge at willow street.
then he brushed away his tears streaming down his face
and removed the mismatched shoes from his tired, aching feet.

when he closed his eyes at night he dreamed
about passionate sex, chocolate shops, and shoes with a sole,
not sure that life was all it once seemed
but the smile on his face said god is in control.

they found him early one morning near the start of spring
beneath the watson bridge at willow street
and in the flowering trees you could hear all the birds sing
about heaven’s new angel with new shoes on his feet.

 

hawthorne zep

i remember he looked like a paperclip…
hunched over and limited in his usefulness.
and to think that several years ago, he rode a bicycle—
hawthorne zep it was called—1939 model.

i knew the bicycle better than i knew him.
“cleveland welding company.” he always said,
when i asked how things were going.
“cleveland welding company built it, 1939.”

he was only eight when the delivery truck came;
montgomery wards written on the side.

just as he had dreamed…dark blue with white trim,
tires blacker than night and sidewalls brighter than the moon
when it hung lethargically in full cycle.

but now, he could barely rise from his chair.
i wondered if maybe that bicycle hadn’t kept him alive;
memories were reason to hope, even in the past.

it hurt to see his spine so crippled;
his back, an asymmetrical arc leading to nowhere,
bent like an old fiberglass fishing pole
overburdened with a seven pound bass with a will to live.

we had roles.
i spoke…he stared into the past.

“hawthorne zep it was called, 1939 model, white sidewall tires,
side jeweled reflectors, and a chrome-plated chain guard…
she was built by the cleveland welding company, 1939.”
was his answer to any question i asked.

i told him it was okay to tell me all about his bicycle,
so he taught me about life…
and everything i needed to know about the hawthorne zep.

seems he forgot all about 1939—and every year that followed—
but one saturday morning long ago, a bicycle was delivered
and he fell in love like most folks only wish they could.

 

the last blackbird

even now, i’m not sure
why i walked to the end of the avenue
before sitting on the curb.

one burping city bus after another boasted
that this news team is better than that one…
at least until the next bus comes.

at the end of the avenue
blackbirds wait, watching near-empty sidewalks
from a drooping wire.

it was then i decided i would not
leave the end of the avenue
until the last blackbird had flown away.

only one remained as darkness approached
until finally it shuddered
and fell to the ground, dead.

i had never seen a bird die
but i believe that’s why i walked to the end of the avenue
before sitting on the curb…

unsure about what to do with a dead blackbird,
i waited for the next news team to arrive
on the side of a city bus.

turns out that when it comes to the little things
—things that matter—
none of the news teams cared much about blackbirds…

or about an old man contemplating death
on the curb at the end of the avenue
where a blackbird once died.

 

straight talkin’ man one stop 33

well i walked into the bar room
just to hear the sound
pulled way back on the wooden stool
and set my body down

spilled vodka in my orange juice
‘twas flavor for my soul
an’ a stranger sat down next to me
an’ said, “man, your troubles show.”

he was a straight talkin’ whiskered man
never said his name
but he set me up with another round
of liquid lovin’ sane

he pulled a guitar from the side of him
and laid his troubles down
as he sang old songs
of love gone wrong
on th’ streets of every town

we took the rails through chicago
and on up to smokey mount
from the eastern coast
to the western shore
was more stops than i could count

and then at last he looked at me
and said, “friend, where have you been?”
i looked at him
through a wasted mind
and wanted to ask him ‘when’?

but i knew it didn’t matter
‘cause my days were all the same
countin’ th’ thick glass bottoms
of my liquid lovin’ sane

he sang a song i’d never known
but now i know it well
‘cause it was my path to the outer rim
of my liquid lovin’ hell

he said, “don’t you count on nobody
‘cause nobody knows your name
an’ if you walk away from these bar room doors
that’s how it will remain

always remember who you are
and never forget where you’ve been
so when the mirror takes a close up shot
it will reflect to you a friend”

well, i smiled at him as he walked away
leaving black coffee in front of me
and tears that ran across my mind
made it so easy for me to see

i’d met a man who had an outstretched hand
like the man from galilee
who walked from shore to distant shore
jus’ setting broken people free

he was a straight talkin’ whiskered man
who never said his name
but he set me up with another round
that put me right back in th’ game…

so i sang. “jesus, you walked on th’ water
an’ lord, you healed th’ blind
an’ now i will never walk alone,
thanks for bein’ a friend of mine.”

 

stones

“pick a large stone son,” he said looking into the shallow brook
“one that is heavy and smooth to fit both hands.

not a small stone that you can gather into one palm
nor easily hold when using both; test your limits when you choose.”

the youngster selected a large stone, one he could hardly hold,
grunting and groaning he finally managed to say

“this is the stone i have selected, it is smooth and colorful
this stone is heavy and with a wrong step i shall fall.”

“then so be it my son, let this be your stone…
the stone you carry with you throughout your lifetime

and when tempted to throw stones at others
whether their cause be just or unjust, agreeable or not

always select this stone, too heavy to throw
only heavy enough to remind you of your own limitations.”

and this is how i learned about strength in weakness
and how to select stones for the garden of my life.

 

the missing key

there’s a green door down at the harbor
i’m told it won’t open anymore
the harbor master held the key
when one day he went off to war

folks used to gather at the green door
waiting for the harbor master’s return
but one by one they left, dejected
you’d think even one would eventually learn

and then, one sunny sunday morning
a little boy just happened along
he twisted the knob as far as he could
and suddenly feared he’d done something wrong

seems all along the door could open
the harbor master had left the key
with a simple note he had written:
if you don’t open the door—don’t blame me.

 

 

white room

music touches the corners of the white room
gently like the paint that tinted the walls pristine
removing shadows thrown by amethyst bowls
filled with scarlet strawberries and wine-colored plums

loneliness hurts in the depths of sallow reflections
when the music has died and angels have wept
to songs that have too long been silent
and fallen softly in the corner of the white room

she stood in front of the glassless window
while an early morning breeze whispered a new song
one to be played in the midst of the white room
while the wings of angels touched a melody to her fingertips

the gentle breeze in her flowing hair made me weep
as i longed to reach out once more
to the lady who stood in the corner of the white room
while her song transformed upon soft waiting lips

now in the place where she once stood
a white bowl filled with burgundy strawberries and purple plums
sits on the ashen table made of twisted iron and glass
and pale roses of pink and white gather the dimming light

as the walls of the white room slowly wither to gray
and her music fades to the quiet sound of silence
while gleeful angels who graced her life with music
dance one last time in the corner of the white room

 

yellow taxi

there’s a view from my room
with a dark screen in the way
blocking broken down scenes
from yesterday

taxis aligned and ready to go
when the red light turns green
and stop turns to slow
…they move

corner windows face south and east
broken breadsticks and crumbs on the sheets
but i longingly look to the crowded streets
for a friendly face

in new york city

i watched her stroll on seventh avenue
too young to vote, too old to screw
she traded her smile for something new
but a powered nose was the best she could do

people stared as she walked
like a pro
and from my lingering view
blocking broken scenes from yesterday

i was sure i saw her smile
as if she knew things about life
that in darkness i could only dream about
from my screened in window

she knew something i didn’t care to know
and yet now my gut said i had to
i was right, she did smile

she was right, there was evil in my heart

 

the late lesson

george hasbin sat down hard as if to prove his point.
things were built better just after the war between the states;
he wasn’t sure why that was, but it was, he was certain.
wandering the earth for ninety-three years; he knew these things.

he laid his hand on the time-slapped, weather-beaten trunk,
it wore a deteriorated padlock, silent, like fine jewelry.
ghosts of 1891 stirred in the storage places of his heart…
trying to bust out just like the stagnant air inside the dome-topped casket.

partially covered heavy canvas
—ripped away by porters and steel blades—
revealed a foundation consisting of shredded fabric and time-tested wood.
beaten metal corners spoke like an atlas of places the trunk had been.
the century lock, marked 1889, protected the faces of people long forgotten.

george hasbin knew the battered box too well…
his father used it to desert the family on that cold november day
(he wished to forget the exact date but calendars read like history books)
and his father abandoned him precisely seven days before thanksgiving
november 21, 1912—the day he lost both his father and a fine storage trunk.

twenty years passed since the letter arrived, an obituary of sorts.
his father had died, the prodigal trunk was his only possession.
inherited property of: george hasbin the letter said very officially.
one trunk w/ contents: simon seward co. petersburg, virginia. est. 1878.

for two decades the lid guarded the contents of a man’s life
while suffocated secrets and smothered dreams died in the darkness.
now the key felt heavy and awkward as his shaking hand sought the lock’s opening
with a swift clockwise motion—click—sound exploded.

the lid raised easily, as if the hinges were recently oiled
and when he pushed it open george hasbin was surprised.
in a mirror, his own face stared back at him with a simple question
scrawled across a weathered parchment…
“what would you have done, my son, what would you have done?”

 

too late to cry

scattered memories were misplaced until today,
when i remembered your going away.
somehow i knew you would not look back.

how was i to know that life honors no promises
and holds no secrets until tomorrow’s sunrise?
you taught me that without ever knowing it.

a weather-beaten fence now surrounds the burrowed field
where once you walked amidst the swaying daisies,
golden in the afternoon.

dried roses—brown from neglect and the cold of winter—
easily crumble at the touch of my lips
as i place them against the cracking cold marble slab.

i never knew you except in my dreams,
and memories of your soft touch were born in wishes
that i could have seen your eyes just once.

did you cry when you walked away to another place,
where the yesterdays of your life
were sure never to meet the tomorrows of mine?

i found you here all alone
when the snow melted and birds reappeared
…and when the farmer showed me the way.

 

mrs. sanders

mrs. sanders sat quietly in her rocking chair
unable to tug on her string of rosary beads
she no longer wondered if god might be watching her
‘cause it had been years since she prayed on bended knees

ninety-seven years had made her body tired and frail
the days were like shredded paper lost in the wind
now her gold necklaces hung alongside her dignity
it seems she had outlived her purpose and her friends

mrs. sanders eyes were shallow and her vision much too dim
like seeing through the proverbial darkened glass
through the spiraling smoke that drifted slowly heavenly
from the censer swaying at her catholic mass

mrs. sanders sat quietly in her rocking chair
her head tilted forward in silent prayer
some thought she had died when they looked at her
she could have died, she really didn’t care

even mrs. sanders wondered if maybe she had passed away
she thought perhaps the angels walked all around
it really didn’t matter so much anymore
though she wondered about the trumpet sounds

ivory rosary beads draped loosely in her hand
brittle, spindly fingers could no longer grip
assured that god was faithfully watching over her
she could no longer bring the beads up to her lips

mrs.sanders didn’t know she had already died
but if she did she knew that all was fine
as she sat quietly, unmoving in her rocking chair
it was the first thing she had done in quite some time

 

the workbench

“tomorrow we will study the map
and look for new places to explore,
but today is friday, time to organize,
to put everything in its place.”

he said those words to me
then shuffled to straighten the picture frame
as he tilted his head further than his heart

he looked content somehow
pleased that the lid of that,
how can i say it~god-awful red box~
still fit snugly if he pressed hard enough

spilled black ink had long since dried
and now i look thursday square in the face
and wish for friday
and every tomorrow that chases it

now, i see that he didn’t care to organize
he knew a secret i was soon to learn
life will align itself if you leave it alone

he left it,
indeed he left it alone

 

the breath of angels

some say the music still plays
in the empty doorway, dark with time
past ten thousand yesterdays
and melodic songs with words that rhyme

only in silence can you hope to hear
the forgotten songs that used to play
while harshly made noises of a distant year
chase the haunting songs away

in the midst of badly peeling paint
and faded red bricks crumbling into dust
and a tarnished statue of a captive saint
whose flowing robe has turned to rust

i felt a song begging for time
to be released into the waiting air
back into the heavens on a spiral climb
whispering to angels everywhere

in time all singers have surely died
all songs returned to their pillow clouds
with the purest music buried deep inside
where vagrant noise is never allowed

’til now the lonely cry of music’s death
rests upon six waiting guitar strings
while the song has taken its final breath
and in heaven, a host of angels sing

 

ms. richards (bus 3810)

ms. richards sat firmly on her agile hands
on the wobbly wooden weathered bench
waiting for city bus number thirty-eight-ten
to burp around the corner of first and french

the man on her left had too much to drink
his eyes had shut like thick flowing cream
he smelled of last night’s naughty sex
and his nod said he was still there in his dreams

her glasses, blue frames, with silver hinges
sat crooked, precarious and ready to fall
matching her smile, twisted and closed
like her mind as she wondered about it all

why should she sit on this weathered wood
beside a man who snored as he dreamed
when he had done what she would if she could
and she knew it from his vivid moans and screams

he was an ugly man by all accounts
veiling yellowed teeth, oblique, chipped and large
unsightly for his small-lipped, tightly drawn mouth
she shamelessly told the officer in charge

“it was self-defense” she cried into her hands
“the bus was late and his dreams were too real
and he started making unsolicited demands
so the small voice within me simply said kill!…”

now she sits on a wobbly wooden weathered bench
smiling victoriously for the contribution she made
when she erased an ugly man and his stench
and ensured that the debt for his sin was paid

 

lifeless fruit in her bowl of sin

she was an urbanite socialite
who had done nobody wrong,
a debutante who had no want
and she took me right along.

she graced me with her words of french
and taught me with her time
how to love between th’ satin sheets
and the love she took was mine.

she rarely saw the morning hour,
and borrowed life from yesterday.
her time just seemed to be her own,
yet her minutes slipped away.

she knew where she was going
yet she wondered where she had been;
apple trees grew on her barren path
like lifeless fruit in her bowl of sin

her daddy was a very rich man
but he didn’t own her mind,
and the ivy towers behind her college hours
had made themselves unkind.

she knew the works of whitman…
and quoted emerson and thoreau,
but their pages left her lonely;
and that’s an awful place to go.

so one day she closed her book of life,
seems she’d erased too many words.
til the apple seeds were all devoured…
by the ravens, poe’s darkest birds.

 

everybody’s dying

everybody’s dying, everybody’s dying
in this world we call insane
and nobody knows it,
‘cause it’s part of the game

and there is no resurrection
once we fall down from that cross
and there is no institution
to redeem our final loss

and there is no cotton bandage
that can stop the bleeding wound
and no time for looking backwards
‘cause we are already doomed

everybody’s dying, everybody’s dying
and we’re smiling all the while
we just never realize it
we just line up single file

and the explosion of that bullet
bursts across the night time sky
and the mushroom cloud filters down
and the laughing people cry

and there is no restoration
once our cities tumble down
and there is no consolation
for no prizes can be found

and there is no rhyme or reason
that can color over dead
and no time for looking backwards
to the words that jesus said

everybody’s dying, everybody’s dying
and some have sold their souls
and everybody knows it
after sifting through the coals

and there is no hope for another time
the stainless sword just fell
there is no care for your fellow man
as he stumbles into hell

and there is no constitution
that politicians sign
for the sign’s already written
and sealed since the start of time

and everybody’s dying, everybody’s dying
though none can answer why
and there are no super patriots
who storm across the sky

and there is no firm foundation
to hold your footing down
and there is no more destitution
past the hunger sound

and there is no vegetation
to keep a man alive
he should have eaten the bread of life
if he wanted to survive

and no time for looking backwards
to the way it could have been
that time has passed and satan’s tongue
has pierced the hearts of men

everybody’s dying, everybody’s dying
god, take this pain from me
this sight of annihilation
this staining of the sea

everybody’s dying, everybody’s dying
the anguish is too real
even a blind man who has darkened eyes
no longer can conceal

that window of his inner soul
which holds the picture clear
everybody’s dying, everybody’s dying
my friend…the time is here

 

death of a circle

it was in the meadow
when i first learned to wait.

the marshes were heavy with morning
and the footstep of a frog became a slight ripple
born to die in the center.

but only after i learned to wait,
watching the slow death of a circle.

 

in her garden

tomatoes grow round and naked,
brownish green showing no trace of red.
she walks between brittle rows of corn,
where stalks fall limply into the fallow bed.

she dreams she is rahab, barefoot in the soil,
with her shoulders covered by a soft scarlet gown.
a harlot in the garden, hiding spies in the night
praying to god they will never be found.

at the appointed time her vegetables wilt,
slowly dying from the hot noonday sun,
while her mind is fixed on jericho’s walls
and on joshua and caleb, two spys on the run.

dejected, she slipped down, hard onto her knees,
as her dry bucket spilled onto jordan’s banks.
her faith was shaken, her heart was quiet
and with outstretched hands she offered thanks.

kings searched frantically for twelve smooth stones
and armies prepared to battle ‘til the end.
their armor was set, shields and arrows prepared
and on her thin scarlet thread they’d depend.

the soil beneath her feet was soft
and capable of ruining her virgin white socks,
so she carefully moved through the parched battleground
watchful to avoid the hard, jagged rocks.

rahab, the harlot, wept alone in her garden,
as from the heavens, a steady rain began to fall.
and she knew that salvation had come to the house
when in the distance she heard the trumpet’s call.

she dried her tears with her scarlet gown
thankful for her vegetables, although so few,
with supper on the table and hungry mouths to feed
she wondered what rahab, the harlot, would do.

 

fingers of fog

fingers of fog whisper between
the hollow masts
silent—
like a note never played
on an instrument never touched

gray shades of white crawl delicately,
dissipating slowly at the touch of morning’s sun

drying nets, emptied of their captured haul
collapse onto themselves
like a hangman’s noose
still swaying uselessly in the dying breeze

smoothing the water’s ripples—
wrinkles of the sea
as beaten vessels weep together,
into the waiting water
wanting for one more trip to sea
never hoping for a safe return…

 

fortress

he built a fortress with his hands
then climbed behind its walls,
and shouted to those in command
“you better run before it falls!”

he played alone amongst the stones
of false security,
and when the fortress tumbled down
the people came to see.

they chopped the wood
and rolled the stones
that formed a bundled mess

and when they got the fortress cleared
they stared in real distress.

for there they found no body
stretched beneath the rubbish heap,
but only a book that told of fools
who cleared a man’s debris

 

naked light

who turned on the naked light,
suspended like a question mark
at the end of the hallway?

smudges of dark raw tung oil
dry like quiet shadows
where colors died before the fall

and the bulb, naked and alone
like adam and eve in the garden
is hot to the touch.

like an apple, scorching their lips
as they sought to hide
behind bushes and stones,

their nakedness revealed in the light
when moses saw the bush burning with fire,
(but the bush was not consumed.)

who then would toss the first stone?
he who is without sin,
let him be the first to throw a stone at her.

yet they were convicted by their conscience
—revealed in the light—
was it you who turned on the naked light?

do you not see that because you did not glorify god
your foolish heart is darkened?
it’s there, in the light. revealed.

suspended like a question mark
at the end of the hallway
where answers have died

 

lithium steps

iron rails
leaned in to the steps
leading from the sidewalk
to the darkness
below

a single bulb
long since black
hung lifelessly from
the porcelain fixture
as though a lynch mob had left it
to die

beside the rail
on the street above
steps leading up
from the sidewalk
became a chair
for the man
who waited
from then
until whenever

he owned no watch
he wasn’t old
wasn’t young
just broken
his hands together
fingers intertwined
keeping one another warm
sitting on lithium steps
that once were hard cement
and now are hard cement
painted red
worn by footprints
over the years

within several yards
the man could walk up
or walk down
the cement steps
leading from
the calloused sidewalk

he could
look out to the street
if he sat
on the ascending steps
or to the blackened bulb
on those that descended

both looked the same—
darkness
hopelessness
brokenness

today is monday
he looks to the street
still searching
for even a glimpse
of hope and/or human kindness
tomorrow is tuesday
he watches the blackened bulb
on tuesday

 

i knew he wasn’t jesus

i knew he wasn’t jesus
he had a pole in his hand
and stood quietly still before the water
ankle deep,
just enough to see he wasn’t standing on top

evening cast a nice reflection
on the water-beaten sand and there he stood
perpendicular to himself
and that’s where i saw him
he was crucified
and the waves were defiant

‘crucify him! crucify him!’
it had to happen soon
as the setting sun dipped into the screaming sea
blood red water poured onto the sand
as the fisherman of men’s souls stood

his pole pointed to heaven
while perpendicular to himself
he lay quietly still on the smooth sand
as they laid him to rest
in a borrowed tomb

and the golden sunset
wept into the sea until darkness prevailed
to the sound of breaking waves
‘crucify him! crucify him’

 

 

home after dark

he didn’t come home for supper.
stayed in the field well past dark,
november of ’63 it was.
plowing his field; hell of a place to hear the news about the president.

damn texans should never have invited him to dallas.
now a texan would be president, that sounded mighty suspicious…
but he was just a farmer, sittin’ on his butt,
driving a red ‘55 allis chalmers tractor north and south all day.
what did he know?

well, he knew the seat was hard
and when he looked down at his tractor’s red coat
he saw the blood of the president…
he didn’t come in from the field for three days.
said it was biblical, old testament somewhere.

she wondered about him, out there in the dark
sitting on his tractor.

she never hollered for him to come in for supper…
just stood at the screen door for a while.
what, with the tractor spewing and coughing he would never hear her anyway.

he had not stayed in the field past dark in thirty-one years.
she heard the silence of nightfall…
but no grunting of an over-burdened tractor.

she wasn’t surprised when they found him
sitting on his oldest tractor, a ‘35 allis chalmers left behind by his father…
died with his hands gripping the wheel, sitting there, no place to go.
it was november of ’63.

 

barren staircase

i can see beyond the staircase
though barren, weeds still grow
weeping for the springtime
when color will once again rise
from the belly of the earth
sucked to the highest branches
in celebration of life

the staircase remains as my hope
my trust in today
tomorrow
and every day thereafter
when i walk from this palette
from this easel
to that
as seasons visit like weary visitors
suitcases stuffed with memories
and boxes packed with questions

no one looked beneath the staircase
where children once played melodiously
on rounded stones
winding in a thousand directions
rolling, singing
celebrating the pennies and souls
the kisses and promises
collected
all in honor of the now collapsing stairs
and the ivy, the plush green ivy
flourishing from here to there
and back
like a tightrope in the mind of children
who once played in this place
called home

 

chelsea

morning was more chilled than my heart
when i saw her standing on the corner
waiting to cross from yesterday into tomorrow
a new life awaited her on the other side

she smiled and waved as she passed by
her maroon dress tattered and too often worn
i saw myself within her soul as i peered into her eyes
and wondered when her tears had dried for the last time

even in her smile there was punishing sadness
her body had been used and abused too many times
as i read her story on her still angelic face
the pages flowed with words of brokenness i read as mine

she was once an innocent little girl who laughed out loud
running in circles on the playground grass
the promise of yesterday, where did it so quickly go
leaving a little girl with no corners to turn?

now she crosses the street against a red light
and my heart is warm as my smile catches hers
i wonder when morning drops into the blackness of night
will she remember that in our glance i promised hope?

 

the green room

last night i wondered about the green room
and if you slept alone while the eastbound train fled town

i knew it was too late to call
but my watch was set to pacific time and i missed you

your unmade bed was more than a memory to me
sheets rumpled and pillows tossed like rounded mushrooms
waiting for the frogs to pass

somehow i knew the room wasn’t mine anymore
when the radio played a slow love song that was no longer ours

it’s always the little things that reveal
more than wednesday’s headline could have ever said

i should have left on the morning train
rather than watch the lights turn out in the green room

tomorrow i’ll go west with the setting sun
and remember the green room only in my dreams

 

prayer from a tired world

he pulled his net from the choppy sea
looked and found there were no fish to share
so he walked to the shadow of an old olive tree
fell to his knees and beseeched his father in prayer

saying “god i know in time you’ll bring in the fish
and you’ll feed us till we want no more
but now, dear god, i have another unselfish wish
can we please just stop the foolish wars?”

then two thousand years later another man lived
he was broke and empty, not a penny to his name
it seems he had given all he could give
leaving more when he left than when he came

even the last of his nickels had come and gone
though dreams and prayers and wishes were still free
heaven’s rain left him soaked to the bone
and he remembered the man sitting beneath the tree

his bleeding fingertips dug for crumbs of bread
his aching heart searched for the solitude of words
as he closed his eyes and lay down his weary head
and peace was blocked by a heart disturbed

“dear father, i pray, two things and nothing more
please take me home with you tonight
and can we please stop these foolish wars?
i’m tired, father…too tired to fight.”

 

empty

there was an eerie silence in the black nothing
behind window panes that once were
and are no more.

once there was a face looking out,
eyes hungry for the promise of tomorrow.

fresh red paint framed her hopes and
dreams with wishes bigger than her heart and
smaller than the point on her #2 pencil.

tornadoes and windmills, tulips and wooden
dutch shoes, cable cars and airplanes were choices
when she doodled in the burned out spaces
of her mind, created from too many fires seen,
too many tears, puddles in the rain.

she backed away from the window
thankful that no reflection would stare back,
no reminder of who she had become.

days when smudges on glass were possible,
when her breath created a place to draw
and her fingertip was an artist’s brush
or a conductor’s baton.

days when she had a breath other than this~

her last.

 

reflection

i sit alone in the darkness
playing my broken guitar
two strings are out of tune
and i don’t know which they are

my fingers are sore from aging
and can’t remember what they should do
when playing a love song i once wrote
to a young girl i once knew

i don’t remember whether california
…by the san francisco bay
or the snow packed fields of toledo
had taken her smile away

i hardly remember her soft, full lips
or the wave in her light brown hair
her glistening eyes when i played my guitar
singing love songs like a solemn prayer

now i sit alone in the darkness
strumming on my broken guitar
maybe six strings are out of tune
and i’m pretty sure which they are

perhaps you remember the morning
and the taste of chocolate smiles
when we swallowed them like we owned them
and hoped morning would stay awhile

but if i play a love song in the darkness
on my perfectly tuned guitar
will you somehow hear the melody
reflecting from some distant star?

tearfully i sit alone in the darkness
playing my ovation guitar
really, no strings are out of tune
but it doesn’t matter anymore…

i don’t know where you are

 

sleepy little town

i journey too often to this sleepy little town
of turned out lights
and burned out ladies of the night

windows cracked open
release the stale of yesterday
and drapes eased back
entertain those who fear the darkness

i walk alone not daring to look up
at those shadowed windows

yet wondering
who stands behind each shield of glass

a smiling lady, waiting for my glance
who listens to music but never dares to dance

a bearded man who was suddenly old
standing while watching the evening unfold

perhaps a wordsmith hungry for rhymes
wishing again for simpler times

or a saddened stranger waiting for love
watching the people she’s afraid of

perhaps no one will glance
at this passer in the street

perhaps i alone walk the knolls
of this sleepy little town

guess i’ll never know—
i can’t look up for feeling down

 

collection

old charlie left
a coin collection…
was all that remained of his life;

pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters,
heads facing down.

no precious coins,
none older than a decade,
none worth more than face value,
dead presidents on most.

eagles and monuments,
latin and english,
olive branches, oak branches
on some.

in god we trust, liberty,
e pluribus unum
—out of many, one—
on each.

silver, gold, copper—
a collection
that didn’t mean much—
except that he left it.

always said you can’t take it with you…
and he didn’t.
it wasn’t much,
just everything he owned.

 

her gate

tears filled the corners of her eyes
yet her heart was comforted with joy
wishing to feel his presence…
to know the touch of his fingertips

her soft skin ached
as he looked upon her waiting body
she was cradled,
kept in the comfort of his arms
safe as if in the feathers of a pen,
the soft down of comfort waiting

her tears were sweet, no longer salty
when she felt his heart
as if being tugged by swashbucklers
of the high seas of her turbulent life

they wept together
pulling one another from the wreckage
of the debris that floated adrift
praying for the contentment of an angel
with widespread wings
creating shadows of comfort and hope

the serenity of her eyes guided him
rolling over his body like caressing waves
healing like the pools of the temple gate
with the stirred waters of desire

while jeremiah asked, “ is there no balm in gilead?”
then they knew that it was he who sat
begging alms at the beautiful gate of her temple
opened for his pleasure

 

tears on the street

they found him on the back side
of a life which headed down
a whiskey bottle ruled his mind
…the only friend he’d ever found

his body wore deep wrinkles
so long before it’s time
his words were grouped together
then glued with cheap red wine

the only coat upon his back
was the silence he’d always worn
and he took it with him as he left
it was enough to keep him warm

his daydreams left him stranded
just hopeful shadows on the ground
and the silent voices in his head
became the evenings only sound

he wore his coat of silence well
and pushed the words aside
shattered dreams like darkness fell
‘til in emptiness the old man died

 

jukebox

kenny gave us the music man
and dolly the colored coat
time in a bottle wasn’t meant for jim
it was just a song he wrote

some said it was elvis forever
as the king of rock n roll
but who could know his majesty
was spinning out of control

peter, paul and mary
sang dylan’s blowin’ in th’ wind
as the beatles did it all for us
with a little help from their friends

those years all passed too quickly
and are now forever gone
even neil, the solitary man
returned to brooklyn roads, his home

the statlers wrote of monuments
in washington d c
mccartney climbed on jonathan’s wings
and crashed into the apple tree

mac showed us a little ghetto life
james took us up on the roof
the oak ridge boys went into a saloon
to down some hundred proof

jimmy smashed electric guitars
while janice sang bobby mcgee
rick’s plane tumbled from the sky
he said no garden party for me

kris and willie inhaled their weed
said it make their throats feel good
but jimmy should never light my fire
in mr. roger’s neighborhood

a song could go on forever
about the singers i’ve never known
and one by one they’ve said goodbye
and turned to go back home

where have all the flowers gone?
that’s the question pete seeger asked
i guess with old songs everyone
to that great juke box of the past

 

world traveler
you made my world bigger
then smaller
then so large i did not know east from west
as i stood so alone in the middle of that proverbial non-place…
nowhere

i showed you boats on the water
and purple roses
while you took me to nairobi
and made me see the smiling faces of black children
whose teeth appeared larger than their faces
and whose bellies seemed to be full with food from the west

both notions were wrong
and only after you left, smiling
did i understand that

your going away made me taste tears i thought had long dried
like the baked clay of north carolina
or that upon which i had never walked
in the vast african plains where dying water buffalo
were too weak to drink and the roar of african lions
was silenced by the laughter of brave white hunters

i often wonder who you are
weeping silently some nights in pennsylvania
sitting alone in a wicker chair in spain
or typing mercurially at your ergonomically contoured keyboard
in every province of canada

i know you like to dance by the water
on warm southern california nights (you told me without meaning to)
yet when the doors of evening close and the lights go off
i can hear your weeping
you know i love you and though i will never know your touch
nor even the temptation of enticing words
i will forever hug you and tell you it is okay
even when we both know it is too late to be okay

somehow, you made my world bigger
then smaller
then so large i did not know north from south
as i stood so alone in the middle of that proverbial non-place…
nowhere

the taste of clouds was commonplace
and bird watching was easy with such vivid reds and yellows
matted against the plush green of a moment caught
then released with the same freedom of the bird itself

i have seen old boats, tilted and entrapped on the telling sands of time…
a poor man’s vessel entombed like a beaten slave
on the white sands of santa barbara
releasing ghosts of lovers who embraced yesterday
while drowning in the waters of their own pride
i knew you by your hand, once that of a poet,
now one whose words are dry like poisonous bittersweet nightshade
still beautiful, yet deadly

where will you take me on sleepless nights?
i see visions of the flowing waters of cascata della marmone.
cascading, falling, tumbling down
i walk alone on the streets of barcelona, emptier than i imagined;
why must i hide in the corners of amsterdam or watch the sunrise in koprivnica
still in awe that crotia is allowed to breathe?
fantasies are born in manitoba and alberta and even more in scotland and britian
yet…just as quickly
fantasies die

still, somehow, you made my world bigger
then smaller
then so large i did not know up from down
as i stood so alone in the middle of that proverbial non-place…
nowhere
yet, there you are…your smile, your gentle words
now my world fits me like a warm overcoat on a bitter, cold night
in northeastern ohio
just a fragmented fantasy, but it somehow seems to fit.

 

in search of blinds

it started with a simple search
vinyl shutters to cover a window
looking for a fortress of privacy
hoping for a moment alone

her smile was captivating and warm
and drew him in, if even for a moment

time and distance peeled away like layers
on a bulbous onion

he took her to places she’d longed to go
and waited as she turned away
not ready for the moment
begging for her own approval of pleasure

her search was relentless
but now, when she thought about blinds
her mind drifted to wood
wondering what it would be like

with her eyes she surveyed the window
watching outside, from within
thinking about those innocent moments
measuring the window with wanton memories

the view from within seemed different now
looking out and wondering who would watch her
in her quest for some vinyl barricade
that would guard her life like a bastion of innocence

thin vinyl blinds could keep others out
and keep her in, free and independent
but still wondering as she looked at the blinds
“what would wood have been like?”

 

girl with the pearl earring

this poem is about the girl with a pearl earring (c. 1665-1666) painted by the famous dutch artist johannes vermeer. it’ is one of vermeer’s most recognized masterpieces

i tried to look into her eyes—where the question rested
—yet the longer i stared the more i wondered…
did life hurt?

vermeer called her the girl with the pearl earring
looking back over her shoulder
as if she wanted to leave but chose to stay.

nothing moves in her world;
her eyes still haunt me as i wonder,
where has the color gone?

vermeer added a blue scarf to match her heart
as she knew goodbye was on his canvas…
and her lips would dry a paler shade of red.

 

sounds

mr. sycamore sat in his wooden chair,
feet flat on the hardwood floor,
not moving except to tap his finger
to the silence of a musical score.

he heard mrs. sycamore in her room;
very much aware of all that she did,
spilling pills on the oak plank floor
as she removed the plastic lid.

‘the sound of glass is better,’ he thought,
‘than the sound of plastic.’

he tapped his finger to a classical tune
when he heard a very loud bang…
the tapping stopped and he looked at her door
but was distracted when the telephone rang.

‘the sound of ringing is better,’ he thought,
‘ than the sound of banging.’

the ringing stopped and grew eerily silent,
finally – quiet from his now deceased wife!
the crashing of glass on the hardwood floor
told him she’d succeeded in taking her life.

‘the sound of silence is better,’ he thought,
‘than the sound of crashing.’

mr. sycamore stood from his wooden chair
(they had no remote in those early days.)
so he walked to the tube to turn on the news
wondering what the blonde anchor would say.

he turned the channel to the local station;
the clock on the wall struck six ‘o one.
since newsworthy stories were forty seconds,
nothing was said about what she had done.

yet.

 

she left

she left only faded memories
glazed over like black and white film
held too long in the hands of an old man
on a too-sunny afternoon

she left an overgrown garden
where weeds wrestled with tomato vines
while on her porch overdue library books collected dust
and late charges

she left wilted lettuce
and the smell of vinaigrette wine
from an empty uncapped bottle
beneath the spotless cupboards

she didn’t hide her bottles
and maybe they were for my eyes
so when my turn came i would know how
to go away with faded memories

the smell of yesterday haunts me
like a humid carolina day
when the rain has wept too long
because she left so soon

i hold only faded photographs
long ago forgotten
tucked in the places of the heart
where her smile was to be born

now nothing matters of gardens
or dusty, unread library books
or even of unused smiles
nothing matters…she left

 

delusional

old bricks, red and crumbling
flowers bright blue and crisp
and i wondered where you had gone
behind a wall that did not exist

the sky silently wept over me
clouds crawled by like angels wings
san francisco died in the swirling mist
it was just one of those things

a melody whined through my head
pianos and violins kept the music slow
i decided to try life one more day
there really was nowhere else to go

mortar crumbles into dust at my feet
from a wall that will soon fall down
i’ll stay a bit longer until it is done
i suppose i’ll eventually be found

i lay my head on the cold, hard sidewalk
i give my body one last jerk and twist
waiting for the bricks that will never fall
behind a wall that does not exist

 

colors

when with you
i can retreat to some place
normally reserved for childhood,
singing out-of-key songs
and playing for a brief moment
like a child with no yesterday
to create memories
that hurt like an open wound.

i can teasingly touch you in a way that before today
would have seemed silly.

i can watch in awe as you light up a fresh smile
with the eager passion of a little girl
and the reckless abandon of a woman in love.

i cherish being able to know you at this time of your life
when i can catch you with mustard on your chin
and laughter in your heart.

you keep me always guessing…
wondering;
is it warmth, daisies, or memories
which fill the menu of your innermost desires?

let me serve them to you
like kaleidoscopic helium-filled balloons,
tightly tied and held,
so they can never soar away
to a sky in want of colors.

look carefully now,
even a patchwork tapestry of heaven
pales in comparison to the colors you bring
into my life.

 

unbridled guilt

morning escaped like an echo
winding through whispering pine trees
crawling with bent fingers over frozen ponds
searching for the minute of birth

fogged windowpanes slowed the reflection
as ghost-like fog and mist stopped
dead against the cold moisture-laden glass
where morning died an honorable death

mourning died in the burrowed soil
while storm clouds threatened to weep
onto stones planted around her
as she lay in a place safe from yesterday

haunting music still plays in my head
my fingers on guitar strings too late
my shallow words too soft for her ears
my heart too broken to know how to heal

morning escaped like an echo
winding through whispering pine trees
mourning died in the burrowed soil
while storm clouds threatened to weep

 

waiting

there were oatmeal cookies on the counter.
only three left
of the dozen she made just before the pot on the stove moaned,
weeping
that her coffee was done.

dark and bitter, sugarless
and of course no cream
to embezzle the deep black that made her coffee as mysterious
as it was steaming hot.

chatter from the tv set was more hazy
than the stale air it cut through;
crawling from the living room,
past the sleeping cat,
onto the counter
beside the once soft, now brittle cookies.

only the canned laughter from an over-played sitcom
was distinguishable
—and quite inappropriate—
for a solemn mid-week day, wednesday
in april
half-way between the start of passover
and celebration of easter.

rarely did she wear a bow in her hair—
especially her favorite, orange with yellow stripes—
her dress was soft green
a nice color for spring, she thought.
she sat properly on a dark brown metal folding chair
closer to the partially opened front door than to the aging cookies
on her kitchen counter.

she wore a metal clip
that made her feel comfortable;
assured it would not slip from her hair
even if she sneezed.

the sound of the clock on the wall
seemed to drown out the chatter of the evening news
as each passing minute brought her closer
—then took her farther away—
from the appointed time he was to arrive.

paper napkins
and half-burnt candles were in place
on top of the small round table
covered with a blue fabric that was once a sheet
but with age had become a tablecloth.
no one wondered if the stains were from the bedroom
or the kitchen.

the moon was full
as it should be
on a wednesday half-way between passover and easter;
like a shiny, polished mirror hanging on a single nail
displayed as a trophy in a case filled with gems.

‘supper at five.’
she had said and ‘supper at five’, he agreed.
that was before he changed his shirt
and couldn’t find a green one.
finally, he gave up and quit looking, thinking,
‘now i suppose she knows i’m not coming.’

there were oatmeal cookies on the counter,
only two left of the dozen she made.
the coffee was dark
and bitter,
sugarless
and of course no cream to embezzle the deep black.

she removed the bow from her hair
and sneezed
—for some reason she always sneezed
when she removed her bow—
then she looked at the stain on the sheet and remembered the night
when her smile had made her as mysterious
as the coffee.

 

the solitude of kentucky

kentucky hills blanketed green with springtime roll tidily along
stretching a crown of clover before folding into plush valleys

clouds sing a song of melodic rain pelting rhythmically
while purple wild flowers dance with fascination

softened limestone cliffs…pale with yesterday and forever…
line the majestic palisades during her unheralded coronation

clapping chinquapin oaks celebrate alongside the swaying blue ash
burnt orange viceroy butterflies quiver in the slight breeze

an old man watches the kentucky morning gracefully unfold
from the wooden steps of his porch—covington blue—

and god looked upon the earth and said, “this part ain’t so bad”.

so the old man’s prayer was answered…
chocolate ice cream on a waffle cone

 

choose carefully

choose carefully
through which doors you walk

doors closed behind you
sometimes appear far different
from the inside looking out

temptation is like a door
that appears to be bolted shut
padlocked and securely sealed

compromise has oiled hinges
and can be pushed open quietly
so quietly and with such ease

one door leads to the other
and both freely open

therefore
choose carefully
through which doors you walk

 

cowboy

his cowboy hat dipped and curled
like a green montana blanket
draped over rolling hills,
celebrating the wind.

face craggy and used too often,
straight lines carved in crooked directions.
tanned skin stretched
like leather on a worn saddle.

his eyes spelled ‘yesterday’
in lower case sadness,
he was broken with no hope
and pulled his hat down.

sleep reminded him
that his body was eighty-four
yet when he dreamed
his mind romped on playgrounds.

where wild horses roamed…
and his hat was never too big.

 

the mailbox

a tarnished red flag stood erect
on the side of a rusted steel box

vertical, rigid and solitary
like a saluting soldier

an address printed in peeling black paint
faded like the memory of his last letter

when the splintered post finally fell
the flag was pushed to a horizontal position
just like he was
when they finally laid him down

in the choking weeds
a delinquent bill was barely legible
faded from the day it fell to the ground
the stamp dried and curled

everybody knew the gas was turned off

but…a day too late

 

the umbrella

it rained on tuesday
washed the blues from my jeans
and made me thirsty for another taste of heaven

hungry for breakfast
i settled for the smell of yesterday
and hoped for the fresh aroma of tomorrow

my only conversation
was born in a grumbling belly
filled with bubbles of emptiness and pain

i discovered that hope collapses and folds
like a cheaply made umbrella
annexed by harshly changing winds

and i wondered if i would die
on a tuesday blessed with rain
and if the umbrella would hold up

one last time