Gene McCormick has had fourteen books published: non-fiction, fiction and poetry. His most recent short story/poetry collections include Rain On The Sun (2008); Tanya, Queen Of The Greasy Spoon, (2009); An Ice Axe At Dusk (2011, March Street Press); poetry chapbooks, Lives Of Passion: Edward And Antoinette, (2013, RWG Press), Livin’ The Blues At Cranky Jack’s Bar & Grill, (2010, BoneWorld Publishing/MuscleHead Press), Naked Skeletons (2010, Pudding House Publications) and a series of self-illustrated broadsides. His writing and art regularly appear in select literary publications; a number of his poems have been converted to music and performed professionally. McCormick lives in Wayne, Illinois.
There is a man sitting over in the corner by himself watching as I count out thirteen dollars to myself, all I’ve got today. A ten, three singles. He’s not a threatening presence, just there maybe verifying that all I have is thirteen dollars—as if that needs verification. Sure as hell don’t need a money clip to hold thirteen dollars, four bills. Have a money clip back at the house, gold-tome-plated metal with the head of the racehorse John Henry. Don’t use it because even there were a need for it, it is clamped too tight to easily slide bills in and out. It never really loosened up but probably would if it got used more. As things stand, it is like brand new, waiting for new money. Well, I have enough money to buy a cup of coffee; two cups and a decent tip. Said she’d meet me here at nine-thirty. It’s just past that now and it’s not like her to be late though I don’t really know that for a fact and as a matter of fact it’s not like me to be early.
God, I hate to wait for people.
She isn’t shilly-shallying, no shilly-shallying going on at all as she stands staring in the bathroom mirror, thighs flush against the sink ledge, moving small pastel-colored bottles and jars of creams, gels and liquids about, thoughtfully, preparing a composition as though setting up a chess board. She stares at the bottles, shakes her head almost imperceptively and shifts them about again and again, faster, and then still faster like a terrier with a toy mouse. Finally, squeezing some cream onto the tip of her index finger, she writes to him, to each and all, a message on the mirror.
“It doesn’t matter if I’m late.”
He looks at the clock on the wall, then at the man sitting in the corner who looks back at him.
She lays flat on her back on the cool bathroom tile floor, eyes open. It’s uncomfortable.
Okay, he decides she’s had enough time to get here. He pats his pants pocket, feeling the dollars and heads across the street to the Super Walmart.
Against all odds, she falls asleep on the bathroom floor, the tiles now warm to her body.
Tuesday Is Trash Day
Because it has a short, strong spring,
every time someone pushes through
the screen door it slams twice:
bam, then bam again, bouncing off
the door jamb emphasizing a
coming or going—one of the few
things around the house that
works well, if at all.
But her, her leaving…
Saying goodbye to her was like
taking out the trash and the hell with
the screen door banging twice.
Laying about, a red pajama sleeve
bunches about the crook of her elbow,
its folds mimicking petals and leaves
of, say, a rosebud or chrysanthemum
made of 60% polyester.
Momentarily gazing at her floral elbow,
Della straightens the sleeve and resumes
staring at the ceiling, one hand resting
on her inner thigh.
Her bed partner is immobile, turned away
as early morning school busses rumble by
and as she begins to move her hand.
Twenty minutes later in the kitchen,
she cracks eggs on the edge of the skillet
and fries sliced potatoes for her man,
slouching at the table.
“Working a split shift today, hon?” he asks.
“Yeah, breakfast for you and lunch at the diner.”
“Don’t break my egg yolks.”
Della reaches for the coffee can of tip money,
counting exact change for bus fare.
“I need beer money,” he says.
She tilts the entire can of change into her purse.
“Screw you and screw your damn beer,” she says,
slams the screen door, heads to the bus stop.
Jazz After Hours : Jammin’
In a retail storefront, rented space just large
enough for an afterhours jam session, two guys,
day jobs done, chill, make small talk and ease
into after dark jazz improvisations.
The taller dude stands as erect as a bugler at revelry,
trumpet in hand, spitting some “April In Paris”
while the sax shoves his glasses up his forehead
and goes with some mellow testing
and then, seamlessly, it is a jam, an oblique riff
with the trumpet on top of the sax, backing off
as the ax starts flowing tamped velvet,
the sax guy into it, grinding the balls of his feet,
closed slits for eyes.
Easing off the horn, the trumpeter sits cross-legged
on the floor pulling myriads of musical instruments
from sacks and wicker baskets: harmonica,
a children’s xylophone, cow bells, chimes,
a baby blue kazoo, a penny whistle, ping pong balls
all the while rocking side to side mix-managing
musical tools while the sax man contributes
African skin drums and a kalimba.
They are their own audience; a half hour, an hour
passes blowing-pounding notes that don’t bounce
or reverberate around the empty room;
the essence of cool, they breathe and slide.
Two animated young Latino girls pass by outside,
hearing the blues from the shady storefront.
They try the door, holler Yo! It rattles but is locked.
(The door is an old wooden one with chipped and
peeling white lead paint, warped from tens of years
of Midwest weather but still able to keep
things out and things in. A shade covers
the window portion). The girls shrug and move on,
unnoticed. The music continues.