LITTLE GOURDS IN AUTUMN
He was upstairs doing something
on the computer when she got home
in the rain so she sent him an email
from her recliner rather than calling
from the bottom of the stairs.
Why disturb him. Nothing urgent.
She was weary after a long day
with the ladies who meet every week
and arrange flowers in the Japanese style,
a style where less is more, a style
befitting their age, the ladies agree.
But no flowers today, she wrote.
Instead they arranged gourds,
little ones, in an autumnal way.
She said Victoria hadn’t come.
It’s hard for her with the walker
but her daughter buys her flowers
to make arrangements at home.
Her living room looks like a wake.
We’re better off than Victoria,
better off than a lot of people,
she reminded her husband.
We have to be thankful.
But now it was time for a nap.
She would check the mailbox again
on rising and let him know if the bills
and magazines had finally come.
The postman, she said, is likely
sitting in his van avoiding the rain.
OLD QUILTER, OLD POET
She’s been making quilts
for half a century and he’s been
making poems that long as well
and every now and then he brings
a chocolate shake to her place
so they can take a break and talk.
He always finds her at the frame,
peering through thick lenses.
“I’m still housebound, Walt,"
she laughs and likes to say.
Once she told him quilts are poems.
She works with scraps of cloth
and he with scraps of words and quilts
and poems are never done until all
the scraps are where they have to be.
Now she's working on a Double Wedding Ring,
a quilt not unlike a sonnet in that both follow
patterns of their own but she likes crazy quilts
because she can improvise with scraps
she finds on floors around the house.
Her job's to make something beautiful
from scraps others might throw away.
He has no problem understanding that.
He saves scraps of words and marries them
in ways some folk find odd or useless.
Finishing her shake, she says maybe
they play jazz and just don’t know it.
She likes Miles Davis and puts his album on
when a crazy quilt won't go her way
but she would never listen to Miles while
she’s at work on a Double Wedding Ring.
Yo-Yo Ma, she says, is the man for that.
The old poet says he would never disagree.
LETTER TO AN ESTRANGED MIDDLE-AGED SON
The older I get the more I realize
the importance of getting things done
before your mother announces another
assignment to roust me from my hammock.
As you know I've never been much
around the house, my skills limited to
raking leaves and shoveling snow,
menial tasks I haven't missed in years.
Probably not since you lived here.
Your mother, of course, grew up on a farm
and has always liked getting things done.
But she's getting older too. In fact,
she recently had a big operation
and I've pitched in beyond my skill set
despite new stents and a pacemaker.
But even though we just put away
the walker, cane and wheelchair,
all three are on alert, so I believe
it's best to let you know that
one of these days the one who's left
will ring you up and let you know.
CHINO AND CHAMBRAY
Forty years older than I,
Charles, in his tweed cap, stands starched
in gray chino and blue chambray.
For more than a year his broad tie
has let the same iridescent duck
fly against a vermillion sky.
Like a Vatican Guard
he oversees the parking lot
I cut through each morning
far corner to far corner
as I cleave two triangles of cars
parked in my wake.
I ask him one morning,
“Charles, do you mind
when I cut through your lot?”
“Not at all, sir,” says Charles
as he stares straight ahead
and starts the windmill
of his good arm to lead
the pearl Hummer
now pulling in.
MARIMBA IN THE AFTERNOON
Raul is a kind man
who plays marimba
in a salsa band at LA clubs
late into the night.
Some afternoons he plays
at a nursing home in Cucamonga
where he was born, grew up
and dashed home from school.
He’s paid with a taco,
maybe an enchilada,
a burrito now and then.
On Sunday a fresh tamale
almost as good as his mother
used to make after being in
the fields all day, long ago.
Old-timers in the day room
bounce in their chairs, some
on wheels, to Raul's music.
Long ago they were young
and danced all night in
tiny clubs after being paid
a few dollars a basket for
picking grapes and plums
under pounding sun.
TWO SERVERS, ONE HUMAN
Henry Deck gets up at three
to double-check the facts in
a long presentation written
days and nights this weekend.
Coffee in hand, he stumbles
to the computer, hits the button,
the screen lights up and he expects
the Google genie to appear but
sees instead this blaring message:
You are not connected to this server!
as though the missing genie is his fault
at 3 a.m. and not the server’s.
It wasn’t the server's fault either
when he took his wife to dinner and his
waving never connected with their server,
a Hercule Poirot who strolled to other tables,
uncorking fine wines and offering whiffs to folks
more hoity-toity than Henry Deck and his wife.
On the bill Henry saw a message presaging
the one on his computer screen this morning:
gratuity added despite another failure to connect.
LUNCH WITH A GOOD OL' BOY CANCELLED
I should have said yes,
meet you anywhere you want
for lunch, even that greasy spoon
with the lousy chili and corn dogs.
Every five years or so we meet
to recall the bad old days
and you always tell me that’s the way
they make chili and corn dogs
at home in the hills of Arkansas
and I always ask about the stills
and you tell me no more stills
since the repeal of Prohibition.
They never saw a salad in that place
I’m certain, but who cares.
I should have said yes,
meet you anywhere you want.
I promise you I'll go there today
and order chili and a corn dog
once I get back from the cemetery.
The New Morse Hotel
Chicago, circa 1970
What if after Browne has gone
one of us discovers who Browne was,
leads the rally to his room before
the maid has time to broom the webs,
retrieve from underneath the bed
the sweat-stiff socks, the lemon underwear?
What if, before he leaves, Browne scrawls
across the dresser’s dust: I have leased
new quarters and have gone to them.
Don’t give the clothes you find here to the poor.
Don’t burn the books. Beware the next
who rents this room, who leaves it only after dark,
who screams if the maid knocks once
to ask if she may clean. When he arrives
have four men bear him, belly down, downstairs.
Tell them: 'Pitch him out across the lawn!
Let him land in a lake of sun.
Let him drown there.'
WHITE BUTTERFLIES AND GRAM
Gram tells Stella on the phone
her neighborhood is full of old folks.
She hasn’t seen Stella in 60 years
and won’t see her again because
of the canyon of miles between them.
But Gram insists on keeping Stella
current on her neighbors who die
when the seasons change, although
Stella’s never met one of them.
Gram tells her Tom Murphy’s wife died
around this time last year when the
Monarch butterflies took off for Mexico.
And Mary Kelly’s husband died the day
Gram saw her first robin of the spring.
It was a bad year, Gram tells Stella,
pointing out Father Flynn passed away
at the start of winter when the juncoes
came to bicker with the mourning doves
on the floor of Gram’s porch, fighting over
seed spilled by cardinals from the feeder.
The cardinals and jays stay all winter,
Gram tells Stella, and look beautiful
in the blue spruce surrounded by snow.
Too bad you live so far away, she says.
You’d like it here when autumn comes.
Now the only visitors are white butterflies,
Gram says, the little ones most folks ignore
in summer when Monarchs rule the garden.
Monarchs look as if Tiffany designed them
but they’re more beautiful than any lamp.
Gram doesn’t know if the white butterflies go
to Mexico the way the Monarchs do but says
they don’t look strong enough to make the trip.
Then she wishes Stella the best of health,
says she hopes they’ll chat again next year
and begins a litany of long good-byes.
In the glow
of the porch light
a final fandango
nowhere to go
—Medusa, with thanks to today's fine contributors on this crisp Fall morning!