Bobby at 30…

 

…still the family’s

baby

swigging beer

and passing a joint

 

one hot Sunday

on the Eel

when July’s water

covers but half the bed

 

your back the color of

a new leather belt

but your Coor’s gut

hangs over your fly.

 

Swimming in your Levi’s

toward someone else’s

skinny blonde

you coax her onto the log

 

high above water

teach her the

backwards somersault

her all the time screaming.

 

You emerge from

green water

your face as you were

when a child

 

and wanted our love

when you were not

so dangerous.

 

So here we are at church for the first time…

in a long time to hear the new pastor,

a vivacious red head, wicked-smart yet humble,

who talks about personally getting to know Jesus.

My stomach drops as I try to imagine

a friendship with the universe: so much distance.

 

I try to sing the hymns, always the best part of a service,

but begin to choke up from the memories.

I do not take the hand of the lady

next to me when the congregation lifts hands in praise.

I probably offend her, and that I do regret.

 

I realize I’m gonna die and there’s nothing for it,

a sometimes lonely thought, but as close

to the truth as my father’s ashes which

Mom keeps in the bowling ball bag

in her hall closet.

 

perversions, 1958 – 2016

 

in high school, 1958,

we heard

rumors about homos,

and warnings not to wear

green and yellow on thursdays

supposedly a code for the homos

whoever they were

 

guys at our school got

bullied and even beaten

just for wearing glasses

or for being small and quiet

so we feared what would happen

if the bullies labeled us as

queers

whoever they were

 

and then we saw in the newspapers

photos of bloodied men

men who needed the company

of other men

hauled out in handcuffs

from nightclubs into

police vans,

arrested for

perversions

whatever they were

 

in 2016 the same bullies

some wearing suits

still nurture the

bacteria of fear

spread the infection into restrooms

and onto the children

while hiding their own perversions

and we know what they are

 

Mom and the Poor

In the previous post I published a poem about us three boys finding a violin in the trash and then sneaking it away to try to play it. Since we were young, we had no idea what the instrument might have meant to her. After writing this poem, I think that the violin probably represented something important in her life, and throwing it away must have been difficult.

 

 

Mom and the Poor

Though born in a log cabin

deep in the Missouri woods,

water pumped from a well,

no electricity, she grew up

to disdain “hillbilly music”

and hillbillies, themselves,

for that matter.

She had found enlightenment

as a child first

in the Joplin library

miles away

and later her father,

seeing her spark,

sent her to a year of college

where she discovered

science and music and art.

She hungered for

knowledge and culture,

so the hillbillies’

willful ignorance,

their preference of

Tex Ritter

over Tchaikovsky

affronted her.

In those Kansas

oil and farm towns

we lived in,

she’d take us boys

to the high school gym

to hear a pianist play Chopin

or a concert by the

French National Band

this woman who never

owned a home

who always bought

day-old bread.

 

 

 

 

we filched mom’s violin out of the trash…

 

we three young boys, a gray winter day

on the high plains as winds blew down onto kansas

from the snow-capped colorados.

 

we found a berm away from the house

and from mom who might spot us

and then spank us — we never knew.

 

wind blew all the colors but gray away as

we huddled down into the dead grass, cold dirt,

looking for harmony, rhythm and a bit of warmth.

 

each of us took turns scraping and sawing

the half-strung bow over screeching strings

beneath the winds’ bitter-cold keening

 

unaware that we were damned to search

through music and painting and poetry

when what we needed was that bit of warmth.

 

from the slow fear…

A student at Liberal Elementary in Liberal, Kansas for three years, it was traumatic to have to leave for California. Our stint in Liberal was the longest we’d ever had in one place. It felt like home. But Dad had lost his job and had no prospects in Kansas, so we moved back out to California, where I was born.  The train ride, in coach, of course, seemed nightmarish to me as it must also have seemed to my parents, trying to corral three young boys for the long trip.  And my parents’  stay in Liberal had come to nothing, again.  I remember the disturbed lady in the car ahead of us who shocked me with her sadness. And then our new home in Pomona, California seemed so different. It was if we had gone to another planet. 

 

from the slow fear…

 

…of being taken for days

by train on which a

red-headed woman

babbles and moans,

guarded by a stern lady

in a car just in front of us

that we have to walk through

to get to the bathroom

 

by train to another town with

yet another school and

different air on the skin

and to another tiny home

but unlike the others

this one doesn’t sit alone

on the prairie rather

it shares a wall with people

who mom does not quite trust

 

our fourth home in seven years

into which we bring our

cardboard suitcases

and the fears of parents

who have only

prospects for jobs

a home among homes where

people don’t look like us

who look at us

with suspicion and distrust

 

a home with a hidden side-yard

where my brothers

bring stolen matches

to set dried leaves

and grass on fire.