February Rain

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I don’t think I’ll live through this,

He told his friend as they watched the cold rain

Glisten under the oversized fluorescents outside the window.

What?

Life.

A car pulled up to the service island dinging the bell.

His friend pulled on gloves and headed for the door.

May there never come a time when you say that with relief

Instead of dread, he said with a wink as he ducked out into the weather.

Braising

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The hard work was done.
Hidden by the night's blanket-
Drowned out by barking dogs and passing coal trains
That shook the building.

The Osso Buco was my idea.
It was his favorite-
Something his family wouldn't have known.
Expecting fried chicken and hot sausage
They looked at me like I was crazy.

So I braised all night, 
Reliving old conversations to file away-
For later.
I could have been with him that night.
Doesn't mean I should have. 
He wouldn't begrudge me still being here. 
As long as I cooked.

I braised long enough to be sober by dawn.
Nothing to do but stir the sauce and wait
For the set-up crew.

His stool at the end of the bar looked less empty,
Washed by the golden glow leaking through the curtains.
Nobody would begrudge me a beer
After a long night's work. 



Rain

Bend
“Mommy, Mommy” he cried,
As best he could
Around the tubes that snaked down his throat
Pumping air into his lungs.

Why “Mommy”? thought his old man
Sitting at the bedside.
He immediately felt horrible for thinking it.
But there it was.

They said it must have been what he was yelling
As he lay on the bottom
Settled among the stoneflies, crayfish and slippery rocks.

Sun shafts sliced their way down to him-
Ladders for mayflies to climb.
But no one could see.
Minnows kept their distance
Snapping at the bubbles that rose.
Fewer now-and tiny.

It seemed too long when one of them
Finally found him-upstream from where they thought-
Gently curled and blue between two rocks
No deeper than six feet.
Traditional grave depth.

When he choked and sputtered-
Gave up the river on the shore
It seemed he would be fine.
That’s what the ambulance driver had said.

But it had been too long.
The nightmare of three days in a backwoods hospital
Only prolonged the agony
And cast shadows of regret and blame
That darkened decades.

The water that poured from the boy’s lungs that day
Flowed to join the North Fork where it sluiced through beaver dams, across gravel bars,
Then down to the Potomac, over the falls, and finally into the Chesapeake;
Across the gills of red fish, through jelly fish then north-
To ride the sun into the clouds and spatter as chill rain on a stony pasture
In the Scottish Highlands.

Big bass still lurk between the rocks where he had lain
So many years ago.
Now they are all gone-buried with their memories, nightmares and torments
While the river is still here. Still everywhere.
And minnows still dart after bubbles
That come from nothing.

Big Pete-A Barroom Epitaph


Epitaph

You hear about Big Pete? The old man asked.
No, what?
He’s not doing too good.

When I knew Big Pete, about ten years ago,
He was over 300 pounds. Probably closer to four.
Football was long behind him.
His ankles looked like telephone poles jammed into sneakers
That he never managed to tie.

He mostly sat-sometimes on two chairs side by side;
Getting up was a production and walking-when he finally got started-
Was a bangy herky-jerk that always seemed just shy
Of throwing all four limbs across the room in opposite directions.
This was when Big Pete was in his thirties-
Doin’ good.

It’ll go like that for a time.
Big Pete? Not doin’ too good.
That little phrase-those four words-covering whatever imaginable
Pain and suffering life finally passed his way.

After a time,
Not doin’ too good takes a decided turn.
Big Pete? He’s dyin’ I hear….

Hear about Big Pete?
Dyin?
Dead.
No more updates.
But dead isn’t where it ends for Big Pete.

It ends with-
Did you hear about Big Pete?
Who?

That’s the end.

 

How do you know when it’s time?

You’re standing there, nude, at the mirror;

Red, scrubbed and powdery fresh from the shower.

I’m sitting on the edge of the bed not wearing much.

To me, you look the same as you always did-

Nothing’s fallen, nothing’s spread.

This moment used to lead to others where we would come together,

Slide, slip, push, grunt, scream and collapse.

Again and again.

Now you’re curling your hair telling me what I need to

Pick up at Costco.

(Was I supposed to be taking notes?)

I’m not really listening;

Busy trying to get sports talk through the static on the clock radio.

I let my eyes wander to the fullness of your bottom-imagining the dark secrets enveloped there;

The sleek firmness of your gym-toned legs.

Why imagine? I wonder. You’re right here. Just reach.

Not like I haven’t before.

For a moment I imagine my tongue like a frog’s-

Flicking and diving deeply between your bum-cheeks from over here.

A test.

I asked if you wanted to come back to bed.

We had time, after all.

Your reflection froze and said “Sure, if you want” with the same enthusiasm

Put into listing produce.

“Shhh, wait!” I said, holding up a finger, finally getting the station clearly.

“No, then?” the curling iron high-in a holding pattern.

“I’ll go make coffee”, I said. “It’s getting later…”

“Okay.” You said, getting back to the hair.

“And don’t forget it’s the frozen strawberries we want.

Not the mixed berries you got last time.”

Bluebird in the Barn

He was careful on the path down to the barn. The first snowfall-not yet finished-had made it slick and he had somehow forgotten his cane back on the porch.

Inside, the cows milled about desultorily eating the hay he had pulled down from the loft earlier. He loosened his collar a bit to suck in some of the damp warmth from their breath when he heard the unmistakable song of a blue bird. He scanned the rafters and immediately picked him out from the stray, gray sparrows and wrens that flitted about the place.

“What you do, little guy?” he asked aloud. “Miss the last train south?”

Up at the house he left his boots inside the door and peeled off his old coat. The glow of the television leaked out of the living room in back. There his wife sat in the chair that the medical company had sent over-the one that would help her get up and down.

“Saw a bluebird in the barn”, he told her speaking loudly.

“Oh?” she answered. “He shouldn’t be here now, should he?”

“Guess the weather had him confused. Now he’s stuck I guess.”

“Bluebird in the barn”, she said almost to herself in a sing-song childish way. Then, “Wisht I could see him.”

He glanced at the mute aluminum frame of her walker. “You’ll see him and plenty more in the spring. We’ll have them all over the place…”

She said nothing more, just looked out the window where the snow still fell and it was night-dark at suppertime.

The next day dawned bright and cold. He made his way unsteadily down the hill relying overmuch, he thought, on the cane he clutched firmly. He was kicking away snow from the sweep of the barn door when he saw the small splash of blue over by the trough. He walked over and scooped up the dead bird and a little puff of snow besides. It wasn’t cat-mauled or damaged at all. Just dead.

He didn’t realize he was crying until a heavy tear spattered on the tiny blue head.

“Fuck.” he whispered, chilled at using a word that hadn’t passed his lips since Korea.

Fall

Autum Glow 2

How did you manage to escape

November’s winnowing?

Knowing that soon you will all swirl

To the winds.

Then-in browns and grays-curl

To the floor.

But for now, for the first time,

You stand alone.

The sole bright spot.

A beacon.

A remembrance of what was,

And a herald of what is to come.

Herald