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Sunday, November 27, 2011

PASSPORT

They say it takes at least six months,

it’s too late for me to get a passport.

I won’t be flying to Belfast, renting a car

or driving to the countryside of Armagh.

It’s too late to marvel at rustic cottages,

old stone churches and wooly sheep

grazing on the famous green hillsides.

It’s too late to stop at the pub for a pint

and ask directions to the road where his

home is found nestled among the trees.

In the movies, I would’ve driven up and

found him in the front yard raking, playing

with his border collie, wearing a sweater

like the men in Irish Spring commercials.

It’s too late to hear his jovial voice or how

he greeted us all - “Good to see you Lad!”

Saturday, November 26, 2011

NO SUCH THING AS FREE FRUIT

It’s August in Jersey, the peaches in A&P are

piled sky high in a pyramid and I have to laugh

when I see the boxes, me and the fruit are from

the same hometown and I’m reminded of summer

driving down Fayette Street, past old fairgrounds

onto Cubby Hollow Road into the flattest part of

the state where you’re surrounded by orchards.


Past Trench Road, I’m tempted like Adam and Eve in

the story from Mrs. Garrison’s Sunday School class.

I pull my little green Mustang over to the shoulder,

take a few steps towards the sagging branches and

know that the fruit will never taste better than this,

the second week in August. Lucky for me, there’s

no sign of workers, all I hear is a bobwhite’s call.


Suddenly an angry man descends a wooden ladder

propped against a tree twenty yards off the road.

I don’t know what he’s yelling, I’m guilty, I run away

fearing an axe handle, a shot gun, or the biting dogs.

If you ever think about helping yourself on some back

road, remember it always seems like no one’s there

in the trees, but they’re working and watching you.

CONSUMED BY WORK

It was the summer of working night and day,

eighty hour weeks, for banking paychecks to

pay tuition, being on call, always ready to go.


It was the summer of Genesis, Van Halen and

Whitesnake’s Here I Go Again, TDK blank tapes,

high top sneakers, hair gel, my first CD player.


It was the summer of learning to be a supervisor

of a crew, being responsible, firing of men for

lateness, leaning on shovels, and reckless driving.


It was the summer of 7-11 hot dogs, quarts of milk,

softball sized peaches, Lowenbrau nips, and Fridays

meant cheeseburger subs from Gallee’s Market.


It was the summer of not going to baseball games,

not going to the boardwalk, swimming in the ocean,

and for not spending time with high school friends.


It was the last summer of living in my hometown,

driving my first car, cutting someone else’s lawn,

dealing with other people’s anger, and being alone.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

WHAT THEIR FATHERS SAID ABOUT LOVE

Don’t rush into anything.

Don’t worry about being alone.

Don’t get locked in for the long haul.

Don’t talk yourself into being in love.

Don’t give her too many gifts, at first.

Don’t look back if you already walked out.

Don’t worry about breaking up or her leaving.

Don’t make her lie to her parents to be with you.

Don’t forget- if you can’t be good, then be careful.

Don’t stay with her if she always talks about money.

Don’t worry about her being a good cook, that’s very overrated.

Don’t forgive her if she cheats on you. Once a cheater, always a cheater.

Don’t waste your time with her if she is not into school, books, or education.

Don’t say you’ll never date girls with a certain hair color, race, religion, or size.

Don’t watch porn, it’s just like all movies. What you see rarely happens in real life.

Don’t yell at her, belittle her, or lay a hand on her no matter how angry she makes you.

Don’t worry about girls in high school. Get to college and then you can worry about women.

Don’t ask her out if you always hear her badmouthing her parents and other family members.

Don’t stay with her if she is overly critical about your friends, family, and all that is important to you.

Don’t think that you may be marrying her one day. More than likely, (99% sure)- she won’t be your wife.

Don’t tell your friends or buddies what you did with her, what you talked about with her or how you feel about her.

Don’t stay with her if she always tells you what to wear, how to cut your hair, or makes comments about your weight.

Don’t expect to find one that looks like a supermodel. Sometimes the sweetest fruit doesn’t come from a perfect tree.

Don’t stay with her if she asks you to quit something you like and don’t start doing up something you don’t like in order to make her happy.

Don’t get to friendly with a girl, call her your best friend, and share too many secrets with her. She’ll never see you as a possible lover, partner, or mate.

Don’t let her know all your insecurities, hang-ups or issues. She’ll use them against you later. Besides, if she’s around you long enough she’ll figure them out anyway.

Don’t ask her out if she posts cell phone and mirror photos on Facebook of herself puckering her lips, sticking her butt and chest out and pretending to make a “gang sign” with two fingers.

Don’t ask me what you should do, ask your mother about that. I’m not really sure.

Don’t talk yourself into being in love. Wait, I think I said that.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

KINDNESS UNLIMITED


Right out of high school, the impressionable years.

I got a job, saved my paychecks to pay for college.

Ate 7-11’s two for a dollar hot dogs for every meal.

Drank a quart of milk in the morning, a quart at night.

Gave my summers to the place, heavy labor in the sun,

in the rain, humidity, strawberry flies and greenheads.


All hours of the night, delivering to the shore towns

of Margate, Ventnor, Longport and Atlantic City.

Other days we went to Philly, Medford, Cherry Hill.

He always bought lunch. I was always ready to go.

On weekends we’d fish all day in Bay and drink

Stroh’s beer with clients to line up more business.


His wife worked alongside us prepping equipment,

loading trucks, staging the orders and wearing the

same uniform- brown pants, tan shirts, work boots.

She taught me to drive stick shift in a 20 foot truck.

She showed me how to change the oil in the vans.

She gave me a few lessons on how to change a flat.


On my last day, she arranged a ride for me back to

college in a truck delivering an order to the Hyatt.

I remember crying as I said goodbye to them and

when the van pulled away, I never saw them again.

Years later, he told me they’d gotten divorced.

He’s got a new business, she lives with her girlfriend.

Monday, November 21, 2011

IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT

School ends, the car is packed, we’re always ready

for summer and never worried about falling asleep

at the wheel, breaking down, big rigs, or weather.

But tonight there’s a big storm, making it hard to

gain the miles, to make good time, to travel safely.


I feel better after making it down the NJ Turnpike.

Across the PA Turnpike, just south of Harrisburg

we find the Pike, stop at the Flying J Travel Plaza

for Tastycakes, a Diet Mountain Dew, Starbursts.

Sand stings our ankles as it blows across the lot.


Back out on 81, wind whips us back and forth.

In my rearview mirror there’s a truck towing

a muscle car, a Chevelle or GTO, not sure which.

When I look ahead, I notice a mini van parked on

the interstate, I’m lucky to have my wits about me.


I cut to the right, ride the shoulder- knowing cars

going this fast can’t stop on wet pavement. I see

their dopey faces staring at a truck tire in the road.

In my mirror the trailer jackknifes, the antique car

flips into a ditch, trucks and cars roll, I step on the gas.


My hands grip the wheel, the rain keeps falling,

and when I twist my mirror I see how lucky we are.

I notice my son working his thumbs on his Gameboy.

I hear cars racing around the track, tires squealing,

and in the background a strange circus music plays on.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

ONCE UPON A FARM



He stared into the eyes of stuffed black bears,

fell asleep to the sounds of cattle in the yard

and wrote about it all in his Tennessee Moon.

He gathered barn kittens, chased Corrientes

into livestock trailers, worked a remote to the

head gate for the cowboys, got bucked off that

wild and crazy Pistol, came up covered in gravel,

black and blue, embarrassed, then shed some tears.


Burned his fingers making ‘smores on a bonfire,

strummed his guitar on the porch as we sat in

rocking chairs behind him with big proud grins.

We all watched hours of classic Western films.

Said good morning and good night to Buckskin,

rode the pastures on a four wheeler, drove a Gator

through the rows of a tomato field and parked on

a hillside to gaze at the smoke on the mountains.


When the horses gathered around, it felt like

he had that special power to talk to the animals,

but realized the feed bucket was on the tailgate.

He listened to his grandfather’s stories, hugged him

one last time and heard the promise about putting

the shiny new bass boat into the water- next year.

When he reads this he’ll laugh a little or smile a bit.

In the end he’ll be sad, knowing that it’s over now.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

THE CLOCK COLLECTOR


I think of how he lays in his bed all day

long listening to the ticks from more than

a hundred clocks of all shapes and sizes.

Does someone still wind them each week?

Did some get sold when times got tough?

I wonder if he remembers the auctions,

antique shops and fine furniture galleries.

I think about them chiming on the hour,

half hour, at a quarter of and fifteen after.

All were off a minute or two, never in sync

a good thing for the neighbors and anyone

visiting during the holidays or special dinners.

Strange, his obsession with clocks and time

now holds him prisoner. And after all that

happened, I truly hope he’s at peace when

he hears those sixteen notes and strike for

each hour from his prized Grandfather clock.


http://www.clocksnmore.com/midi/westminster.mp3

NUMBERS IN THE ATTIC


The flashlight goes dim, I smack it on my palm.

Too dark in the attic for shuffling through bins

to switch out our summer and winter clothes.

I find a box of ornaments and there’s the tree.


When I open the last bin, I take a knee for a

moment to pull out my son’s soccer jerseys

I find the lemon yellow 47, a strange number-

guess they don’t think much about it at four.


They’re all in here, I wouldn’t throw them out.

Each new team named after a soccer nation-

Team Chile, Team Poland, and Team Austria.

There’s a white 11, a couple of 10’s, a few 13’s.


He switched to 25 when travel team began.

A number 17 for middle school and now 7 for

the last few years, a “real soccer number” we say.

It’s sad to think about a day that’s coming soon.


We’ll remember the hours of practice each week,

bitter cold nights, hot summer days, weekends.

I wonder what we’ll do when I put the last jersey

in this bin and push it into the darkness of the attic.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE

Like an awkward visit back to first grade

with its tiny chairs and puny desks, a trip

home reminds me of how long it’s been.

I’m confused when I drive by past places,

through neighborhoods with no one left.

I’m amazed by the growth of maple trees,

something has managed to thrive in town.

Businesses are closed on Commerce Street,

no signs of victory on the corner of Laurel.

Broad Street isn’t as wide as it used to be

and Pearl Street, no longer a precious gem.

A friend wrote in his yearbook, “Get out of

town it’s a dusty road to nowhere” and from

here, it seems like everyone took his advice.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

DREAM HOME


They gave up on moving. They weren’t underwater

but they waded knee deep in the waters of debt.

Five houses on the block were up for sale back then.

The prices fell before the Century 21 sign had fallen.

And like so many, not selling meant staying and fixing.


He sat at the kitchen table with a guy from Sears.

Fascinated by the salesman’s Powerbook and how

you could drop it, hammer it or stomp on it and

it would still work. He listened to stories of how

you used to be able to order an entire home from

the catalogue, have it delivered and assembled.


They played with the software, with a few clicks

of a mouse he transformed the old house into his

dream home- red door, black shutters, white siding.

If only it was that easy he thought and told the man

to write him up for a new roof, on payments of course.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

SOUTHERN GHOST STORY

Stay away from that old graveyard

planted in the center of the ‘mater fields,

he warned from the top of a Ford tractor

as he finished another sup of black coffee.


No one walked into the cluster of trees to

read faded names or even thought about

moving the ol’ timey headstones. No one

came by to leave flowers or to pay respects.

Crops got planted around the little island of

a dozen graves, walnut trees, angry weeds.


Some said, the plants closest to the graves

yield the smallest fruit, while others said it’s

because workers don’t spend as much time

cultivating or tying the plants. He advised me,

Don’t mess with spooks, boogers, and haints.

A FEW MORE HOURS

Mothers seem to know, even new ones can tell

when a cry is different, the forehead a bit warmer,

complexion not quite the same, a changed appetite.

She knew when to stay home, when to insist, when

to give in. Her voice and descriptions of the baby

made the doctor tell her, “Take him to the hospital”.

A few more hours would’ve been too late, he said.


Tonight, I’m walking home, just three blocks

to the little rented house on Compton Avenue.

I’ll sleep alone, it’s my wife’s turn to spend the

night in a chair next to our son’s hospital bed.


It’s a colder than usual January with temperatures

in the teens, I shiver under my too thin winter coat,

I clench my fists in my gloves, wrap my scarf tighter.

I wonder if tears can freeze as I think of losing him.

Monday, November 7, 2011

MOTH ON A PORCHLIGHT

He was the guy at work who could fix anything,

but he couldn’t fix himself. We found him crying

and belligerent in The Towne Tavern only days

after his brother passed from a heroin overdose.


Your weakness is what’s going to kill you, he said

as we drove him to the brick row house apartments.

He insisted I come in to see his new guitar, to hear

a song he’d learned. Hendrix and Santana posters

covered the walls and with each riff, tears rolled down

his cheek, a neighbor’s dog barked, his mother yelled.

After that summer, he almost got clean and sober.


Now twenty five years later, I came across his picture

in the paper, he’s on the run, evasion of child support.

Secretly, I pray he gets far away, I wonder if he's got his

guitar with him and hope one day he finds a way to kick it.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

FRAGMENTS OF THE BROKEN PEOPLE


traded a saddle for a front porch rocking chair,

crippled hands no longer grip oil paint brushes,

old fullback stops every few yards to sit and rest,

waiting for an oxygen tank delivery each week,

fold up walker needed to get into the restaurants,

watching birds from a hospital bed near the window,

lost sight, can’t read the Bible or write his sermons,

White Label for breakfast and a liver full of holes,

silenced by stroke, no more anger or hateful words,

fallen on pavement, can’t lead students into school,

Intensive Care, too young for spinal taps, IVs, antibiotics,

lost a limb and the will to continue with a new fight,

advanced degrees, all those books, can’t remember us.

FIND YOUR WAY BACK


They head out onto the highway at 3am,

an early start on the miles, to beat the traffic

of Baltimore, the heat of the hot summer sun.

He thinks of days before MapQuest or Internet.

How he’d sit up the night before with a huge

Rand McNally Road Atlas and a yellow legal pad

finding the turns, short cuts, and scenic route.


“A bundle of nerves, jumpy as a cat”, 700 miles

alone for the first time, so his father explained it

in his signature, matter of fact, practical way.

Not many people know it, but truck drivers do-

Take odd roads north and south, like 81, 77, and 95.

Take even roads east and west, like 70, 76, and 40.

Read the Interstate signs, you’ll find your way back.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

SORT OF KNEW

Sometimes I didn’t hear from him for a year.

There’d always be a Christmas card, sometimes

it’d arrive a week late, overseas postmark,

scrawled handwriting, difficult to read a return

address, there was no mistaking who’d sent it.


Nothing came up in my search of obituaries

from his rural county in Northern Ireland.


Last time we spoke on the phone, I found him

in his usual excited manner, explaining his illness,

how it’d spread. He snuck in the word, “terminal”.

Brushing off my grief, he told me not to make

too much of it, It’d been a good life, to be sure.


Lad, I’ve figured it out, it’s only really about the

moments spent with loved ones and friends.

Your call today is proof of how great it’s been.


In the end, I found out from a mutual friend-

Your suspicions regarding Myles’ health are confirmed;

Myles has passed on, bless his soul. His Aunt was kind enough

to send a note highlighting what we already knew about the man.

Cheerful, positive and more concerned about everyone else.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

DAY OF THE DEAD


“What have I become, my sweetest friend?

Everyone I know goes away in the end.”

- Hurt, Johnny Cash (written by Trent Reznor)


Lately, every day feels like it’s the Day of the Dead.

I always wonder what it’d be like to drink one more

cup of black coffee with him from a chipped mug on the

porch as the sun goes down. I find myself thinking about

nights before supper, listening to her stories as she makes

biscuits or I imagine riding with him in his white pickup truck

around the fence line of his cattle fields, looking for calves.


Some days it feels like I’m watching a movie called, My Life

and each time it’s shot with different camera angles or lighting.

My favorite scene is when I’m seated with her on the boardwalk,

eating a sugar cone. Then there’s the one where I’m covered with

an itchy stadium blanket and he’s making a fire as we get ready

to watch the Saturday night hockey games in the “back room”.


Another great episode is set on the highways of New Jersey

and New York, we’re laughing about the 100 degree heat,

the hard work, our basketball games and getting easily lost.

Some days the regrets start up, I think you know what I mean?

It’s usually the unanswered invitations, the wasted moments

or the simply because the list is getting longer and the dead

are accumulating as I get older and I don’t like feeling this way.


Lately I’ve been thinking of others too, and this worries me.

Some days I stop to recall the old lady on the beach who

used to give us all candy, or a girl from elementary school

who was found dead, floating naked in our town’s river.

My Sunday School teacher’s granddaughter, she had a hole

in her heart or a high school classmate who feel asleep at

the wheel and never made it home from the third shift.


I wonder if others are haunted by the memories too.

I wonder if they’d confess too or if there are days when

nothing triggers thoughts of the ones who have left us.

Will there be a day when I won’t think of them or will I

keep shaking it off with a sigh, a laugh,or will I always cry?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

TOMORROW'S PHONE CALL

Usually it’s the flowers that remind him-

grape hyacinths, lily of the valley, forsythia.

He meant to, but too much time had passed.

How awkward it’d be for them to speak now.


At a funeral, she didn’t recognize him, seated

in a corner away from the crying and hugging.

A slide show with self selected soundtrack

playing “it’s so hard to say goodbye to yesterday”.


His wife found it odd when he came home and

told her how his mother hadn’t recognized him.

Must’ve been the white hair, my beard, or all the

years without a single word spoken between us.


They say, even animals know their young

when they see them after years of being apart.


He didn’t blame her and planned to call,

once he found the time to talk about it.

Tomorrow I’ll call her, before the next

funeral, which could be hers, or his, or mine.