ELEMENTARY

Each morning we stood
as the Principal intoned
the Pledge of Allegiance
over the tinny PA system.
One morning as we rose,
hands over hearts,
we noticed someone
had put up the Canadian flag
in the holder over the door.
The Principal threatened
to call all of our parents
unless the guilty party
came forward, and we
struggled vainly
to swallow our giggles.
No one came forward
and they found
the Stars and Stripes
stuck in a large mixing bowl
in the kitchen.
The Principal scheduled an assembly
to remind us of our need
to honor the flag and the country,
because it stood for all that was good,
for all that we had
and that everyone else wanted,
but we were under our desks
in the painful tuck position
we would assume if they
ever dropped the bomb.
They didn’t tell us that
if we were close enough to ground zero
the position would let us
leave a neater shadow on the floor.
Some days we sang
My Country ‘Tis of Thee
all except for Larry
who preferred God Save the Queen
until the Principal told him
it was sacrilege, since
we created it and the Brits stole it.
Years later, outside the Federal Building
the Principal, now retired and girding
for battle with Social Security, saw me,
protest sign in hand, flag sewn
across the seat of my jeans.
He stared, then looked away
ashamed at still another failure,
not like his two sons who lay
in eternal repose in the Federal cemetery
on the Island of Oahu.

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

THE CLASSICS

He says he has always hated classical music,
and would rather listen to nails dragged across a chalkboard.
He has been out of school for many years so I
suspect he no longer realizes what nails
on a chalkboard really sounds like, how even
opera, which I can’t tolerate, would be preferable.
He rattles off a list of composers he despises,
Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, and on
and on the list goes, and I have to conclude
his distaste for the music is sincere and deep.
Still I ask if there is nothing he will accept,
if not like, but which will fall short of detest.
He pauses a minute in thought, then smiles,
and says he does have two guilty pleasures.
He admits he will listen to classical music, but only
as Beethoven did after he went deaf in 1816,
or failing that, he’d welcome John Cage’s 4:33.

DEAD OR JUST RESTING?

Some people say religion
is dead, or at least mortally wounded.
In my generation, closer
to death than puberty,
there is some truth to that thought
because God seems a whole lot less
responsive these days, our peers beginning
to fall like lemmings from the cliff.
But the young clearly have found
what has gotten so far away from us,
and they have gone so far
as to personalize God, something
we never dared do for fear of hell
for the wrath of our parents and
loss of use of the car.
Today, even in school and at the mall
their faith is on display
on their smart phone screens,
secretly genuflecting each time
they mention OMG.

FIRST PERIOD

They stand impatiently in line
chattering, giggling, tittering
like so many schoolgirls with secrets
they promised to keep to their deaths
and have to immediately tell a friend.
“Did you hear about Letitia?” one says,
and goes on to say she shared her journal
with several other girls in the eighth grade.
It goes on like this incessantly
as the barista, working alone as always,
gathers their order, places it in trays
so they can carry it back to school.
We wait patiently, trying to decide
What grade Shirley might be in,
whether shall be suspended again
for mouthing off to the hall monitor,
and how impatient the other teachers
in the lounge must be getting
waiting for their counterparts
to bring back the morning coffee.

HUH?

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.

PROBLEM

Stuck in traffic yet again
my mind wanders, unimpinged
by the need to pay careful attention
to the car on front also frozen in place.
I am back in school listening carefully
as the teacher explains the problem:
“You are at point B and I am at point A.
The points are 100 miles apart and we
each leave for the other point
at exactly the same time, 10:00 A.M., you
driving at a constant 40 mile per hour,
I at a constant 30 miles per hour.
At exactly what time will we
be able to wave to one another?”
The car in front begins to move,
ending my revery, so I cannot
tell the teacher that we’ll never
wave to each other because
I am far too young to drive.

OF THEE I SING

My ancestors stole your tongue
and left you mute in a world
you could not grasp.
                                           Now
as I search for words of forgiveness
I can find none, for my voice
is clogged with foreign phrases
that once told of your ancestors
who lived amid these rocks.
We schooled you, stealing
your spirit, which whispers to us
as the sun climbs slowly
over the great stone set deep
into the endless desert.
When the wind comes down
from the north, it sings a song
which cuts through our coats
and deeply into our bones.
There is no one who will claim us
when we are plundered for display
in some museum, no one to sing
a blessing to ward off the spirits
that will haunt us into the next life.
The ghosts of your people walk
among us and we can, at last,
hear their whispered entreaties
carried on the wind
deep into the canyon.

IN LOVING MEMORY (17 this time)

Just what will the puppet king say
or will he simply run and hide
as we are left to mourn and pray

Seventeen more are dead today,
we know better than to abide
just what will the puppet king say

more hollow words, for which they pay
“only more guns can stem the tide.”
As we are left to mourn and pray

children ask why there is a day
on which so many good friends died,
just what will the puppet king say,

what false compassion he’ll display.
As broken parents stand graveside,
as we are left to mourn and pray

we know the king dare not betray
those who bought him. We can’t decide
just what will the puppet king say
as we are left to mourn and pray.

 


Out of cycle, but coping takes many forms.