Please take care of me, Anna.
There’s a storm on the horizon,
as wild, as swirling, as primal as a Turner painting
Thunder’s a certainty. Lightning more so.
It could bring rain or hail or even snow.
My current status is that of abject fear.
I can’t just sit here, passing off the world
with my most blessed indifference.
when it’s about to spin in some
uncontrollable vortex, turn upside down.
bluster tempestuously, burn and flood,
shatter or smother.
I’ll be King Lear before all this is over,
out in the midst of it, howling madly.
Look, my face is pale, my brow, my cheeks,
crunch my eyes together.
The blanket across my knees shakes.
My knees thump like braking train-cars.
And all you can do is ask, “Is something wrong?”
When the storm’s passed, then I’ll know.
A COAL TOWN NUMBERS GAME
I’ve heard the story a thousand times –
real men went down the coal mine,
hard-hats, Davey lamps,
heavy boots and picks and shovels.
No make that ten thousand times,
and throw in any number
of near-unpronounceable Polish and Slovak names.
Black efface and lung,
shirts sweat-stuck to chest.,
they worked to make a better life
for somebody – just not themselves.
But when a kid turned his back
on the coal-face,
the word “ungrateful” was never far
from any greasy tongue.
even doctors and lawyers –
many were the traitor’s names.
And then the mine closed,
and the town just floated downhill
like some of that lumber farther north.
I heard the story maybe a hundred thousand times –
company owners all millionaires,
retired to Palm Beach,
and those left behind barely scraping by.
Then there’s this story told a million times –
better start shagging flies boys,
or practicing that damn instrument,
or studying extra hard
if you want to snag that scholarship.
Sometimes the stories gelled
and sometimes they contradicted one another.
You have to make allowances, my mother said.
Not once, not twice…
she lost me at a million and one.
They ask me how
am I liking school,
what’s my best subject,
why don’t I get a haircut.
I’m too young to stare into
their wrinkled faces,
those rough red eyes,
inquire, “What was it like
in the death camps?”
One pats me on the head.
Another pinches my cheek.
They don’t lead me down
long concrete corridors.
They don’t snatch my mother
leave me on my haunches,
I tell them mathematics
but I really love history.
They just mutter “Good, good.”
They don’t tell me that
history is mathematics,
that there have been years past
of a great insidious subtraction.
They’re just distant family.
Only ever see them
at weddings and funerals.
And I never do
cut my hair.
I think of unclaimed baggage at the airport,
its sticker flaked off, sucked up by a belt,
stuck in some far corner of a locked room
that no one living has the key to,
its insides sealed, its outside gathering
whatever dust the spiders do not need
to build their webs.
And there’s a body in the ground,
buried with its sickness, cocooned
in coffin, slowly disintegrating, dissolving,
if claimed at all, only by worms
and weevils with no clue what they’re getting.
Maybe that baggage at the airport is mine.
It wouldn’t be the first time
I’ve forgotten what I’m supposed to remember.
And maybe the buried one
is someone that I know.
I can’t keep up with everyone in my life.
There’s these self-evident truths
and there’s these truths that get away from me.
If only I still had the receipt for that baggage.
Or if, when people fell out of my life,
they checked with me first.
The radio is nothing but beats
and rappers, occasionally
an overwrought diva
massacring a song.
But the square is full
of actual musicians,
a girl with a guitar,
a guy with a sax,
some Jamaicans banging steel drums,
even a string quartet
Everyone’s got their cap out
or they’re selling home-made CD’s.
I spread my loose change around.
I even buy some flute music
straight from the Peruvian mountain country.
I feel like I’m doing my bit
to save musicians from extinction.
But they keep coming back,
every weekend, bad weather or good.
They’ll be here plucking
and blowing, scraping and harmonizing,
long after I’m gone.
I’m the one most likely
headed for extermination from this earth.
So help me, folk duo.
Come to my rescue, fiddler.
They stretch their tonsils
around an old blues tune.
They rollick through some jigs and reels.
They do their best to keep me here.