TAILORING

My adoptive
grandfather 
could take bits
of cloth, 
a needle, thread
and with magicly
gnarled fingers
create a garment
fit for royalty, 
to be worn
by the old woman
living 
in the walkup 
down the street.

I take words
bits of ideas
and hope,
and with 
manicured fingers
create what
I can only hope
passes for poetry
to be ignored
by those
living nearby
in my suburb.

TAKING

You can take my sight,
but my mind will still see what it must,
and my fingers will become eyes.
You can take my hearing,
I will imagine what I must,
and my eyes will become ears.
You can take my tongue,
but my body will shout what I must,
and my hands will speak volumes.
The only thing you cannot take
is my words, for without them
my prison would be complete
and I would be rendered mute,
deaf and blind, and that is a fate
from which I could never hope to emerge.

Reprised from March 28, 2016

A LESSON TO TEACH

This is what 
I would tell my sons:
“You came from 
an ancient people,
a heritage of poets
and tailors, or thieves
and blasphemers,
of callous men
and slaughtered children.
I would give you these books,
written by God, some have said,
although I am doubtful
but driven by Erato, without doubt.”

This is what 
I would tell my sons:
“I didn’t go to war —
there were so many options
and I chose one where
my feet would touch
only Texas mud,
where the only bullets
were quickly fired
on the rifle range.
I wasn’t one of the 56,000.
I didn’t come home
in a body bag.
But I do stop at the Wall
each time I visit D.C.
and say farewell
to those who did.”

This is what
I would tell my sons:
“You have never known
the hunger for a scrap of bread
pulled from a dumpster,
you have never
spent a night on a steam grate
hiding under yesterday’s
newspapers from
the rapidly falling snow.
You never stood
nervously at the waiting room
of a dingy clinic
waiting for a young,
uncaring doctor to announce
that antibiotics would likely
clear up the infection
but you should avoid
any form of sex
for a couple of weeks.”

This is what
I would tell my sons:
“You come from 
a heritage of poets.”

First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press 2008

IN HIS IMAGE

He said the assignment is
an easy one for this class,
write a piece, poem or story,
your choice, but focused 
on a single metaphor. Oh,
and to make it interesting,
that metaphor should be
the last pet you owned or
currently own, and if you’ve
never been blessed with a pet,
use an ocelot or a lynx.

How hard could it be, I thought,
I have a cat, she will be 
my metaphor, and so I sat,
picked up pen and paper
and absolutely nothing came.

The cat watched me, heard me
mutter under, I thought, 
my breath, then gently mewed:
“Cats cannot be metaphors,
you should know that, for we
are unique in nature, unless
of course you wish to write
about God, for we know that we
were created in his image.

RUSHING IN

Step right up, don’t hang back,
come and watch the fool perform for you.
You know me, bedecked in motley emotions
worn like so many colorful rags,
a suit of too many shades and hues,
all displayed for your entertainment.
See if you can find ten shades of anger
as I prance around in front of you.
Count the five flavors of tears
that start and stop like a passing storm.
Laugh at me as I pirouette, a dervish
who loved blindly long after
the love of my patron had died.
See me in my fool’s cap, the bells
of rage and guilt dangling from its points.
If that isn’t enough to bring out a laugh,
watch as I rip out my heart
and lay it at your feet, still beating
to the rhythm of the song
to which she grew deaf so long ago.
Rain your scorn on me as I stumble
across the stage, for though they ring hollow,
it is them that I most crave, a redemption
that no monarch could hope to offer.
Step right up, don’t hang back,
come and watch the fool perform for you
and do not pause to think
that you could as easily be here,
on this stage, and I out there marveling
at you, wondering what you did
to ever deserve such a fate.

First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008)

ON THE TENTH PLAGUE

Mark your doorpost with the blood
of the lamb for this may be the night
when God’s emissary arrives for the killing
of the first born. Will he be a night bird
half raven, half vulture or an aged man
concealing his weapon in shabby robes.

Mark your doorpost and check it
often for if your neighbor wipes
the blood away, you will be visited
and no amount of pleading will
deter him from his task. There
are no interim plagues remaining to buy
you time, if he chooses to come tonight.

Put your ear against the window
and listen for him. Will he come
on cat’s paws or the rasp of lungs
slowly drowning?. Will coins jangle
in his pocket, to pay your fare
to the ferryman?

But if you do not believe,
perhaps he will forget to come.

First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008)

HARLAN

You came, Harlan, to Rochester
somewhere in an endless winter,
“Ellison in Tundraland” you said.
We all chuckled approvingly.

You said a short prayer
climbing into the rusting Opel,
sliding on the edge
of oblivion, and
the approaching snowplow.

You stood, hoarse, smelling
of Borkum Riff and English Leather,
a tweed jacket over a polo shirt
and thinning jeans
and told us of the insanity
of television, a medium
pandering to idiots.
We nodded, hoping
you would finish before
the Star Trek rerun.

We sat in Pat and Sandy’s
as you consumed two orders
of fries, and a dwindling
bowl of ketchup. Later
we sat in the Rat, staring
at the empty bottles
of Boone’s Farm until
you took pity and ordered
two pitchers. You were
our patron saint.

Solzynitsyn was exiled
to a cabin in Vermont,
staring as the leaves greened
and fell under winter.
You served your banishment
in the land of lost souls,
miles from any reality.

First published in The South Carolina Review, Vol. 33, No. 1 (2000)

PLAYERS

Last night the actors
trod the boards
carrying us on their backs.
This wasn’t Pittsburgh
but we believed it so.
We’ve never been to the Hill
but we walked its blighted streets.
In the mirror we are white,
but not last evening.
He is five years dead
but last night
August Wilson escorted us
to a place
we had never imagined,
and we were all
too glad to visit.

AUDITIONS DAILY

It should be easy, my friend said,
to imagine yourself a character
in a novel you particularly like,
like I’ve found myself in any number
of Tom Clancy novels, since I can
easily become a CIA agent, it fits me.

I know I’d shoot myself in the foot
or worse, and I’d keep no secrets
if you even threatened to torture me,
and the odds of me finding my own
Doctor Watson are slim, harder still
since I abhor even the thought
of opium, and I gave up my pipe
years ago when the girls found it
odd or disgusting, not the cool I sought.

So I’m left with being a young Japanese
woman negotiating life in modern
Tokyo, or the countryside, but I’m
nit sure Banana Yoshimoto would
buy me as her protagonist, so I suppose
I could do a quick deep dive into
ballet and try and pass for Shimamura,
but I know I’d opt for Yoko and that
wouldn’t suit Kawabata at all

Come to think of it, I have a hard
enough time being myself, and even
as my own author, I find that I
would never accept myself as my
protagonist, so that role is still
available if you would care to audition.