He used to bark. He used to bark and bark and bark.
But he doesn’t bark anymore. I try not to think about
that dog. The dog was a real nuisance. He used to bark
and bark when he was alone in that dark apartment.
He’d bark and bark until his owner came home and let
the dog out the back door. The dog never barked then.
He would roll on his back and kick his paws in the air.
He acted like a puppy until he jumped up and ran back
up the stairs. Later, he would begin to bark and bark.
The neighbors complained. We all complained.
Someone called the landlord. Someone called
I guess the landlord had a few words with his owner.
The dog doesn’t bark anymore. He never barks.
Never! That’s what really bothers us now.
(First published in The Miscreant)
1: Female figures
Michelangelo was a youth
who already knew the truth
he knew art by intuition
arousing some suspicion
he was so very mature
he knew the woman’s contour
he knew female anatomy
outdoing peers at the academy
the thirteen-years old would accuse
Michelangelo the recluse
of secret model sessions
with nude female lessons
but he was just gifted
he never drifted
from his childhood dreams
he gained his self-esteem
2: The Contest
The apprentices were having a contest,
to draw a gnarly figure the best.
Michelangelo insisted on competing,
even though winning would mean treating.
From memory, each student drew
the image Michelangelo already knew.
In the contest, Michelangelo won,
and he had to treat to dinner and fun.
He couldn’t afford to be such a host,
but his talent was that of which he could boast.
It was a way of developing camaraderie,
any of his paintings are now a hot commodity.
3: The Culture of Sculpture
Michelangelo learned to draw from his master,
but he wanted to sculpt from marble and plaster.
He snuck out and went to a farm with a stammer,
he went to the village and they gave him a hammer.
He was constantly working on his craft,
his family gave up, they thought he was daft.
Until the Medici family took him to work,
and jealous people watched him and lurked.
He brought his real family home pieces of gold,
he made more money than his father had sold.
His brother accused him of being corrupt,
he claimed sacrilegious things would erupt.
His brother was he ended from the monastery,
while Michelangelo’s dreams could not be buried.
Michelangelo claimed he didn’t disobey,
art was his passion, to his God did he pray.
He learned languages and history from scholars,
but art was what he did best, he was no follower.
God’s plan for his life, was hard to understand,
but this powerless child would take command.
Hammer and chisel, ceilings to paint,
maybe his family didn’t think he was a saint.
But in retrospect we know his genius had no limits,
the Sistine Chapel lasting into the infinite.
Very few artists obtain such success,
but it’s because of this artist who was quite obsessed.
His determination set him above the rest,
and he refused to settle for only second best.
I wait for
glowing red wires
to bounce up
my wheat bread
then slice it
and spread on butter
and peach jam
Cool, fat grapes
find their way
onto the plate
carefully placed between
the toasty wedges.
Oh, how good
so fresh and crisp
so cold and succulent.
Have you ever looked closely at the beauty of an iris,
Or studied the center of a rose?
With colors so vibrant and soft and deep,
Each flower literally glows.
Have you ever buried your face in a lilac,
Deeply inhaling its treasure?
A haunting fragrance so enchantingly sweet,
It fills the soul with pleasure.
How long since you gazed at a bright, yellow daisy,
Or studied a pansy’s sweet face?
How long since you truly admired an orchid,
A flower of beauty and grace.
God’s world of flowers awaits you, my friend,
Worthy of admiration.
There is beauty to behold and velvet to touch
In every pink carnation.
A patio of brick set in sand by a
wanna-be engineer sister, sunny
spots hot against bare feet, pattern
of herringbone overlain with shifty
shadows of foliage set in motion
by an unseen breeze sifting through
nearby pin oak trees, dogs panting
in the shade of a spreading ash tree.
Dad reading the morning paper
in old pajamas, his cup of coffee
cooling on the patio table while
savoring the early morning silence.
Splashes of pink, orange, and
cherry impatiens banked against
evergreen shrubbery bordering
two sides of a hundred-year-old
rambling country home.
Ten-year-old Brian standing on
the porch roof with a friend, both
sending model airplanes crashing
below in a mock WWII battle.
The drone of the riding lawnmower
drifting across our shady acres, Mom
guiding it in overlapping concentric
circles to its finishing run.
I feel the raindrops falling
I hear the people calling
To the gallows where he’s standing
the place I know that he is planning
The crowd is filled with expectation
and a strange exhilaration
Take each step with hesitation
to my final destination
Of this life to which I’m clinging
as a corpse I’ll soon be swinging
Still I see myself as winning
this is just a new beginning
And while they think it’s now or never
they are not so very clever
For now my cause will live on ever
and my name will then forever
One final look into their faces
as the hangman finally places
Then I pray for God’s good graces
as eternity embraces
For years I was a Modern Marie
Lover of abstract and far out art
Of course, the super stars of my world
Were hip & brave and oh, so daring
To change that boring status quo
But all those ways to shock & rock
Were in vain to stay all time, alas
New are moving forth to change
Styles and ways to entertain our world
But my Aunt Evelyn would argue forth
Those new stars cannot hold a candle
No, no! Not Picasso but Rockwell, yes!
He stands the test of all that's true
His subjects real, a common sort, and
Their foibles meet a heartfelt need
Of all who seek to understand & share
And care for those whose lives are true
So now my aunt is long since gone
And I at last can see her stance
No mod for me, that time is past
Just tunes of old and art that tells
A story clear and poems that share
My newfound need to tell the truth
Just call me old, but this I know
Matron Marie just suits me fine.
And Norman Rockwell is my fave
Not those who fling their paint, oh no!
“Better to sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.”
~ Ishmael in Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
Depressed with life on land, I thought it better
to head for Nantucket and set sail, to
find contentment on a whaling ship rather than sleep
walk through another winter. I left home alone with
meager possessions. In New Bedford, I met a
harpooner. An experienced whaler, sober
and strong, Queequeg was a cannibal,
but so congenial—more like a brother than
a friend. His mistake—trusting me to select a
ship. I picked the Piquod, whose captain was drunken
with vengeance, having few values I’d call Christian.
(First published in Prairie Light Review)
i gave all my teenage heart
with my lack of knowledge
and love came a little too late
to serve purpose
i understand now,
years after i suffocated gladly
on your scent,
in the pursed lips of youth
the kiss still collapses my being
a figurative will says
i inherited a memory
wisdom is wrapped in appreciation
and the bow has brown eyes.
If you are the language
of desperate escape,
I will be Lady Liberty’s
I will be the word “welcome”
spoken by eyes and open hands
till we become
a fluent conversation.
If you are empty pockets,
by war’s grand theft,
I’ll be the table, chair and bed
of America’s abundance,
spilling into a new room,
replenishing your hope.
If I am a nation’s headlines
of fear and distrust,
you be the story
of reassurance, the reminder
that we are more alike
is not danger.
And if we are tiny stones
on a balance scale
the terrors of war,
let us together
be the weight of peace.
(From Encore Prize Poems 2017)
Some poetry contests call
for forms so complicated,
so obscure, my mouth cannot
surround the words; forms which
want to train my brain cells
to dance to foreign tunes and drums,
when the most I can manage
is a halting two-step, pencil
poised, paper blank.
through a split
in a banana tree leaf
I can make out
the tanned forehead
of what seems a woman
not watching me
not even aware
that I exist
but lost in thought
as the jungle
from branch to branch
in sidewalk cracks
a bottle brush bush
stretches toward the shed
pulsing with life
the jungle woman‘s
part of a secret
I can only observe
Do I have time for one more dream?
The early morning clock is pushed aside
I’m planting tiger lilies near the stream
and dawn paints waves upon my shuttered eyes.
Our sleeping dog has not yet come around.
Sweet Monarch butterflies can play and feed
in sunny milkweed fields without a sound.
That kind of free is what I need
because when happy dreams are put away
the somber beating drums of time begin
to say I have so much to do today.
But first I seek to know some space within
to roam the spacious meadows of my mind
and find again belief in humankind.
(A winner in the Laureate category of
GRSF/Maria W. Faust Sonnet Contest, 2017)
The boiler sits in our basement,
a dinosaur with asbestos still wrapped
around a pipe. We need a new boiler.
“It’s as old as the house,” said my brother-in-law.
That means it is probably more than 60 years old.
I don’t know. I don’t know anything about boilers,
except radiant heat is supposed to be better than
forced air. I do know I need to get rid of this
cancer that has taken over my left breast.
How I yearn for radiant air, for clean blood
that doesn’t have to be drawn and tested
every week. I don’t know. I need to get rid
of our boiler, but it still works. Perhaps if
I don’t do anything and just let my body
do its thing, I will outlive our boiler.
I don’t know. The boiler turns on and off
at its own tempo. It sends heat out in the
winter, but in the summer it sleeps.
It’s always been reliable, and it has never
broken down. Perhaps in that way, I am not
like our boiler. Still, you get kind of attached
to it, kind of like you get used to your body.
I wouldn’t mind getting a new boiler.
In fact, I could even settle for a furnace,
if that’s the way it turned out.
(2nd Place, 2017 NFSPS Board Award.
Published in 2017 Encore).
When it came down to malevolent Jim Crow nights,
those inexorable Colored Only noxious moments in time,
you clutched bits of molded cake, sang, danced and spilled bitter crumbs
on those who closed their implacable minds to your luminous gifts.
Those not so gentle-men at MGM and elsewhere sliced you off the big screen,
sent your loveliness tumbling to the dusty floor in shards of celluloid.
How dare the asshole moguls not keep you as “Julie” in “Showboat?”
What were those insufferable bastards thinking not to cast you as, “Pinky?”
Oscar would have been yours to hug and kiss every night.
So you forged gracefully on through the grinding gauntlet of de facto barriers,
elegantly poised for battle, smeared in Max Factor’s Light Egyptian.
Your perfect chin up and high, silken shoulders squared,
back girded to endure Hollywood’s unjust lashes and bolted racist doors.
When the blade of the anti-Communist guillotine threatened execution,
you sang through the venom and vile lies. You were a regal, sensuous symbol
of bodacious black womanliness determined to conquer
the xenophobic, hatchet-wielding goliaths.
Hurray For Hollywood? Bullshit!
The bigoted old pricks can all kiss your bewitching black ass.
Your days of singing in “Stormy Weather” are past.
“The Lady and Her Music” can now rest in peace in her palatial
“Cabin In The Sky.”
sunshine and gentle wind
crashing and cracking
banging and booming
pattering and drizzling
sunshine and birdsong
God tried every sound
to awaken stubborn human minds
deafen credulous ears
I have my doubts about the Moon.
The tides, they rise and fall.
Lovers gaze upon its face.
I wonder. Is that all?
Do nutty people know the Moon,
Go deeper when they see?
Am I the loony one who won’t
Let moonlight brighten me?
infinite horizon twists back into itself
top and bottom different yet the same
pathway to the future
pathway to the past
walking over time
walking through time
halfway round sort of
Alice’s mirror at your feet
overtake another self
lazing rightside up
…beep, beep…make way…coming through new!
sort of circular yet not
sort of younger yet not
surely wiser maybe not
the continuum of consciousness
twists through time
each of you still out there
some hiding in ambush
some just waiting to be scratched
many yet one
Note: 1. Published in Winter 2014 online
"Muses’ Gallery of Highland Park Poetry"
2. Published in 2016 ISPS anthology
Distilled Lives, Vol 3
Two ducks pose
outside the window
in the iridescent dreamscape
of a hoar-frosted morning.
They've paddled up the curb
to sit briefly on the lawn
facing each other,
statues in love
or movie stars preparing
an on-screen kiss. Perhaps
they are thinking of spring
and mud and their nest
in the willows of a nearby
lake. They meditate
briefly in the wind
that shadows their green-gold
wings, their orange beaks.
Then they stand up
together on webbed toes,
and like actors reading
from the same script,
step silently across
the lawn, back onto
the black tar driveway,
out of sight.
Front Range Review)
My Mom was no cowgirl. She would have tumbled
off her high heels and died in the dust of the Old
West. I knew how hard it was from breaking in my
cowboy boots when I was six.
I had to wear down the outside heels to perfect
a bowlegged strut that said I had just tamed one
mean mustang to save Ma from rapacious Apaches.
I couldn't believe that ingrate when she sent me to
the last round up—"You'll ruin your legs as well as
your shoes. Besides, it doesn't look nice." She turned
on her stiletto heels and wobbled out the door to meet
That killed my taming the Frontier. Without the boots,
my six gun and sombrero were useless. For the next
four years I played mortar wars on construction sites
in tennis shoes.
I dodged ricochet puffs like bullets. I threw back harder
than my foes. You could count a hit because it stung
and made them yelp.
Once, in a scientific mood, I pointed out her bandy legs
were ruined, too.
"Pleasure bent," was her retort.
Fall is coming
Soon we’ll start drinking hot coffee
no more iced mixes or frozen custard
no more shorts or sandals
It’ll be time to rake away
the orange and yellow leaves
sip brandy, and share stories
of summer’s madness
like a VanGogh
around the bloody eye
the storm over Jupiter
rages ever on
to swallow the earth
a demon's warning
or sign of apocalypse
perhaps just mundane reality
who must have
two thousand words
whose young must
have imagined stars
pinpricks of light
Welcome to the club,
we weren’t expecting you so soon.
Look around, surely you
know why you’re here.
Mingling is encouraged, your
membership is good forever.
The chest by the door holds
the chains you’ll wear.
Don’t worry, they’re invisible
to the average person.
Yes, they are quite heavy,
but you get used to them.
No you don’t just carry them,
you wear them on the inside.
They sink through your skin
and wrap around your heart.
I won’t lie. They’re very painful.
You can never take them off.
Glimmers of hope are welcomed.
Smiles are celebrated, but rare.
I see in your eyes, you know why
you’re here. What I don’t know is,
Who did you lose?
Somehow, somewhere, someone
whispered in her ear
that life does not go on forever.
Known to soldiers facing death
or a mother huddled in the bunker,
it has been transmitted to a five-year old
and in her innocence,
she believes it to be true
that falling leaves can signal a springtime rebirth,
but a bird caught in the teeth of a cat
will never bud new feathers
nor take on water through a broken beak.
It does not generate terror, or even fear,
but a small worry
is now etched on the face of the child
along with a new respect for her baby brother
who has not used up the years
that she so carelessly calibrated.
(Published in Ohio Poetry Day: Best of 2016)
Nelson knows a lot, more than many,
about the Chosin Reservoir,
about December of 1950.
He's there now, once more, again,
on this May afternoon,
this unseasonably hot,
deceivingly beautiful day
in a commuter suburb of Chicago.
Today we will study Korea, children.
The South is our friend,
the North no one's comrade.
Yes, I know: Love one another.
Please don't ever forget those words,
even if you remember nothing else.
I've brought you some kimchi fried rice,
some Binggrae banana milk:
You'll recognize the taste,
but likely not the mix of Hanja and Hangul
wrapped around the bottle.
He doesn't know about missing toes,
the phantom strike of midnight pain
mimicking frostbite in a fool's sunshine
that won't stop fresh piss from icing.
He doesn't know about missing friends,
their not waking in the snow,
them not getting up after the sniper,
the artillery round, the soulless cold.
In the world he occupies right now,
despite the presence of family right here,
these things are only beginning.
At recess, you will not fear the airplanes
coming to O'Hare and Midway;
we'll study him and there another time.
You won't think twice, perhaps not once,
about the backfire and rattle of a truck.
Until then, please pay attention.
These are lessons Nelson wrote for you.
If you get drowsy on this fine May day,
I promise not to slam my hand,
surely not the classroom yardstick,
on the surface of your desk.
We walk the dog.
Heat eases, torn clouds.
A neighbor passes the other way.
He holds something close. Cat? Puppy?
Curious we cross the street.
He is carrying a small black chicken!
Escaped, he says, smiles
and rubs its head.
I have never cut my hair.
The tip of the tail is made of birth hair
still wet from the womb.
Farther up is the blonde of toddlerhood,
the golden trusses of childhood,
a bird’s nest growing in the matted part.
The light brown of the teen years,
the treasures stolen from the cute boy,
embedded into safe keeping.
The brown of young adulthood,
flipped to and fro as if I didn’t care.
The dark brown of marriage.
My hair was longer than my train,
flowing over rock and pebble.
The brunette trails had to be rolled up like a tape measure
so the baby wouldn’t get tangled in them.
The pepper and salt of middle age,
the salt and pepper of the advancing years,
the salt and dry split ends of old age.
My newest hair is brittle and white.
I have never cut my hair;
now I am ready to die.
My hair will grow even after I am dead.
It will be my death hair, still living,
attached to the end of my birth hair.
At my funeral
they will see photos of me:
Dragging my hair through sand from the sandbox,
sporting a ribbon, a crown, a veil, a hat, a bathing cap, a tiara.
Sun shining through it,
painting a dry stone wet with the tip.
Birds taking refuge there.
Braids of young lovers coming together.
Lengthy hair in tie-dyed colors,
dangling over the Grand Canyon,
trailing through the Bad Lands,
rushing over Niagara Falls.
Many people across the land had to assist in its washing,
the long strands being brushed daily
and put on top of my head,
a bun as big as an elephant
weighing me down.
Then the adventure of its unraveling.
The enormous blanket of comfort surrounding me.
The mass of children twirling and jumping rope;
mustaches they crafted and laughed behind.
The clothesline to dry their clothes in the summer.
The dog’s leash.
A tug of war.
Hair flowing over the Sierra Mountains,
then dipping into the sea.
In a meadow, dancing with white daisies
atop my head as a crown.
A feather duster used on Fridays.
I felt it growing year by year,
slowly forming cell by cell,
as cells divided and produced new,
older looking, hair.
I made a hammock to sleep in,
and I rocked myself, singing peacefully.
I pulled my woven blanket again around me,
the colors blending into each other.
It was my turban when I became ill
with the advancement of life.
The last photo:
My hair lining my coffin
and the dress I wear to present myself.
For whom are you performing?
Why waste your time and theirs?
Such an artifice is boring
in the end, no one cares
Your parents want one thing for you,
your peers yet another
Moments in this life are too few
to placate either stranger or brother
You are you
she is she
he is he
and me is me
No dreams for me
of wealth and glory,
nor fame and fortune,
no playgirl’s story.
But dreams have I
that things begun
in a morning fit of passion
will be fitly finished
when day is done.
And dreams have I
of rocky mountains drenched with sun,
of rocky streams filled with trout,
of warm eyes and waiting arms
when day is done.
And dreams are mine
that really do come true.
Like the stars and moon, the sun,
the joy I find in you,
and the warm eyes and waiting arms
when our day is done.
Stared out a window
watching a street stand still.
Saw a dog, a cat, a rabbit.
Some kid on a bicycle rode past.
Several cars drove one way,
then back again.
A couple of people walked on the surface.
But only one truck made the trip
Street didn’t move an inch.
I did finally,
losing my battle with the patient pavement.
Went out, stood a while on the road,
couldn’t see what the big deal was,
laying there all the time,
Gave up, went inside,
pulled the shade on the window,
glad I wasn’t a street.
You try to win over insomnia
the beast that is the architect
of your wake time misery
You exercise daily, meditate,
make eating right your mantra,
go to bed early or try very late,
embrace white noise or silence
until you gain a new respect
for the beast – learn to ignore
sleep and start writing a poem.
Haiti, Chile, Nepal –
distant, difficult places
atop the earth’s open wounds.
I want to see myself,
gloved and masked,
change a bloody bandage,
cuddle a frightened child,
dig under rubble to grab the hand
of a battered survivor.
Instead, money is my agent.
It can better withstand
the malodorous misery,
I sit at the table to write a check.
Why I’m the one with a table and a check
in a sound home on solid ground,
A delicious fruit
Mentioned in the holy books
Its fabulous creation
With ruby-like beauty
Within the layers
Appear as honeycomb
These sweet juicy little seeds
Into our mouths
A food for longevity
Full of fiber, antioxidants
There are times when we feel neglected
And by disappointment, we are affected
Discouragement also seems to overtake
But our Creator shows with no mistake
That God is always there for us
Every now and then you may think you are insecure
Just remember this one thing you need to know for sure
The Almighty can make great minds think alike
So don’t quit your job or go on strike
Because God is always there for us
This has been proven when he sent His only Son
To pay the ultimate price for every evil we have done
When Jesus rose from the grave, a new light has been shed
He gave us everything we need—food, clothes, shelters and beds
Why, then, must you feel that there is so much to dread?
It is time to wake up and smell the coffee that is brewing
For all of His people, the Holy One bestows a renewing
Joyful Christian living shall be ours forevermore
Only the Father holds our entire futures in store
Now we can rest assured that God is always there for us
He came home from school and slammed the front door
“Mom,” he called.
“Where’s my baseball and bat and glove?”
“I don’t know. You’ll have to look for them.”
He rummaged in the kitchen closet for a minute or two
then walked heavily across the kitchen.
“Did you find them?” he heard from upstairs.
“Yes, Mom. Thanks.”
He walked out the back door empty-handed
and walked due north for what seemed to be
two or three hours.
He kept his path as straight as he could
and climbed over fences
and other obstacles.
He even swam across a creek or two—
or waded, one.
He sort of flapped his arms and sort of flew up
above the whole town and sort of looked around
and was glad that he could fly and no one else could.
But then all of a sudden
the novelty sort of fell off the whole thing
so he flew down
and landed in the back yard
and walked into the house
and slammed the back door sort of hard
and she said
did you have a good game
and he said yes.
(From Recent Poems)
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