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.

TUESDAY TRUTH: BROTHER JOHN

Are you serious? You have the temerity to ask me if I am sleeping? Seriously? If, for a moment, you thought that I was sleeping, why in hell would you jostle me and then ask me if I was sleeping? And how many times do I have to tell you that I never liked the name John. I am Jack and you know damned well that is what I want to be called, by everyone. It is not that hard. Here’s a hint, I was sleeping until you woke me. You realize if we weren’t family what I would be doing to you right now. But mom and dad would have a fit, so just consider yourself lucky, but know that someday I will get even with you. Remember I was there when you were a baby, so I have seen it all. And if the bells didn’t wake me, why should I care if they are ringing? Answer me that. Now go away, preferably forever.

THE VISIT

I have never visited
the grave of my mother,
either of them, which seems most odd
primarily to me.
The mother I never knew
until it was too late to know her
is buried in Charleston, West Virginia
a place i intend to visit, grave site included
in the coming months, to see
where my mitochondrial DNA was planted
and grew into the odd shape
that greets me in the morning mirror.
The mother i knew so well, who could always find
ways to frustrate me when I was certain she exhausted
every possibility is buried next to my sister,
placed there by my brother who couldn’t quite
get the funeral together, at least not the one
she would have appreciated, with the near famous
all pump, never the right circumstances
so into the ground she went.
I will visit there too, someday perhaps,
but helical gravity will always
pull me to the Mountain State.

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.

SOUTHERN MOUNTAIN

When you visit the Southern Mountain
what will you say
of its Northern brother?
Returning northward what words
will best describe the Southern peak?

Answer carefully after much thought
or remain silent, both choices
are yours to select, as both
mountains caress the passing clouds
and reach out for the sun
which neither may grasp.


A reflection on case 42 of the Iron Flute Koans

ESQUIRE

Even as a young child
I imagined being a lawyer
was a noble profession, spent
Sunday evenings in front
of the old Motorola TV watching
Perry Mason stride up to the rail,
stare into the witness’ eyes, with
Paul Drake smiling in the first row.
I tried to make my younger brother play Paul
but he was surly even at five
and said it was Hamilton Berger or nothing.
He never did get that Burger
never won a case, and the moment
I came to the real that realization, I knew
when it came to play acting in my world
it was the perfect role for my brother.
I’ve retired from practicing law now,
never tried a criminal case anyway,
and years ago gave up seeking
anyone quite like Della Street.