The Sharpener’s Song

A bridge spanned the vast brownfield

where a long-gone steel mill used to line

hundreds of glowing ingots for cooling.

At night the red glow filled the sky like

Hell’s own football stadium.

It was over this field, in seventh grade, that I’d dreamed I died.

In the dream, I was flying above the rows and rows of red-orange bundles;

strange because at that age, I had never been in a plane.

But there I was in a plane losing altitude and crashing into the black river beyond the field.

I remember the impact, the cold water, the darkness.

Then, by some intervention in the way of things that was never explained,

I was returned to life for three days.

I went home. Saw my Mom, she was young then.

Did the dishes after breakfast as I had returned in the morning.

Went around the block and bought some second-hand comic books for a nickel.

Then later picked up the dry cleaning from across the street.

I was bored. Couldn’t figure out what to do next with three extra days of life.

This is what I dreamed as a twelve-year-old.

So later that day, I reported to a secret place and returned to the darkness.

I thought of that dream and of the sharpener who came

Bumping down the alley ringing

a bell on his pushcart, laden with grinding wheels and stones.

Stroke after stroke after stroke, humming, his squinting eyes alive,

absorbed in the task-the life-of each blade.

I asked him once, on tiptoes to see his face in the shadows of his beaten hat,

what was the song?

He smiled-a gold tooth next to no tooth beside a gap

that his tongue filled as he worked.

He handed me the scissors in exchange for the coins

my gramma had entrusted to me and shuffled on.

Still humming.

Maybe if I had an axe or hatchet, even a few decent knives,

I could sharpen them. That would be something.

Perhaps another sandwich or

a bourbon with a single ice cube would be in order.

And not caring that a baby bunny is eating the zinnias.

But I’ll still throw a rotten tomato at him.

And miss.

And feel the twinge in my shoulder.


© TDR – 2019

Old Bones


Only when the moon is just so,

Casting silvery shadows among the

Grays and blues

Do the outlines of the old cabins appear.

Stone piles and ruined walls,

So easily traced at midnight,

Invisible in the harsh yellows and greens

Of noon.

I was told there were slave cabins here

Long, long ago

When this was one big farm.

They lived here, many to a cabin.

That’s what I was told anyway

By my brother.

But he was older and always lied.

If not though, this is where they lived.

As kids we found treasures back there-

Rusted things,

Ruins of buckles, nails and buttons.

At night we’d build campfires and squat here,

Telling made-up stories of their long-ago lives.

Later there were bones in the corn

where desecrated graves were

Plowed up.

My brother put a stack of them under

My bed.

Told me I was now haunted

By old slave ghosts.

I didn’t really believe him then

But now I don’t know.

No bones left out in the corn, I’m sure.

But if there were,

This would be the time to find them.


“Did a lot of work in this town years ago.”

I wander the city, a ghost,

Remembering those who wandered with me.

Some now dead, which is sad,

Some just gone;

Which is worse.

Down East 9th from the water and new stuff,

To the bottom.

Buildings are still here, otherwise named or purposed.

This was this, this was that.

Was I ever here? in this one?

What’s that? Is that where I went to the

Spanish Mass?

With the thick wafers and sweet red wine.

Did she live there?

He worked here on the tenth floor.

Did we lunch over there?

Was it raining?

I remember an umbrella and puddles.

Does anyone see me as I walk by?

Nobody’s busy today-not this early.

They could, if they cared to look.

I’ll touch one of them,

See if they notice.

Would I have?

Back when I had substance and bustled

Rather than wandered?

The news box lies empty and open,

Broken on its side.

Gulls peck calmly at popcorn

Strewn in the gutter

As I pass by dragging my shadow behind.


© – TDR 2019