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.
The problem with youth
isn’t that you misspend it,
or even don’t appreciate it
as it is happening, or even expect
it to go on forever, for those
would be the simplest hurdles
to leap even at your now advanced age.
The true problem with youth
isn’t even those around you,
grandchildren, high schoolers
that overrun the Starbucks near campus
are caught in the midst of it
while all you can do is jealously watch.
The ultimate problem with youth
is that you recall it so well,
the sights, sounds, the textures
but what you did last Thursday
you can’t recall for the life of you.
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.
Mrs. Weiskopf lived in a small cottage
Mrs. Weiskopf taught piano in her living room.
Mrs. Weiskopf had no first name, even
checks were to be made payable to Mrs. Weiskopf.
Mrs. Weiskopf grew suddenly old, some said,
to full fit into her name, no one could
remember her ever being young.
Mrs. Weiskopf said I must always find Middle C,
that everything starts there.
Mrs. Wieskopf was not pleased when I said
that Middle C was key number 40 on my piano
and there was no middle key, only
a gap between E4 and F4.
Mrs. Weiskopf looked at me sternly
and ended my lesson early that day.
Mrs. Weiskopf was a great teacher.
I think of her each time I sit down
and place the doumbek on my lap.
I look at the photo,
me holding my granddaughter.
Between us we are 57 years old,
she has just celebrated
her first birthday.
In the photograph we
are both laughing hysterically,
in the photo
we are both young children.
The old, weathered maple
leans into the sun, its trunk
stroking the cobbled cottage
which sits against the foothill.
The square window peers out
over a wildflower garden
as the roof’s peakline
into old age.
Walking around it I see
the back roof has collapsed
the back wall ever threatening
to return to the earth
of its mountain home.
It is his hands you notice first –
dark fingers bent and gnarled,
several banded in silver,
knuckles scratched by the cat
curled at his feet, the tip
of his index finger sacrificed
to a distraction and the saw,
untrimmed nails, rough, ragged
a torn cuticle, liver spot rubbed raw.
The fingers curl gently around the worn
maple handle of the knife,
which flicks away shards of wood.
He leans into each down stroke
pulling gently back, the other hand
wrapped tightly around
the debarked Koa wood.
Over his shoulder, Mauna Loa
rises, a peacock feathered rainbow
from the lava shore, and still
he flicks the knife across the wood
rocking gently in the old bentwood
chair, its caning torn, split.
I ask him quietly, “Do the shavings
that leave your knife know why
they have been sacrificed?”
He stares at the wood, at the pile
of shavings around his feet.
He looks up slowly his bronzed skin
burnished in sweat, glowing
in the Kona sun, “Bruddah, da whale
sings the whole ocean in a single song.”