Other Poems by:

Michael Estabrook

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.

Pomme frites

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

Mom
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-
around-the-garbage-house game
(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.)

Dad
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
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.

Michael Estabrook

Dancing Lessons

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.

Days Afloat 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:

eggs

milk

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,

fun-to-be-with colleagues.

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.

CALLING HOME

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."

Perspective

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

buried Nanny,

the gravediggers lurked

in the cemetery

stubbly-dark faced ghouls

in soiled blue jeans,

smoking, spitting,

leaning

against their

yellow backhoe as if waiting

for a late bus.

They didn't have

the respect

for the dead

that gravediggers had

when Grandpa

dug graves, his filterless

Pall Mall dangling from his

gray lips,

way back when

he needed work

and took any job,

even digging graves

by hand

with a dented shovel

and a hard pick

worn smooth as a yacht's hull.

for posterity

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

and raggy

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,

for posterity.

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

balcony scene,

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

you need

to cease whatever

you are doing and take notice,

take heed,

and in the very least,

jot down a word or two

before the muses slip back off

to where they live and breed.


CATHARSIS

Whenever I get anxious

I find myself cleaning-up,

straightening things

and making lists:

to-do 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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