Friday, February 06, 2015

Rags and Bones

Alexa Mergen, reading at Sacramento Poetry Center
Monday, Feb. 2, 2015
—Photo by Michelle Kunert, Sacramento

—Kevin Jones, Elk Grove, CA

Was so very lucky.
Uncle Vern owned—
He really did—
A rag-and-bone
Shop.  Scrap metal
Yard attached. 
Just across Rose Street
From home.

All the tools and props
I ever needed.  Could
Dress in a 19th century
Brooks Brothers’
Swallowtail and
With a good stave,
Stalk across the yard
Like Byron in Adidas.

Alas, poor Yorick.
Yeah, he had those
Too, but you had
To ask.  Is this a dagger
I see before me?
Oh, come on:
Back of the shop.
Just pick one.

Vern would sit
On the patio with
His bride, the lovely
Kentucky belle
Annalee (Always
Waiting, I’m sure,
For an outbreak
Of a Margaret
Mitchell revival),
Sipping what might have
Been coffee, and watch
And smile: what had
He encouraged here?

Yard help would smile,
Some would brandish back
With re-bar; most just
Shook their heads and
Smiled.  “Vern’s got
Another one.”

But Vern gave me, and
Most of my cousins
Who were interested
In fantasy or poetry
Or derring-do, a chance
To live it all out in
The junk yard
In the back yard.
I won’t even mention
What occurred when
A box of DC Comics
Came in.

Some of us grew
Out of it.  It happens.
But all were changed,
Though perhaps not
Utterly.  I could never
Get past the second
Or third rung of the
Ladders there
In the back of the shop.

Kathryn Hohlwein, reading last Monday Night at SPC
—Photo by Michelle Kunert

—Robert Lee Haycock, Antioch

Hollis and Dovey Pickle. 

No, I ain't making those names up, our landlord and lady who lived next door to us for eight years in Willow Glen. They must have been close to ninety then, the both of them, and their kids probably made an oodles of money when they passed, selling off that prime piece of San Jose real estate. 

Pepper and Daisy their Boston terriers always welcomed us on our visits. Pepper showed his appreciation by backing up to the wall heater and letting rip the rankest, most ill-digested canine fart to be wafted around the room.


Spent many a balmy weekend sitting at the picnic table in our backyard with Hollis while he regaled me with tales of his days as a deputized federal marshal and heavy equipment operator ("I grabbed hold of a 440 volt line on a wellhead once. Made my hair stand up!"). While he railed against the evils of marijuana, we got happily stoned on a gallon jug of his son-in-law's home-made sherry.

What? Oh, yeah. The dead woman in the back yard.

Our house was a ramshackle yellow thing where we lived through several jobs, an eye-opening stint in graduate school, and increasingly frustrating attempts at getting pregnant, but we had the most glorious back yard. Out beyond the very happy persimmon tree over the septic tank and our beds of ranunculus was Los Gatos Creek. Summers it was dry. Winters we would sometimes stand out back and wonder if we ought to load stuff in the car. Over it all hung a huge old elm.

Diana was clipping the suckers at its base one summer day and, grabbing an armful of cuttings, threw them over the bank (as Hollis had encouraged us to do) and realized too late that she'd tossed the lopper down twenty steep feet of blackberries and rip rap. I decided that weekend to try and retrieve the tool.

Halfway down a most unwelcoming riverbank I spotted an odd-looking branch wearing panty hose. I came back up and dialed 911. "I think there is a body in my back yard." Within minutes two paramedics arrived. I thanked them for their celerity but told them they were probably too late. They followed me back to the creek and peering down confirmed, "Yep, that's a body." 

A squad car appeared as the EMTs left and the officers said "Yep, that's a body," told me the coroner was on the way. Two fellows in very nice suits with a body bag arrived and were apprised of the situation. Before they scrambled down into the creek bed they advised me, "You might not want to watch this," to which I replied, "From this point on, there is nothing going to happen that will be worse than my own imaginings.


I shut down the barbecue that I'd started. I wasn't going to be grilling that afternoon, and sat at the picnic bench. A skull appeared at the edge of the lawn, a ribcage, armbones, legbones, the lopper.

Down the street from us was an assisted care facility. The year before a woman with dementia had wandered off in the night. Days were spent searching with dogs up and down the stream bed. She had found her way to the pile of concrete chunks below our house, curled up in a fetal position and fallen finally asleep.

A day or two later a daughter knocked on our door seeking closure and a finger bone.

And a ring.


Today's LittleNip:

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.

—Mark Twain



 Anthony Sumpter, reading last Monday Night at SPC
—Photo by Michelle Kunert