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away in South Africa
My wife is on
a business trip,
recruiting more au pairs for her cluster
all the way away in South Africa,
she might as well be on the moon.
My first concern
is for her safety,
Africa is not exactly a walk in the park.
Millions of people (I’ve heard up to 40%)
are infested with AIDS, then there’s
all the famine, ceaseless tribal warfare,
the poachers, racial hatred
and genocide. rampant poverty,
brutality towards women . . .
and who knows what else.
Anyway, I’m justifiably worried
about my wife being plunked down
in the midst of all that.
But the Au Pair of America officials
have assured us that she will
be well looked after,
chauffeured, cared for,
that she will be safe.
So like any nervous husband
would do to fight the jitters
in this technology driven
and dominated world,
I am crossing my fingers
and praying for the best.
Living in Belgium,
our apartment across
a busy street from a pomme frites stand.
The nice old lady there with
the pink cheeks made the best fries,
crisp and hot and salty,
wrapped in a clear white paper.
On those pervasively cold,
wet and murky nights
they kept you warm both inside and out.
One evening my wife went over
to get us some frites
and as she waited at the curb to cross
a car sprung out of nowhere
struck an old man down
into the gutter right at her feet.
One of his eyes popped out
and hung down on his raspy gray cheek.
As she cried, her pretty head
upon my shoulder, I stroked her long,
silky brown hair
and told her not to worry, eyes
are easy enough to pop back in.
Patti’s earliest memories
A cinder block garbage house behind
the apartments where people keep their
garbage cans. A damp place with spiders
in dusty webs in corners. But we
still loved to play the run-
(ashes ashes we all fall down)
running round and round then dashing inside,
hiding behind the dented smelly cans,
(eyes on the spiders)
being found, screaming, running out and
around and around the house again.
(Mom smiling the whole while,
hanging clothes on the clothesline.)
up on the hot dash of
Daddy's big Dodge,
my tiny feet dangling.
I wished he would go,
drive away with me up here
on top of the world,
all smiling, my dimples glinting.
But I know he'll never go because
it's too dangerous, he says,
too dangerous, says he to me.
Tommy, the kid next-door,
already in school, brought out his
class project for all the rest of us to see:
a painted piece of cardboard –
a mirror dusted with powder
for a frozen lake and cotton for snow
with a tiny figurine ice skater poised
delicately there in the center.
I can't wait to go to school
and make something like that.
a space not crowded
On weekends I would drive an hour
to her school to study with her there in the library,
a cold concrete place, ten stories high,
with dull gray carpets and thin metal shelves.
We'd find a space not crowded,
spread out our papers and books, work in silence
doing calculus and embryology, genetics,
physics and organic chemistry.
But sometimes I'd bring Browning or Byron,
Tennyson or Wordsworth, and whisper
their lines across the table at her
turning the ugly windowless concrete
tomb of a room into a pine forest with butterflies
and a softly murmuring brook, yellow,
blue and red flowers covering its banks.
And she’d smile at me then.
White Nylons Flashing
Hard to forget the steamy
yellow summer of 1968
working in the ice cream stand pouring
thick creamy mix into cold metal hoppers,
filling stainless steel bins
with wet walnuts, fudge
& marshmallow toppings, remaining behind
to clean the machines after everyone else
had gone home. sometimes
during rush-hour crowded
with fat adults & dirty screaming kids
I'd stand there among
my beloved machines
(like Quasimodo in his bells) gazing
at the girls working, (at my Esmeraldas) smiling,
glancing back at me their perfect
smooth forms moving gracefully,
hair motionless beneath hairnets,
sneakers squeaking on the bright
tile floor, white nylons flashing.
Just To Hear Her Voice
I had to call her this evening,
I know it is silly,
having just seen her this morning, but
I had to call her anyway
just to hear her voice.
I’m away only three nights on business
so won’t be away from her for long,
away from the comfortable routine
of our life together, but I simply had
to call her anyway
just to hear her voice.
After all these years together
you’d think I could use a little break,
a few days away, could use a respite
from the routine of home
(regular and predictable
as the ebb and flow of the tides).
but no, I had to call her anyway
just to hear her voice.
She danced with a young guy,
she told me, proud of herself,
danced with her 32-year old Mexican guide
on the tour through Cancun
and the Chichén Itzá Mayan ruins,
she danced with him, with another guy!
He said she danced really well.
Of course she danced really well,
she’s beautiful, and he’s a guy.
Some of the other men there
liked her moves too! Surprise!
So smooth and rhythmic, flowing
like honey to the Mariachi Band beat.
I’m sure glad all those dancing lessons
we’ve been taking over the past
few years are finally paying off.
in the sea of lost time
But to go back in time,
time the unstoppable monster,
to return to those earlier times,
would be wondrous, perhaps, maybe,
when we were young
and unfettered by all the cares and concerns
clutching at us, pulling us down
like an endless whirlpool sucking down
everything in its wake,
thrusting us down beneath the surface,
the waves lapping ceaselessly,
sometimes crashing furiously over us,
not permitting us the deserved respite
of a simple return,
a brief visit to those carefree times –
seemingly endless, soft sand, yellow sun, shimmering
warm water we could float upon listlessly
because at that time we had a big
yellow and red ball or an inflatable plastic sea monster
or a blue whale or a simple raft or maybe
just an old tire inner tube that we could use
to keep us afloat for a rest,
for the entire rest of our lives.
With Some Other Men
I called her tonight
and she answered, that’s two times
talking to her this week
while I was away from home.
She doesn’t miss me much,
keeps busy, but a little missing
is better than nothing.
While in Copenhagen I experienced
Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra opera.
The orchestral music – beautiful,
moving, tender, and alive.
A few scenes really moved me,
such as when Boccanegra and Amelia
suddenly realized they
were father and daughter.
And another time
when Amelia’s lover, Adorno,
in a blind jealousy over her,
has nightmares of her with other men.
He loves her and she’s with them,
with some other men
and he’s powerless to make it stop,
the nightmares swirling ceaselessly
through his head. I’ve had
such nightmares so I know
how he feels. But thankfully
when I called her tonight she answered.
waiting for my wife’s return
I sit down suddenly
on the floor in our upstairs hallway.
The floor is cold as is the closet door
I lean against. I hold my forehead
in the palm of my hand.
It isn’t a heart attack
or even my normal acute back pain.
I’m not having a sudden panic attack
over being so deep in debt
or because I’m not sure exactly where
my children are right now.
I am simply suddenly sullen
being in my house alone,
in the early evening waiting
for my wife’s return
from her business interview with
a young handsome father from Sweden,
a wealthy widower in search of childcare.
Oh well, nothing to worry about,
she’ll be back in good time,
home to me after her business is done.
Bread, Milk, and Eggs
On my wife’s
little white board
on the refrigerator she’s written:
I’m thrown instantly back
a half century
to when Grammy would send me down
to the little store on the corner
of Forest Avenue and Broadway
to fetch bread, milk, and eggs,
and I’m dying right now
to add “bread” to my wife’s list
so things will be
a little closer to
the old days, the good old days
for an ever-so-brief moment in time.
POOR LITTLE GUY
The mouse lying in the middle of
the garage floor wasn’t moving.
I tapped him gently with my foot.
He squeaked and wobbled
to one side as if annoyed
at being disturbed,
a minor god fallen hurt to earth,
dismissed by the other gods,
yet remaining ever disdainful
of mere humankind.
But he wasn’t well, I could tell.
Poor little guy.
I picked him up gently
with the pooper-scooper,
brought him out back behind
the wood pile, dropped him gently
between the rocks. He didn’t move
again. The mouse poison
my wife set out in the garage
(“You don’t want them
in the house now do you?”)
did what it was supposed to do.
But a hell of a way to die, I thought,
for the poor little guy.
Some Enchanted Evening
What has become of me
I’m wondering, flying 38,000 feet
over the Atlantic, a couple hours out
from Boston, but closer to home
and my wife, listening to
“Some Enchanted Evening”
on my airplane headphones.
Years ago I certainly would
have chosen some wailing guitar
performances from the Rock Legends
track. But today . . . well here I am
listening to “Younger Than Springtime
Are You,” fighting back the tears,
thinking of my wife
and how young and sweet and beautiful
she still is to me
and always will be.
holding her umbrella in the rain
Just called home and she's not there?
Where can she be my love my wife
around lunchtime, she's usually home then.
After I hung up I remembered
she had a meeting
with her fellow counselors
at the boss's house. I forgot,
because being in another time zone,
6 hours difference and all, sets everything
off in the wrong direction.
You forget things because
you forget what day it is.
Reminds you how important time is
in organizing (I was going to say "running"
our lives.) But, ah me,
the few minutes that passed
before I recalled where she was
was enough to set my mind off
in an unhappy direction,
the no-man's land,
the wasteland of modern hell:
what if during my absence my wife
catches on that I am not worthy
of her, not worthy
to breathe the same air as she breathes,
finds someone else and leaves me.
She is so beautiful after all,
while I'm so lame,
not even man enough
to be holding her umbrella in the rain.
YOU ARE, OF COURSE, HOME
I had dinner tonight with colleagues,
fine colleagues, bright, interesting,
I was fortunate to have spent the time
with them and not alone, but
all I could think about was you - you,
the mooring for my soul.
I hear your hallowed voice ringing
in the hollow that is my head
and I glance around to see you,
I reach for your hand, sniff
the air like a demented wolf
for your scent. But you, of course,
are home, thousands of miles away,
alone, too, like I am
even in this crowd, alone,
at least I hope so.
PRETTY PALE PINK PANTS
I countdown the days
until I'll see you again, countdown
the 6 days and 6 nights
I'll be away from you.
It's insane but the whole while I'll countdown
the time, particularly the nights.
The first 2 nights go fast,
one lost on the plane flying over
the Atlantic, the other in simple exhaustion.
Now it is Tuesday, 2 nights gone,
just like that, only 4 more to endure
until I see you again.
Remember that time we were apart
for almost 2 months,
I had to stay behind in Belgium,
June and July, to study for exams,
while you returned home to work.
(What was I thinking!!!)
I'll never forget when I finally
got back and you were waiting for me
there in the airport, standing out
in the crowd in your pretty pale pink pants
and soft white top,
standing there pressed up against
the railing, all smiles and crying
like in one of those Humphrey Bogart movies.
I called you once
and you didn't answer,
you weren't there.
Then I came to my senses and said,
"Jesus, Mike, give the girl a break."
So I didn't call back.
You do deserve a break
from the hollow thumping
like on an old tin drum,
of my voice. You do fine
when you're alone.
You don't need me for anything,
have never missed me a day in your life.
I'm not calling you for you,
suddenly I realize, I am calling you for me.
"But Jesus, Mike, give the girl a break."
Sitting in Dr. de Mare's waiting room
(Or is it waiting in
Dr. de Mare's sitting room?) reading
an article in Scientific American
about exploding galaxies.
When galaxies explode there follows
a rather hard-to-comprehend rend
in the fabric of the universe,
everything flung in all directions
at the speed of light for millions and millions
of light years, incredibly massive destruction
of anything and everything
ever created or even imaginable.
And I'm waiting here for the doctor
to describe how he's going to repair
the rend in the musculature
of my lower right abdominal wall,
my little inguinal hernia with
its lumpy bulge and
searing pain that's been keeping me
out of work and up at night.
FROM THE BIG BLACK HEARSE
On the day they
the gravediggers lurked
in the cemetery
stubbly-dark faced ghouls
in soiled blue jeans,
yellow backhoe as if waiting
for a late bus.
They didn't have
for the dead
that gravediggers had
dug graves, his filterless
Pall Mall dangling from his
way back when
he needed work
and took any job,
even digging graves
with a dented shovel
and a hard pick
worn smooth as a yacht's hull.
I'm at the town dump like
I am every Friday
morning on my way to work,
pulling the big plastic container
of bottles and cans
from the back seat
of the car, trudging
it over into the
shed when suddenly
a gray image of my Grandpa
appears before me,
the picture of him standing
there in his floppy galoshes
dirty coveralls and torn shirt,
and he's holding
all these empty bottles,
some with weeds
growing out and sand
in them, from being
in the middle of cleaning
the empty lot
across from his new, old bungalow,
his hands holding so easily
onto all these bottles
as he's smiling for the camera,
the luck of the draw
You begin to wonder
if you've done something wrong:
4 of these 5 guys
I'm having lunch with have
been divorced and
are slugging through second
marriages feeling pretty much
the same about the second
marriages as they did about the first,
and me well I've been at it
30 years now and to the same
woman too but I'm not bragging not
particularly proud about it either
because one's first marriage is
after all the luck of the draw,
although I am certainly grateful
more than you an imagine
to this wonderful woman
for still being with me
and for not having run off
with the UPS guy.
under the stars, alone
Alone, one night,
under an empty moon,
I walked the three miles
to her house,
hid in the bushes
in her back yard,
stared up at her room.
Always felt I should do
something extreme -
serenade her or call out
to her like in the Romeo & Juliet
perhaps get a ladder,
snatch her away,
her knight in shining armor.
I should do something
to nail the Theses of my Love
onto her church door,
or risk losing her forever.
But I didn't.
I simply hid there waiting
for a glimpse
of her sweet, pure white form
up in her bedroom window,
then walked back home again
under the stars, alone.
Calliope, Euterpe, Erato, and Polyhymnia
When the poetic muse,
any of the poetic muses,
(beggars can't be choosers) clambers
to cease whatever
you are doing and take notice,
and in the very least,
jot down a word or two
before the muses slip back off
to where they live and breed.
Whenever I get anxious
I find myself cleaning-up,
and making lists:
writing projects lists,
lists of items I need to buy,
lists of plays and operas
and concerts I want to see,
lists, lists, and lists of lists.
I'm not certain why,
an organizing activity I suppose,
a sorting things out,
an illusion of control,
or maybe it's merely
a therapeutic scribbling,
a catharsis of sorts,
like writing poems.
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