He said, “I survived the war,
was up to my armpits in water
wading through the night
through the rice plants
that would never bear grain
once we called in the orange.
I walk through minefields,
the noise a deafening silence
since the only sound that mattered
was the click that shouted death
You think Ii have issues now
and in your mind I certainly do
but you my issues didn’t go away
like Jamie’s, he heard that click and a moment
later his issues were gone, and the moon
was painted blood red that night
and it inhabits my dreams still.
Two men, having reached
an indeterminate age, sit on old chairs
outside the small town grocery, it’s
neon beer sign half, flickering, around
the corner from the bank on main street.
One, plaid shirt tucked in coveralls,
one bib strap unbuckled, leans back,
takes a turn on his long neck, his cane
propped against his leg, thankful for the rest.
The other, denim shirt bleached in spots,
threadbare in others, pours the remains
of a bag of potato chips into the plastic bowl
resting atop the empty 50 gallon drum that is
at this moment a table, later a platform
for the checkerboard both are not
drunk or bored enough to bring out.
He opens a beer on the edge of the drum
and both look up smiling at the clearing sky
and a Saturday afternoon in the
only America they have ever known.
He says, “I write songs
without music, my head
Is a libretto warehouse.”
She says, “You string words
like random beads, no
two strands the same.”
He says, “Symmetry is
for those with linear minds
who can’t see out of the tunnel.”
She says, “Dysentery, verbal,
is a disease to be avoided
particularly by poets.”
He says, “I’ll sing a song
for you if I can only
find the right notes.”
She says, “Fine, but know
it is the silent space between
the notes were the music truly lives.”
He wants to have his
midlife crisis in peace and quiet.
He has penciled it in his calendar
for at least five years now.
Something always comes up,
something that demands he
be in public, and he simply
will not have a crisis
in that setting, no matter what.
He’s sure he supposed to have one
although as time goes by
he isn’t sure what purpose
it would serve, it isn’t
that his life isn’t half over,
merely that he has what he wants
and the crisis is best used
as an excuse to get something
utterly unnecessary and useless,
and that, for him,
is so five years ago.
When they lowered my grandmother’s casket
into the sodden earth, there wan’t
a dry eye, shoulder or leg, around.
She would’ve laughed aloud,
her children always too busy for a visit
now soaked to the skin
in a cold, windy downpour, all but me,
the one she chose to conduct the service,
the funeral director behind me
with the oversize umbrella, ensuring
the words of prayer and departure
were dry enough to read, washed
only by my tears, held back, unholdable,
the clunk of the first shovel of dirt
on the simple pine box still echoing.
He walks slowly, with a stoop, born of time or knowledge of a world that has seeped away. He smiles, but you cannot tell if it is at the worm slowly crossing the sidewalk, or the young woman pulling on the leash of her far too large dog. He could walk this route with his eyes closed, has done so to prove a point, but he knows he might hit someone. That happens when his eyes are open, given his stoop. He has become a student of shoes, and in summer, of feet. He can tell a great deal about a person by her feet. He prefers women’s feet. They care and it shows. He’s amazed how calloused and dirty men’s feet often are, as if washing them was always going to be an afterthought. He knows the day is coming when he will no longer be able to walk. When that day comes, he hopes they will just put him in a pine box and not wrap him in a blanket and wheel him around, swabbing the drool from his chin. He was a baby once, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience that time either.
We listen carefully
certain we can hear it
if and when it appears.
We hear nothing, but we
are used to not hearing,
but faith is a far more patient
than it is given credit for
and we have nothing to do
in any event, other than
to abide an event
we cannot predict
is a skill we have refined
since we were evicted
from the garden, apple in hand.