Monthly Archives: February 2011

The Yankee dream

At six a.m. the slanting light
Throws wild shadows on the grass before
Our house. Within these shades I see
The figure of a man, one hand
Quick sifting through the trash bin by
The street, a thin glove hiding weathered skin.

I wonder why his actions get beneath my skin
So easily, as he turns a soda can beneath the streetlight
As if he were a jeweler with a standard he must study by.
Two hours gone, this daily round, and still another four
Of trawling through what residents would hand
Him accidently in their overflow. I want to see

What makes him flout the stringent policy
Of local government, his thievery akin,
They say, to petty theft. And all to hand
A sack of old aluminum to men who slight
His very being, except to tolerate him for
The metal cans they love to buy.

Two hundred years ago, my ancestors traveled by
The call of providence across a troubled sea
To find this land which metaphor
Described as paradise. And by the skin
And sinew of their being, they turned their plight
Of landless refugees into an upper hand

Where they could prosper and then hand
A goodly heritage to their offspring; by
Generation finding their delight
In making this a land where all can see
Prosperity, no matter what the color of their skin
Or what their family was or did before

They came here. But now I worry for
This spectral scavenger, his one hand
Busy at its task, his frame of skin
And bones slow swaying to a lullaby
Of half-remembered hope, telling his misery
The yankee dream might still take flight.

I fear the fragile skin of righteousness – the beacon of “four
Score and twenty” – is a light fast fading in our hand
We former immigrants who now sit by, leaving only refuse for our latest kin who cross the sea.


Ten below

(a villanelle)

The temperature is down to ten below
Outside, a proper Indiana freeze.
I’m glad there’s no place that I have to go

On roads made treacherous by drifted snow
That dazzles and deceives. For when one sees
The temperature is down to ten below

It’s best to just say thanks, go with the flow
And take a break from planned activities.
I’m glad there’s no place that I have to go

When all the TV programs stop to show
The mercury descending by degrees.
“The temperature is down to ten below,”

They crow, “Here on the Toll Road, and you know
The wind chill’s worse, considering this breeze!”
I’m glad there’s no place that I have to go

Tonight, when all the world is set aglow
By moonlight dancing through the arching trees.
The temperature is down to ten below…
I’m glad there’s no place that I have to go.

House call

The medical kit sits in the corner
In easy reach for each time he visits
Our home. He eats his breakfast carefully
Then pulls the plastic case to the middle
Of a freshly-vacuumed living room floor.

First he pulls the headband with its mirror
Over his eyes like a superhero.
Thus transformed, he takes out the syringe
Pumps it seven times into his forehead
And swings the stethoscope in great circles…

Behind the door, she sits and reads about
Vascular disease and renal failure,
Oblivious to the sagging bookshelf
Until it gives way and books cascade down
In parody of her unending task.

It is a good thing he is here today.
With warmth and sympathy upon his brow
Outweighing surgeon’s knife and chemist’s drug
He grabs his case and is ready to go.
Hippocrates would be so proud of him.

Valentine’s Takeover

So I was trying to text my sweetheart
About having a date for Valentine’s
But the smart-spelling feature on my phone
Wouldn’t cooperate. It kept turning
“Valentines” into the word “Takeover.”

It made me wonder if the programmer
Had been left sitting alone at a Starbucks
Clutching a dozen roses for a girl
Who never could work out how to tell him
Face-to-face: It’s over – it’s me, not you.

And in his humiliation and fear
That every lover would abandon him
As soon as he had opened up his heart
He threw the roses to the barista
And walked two hours across town in the rain.

Back in the computer lab, he removed
Every hint of love from the software
He was perfecting for use in cell phones,
And replaced it with a subtle warning
That romance is a form of takeover.

Meanwhile the barista went home and dreamed
About the man who gave her the roses
Praying that he would come back in again
So she could get his number and text him:
Thank you for the best valentine ever.

No good deed…

(a villanelle)

The car is looking older now
It has another scrape down low.
You really shouldn’t ask me how
It got that ding upon its bow,
That battle-scar that makes me know
The car is looking older now.
Don’t say I drove it like a plow
Across the parking lot – Oh no,
You really shouldn’t!  Ask me how
I made a well-intentioned vow
To feed my sister’s cat.  And, so
The car is looking older now,
At least she will not have a cow
Because her cat’s lost in the snow.
You really shouldn’t ask me how
I got these deep lines in my brow.
Just say, what’s done is done.  For though
The car is looking older now
You really shouldn’t ask me how.

The lathe of memory

We do not always realize just what
The lathe of memory is sharpening
Until we feel the unexpected sting
Of sudden recollection start to cut
The tissue of oblivion. We shut
Our hardest passages away, then cling
To safer narratives, but lessening
Our being will not pull us from that rut.
Instead, when long-forgotten shades arise
In tandem with a sudden scent or sound,
We should salute these keepers of what lies
Rough hidden in the deeply harrowed ground
That is the soul. Such moments make us wise,
For through old pain, new healing can be found.

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