CHECKOUT LINE

Time seems frozen in the checkout line
stuck between the Mars bars
and the tabloids, you wonder
how Liz could survive a total body
liposuction, and further details of how
OJ killed in a moment of lust.
The old woman in front rummages
in her change purse certain she has
the eighty seven cents, the coins
lost in a blue haze reflected off her hair.
Two aisles over the young mother
her jaw clenched in frustration
keeps putting the life savers back
on the shelf as her child, fidgeting
in the cart grabs another roll, until
she shouts and slaps his hand.
His cry draws stares from all and she
stares at the floor as he grabs
a Three Musketeers and Certs.
A man in the express line swears
that the apples were marked 89 cents
and wants to see the manager
who calmly explains that Granny Smiths
are a dollar twenty nine and only small
Macintoshes are on sale this week.
He puts the bag on the scale
and stalks out of the store.
I would shift to the express lane
but I have 16 items and must
continue to wait and wonder
how many incisions it would take
for a full body liposuction.


Previously appeared in Kimera: A Journal of Fine Writing, Vol. 3, No.2, 1998 and in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press, 2008

THE GATHERING

They gather this time every week,
they would feel lost if they did otherwise.
The don’t do it out of any sense of duty
or higher calling, and they expect
nothing in return for having done so.
They aren’t even following directions
or obeying some unwritten rule.
They object to most rules,
demand logic before even pausing
to consider requests for action.
Holidays do throw off their schedule
but they work around them as best they can.
Theirs is a joyous group
and only the swings groan
under their laughter as their feet
reach up to kick the clouds,
before night falls on the playground.

ALTERNATE HISTORY

My mother wanted to tell me
of my great-grandmother,
a woman she barely knew,
but who she imagined more fully
that life itself
would ever have allowed.
History, in her hands
was malleable, you could
shape it in ways never happened.
She wanted to tell me
but she knew that
her grandmother wouldn’t approve
of adopting when your womb
was perfectly serviceable,
certainly not for a man
more than a decade older
who could not uphold
his most sacred obligation.
She wanted to tell me,
but I am adopted
and this woman can be
no more than a story
of passing relevance to me.

WHAT DID YOU DO

When they asked him
what did you do during the war
he said “I just stood guard.”
When they asked him where
he said “A station, just
a station, like most others,
I just stood guard.”
When they asked him
did you see the trains
carrying the bodies crammed
into cattle cars
he said “I saw many trains,
it was just a station, but mostly
I looked at the sky, wishing
for the sun, but mostly it was gray
and there was smoke
from the chimneys.”
When they asked him
why did you wear
the lightening bolts
he said “I was a ski instructor
but I broke my leg
so I stood at the station,
just a station like most others.”
When they asked him
did he know of the ovens
he said “They made bread
which we ate each night
when there were no potatoes.”
When they asked him
about the Jews
he said “I knew no Jews;
there were none in the town
where I stood guard
at a station, just
a station like most others.”
When they asked him
what he did after the war
he said “I prayed, just
prayed for my sins,
sins like those
of so many others.”

ENGLISH CLASS

He had planned
the exercise for weeks,
certain this one
would allow them
to break through the wall
that had imprisoned
the metaphors within them.
It was simple, and that
was its beauty, too many
attempts had become
bogged down, mired in
the fear that words
could do the greatest harm.
The exercise is simple,
he said, and they
put pens to paper.
Later, toward the end
of class, “would one of you
be kind enough
to read to the class
your description
of a young woman’s lips?”
One boy meekly rose
and through half clenched
teeth said, “Her lips
were precisely shaped
to barely cover her teeth.”


First appeared in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press, (2008).

ALOFT

As a child I often
flew kites, which is to say
that I ran haphazardly
pulling a string and
dragging a wood frames
paper rhombus across the park.
My father laughed until
seeing me on the edge
of tears he took up the string
and dragged the kite
across the park.
One day a strong wind
blew across the park
and the kite lifted into the sky
trailing its string
to taunt me.

THOU SHALT NOT

“I don’t want to”
is hardly a sagacious
way to run a country
and “just because” probably
didn’t work when you
were a child, why
would you think adults
would accept it now?
And when we all
expressed our displeasure,
disdain and contempt,
which part of “no”
did you have trouble
grasping, Mr. President?
The apple may not
fall far from the tree,
but let it sit
on the ground long enough
and the worms will have it.
Ambrose Bierce said diplomacy
is lying for one’s country,
Mr. President,
not lying to it.


First appeared in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press, 2008.