ARF, HE SAID

Growing up my family always had dogs,
only one at a time, of course, since we
were a modern suburban family,
which may be why we had a dog.

It clearly wasn’t because they loved dogs,
they tolerated them on good days,
ignored them the rest of the time
and the good days were few if any.

I never asked for a dog, knew
the daily care would fall to me, for
my sort of brother and sister would
never lift a finger if they didn’t want

and they rarely wanted for other than
themselves, but I didn’t mind, for each
dog became my true family, we all
shared a common blood with them

which is to say none, and we all
in our own languages, which we all
understood while no one else did, that
we were orphans who beat the system.

IN TRANSIT

Mom died, the text
message read, similar words
we’ve been hearing too frequently
but always leaving us
with the same hopelessness.
The words my brother, estranged
now, estranged then, come
to think of it, said two years ago
in a quickly left phone message.
I thought of confronting him,
but when he never answered,
I knew I couldn’t say what I
needed in a text message.
When my mother-in-law died
my wife and I were there, watched
as she took her final breath,
easy, calm, as if to say, this
passage is easier than I thought
given all the time I asked God
to let me take it. We didn’t feel
helpless that day, more like
silent observers, standing
on the pier as the ship slipped into
a vast ocean on the maiden voyage
a very new sort.

ONE EVE, NO ADAM

They arrive
ones and twos
accrete
dissolve
reform, swell
the cacophony grows
takes on a joyousness
as they ebb and flow;
the food disappears
the wine
the laughter
draws you in
and you want
only to circulate
but how
with shifting
nuclei
and then
the scheduled end
and hours later
the last slips away
and the space
falls silent
still echoing
what went before.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

He is four, he announces
to all gathered at the extended family table
that he will be five soon, in January.
It is important that we know this
just as it is important that he sit
next to his cousin, for boys like he
should always sit next to cute girls
and sisters don’t count, everyone knows that.
Four people in his class have birthdays in January
And he tells us their names, we hoping there will be no quiz.
As I call him to get his food from the buffet
he turns to his father, and says,
“Josh, save my seat,” and smiles broadly.
He repeats this ensuring we have all heard.
When I ask him why he says Josh, not daddy,
he laughs and says, “Because it’s his name, silly,
like your name is Papa Lou, and anyway
he always calls me Charlie, not son.”

FIRST PERIOD

They stand impatiently in line
chattering, giggling, tittering
like so many schoolgirls with secrets
they promised to keep to their deaths
and have to immediately tell a friend.
“Did you hear about Letitia?” one says,
and goes on to say she shared her journal
with several other girls in the eighth grade.
It goes on like this incessantly
as the barista, working alone as always,
gathers their order, places it in trays
so they can carry it back to school.
We wait patiently, trying to decide
What grade Shirley might be in,
whether shall be suspended again
for mouthing off to the hall monitor,
and how impatient the other teachers
in the lounge must be getting
waiting for their counterparts
to bring back the morning coffee.

A LEG UP

We agree we must
learn the rules, to master
the game, practice until
the moves are second nature.
We have three weeks
to do all of this, then
Place the game box
back on the shelf
to be discovered
and taken down, opened
spread out on the table,
impatience controlling.
Want to ensure
that one of us will win,
at least at first, though
we know that in time
she will handily best us
as she always does.
But just this once
we hope to get a leg up
on our eight-year-old granddaughter.

SUSIE

What do you say
on the loss of a child?
We sat in the lounge
drinking a vile potion
from a hollowed pineapple
giggling insanely
for no reason.
We wandered the tunnels
faces painted,
clowns in bedlam.
We lay together
on a mattress
on the floor and listened
to Aqualung
my arms around you
both, but sleep
came slowly and we talked
until night ran from
the encroaching sun.
I can feel her soft blond hair
and see her smile
as we walked
hand in hand in hand
along the abandoned
railbed, dreaming
of what might be.
As I struggle with sleep
and with a new day
I can hear the tape end
snapping at the end
of the ever spinning reel
wanting only to hold your hand
and stroke your hair.


First appeared in RE:AL The Journal of Liberal Arts Vol. 23, Issue 2,  1998