NEXT IN LINE

It was the moment they said, we picked you, that I knew they had not. They thought they had to say it. They knew they shouldn’t. I was the next gumball down the chute. You put in your nickel, move the lever and wait. Actually it wasn’t quite like that. If you don’t like the color or flavor of gumball, you throw it out or give it to someone else. Spend another nickel, simple. In adoption, there was no do over. In my case as well. Well there was, actually, but if you give one back, you don’t get another unless there was a really big and hidden problem. Read the fine print, the lawyers say, adoptees come with no warranty, and you take us as is. You wouldn’t buy a car that way, would you.

MIRROR IMAGE

Each morning when I look
into the mirror I imagine
I see me, but of course that
is impossible, for in that moment
only the mirror sees me
and I see the mirror.

How deluded I must be
to assume that I look at all
like the mirror, but it is,
I know, just such delusions
that enable my sense of self,
and that is the grandest illusion.

A morning will come when I
look into the glass and nothing
is there or a face I have never
before seen and the mirror
will laugh, as will I, at this
game we have played for years.

A STEP TOO FAR

He knew, the minute he stepped off, that it wasn’t going to end well. He should have realized it two steps earlier, but hindsight was of little use to him now. He knew he had to keep looking up, to focus on the sky. He knew he had to hope it would be like entering a black hole, where the end is certain but time slows and almost seems to stop. And, he remembered, the laws of physics break down inside the event horizon. What he knew he could not do was look down and see the ground rushing up at him. Even when you are 11, walking off the garage roof was not a really bright thing to do, the dare by your friends notwithstanding.

AROMA

What I want, no, need actually,
is to remember the smells of youth.
The images I can recall, but they are
aged pictures, run repeatedly through
the Photoshop of memory, and
cannot be trusted only desired.

The old, half ready to fall oak,
in the Salt Lake City park had
a faint pungency that lingered
even as I departed my body as
the acid kicked in, and drew me
back from the abyss hours later,

and my then wife, cradling our
first born in the hospital bed,
the scent of innocence and sterility
that neither of us dared recognize
as a foretelling of our denouement.

Those moments are lost in the sea
of time, washed away from memory’s
shore, but the smell of a summer oak
still promises a gentle return to self.

GROUNDED

it was so much easier when I could still
imagine myself a bird, untethered
and free to take flight on a whim.

In dreams I often flew, no Icarus
but a raptor, peering down, seeing
with a clarity the earth denied me.

Now my roots have taken hold
in the enmeshing soil plunged deep
and spread tendrils anchoring me,

and even thought of flight has been
buried deeply in memory, and I am
like others of my species, left

to maneuver through my life knowing
that true freedom is waiting, but
above and always now out of reach.

THE MIND’S BLIND EYE

He imagined the end was coming,
but that was his problem, imagining
for it was about all he was capable of doing.

He started small, near visualization
more than imaginings, but he grew more
proficient with practice, his ideas

his conceptions of an increasingly
grander scale, until from a single thread
he could weave a tapestry that

boggled even his mind, and lent
a reality to his fantasies that he could
never hope to deny, they were palpable.

As his interior world grew larger
infinitely more complex, the exterior
world shrank away until it was little

more than a sensual black hole
swallowing people and places with
an abandon he would have found

fascinating were he not so taken up
with his latest idea, universal in scope
until it subsumed, digested all, including him.

THIRST

A man stands on the peak of a hill,
staring down into the valley below him,
but it is not clear what he is staring at.

Standing in the valley, by the bank
of a slowly flowing river, I stare
up the tall hill to its peak, and see

the clouds gather around the man
as if soon to swallow him, and I wonder
what it is like to be eaten by a cloud.

The river flows slowly by, ignoring
the hill, with the man standing atop
its peak, ignoring me standing

on its bank, and ignoring the man
atop the ignored hill, staring at
the clouds, awaiting a hearty meal.

SONNETS AND SALADS

I would love to know the precise moment
when the consensus of critics reached
the tipping point, that lettuce was
no longer a green, but some lesser vegetable.

That would be around the time that
Arugula and romaine declared themselves
something other than lettuce, leaving
iceberg and Bibb as produce outcasts
while spinach, kale and chard openly

declared their superiority over all
of the others, shunning mustard,
if only for its name and seediness.
It is surprisingly like that with poetry,
literary free verse a critical darling now

even if intelligible only to those skilled
at self-aggrandizing, easily sold delusion,
and more run of the mill poetry, that
whose meaning is clear without resort
to layered metaphors left to rot on the shelf.

A DAY

a day,
clouds drop rain
replacing tears
locked inside
stones and cloth
red and blue
unseparated
still worlds apart
orderly ranks
all at attention
and silence
thundering anger
a mad world
soaked in peace
only until
midnight.

Publsihed in New Feathers Anthology (Summer 2020)
http://www.newfeathersanthology.com/a-day.html

DOG DAYS

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 among us,

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