He Sneezed a Huge Sneeze

He sneezed a huge sneeze like he was blowing the spring’s tornados in the mid-west, the summer’s hurricane into sandy-shored New Jersey and torrential waves of lake effect snow into Holland, Michigan and Buffalo, New York

 

simultaneously into the palms of his bare hands while he was sitting at the counter.  He then brought up his kids’ photos on his I-phone and sat surveying their cute little faces.  Billions of bacteria joined him in appreciating the

 

kids. The young, pretty manager who knew him said hi and he offered the diseased device, the harbinger of horrors out of friendship. She held it in her hand and said, “Oh, how cute.”  The next day she was carted off to the emergency

 

room diagnosed with viral influenza and, but for a re-hydration drip, would have been the source of untold grief to her family for the rest of their lives. The man who sneezed across the country into his fleshy palms

 

without even a wipe went back to work as a cook across the street from the sandwich shop and soon became known as “Typhoid Harry,” the male counterpart of Typhoid Mary fame, only it wasn’t typhoid, it was Spanish Influenza,

 

which had killed this writer’s grandfather twenty-six years before the writer was born and trillions of bacteria and viruses ago, most of which are still hanging around or the great-grandchildren or mutations of them who look really cute

to their parents, partying with the rats and roaches all of whom love to recite the passage of scripture about the meek inheriting the earth and then, while sipping wine in the evening after a hard day’s work, saying, “It’s all metaphor.”

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She Waits

She waits at intersections

for the light to change and

then, waits some more

to move out for fear some-

one might be driving through

on red. Just to be sure she

waits some more.

 

She waits while sitting at

the symphony for the

movements – andante.

Nobilmente e semplice –

allegro, allegro molto,

adagio, lento-allegro;

Was that the last allegro?

 

Did she take her mind

off the movements for

a moment? she asks

herself not wanting to

clap her enthusiasm

prematurely and so

she waits some more.

 

She waits at home in the

evening for the news at

ten, waits for the weather

report, sunny 69 degrees,

gets up, kisses her hus-

band on his dry lips, crawls

 

into bed, reads a bit, turns

off the light, feels her heart

beat – allegro molto into

molto adagio, she thinks of

the end of the fourth move-

ment and waits some more

before…sleep.

 

 

 

 

They All Let Him Know

They all let him know he is an

intruder. He may have paid for

the place (cash, in fact) seven

years or so ago; he may have

hung the jalapeno Christmas

lights on the small balcony as

soon as he got to the condo in

November to show his holiday

spirit and even put up the

hummingbird feeder (one part

sugar to four parts water) to be

hospitable, but every variety in

these parts and that’s quite a few,

still buzz his head when he goes

out on the balcony to hang his

wet swimsuit. They buzz the

hand that feeds them. Every time,

he ascends and descends the flight

of stairs, the bird in the olive tree,

instead of offering him an olive

branch, warns him with a high-

pitched, loud cry that the bird,

belongs and that he doesn’t.

And that’s the least of it.  During

the night, coyotes howl against his

slumbering presence and in the

morning, those coyotes stand on

the hillside staring down their long

snouts disapprovingly at him and his

chocolate lab as he takes out the dog

for the first of three daily constitut-

ionals into coyote country. Javel-

inas snort at him as he jogs by the

shady wash where they retreat

from the afternoon heat and 

little scorpions rush down their

home holes in utter disgust at the

sound of his invading footsteps

and sometimes even, like right

now, the ink in his pen balks

and refuses to come out because

the oil from his thumb got be-

tween the ink and the paper. It’s

as if he is being told he is an

intruder in his own poem.

He Likes to Think

He likes to think he has

forever

to do this, that or

whatever,

but after looking in the

wrap around mirrors,

he knows the time left to

be in arrears.

So he better make the most

before his life is toast

or rump roast

or to be remembered a

long, long time ago as

the young man with

the most.

So he determined

to make the most

of what is left

even though it is

bereft

of what was the

best.

And then he slapped

himself upside the head

and realized that the

rest

could still be the

best –

better than all that came

before

as a prelude to just that

little bit more,

and so he finally began to

figure out the

score that more is more

right now and not a minute

before because the minute

before 

is gone

and the future is

now

on .

How Do You Come Home, JD?

How do you come home, JD, from

horror and become a 1940’s preppy when

you’ve walked among crisp,

contorted bodies stacked one

 

on another and then, once in a

while a haunting, disturbing

whimper emerges, not from the young

twenty-something American

 

sergeant, but from the stacks

of corpses and then jumping

into the lake with the kids,

college, parties and decisions

 

about majors and minors and

careers. Really? How do you

stay out of the psych ward or

how do you get out of the

 

bunker – by hunkering down

yourself and writing, writing,

writing about innocence pro-

tected so you can get out of

 

the bunker of rage at the shall-

owness, superficiality, which

always end in brutality, carnage

and stacks of burned bodies from

 

which there is a whimper, and

always a whimper from a young

woman/girl, almost too young

 girl, innocent along the beach

 

or in her dorm room. In his

bunker he remained Peter Pan,

the Lost Boy, betrayed over and

over by a too wifely Wendy

 

until he met the au pair, some-

one to care for a scared, little

boy who never grew up

even at the time of his death at 91.

Wrap Around Mirrors

He stood in front of the mirrors –

that’s right, mirrors, as in “wrap

around.”  They came with the

condo. He thought to himself,

Don’t ever buy a condo with

“wrap around mirrors.”

Left, center, right. Straight on –

saddle bags under the eyes,

heavy with what – age?

To the left – side view of

bald strip, double chin.

To the right – side view of

bald strip, double chin, no

matter how much he strains

to straighten his jaw.

Left mirror

reflecting angled view

from right mirror –

more baldness wrapping

around.

Right mirror reflecting

angled view

from left mirror – more baldness

wrapping around –

more and more, all the way

around to the back

of his head – the English saddle

back of the head baldness

wrapping

around to eyebrows as

stirrups above

the saddle bags. Is he

ready to ride off into

the sunset of life?

Or maybe he is an ancient hybrid

fruit tree with an orange head

with a perfect crescent shaped

peel below the

peach fuzz on the front

of the top. He thought the little

patch

looked pretty full viewed

straight on.

He scanned down the trunk

to Luther Billis’ bra from

South Pacific and wondered if

there was milk inside those

coconuts. He shook the

trunk to the left and

to the right to see if the coconuts

would fall. Scanning 360 degrees of

old growth

he thought,

Gatty up, it’s time

to go to bed and whispered,

so as not

to wake his wife, “Timber,”

and wondered

if his crawl into bed could

be heard in

the forest.  The Chocolate Lab,

awake in the corner, thumped

his tail in approval of the man’s

presence

and the man said,

“Thanks, Bud; I knew there was a

reason

we rescued you,” and with that

the man patted

his wife’s butt and pulled the

covers up to his double chin

thrusting it out and

straining his neck muscles

to no avail.

Four Poetry Maxims

Recently, I came across Paul Grice’s “conversational maxims,” in, of all places, a book about dogs — Inside of a Dog (page 97) by Alexandra Horowitz.

Grice, a twentieth century philosopher, described the maxims that regulate language use: 1. relation (be relevant), 2. manner (be brief and clear. I would just say “clear.”), 3. quality (tell the truth), and 4. quantity (say only as much as you need to. Here is where the “brief” belongs.).

As I read them, I thought that they apply not just to conversation but to poetry as well.  After all, isn’t poetry a conversation? Aren’t poems often best read out loud? Isn’t the author conversing with you the reader and aren’t you conversing back in your appreciation or dismissal or dislike?

Four maxims for poetry: be relevant, be clear, be truthful and be brief.

In a poem, those four would come in a particular form (couplet, tercet, quatrain, haiku, limerick, sonnet, ode, elegy, free verse, blank verse, etc.) using metaphors, similes, alliteration, rhyme,  a lot, some or none.

Regarding the maxim of manner, i.e. be clear, I heard Billy Collins make fun of the poetry that is dense, cryptic and pretty much indecipherable.

I agree. What’s the point if no one can understand what it is that is trying to be communicated except if the point of the communication is not to be understood, as in, life cannot be understood, so I am going to write a poem that can’t be understood to make that point. Whatever.

Come to think of it, Grice’s maxims of conversation should be required teaching in all seminary preaching classes – relevant, clear, truthful, brief.

Preachers who follow those maxims, have one up or should I say four up on others, should they try their hand at writing poetry.

 

 

 

Single File is Just Fine

The week-end, warrior women

were out in force Sunday;

they rode their cycles through

the ordinary weekend fray.

They peddled their expensive

bikes while riding four abreast,

as he drove slowly behind them

holding up all the rest

of the cars with folks just trying

to get to a late breakfast.

As a cyclist himself, he under-

stood the women’s joy

to be flying down the city street,

but they must know that

that they really, really annoy

the drivers that they meet

or maybe they just don’t care

and as he passed in the other lane

they just ignored his glowering stare.

“With rolls reversed,” he said, “and they

drove a car behind a cycle like mine,

they would understand that

single file on a city street is just fine.”

He Wrote a Comment

He wrote a comment,

got ready to hit the send

button,

hesitated, thought about

who might get it –

eventually, read it, and

send it on

to the unintended

recipient,

the subject of the e-mail

or store it

to be scrutinized later

by over zealous

bureaucratic super-

patriots who don’t know

him, don’t care and think

something about the

e-mail never, ever

intended.

It was then the thought

about democracy

dripping away and

how much he

began to look like

Kafka’s bug and

unlawful search and

seizure entered his

mind

and he simply

hit the delete button.

Too bad. Message

lost.

He then checked under

the sink for the western,

gun-toting, butt-kicking

Palmetto bug

who migrated from

Florida and felt much

more free and at home in

the Wild West.

 

There Comes a Point In Your Life…

I got the following message in an e-mail yesterday.  I like it.

It’s been around a while, but it’s nice to think about from time to time.

It kind of reminds me of my 50th high school reunion.

It was nice to reconnect with a few people if but for just a brief time
and I wouldn’t mind seeing them again sometime.

I lamented those who had died, especially my first real girl friend, and irony of ironies,
today is the anniversary of our first date, January 17, 1961.

There were others I encountered who when I saw them again for the first time
in fifty years, I knew why I hadn’t kept up with them and why I wouldn’t in the future.

Then there are the two guys who have been friends of mine since we were in
fifth grade.  We see each other a couple times a year and keep up with each other
through e-mail.

I could have skipped the reunion and just have gotten together with them and their
spouses and been perfectly happy.

But if I had skipped the reunion, I wouldn’t have been able to write what I just did
nor would I have understood as clearly what is written below.

So, it all works out:
There comes a point in your life when you realize:
Who matters,
Who never did,
Who won’t anymore…
And who always will.
So, don’t worry about people from your past;
there’s a reason why they didn’t make it to your future.