Monday, August 30, 2010

Old School Poetry Bussing

what? random monday post? well, not exactly. see, i'm going back to scohol.

thing is, our friend karen is driving the big yellow poetry bus today. the assignment is to write a poem about school or schooling. which i started to do - really - but then i got to thinking about those days. i started writing poems in high school, thanks to one remarkable english teacher and a lot of customer-free time in the silk plant gazebo in the basement of a sears store. and i thought about karen too, whose take on the poetry bus prompt often isn't head-on; she usually stretches the prompt in her own unique way. so, rather than writing a new poem about those days, i thought i'd post some poems i actually wrote back in those days - unaltered - complete with semi-legible handwriting. schoolbusses don't have seatbelts - what do i need one for?

(click images for larger, semi-legible versions)

finally, this post deserves its own special prime cuts - poetry bus edition.

Quiet Riot / Mental Health - early 80's hair band glam metal - the incarnation of cliché - and, like blacklight posters or an atari 2600, totally freaking epic in its absolute awfulness.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sam & Bernie

Bernie’s eyes were growing dim
his heart and lungs were failing him
he’d lost his hair and strength to age
but years ago, up on the stage,

he’d make that grand piano sing
just like a lark, those keys would ring,
and 30 years of students passed,
their lives changed by a Spanish class.

Sammy’s eyes were sharp and clear
he’d lost some hair, could barely hear
from radiation, chemo, vials
of pills from all the clinic trials.

He loved his swim and soccer teams,
was full questions, hopes and dreams,
fought that cancer, unafraid,
a superhero in fourth grade.

Sam and Bernie met one day
upon a cloud – they passed away.
Sammy trembled, looking down;
Bernie blinked and looked around

and in a quiet moment there
slowly, they became aware
of each other, as they drifted
gently upwards, gently lifted.

Bernie asked the kid his name;
Sammy told him, asked the same
and each could tell the other’s eyes
were kind and soft and warm and wise.

Bernie’d had no kids, no wife,
and Sam’d been sick for half his life;
“I wonder” Bernie said aloud,
“what luck this is – to share this cloud.”

“Maybe it’s not luck,” Sam said,
“to share this cloud – I guess I’m dead -
and mama told me that there’d be
an angel here, waiting for me.”

“I’m no angel,” Bernie grinned,
“just an old man, at his end.
Actually, thought you might be
an angel too, waiting for me.”

Bernie winked and Sammy smiled;
Bernie’s hand reached for the child
who took it softly in his own,
grateful they were not alone -

and that is how they headed for
the open arms of evermore -
hand in hand, as on they drifted,
gently upwards, gently lifted.

for my friends, sam (2000 – 2010) and bernie (1924 – 2010),
with love.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Esprit d'Escalier

Step one is denial
an astonished disbelief
swirling through a silent stupor
like a bronzed and blustered leaf

step two is the anger
boiling blood across the face
in a riled mix of rancor
and resentment and disgrace

step three’s a rush to bargain
with the words that aren’t there
trying to plead them to their places
as they whistle through the air

step four – a pall of sorrow
creeping like an early frost
from the tongue still tied and frozen
for the moment that was lost

and finally, acquiescence;
a surrender to defeat
at the bottom of the staircase
chewing answers down the street.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

When He Is Older

They will say he isn’t much
wonder if he was ever much
at all,
shuffling out
in corduroy slippers
to stink-eye the neighbors
and get the mail.

A roadside curio
on a high shelf,
gathering dust and pity,
wheezing and hacking himself
and further
into a world that
sucked out his youth
wrung out his blood
and picks its teeth
with his duty
and debt.

They’ll wonder what it is
he mutters under his breath
and he’ll wonder why
they can’t stop to listen.

They won’t understand
why he spits at their charity,
why he won’t be a jewel
they can paste
on their holy-rolly

They won’t remember the brawn
that shaped steel,
that set cornerstones,
that fought every fool
and earned every dollar.

Not when the tide of strength
has gone out.

They won’t recall
how he picked up and carried
a family of six
through fire and flood
like they were
strapped to his back.

Not when the skin
hangs off the bones
like that ragged undershirt
limps down his frame.

His memory will deceive him,
setting fire to the dried up pasture
of his past.

His body will betray him,
slowly curling his shrinking spine
into a fist.

He will write venomous letters
to the city council
about the parking meters
but there’s no way in hell
he’s paying 44 cents
for a stamp.

He will be a threat
to children,
a cautionary tale
to adults,
unshaven and unkempt,
stockpiling jars of hardware
rusty tools
and broken appliances
in a dim garage
like ammunition
for a burned-out

They’ll keep an eye on his porch,
waiting for the newspapers
to pile up
so they can call the cops
and be done with it.

But for now
he is happy to toss that ball
through a hoop,
chase lizards
through fallen leaves,
eat his dinner
in front of the TV
and call up his dad
every Sunday.

[a long-delayed response to Julie’s incredible When She Is Older - appreciatively, and with the hope that inspiration, in fact, is the sincerest form of flattery.]

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Bells of San Juan

The bell of San Vicente, deep
rousing saints out of their sleep;
throughout the mottled history
of Capistrano by the sea

The swallows are gone
but the bells of San Juan
are still buried
flaked and serried

The Spanish and the Portuguese
brought Jesus Christ and olive trees
and built a church of mud and stone
naïve to how the earth could groan

Father Serra consecrated
holy ground - the soldiers waited;
the curious Juaneños came
to see the flag that laid them claim

The bell of old San Juan intones
the sins for which we must atone;
throughout the mottled history
of Capistrano by the sea

The swallows are gone
but the bells of San Juan
are still broken
splitting open

The Spanish and the Portuguese
brought their wine press and disease
and built a church of mud and stone
with walls that strained beneath the dome

converting chiefs to neophytes
by marshal law and sacred rites;
saved by grace but made to plow,
to worship with their back and brow

The bell of San Antonio
calls out as we come and go;
throughout the mottled history
of Capistrano by the sea

The swallows are gone
but the bells of San Juan
are still ringing
struck to singing

The Spanish and the Portuguese
brought tallow vats and rosaries
and saw their church of mud and stone
come crashing down upon their own

where Magdalena, by the light
of the moon still walks at night
reciting her repentant prayer
since all the padres left her there

The blessed bell of San Rafael
we’ve hung it high and swung it well;
throughout the mottled history
of Capistrano by the sea

The swallows are gone
but the bells of San Juan
in the garden
plead a pardon

yes the swallows are gone
and the bells of San Juan
know the story
tarnished glory