I'M IN THE DOCTOR'S WAITING ROOM, THINKING OF ALL
THE WOMEN IN MY LIFE
They never did sit together in a waiting room
such as this one in the doctor's office.
They didn't line up against the wall,
reading their magazines or touching up their
nails waiting for their name to be called.
They weren't anxious to hear what they
suffered from, and what the man behind the
desk could do for them. They didn't sweat a
little wondering. They didn't chat nervously
with one another. They didn't compare ailments.
Yes there were appointments. And there were
physical examinations. And maybe, here and
there, the phrase was uttered, "This is what's
wrong with you." But most of the time it
was hard to tell who was sick and who was
the healer. And even the one who scribbled
out the prescription, more often than not,
was really filling it for themselves.
But I never knew them together in a room
like this. I thought of them as separate,
as different as the years in which I loved them.
It was never a case of here we are, all the same,
and all wanting the same of you.
And yet they seem so familiar. And yet
they look at me as if they know me.
Suddenly, the nurse says to them,
"The doctor will see you now."
Better him than me, I reckon.
BLACK AND WHITE
The world must be black and white
otherwise the newspaper would be all colors.
But no, read the stories,.
scan the columns, the editorials...
everything is either one way or the other.
One politician devil, one angel.
One sporting team, home town heroes,
the other a visiting scourge.
Of course, he's a killer.
Certainly, he's a scam artist.
Why even bother with a trial...
just ask me.
I'm reading the morning journal
on the commuter train.
Life is never as clear
as all this reportage would have it.
Is the man beside me
a pedophile or a philanthropist?
Is the woman to my left
a saint or stock car racer?
Who are these people?
Do they even know themselves?
Would it take a thousand
un-nuanced, one-way only words
on the op-ed page
to clear it up for both of us?
I wrote a letter to the editor once.
"My feeling on the matter
is that, yes he could be,
but on the other hand,
he might not be and there
are as many mitigating
circumstances as there are
statements not followed through on,
and some truths that are essentially lies
depending on how you view
the situation for clarification."
Needless to say,
I didn't get the job.
A COUPLE ARGUE TN A RESTAURANT
Enough already. I can’t eat ringside.
My taste buds refuse to mix sauces
with a relationships gone sour.
Everybody turns their heads to stare but me.
Instead, I'm swallowing the woman's mother
who can't help butting in.
His drinking habits balance precariously
on my fork prongs.
Let me see that menu again.
Does it say "blackest thoughts"
and "wildest threats" for appetizers.
Is there an entree named
"You shit. I never should have married you."
What's for dessert?
"Fat bitch a la mode."
"Sneaking weasel with my younger sister’s
cherry on top."
Finally, the waiter asks them to leave
and, off they go, still jabbing at each other.
a push here, a snarl there,
until they're finally out the door.
Peace at last.
Truth is, I eat alone most nights
because I have no appetite
for the way it is with people.
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO GREAT AUNT LUCY
She says there were trees along the sidewalk once.
It wasn’t a road but a shady lane.
You could even stroll up and down with a sweetheart,
and not have to suffer the coarse remarks of passing hoodlums.
When you live in the past, you can even walk
down to the edge of the pond, and not be overcome
with smells from the metal recycling plant,
or have to step around the hulks of abandoned cars.
June was really June in those days.
Day was soft on the skin, eased the sleep
out of you like dew from a leaf.
And the sky was as blue as everybody's eyes.
She goes back to a time when the only smoke curled
up from chimneys, and the surroundings were so rural
that some kids went from grabbing cow teats to books
to the reins of the roan mare that trotted them to school.
Listen long enough, and I receive a history lesson
in reverse, through clothing, crude to modest,
to manners arced the same, and video games
retreat to egg and spoon races, rock and roll to Crosby.
If I had the time, she could probably take me back to the beginning
of creation, when all that existed was her and her sisters
and the boys next door. No dinosaurs, just the shy but happy.
No big bang, just the reticent palpitations.
SHE'S ANGRY ALL OF A SUDDEN
Taut, your storm overhead,
a sudden landing
in my eyes, my ears
From your mouth,
unfamiliar words —
with your hands -
red-faced, lips erupting,
a beast leaps from your body -
words sizzle, bubble, like bark in a forest fire
responses are too brittle to form ~
is a map of sudden roads -
at my feet,
the touch of an invisible accelerator
Bo's got this piece of rusty tin
he calls a boat,
took it out into the swamps,
caught seventeen catfish (so he says)
and saw three of the fattest 'gators in Louisiana
snoozing on the shore.
Ed's hot with the ladies, (his opinion)
says he drove to the Point
with three cheerleaders,
left the rest of it
to the imaginations we ain't got,
says he too saw them three giant 'gators.
snoozing on the shore.
Roy tells how he got so
filthy drunk on rotgut,
stumbled out of Billy's Shack,
into the woods,
trudged through smelly waters
up to his knees,
almost crapped himself
when he saw these three 'gators
big as eighteen wheelers,
snoozing on the shore.
Seems like you can't do a thing down here
without them humungous reptiles
being a part of it.
Kids won't retrieve the baseball
'cause it landed between two
of their scaly heads.
Mayor won't rerun
because them monsters are on the council.
Sheriff says he ain't gonna arrest them
'cause the jail ain't big enough.
Phil says he's been married to all three of them
and he ain't gonna risk a fourth.
'Gators snooze on the shore forever.
Can't budge 'em.
They get in people's heads.
Now there's a shore
where nothing's moved in years.
I ask not for Paradise nor the Fountain of Youth,
but for three wild card symbols to line up
when I pull the handle this ten thousandth time,
for the light atop the machine to buzz and whir and flash
like a cop car, for the other patrons to stop mid-jerk of
that metal arm, spin their heads toward the chosen one,
his fist pumped high, body shaking, heart racing,
his brain like an adding machine chugging up his winnings.
Let others find the Holy Grail, dig up Pharaohs,
write the great American novel, I'm the Gawain,
Lord Carnarvon, F Scott Fitzgerald of the jackpot,
from Vegas to Atlantic City to rural Connecticut,
even a gaudy paddle-wheel steamer off Cincinnati.
I've led the pure life. I've sweated. I've kept on going
here while others fell by the wayside, off to the
Cabaret or the buffet or the bar. But not me.
I don't even flirt with the cocktail waitress.
And I pray. Yes, under-breath swearing at the cherries,
the mismatched bars, the empty spaces...that's prayer.
It's not even about the money anymore.
I've lost more than a thousand jackpots.
Bank took my house. My car's one more stall-out
from the wreckers. My wife left me years ago.
My kids don't talk to me. They say I'm an addict.
Well so was Hillary. So was Columbus, So was FDR.
Addiction's how you get to be what you are.
I just want to be me before my check bounces.