Category: Poetry

Copper Trains

Far away in the small hours a locomotive bellows a warning to make way for its ponderous mass, dragging a long, iron chain of tank and boxcars behind, resigned to its somber duty like a woman hauling water from the creek to the cabin where washing waits in a filthy heap for soap and brush. Miles ahead in the light of day, boys lay a dozen or so pennies on the rails, bright copper spots on the burnished bars of parallel steel. I searched among the cinders between the ties after the red caboose trundled by, the brakeman saying hello and goodbye with a single wave from his copula and found the coin, still warm from its transfiguration, thin and smooth as a lithograph plate ready to be etched with the news of the world or a memorable print of a desert still life littered with a cactus, creosote bush and a steer skull bleached to ivory by the sun and sold in a roadside gift shop where years after the Norfolk and Western line obliterated Lincoln's profile, I slide a quarter into a slot and crank the handle to flatten a penny and emboss it with the words Death Valley.

I’m Taking Next Summer Off

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My Jim Anchower Impression

“Hola Amigos, I know it has been a long time since I rapped at ya.” This is how columnist Jim Anchower began each article for The Onion – America’s Finest News Source. This was back in the days when the venerable periodical was worth reading, or perhaps I’m just nostalgic for the old days when satire was still possible, a time when a reader could differentiate between real life and stories too ridiculous to not be a joke. 

Anchower’s articles chronicled his life as a total, hapless loser with absolutely no irony and few, if any, moments of self-reflection that might turn his life around. Anchower is retired but bad luck is still around and sometimes, for no fault of your own, you can experience a string of it that would rival Unlucky Jim.

So, amigos, let me rap to ya about why I haven’t posted for a while. It has been a bad summer. I had a vacation that got canceled due to a natural disaster, my father passed away, I contracted the latest variant of covid and was out of commission for a few weeks. I got the ax from my only remaining music gig (for reasons listed above, no less). And I had a procedure to fix my eye left damaged by radiation from my skin cancer party of 2020. For about three weeks I have been trying not to stumble into walls and work with one peeper sewn up.

Of course, none of these events were my fault and, unlike Anchower who made bad decisions, my moments of self-reflection were many. I realized after all of this that it doesn’t take very much to make things fall apart even when we think we have it all together. 

Here is a little verse that Jim Anchower wouldn’t care for because it doesn’t rhyme like the lyrics to an REO Speedwagon song.

Smooth and polished as glass
      Clear, flawless
           A pleasure to hold
To fill and lift up with rousing plaudits

One day you flowed over
       And slipped from my fingers
            The hard world caught and shattered you
Into sharp, untouchable pieces

Also-ran Reckless

Most wade in, ankle deep and no further. 
         I went crashing 
              Past those who ventured up to their knees, freestyle
On gall’s impulsive course
        Far beyond the drowners, I gave out and rolled

On my back like a slick otter about to crack a mollusk
I searched the sky for a lodestar. 

I did not recognize heaven. All the jewels were falling
       One after the other
            Bright, final moments.

Cold and shriveled, I slithered to bitter ground 
Capitulant among prudent ankles.

Leaf Blowers

The Season’s visage wears a scowl. 

Cold smoke moves on specter toes. 

Join the lonely wind in howl,

Chant the words in Winter’s prose.

It has been a long, cold winter but the worst has passed. February brings milder temperatures to South Texas. The only sign of the old frigid man is yellow grass, some bare tree branches and pruned crape myrtles. A sense of season is easily confused. Landscapes surrounding office buildings and cul de sacs alike are planted with invasive, perennials of implacable green. The display of chocolate hearts is replaced by chocolate rabbits beside a sale for sunscreen. The new line of patio furniture relaxes in cool umbrella shade, inviting a shopper to sit and consider the sale price on the laminated tag. Everyone should own a grill at least once in their life but no one really needs a leaf blower. Did Washington and Lincoln believe in one nation under God with liberty and justice and 30% off for all? Wait! Don’t buy that, put it back on the shelf. Save your money for a weekend getaway to Port Aransas. The seashore is enticing but beware the Ides of March and the college students who storm the beach in amphibious assaults like drunken Marines. Spring loves to tease but she is just around the corner. Open a bottle of wine and listen to Carmina Burana. You may have to turn the stereo up loud to be heard above the mating call of leaf blowers.

Galveston Winter

There are some people who look forward to winter. This type of cold weather folk can’t wait for  the first report of powdery snow on their favorite slope so they can dress in thermal finery and ascend a mountain where, once at the summit, strap 2x4s to there frozen feet and hurl themselves off risking broken bones and frostbite. The roaring fire and  a tankard of IPA in the lodge are the perfect end to a thrilling day of cheating death. In my past, ski resorts were a great gig for a cover band, good money and dinner show hours. But it was always cold and, since I consider anything below 60 F freezing, I never looked forward to Vermont in January. When I lived in New York, I could tolerate winter only because inclement weather was an excuse to stay inside and I could dry my towels on the radiator. 

Photo by Josh Amparan on Pexels.com

Now that I live within spitting distance of Mexico, I can’t complain about frigid weather too much or use it as justification for being lazy. Except when it is really, really frigid. When the mercury plummets to 18 F and icy precipitation creates a clear candy shell on sidewalks and statues in the Northeast people shrug it off as another nasty day. In the South, those conditions create a sort of surreal pandemonium. You may recall one such day in 2021 when an arctic blast shut Houston down for a week and Gulf beaches were polluted with the carcasses of sea life. It was almost Biblical. 

Here is one man’s account in verse form:

Galveston Winter
Twenty pelicans sail by in jagged formation. 
The beach is lead and mist. 
Wind whips the crispy, brown fronds of tropical transplants; victims of the big freeze. 

Just like the fish that washed ashore to ferment 
On the sand stinking surströmming. 
A feast for gulls who turn up their snobbish beaks 
Preferring purloined corn chips and french fries. 

The grackles laugh. 
They are amused by everything: 
Death
	Pelicans struggling against a squall 
		Broken glass in a hopping man’s bare foot

I get the joke, too. 
Fish don’t wear sweaters
Idiots don’t wear shoes 
And palms should not wander too far North of Bogotá. 

But laughing at a pelican is just plain cruel. 

The Year of the Tiger

Photo by Richard Verbeek on Pexels.com

It is the Lunar New Year. The Chinese New Year. The Year of the Tiger. The Bengals are in the Superbowl this year. My astrological sign in the Eastern horoscope is the Sheep or Goat or Ram. The Rams are in the Super Bowl this year. Everything seems to be coming together in the universe, at least in this small sector. Who knows how things are going around Proxima Centauri. I would write and ask but it would take light years for a letter to reach them and by the time an answer arrived back it would be old news as if an old girlfriend from high school wrote me a note during second period and slipped it through the gill slits of my locker on her way to biology, written on lined notebook paper with little hearts as dots over the “i”’s. But she made a mistake and the little missive went into locker 223, the locker beside mine, assigned to a geek with a terrible teenage complexion who entertained a fantasy that he had a secret admirer for years to come until one day when he forwarded the note to its rightful owner. By then it was too late. It was too late to tell my girlfriend how much I liked her and that I would come over to her house to watch a movie on the VCR. I should not dwell on the past, however. My Chinese horoscope advises me to live in the moment. And who would argue? The signs have already picked the teams in this year’s Super Bowl.

Thursday

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Thursday dawns without inspiration or impulse. In my liminal state before coffee, I searched the dark for a sketch of the day to come. All I found was the base animal instinct to rise and begin prowling the earth for food and procreation. If I have a muse, he has taken Thursday off for personal reasons. Who can blame him, assigned to the likes of me by the force governing the universe, for needing a break? It must be frustrating: guiding my clumsy fingers along the fretboard or ivory keys, helping me choose words. Indeed, it must be exhausting. If only I could crack into my skull and reconfigure the dip switches to genius mode. I asked the neurosurgeon to do some tinkering around while he was in there removing a tumor but he couldn’t be bothered. He was too worried about saving my life. Besides, my insurance did not cover elective procedures like aptitude modification or synapse diversion. And so I am stuck with what I’ve got and a muse who takes Thursdays off.