Not far from Ferguson aflame
are quiet leafy neighborhoods
Norman Rockwell might have painted
when subdivisions first appeared.
These neighborhoods are beautiful
because Norman still comes back
four times a year, some say,
for touch-up work here and there
during the changing of the seasons.
He paints russets on the leaves in fall,
crystals on the snow in winter,
yellow on the daffodils in spring,
red and pink on roses in the summer.
But Norman doesn't paint in Ferguson
because Ferguson he says is Watts
raging down the road to resurrection.
You drive down
the same country road
every day at dawn
and see through
plumes of dust
this tall thin woman
straight as a scarecrow
in front of a field of corn
holding a hoe like a flag
tugging at a straw hat
and staring at the corn
till she goes in the house
and sits at the table
looks through the window
past ancient curtains
and prays for the deluge
she and Elmer will need
for the slightest harvest
The snake-skinned man
died three years ago, alone, in Bellevue ~
the heroes, for years, our neighbors,
died in great numbers
and it took four decades
to comfort those left behind -
there are spinsters from up the river, I hear,
who are full of worms,
who talk garbage even when it's not garbage day,
and there are some women who pray
to their holy beads -
there are families as distant
as that hawk over the highway
and a farmer tossed from his land
who's gone a little crazy,
imagines himself in short pants
and tucked in nightly by his mother -
let's not forget the mayor of a small town
who created nothing
but took what he could -
and the grandmother who sewed
and was bewildered by the buzz of flies
constantly about her ears,
who lived with grandfather,
the would-be artist
who splashed more paint over himself
than on the canvas -
the long suffering man
went about with holes in his pockets -
the old child rocked herself to death -
and there was the tongue twister
who believed that he could think
and the maid who broke things -
tired fathers, bantering children,
drunken cops striving not to arrest themselves,
crumbling saints rubbing balm on their hands,
discreet lovers with words
for someone we can never know,
kids like highways running into the night,
debt and pregnancy, ghosts of long lost fortunes,
one or two with their hearts cut out
and pushing them through the park in prams.
-- John Grey
"I'd see her at church
always singing along
to the hymns."
The body drawer is opened
and the-post-mortem expert
is sharpening his knives.
Man he worked with:
"Always took him
for a good guy.
Never suspected this."
into a microphone,
recording every stab wound,
each lacerated organ.
"They were a quiet couple,
kept to themselves,
but we waved to each other
every now and then."
heartfelt but insufficient;
a singular lack
drowning really does
-- John Grey
If God doesn't exist
then why are you praying.
Your eyes and mouth are clenched.
I can feel you clearing a path
between you and something
so much more than you.
You're sending messages.
Tentative at first but finally,
once you become accustomed
to the process, a steady stream.
I know what you're asking.
No, begging is the right word.
It's that mother and child
make it through.
You pulse like telephone wires.
It's the loudest silence
I've ever been around.
You figure these people,
these experts, could fail you.
It's your last resort,
missives to the miracle maker.
I wonder what you're
prepared to give in return.
You've never been sure
that you had one
but now you're prepared to trade it
for the full recovery
of those dear to you.
The hospital waiting room
is not such a strange place
for God to emerge from
the agnostic shadows.
I’m sure He's used to it by this.
He's all seeing, all knowing, all powerful.
Matters of life and death
are where He gets it from.
-- John Grey
Nothing is anywhere anymore,
Dad shouts over the phone.
His reveille again at 4 a.m.
Will I come over and find it?
What's missing, Dad, I ask.
It's midnight and I'm in bed.
It'll take awhile to get there.
Your mother went to make
pineapple upside down cake
hours ago and still no cake.
She's nowhere to be found.
I called the neighbors.
They won't come over.
It's just me and the dog
and he's asleep.
Son, I need your help.
Mom died 10 years ago, Dad.
You and I went to the funeral.
We buried her at St. Anthony's.
Remember all the rain?
And then the rainbow shining?
Son, you're right again
Sorry I woke you but where's
the pineapple upside down cake?
I've been waiting for hours.
A little snack and I'll turn in.
When he walks behind her
so many years his wife
up the staircase laughing
off to bed this night
he can hear the tom-toms
in the jungle of his night
and so he whispers softly
let's try for twins tonight.
The next morning the lady says
take me out for breakfast
someplace I have never been
someplace I will never see again
unless you come back
and take me there again
an empty diner where the grill man
gives us sausage, bacon, eggs,
pours more coffee in our mugs.
That's the place I want to go forever.
So you come back tomorrow, hear?
and take me there again.
It is a seldom scene, visually rapacious
Unnerving the blossoms with the shrug of a breeze
While the wait staff blithely serves
Don’t tell me how it feels
During intermittent blizzards
The box is not empty, but evasive
Rendering in three dimensions
An undefined idea: condiments
Peeled on a floral pattern plate
An orange swells with distant nakedness
Still life, expectant
Across the street a hawk blurs briefly
Dangling a young rat skyward from the gutter
I order vegetarian
There are fish in a tank inside, people outside
Displacing atmosphere with forward ambulation
Ripples of passage
My fork is alone in my hand, poised
Red cabbage and green peas lounging on the quinoa
An opinionated scallion
My flower is replaced, thrust into the little vase
The condiment box slightly disturbed
I divine that it’s time to leave
I position a few dollars on the table
Tucked into Being and Nothingness
Even as I
-- Tom Rubenoff
A crystal, a silver tooth box, a grandfather’s ring from 1942, a Japanese sea shell plucked from the ocean floor, twin to the shell from Cozumel, a place that is truly home. A rope with a bowline knot, an artery to the sea. The sea, roiling, placid, beautiful and malicious. A black and white photograph from the time of childhood. Childhood, simple yet complicated. A handmade necklace with a replica of an Egyptian cat. Egypt, the land of the pharaohs and the pyramids. The ancient and mystic begets a new Egypt in transition. The things we keep for years with or without realizing it, with or without listening to a muted conscience, the things that give us comfort and security…
Instruction manuals, keys, sunglasses, take-out menus, silver spoons, a love for olives, a small statue of Saraswati, white swan to Kali’s black. A small cross made from the wood of an olive tree in Israel. The end is the beginning is the end. Jerusalem, sacred city, earthly city, heavenly city. City of God, blood and fire
And a Tibetan prayer wheel—To live is to suffer.
-- Lisa Paulick
Went down to Dick's
Sporting Goods to buy:
basketball for my son,
running shoes for my wife,
Browning A-Bolt Composite
Stalker Centerfire Rifle-
GM442876 to kill myself.
Easy to buy the gun:
desk clerk was on the phone
but a nice 'thumbs-up',
out the door quick and
easy---played it r-e-a-l
c-o-o-l -- -ball and shoes will
make nice going away presents.
Just can't take the
down in the abyss --- like
jack hammers to my brain,
go to bed and wake up crying,
Canceled my appointment
with my psychiatrist---the
receptionist is strange,
I think she might be crazy.
It's not my fault though ---
although I know you think it is:
It's those demons who masquerade
as school children down at
the elementary school,
And the caterpillars crawling
out of the chicken soup that
slowly eat my brain,
If they just would all go away, now---
that's all I need,
Just LEAVE---and I told the cook
to stop eating my brain---but
I think he's actually one of them.
The Next Day:
You know, I've been
thinking, thinking hard,
thinking a lot, thinking
long and hard. I think I'll
go down to the school,
use the rifle to fix some
of the 'kids' -- -because I
think we all really know who
they actually are anyway.
-- Gil Hoy
A warm caring face
with outstretched hand,
twinkling eyes and turned-up
A wrinkled brow, squinting
eyes and hurried handshake,
emotions holed up in a corner
of your veiled face.
We live or we die by
one or the other.
-- Gil Hoy
Early evening, the sky tries an apologetic blue
Hopes to get us to forget its earlier self, that
Raging white, greying to black, tumbling with
Thunder, lightning, pouring rain, filling storm
Drains and intersections, gardens and cellars
Knee deep, and that wind that tore branches
And limbs down, uprooted hundred year old
Trees, pulled off roofs, becomes this breeze
Leading bees and butterflies back to business
Begins drying the mess it has made of the day.
It’s like the morning after for some old boozer
Trying to remember which of the twelve steps
Includes making amends, trying for compliments
As if summer wasn’t like this: recovery, then on
To relapse, there’s this, then the humidity rises,
Clouds pile up, and soon we’re back in it again
-- J. K. Durick
I’m on their list; they call me now, like old friends
They worry about my health and safety, they have
Alarm systems and personal call buttons aplenty
Awaiting word; those break-ins that happen every
Few seconds thwarted, while I live safely alone
With help a quick button push away, ambulances
Roaring through the night, I picture them in the
Driveway, breaking down the door, my home alarm
Blaring away, my phone ringing in the background
With a new offer, lower interest rates perhaps or
One of the ones that say they’re not selling anything
But have just a few questions for me, there are trips
To be taken and bulbs to buy, a guy who wants to talk
To me in my home about my portfolio, how all my
Investments could be doing better, and there is another
Has some vague service that my computer needs and
He will provide, though he speaks very little English
But keeps calling about the same time every day
Hoping to finally wear me down; I’m on the list
They call me now, like my old friends might if they
Had something to sell me and knew that I pick up
Every time thinking this time it might be important.
-- J. K. Durick
Right from the start it wasn’t much, a ’62
Faded stripped down version I inherited
From my aunt, it spent its early years
Knocking around in the Bronx, alternate
Day parking, scratches, scrapes, and all,
But it was “wheels” for me at last, no more
Hitchhiking or borrowing the car to get
To school or work; it didn’t have a radio
So I brought along a transistor that didn’t
Always get a station, yet even in the dead
Of winter that baby would start right up,
Parked out in a snow bank, sometimes it
Was the only one in the neighborhood
That would; so being a townie I’d drive to
School, never missed a class, and then to
My night-shift job at IBM, adjusting posts
Hundreds a night, a job so dull I became
A chain-smoker and gained twenty pounds,
But after work each night I’d be the first
One out, leading the procession of cars
Out of the parking lot, up the road until
We got to that big hill, for some reason
The Fairlane could never do hills, it would
Chug and roar and slow to a crawl and
The cars behind, it’s hard to blame them,
Would start tailgating and honking, their
Day was finally done and my Fairlane and
I were in their way, we’d slow so down
That we’d almost stall and then, and then
When we got to the top of the hill we’d
Be off again full speed, pity the person
Who finally decided to pass just then,
If the radio was working I’d turn it up
Singing along, at that moment at the top
Of the hill, full speed, leading the pack,
Everything seemed possible, my life was
Starting to catch up what I wanted, and
My Fairlane was my chariot, my rocket ship,
Part of those nights, part of that dreaming,
That Fairlane was the only car that ever
Let me do that, let me feel that way.
-- J. K. Durick
By email I ask her
what color panty
what color bra
Red, she replies
or panty hose?
Stockings, she says.
Flats or heels?
in my suitcase,
Take a cab
from the airport,
I tell her.
if the pilot
won't land in
The gossip started years ago
and ruined lives, burned everyone.
No one ever tried to stop it.
This Russian couple came to town
and carved a life from land
they had never seen.
They could have moved years ago
since money's not a problem.
The husband is an engineer,
the wife a psychotherapist.
Neighbors never speak to them,
never have, never will.
At the festival that summer,
the couple tried to meet neighbors
and struck an iceberg.
Elmo at the Dew Drop Inn recalls
"they liked hot dogs topped with kraut"
but "they had heavy accents."
Now Elmo and the neighbors swear
if they had sent the Russians packing,
those border niños would go home, too.
Things are quiet here, a friend writes
in the first email of his long life:
Most mornings I drive to Gillson Park,
sit and read beside the Lake.
The waves are a symphony.
Books are better there. Sometimes
a redwing blackbird will attack,
protecting its nest. The weather's
cool and there's rain at night.
It's not summer in Chicago
as you and I remember it.
I have a cell phone now too
and I use it all the time.
The landline's just a holdover
from the good old days.
Speaking of holdovers,
we should get together
while we still can.
At our age, who knows
how long either of us has.
People our age drop dead
without too much ado.
Tell you what: Whoever gets sick first
will notify the other one who'll take
a plane and race death to see
who arrives at the bedside first.
If I'm talking to a priest, wait outside.
Forget the small stuff like amputations.
They have prosthetics now for everything
except for tallywhackers.
Who needs more kids anyway.
My wife will send you an email if I die.
Ask your wife to do the same for me.
As a tourist in a rich jungle
Moving mindfully through
The dense undergrowth of thought
Brushed by the many shades of green
Flora of your thoughts tugging at your clothes
And calling harshly from a high branch
A bright flash of feathered fear
Or swinging from limb to limb
Lumbering hairy anger
You note them all
After a time
You take flight from yourself
Emerging from the canopy
Body-less into a clear blue sky
Below you the jungle
Coalesces into a sea
Alive with movement
As its waves and eddies
Expand into every space
As you watch
You, everyone and everything
Dissolve into one
Great green seething mass
Alive and growing
Exploring the oneness
You find you are
Enemy and friend
Plant and animal
Everything and its opposite
Behind the oneness you find
Inhabiting all and none
And you do not understand it
But you feel
Its irresistible love
Your body calls and you return
Awake from the jungle dream
And find yourself
In your memory
Jungle, sea and sky
-- Tom Rubenoff