Still can’t get my mind around it.
Get over it. Sour grapes. What is done is done.
Driving home from work.
Turning into my neighborhood.
I have been living here for three years.
Usually I wave to the African-American kid playing basketball.
Sinking baskets in his temporary hoop set up in the road.
He was not there today.
Two white kids riding their bikes,
Look suspiciously as they pass me.
Dressed in camouflage gear,
Plastic AK’s slung over their shoulders,
A taste of things to come.
Love is like Christmas
The smell of freshly
Baked ginger cookies
From grandma’s kitchen
The brightly lit homes
Filled with welcomes welcome
The beautifully decorated tree
Memories of a lifetime,
Ornaments passed from
Generation to generation,
From friend to friend.
I walk down the quiet street,
Listening to the holiday parties
Of good times past
And memories of good friend passed.
Their lives continue
In the retelling of traditions
And of recipes recreated.
I walk down the happy street
Where tomorrow morning
Children will rise,
Jumping on their parent’s bed
Santa was here, Santa was here.
The living room will soon be filled with
Mountains of discarded wrapping paper and
The laughter of children
As they test the warranties of their gifts.
I stop outside my home.
The darkened rooms.
There is no smell of cookies.
No tree with brightly
Wrapped presents beneath.
Love is like Christmas for me.
Never had it, never will.
And the expectation every year,
Of what Santa will bring,
Of what love will bring,
Makes my home a prison,
Sentenced to my gloomy rooms,
Waiting for release.
I walk away from my prison cell
To a darker corner of my town.
Mrs. Wilson’s husband passed.
It is the first Christmas without him.
Their only son died in Vietnam
So very long ago.
She sits alone with a scrapbook,
And smiles with tears in her eyes.
Mr. Paneer’s wife left him,
Along with the kids.
She always trimmed the tree.
He didn’t buy one this year.
He wouldn’t, he couldn’t.
He drinks another round while
Looking into the empty corner.
Mr. Murry died last fall.
His house is dark.
A For Sale sign sits out front.
And that is all that is left of Mr. Murry.
A light snow falling down,
Seemed to glisten in the streetlight’s glow.
I held my hand out.
A snowflake landed in my palm
A moment before melting.
Love is like Christmas,
Like Christmas indeed.
I will not tend my garden anymore.
Let it grow. Let it grow.
I cannot contain it anyway.
It will wilt or grow in God’s own way.
I remember when I came to this place.
Four stately pines, three in the back, leaning towards each other
Dependent but independent. I thought they were weak.
I thought they would fall, so I cut them.
I cut them down, not letting them live, their lives,
Without my consent.
One in the front, I cut down as well
Too close to the house.
Too close to my home.
Too close to me.
So I cut it down.
Four trees, three of the past, one for tomorrow.
And then I cut some more,
Pruning and weeding,
Uprooting and cutting
In order to make my garden perfect.
But I have tended too, too aggressively.
Plants like people need space to grow and air to breath.
They cannot blossom in trifled containers.
My Gypsy Sues have died, their thorny skeletons catching me when I pass.
My Lodden Blue has wilted but flourishes far away from my tending.
Professor Anton Kippenburg refused to sprout, never wanting to share their bloom.
The winds and the rains came and scattered what was left.
Broken limbs decaying, hiding in unmowed grass.
I will not tend my garden anymore.
Let the weeds grow,
The mushrooms appear then fade overnight.
Let the bugs and the beasts find sanctuary.
I will not run them off.
Let the neighbors complain,
As they battle to control their own small plots of earth.
I will let God have his way.
I cannot fight what isn’t there.
My opinion is not required.
My approval is not needed.
What will be will be.
What will be will be.
When I was four
They took off Bozo
For the funeral of JFK.
I remember a small boy
Saying goodbye to his father,
A salute, by his mother’s side.
When I was six,
I was left with my mother’s friend
As my parents attended the funeral
Of a small boy killed by a handgun.
Francis took me to the beach
And from a distance, I saw myself
Playing alone in the sparkling water.
Robert and Martin
Left me a few years later.
My mother crying softly
While watching the news.
The good die young
But so the bad,
Death doesn’t care
He welcomes all.
My best friend Solomon
No reason was given
That a child could understand.
But watching Batman was no longer fun,
And Major Matt Mason
Was forgotten on the bookshelf.
In high school, my best friend
Was killed by a hit and run
On a lonely country road,
All by himself,
Lying on the cold asphalt,
Staring up at a beautiful night’s sky.
I rode to the funeral with his girlfriend,
My secret crush.
She rested her troubled head on my shoulder
But we never really talked again.
Two losses from one death.
I reminded her of him too much
To be around.
Death is always here,
Waiting to appear at some inconvenient time.
Faith is only a way to make life bearable,
A lie we force ourselves to believe
So we can get out of bed.
As I grew up
People left me in other ways.
Broken relationships and broken hearts
Scattered along life’s bumpy road.
Holding on to another
In a desperate effort to feel safe
To feel love
To feel forever.
The results are the same
Sitting alone hoping my broken heart will mend,
So that one day, I’ll find my happily ever after
One day my princess will come.
Then suddenly I just stopped,
Believing in forever.
No sudden deaths,
No abrupt departures,
Only the truth of life
That we are mortal
And there is only now.
So find someone to love
And accept that nothing is forever.
But moments can be filled with love, and hope, and joy,
As well as separation’s sorrow.
The manager looked at me with a blank look. “What was your order?”
“Eight everything, eight plain, and fourteen sesame.”
Her blank expression turned into the crazed worker whose associates screwed up and she was getting blamed for it. Her head slightly tilting to the left as her lips curled into a demented smile. She had a rough morning. The take out line was around the corner. She was understaffed and there were lots of screaming babies. “I’m sorry, there is a fresh batch coming out soon, can you wait twenty minutes?”
That really wasn’t a question. If I wanted my damn bagels, I would have to wait for them.
“Can I get you a coffee while you are waiting?” She nodded to the cashier who took over while she ran to put out more metaphorical fires in the back.
The cashier smiled at me. “What would you like?”
“I’d best have decaf. I’m going to have to call the wife and explain why breakfast will be late.”
That was a lie. I have no wife. No kids, who will greet me like a conquering hero when I return with a freshly baked bagel breakfast. I have nothing to rush home to. I buy two dozen bagels so I don’t have to come down here for another month.
So why do I feel the need to tell this person whom I never met and probably will never meet again, that I had some semblance of a normal life? She didn’t care. I am just another customer, one of hundreds she will see today. As long as I am not a prick and make her life a living hell for a minute or two, she will forget about me as soon as I exit the store.
Why should I care what people think of me? Probably some basic human need to be accepted, to be loved. Why look for acceptance in the eyes of a cashier? Why look for love in the eyes of a stranger?
I took my decaf making no attempt to complete the charade by placing a fake phone call to my fake wife. I headed to the milk bar. Poured 2% into my coffee but only a few drops came out.
I looked at my almost black coffee debating whether it was worth going back to the cashier to ask for more. There was a teenage girl standing impatiently behind me waiting for a straw. She probably had some important business on her cell phone to attend to and my getting some milk for my coffee was standing in the way of world peace! I took a sip. Damn, it was too dark to drink!
I headed back to the cashier. There was a customer who thought he was very funny. He wasn’t. The cashier smiled at his joke but he wasn’t done and kept going for another thirty seconds. Tick, tick, tick. She smiled, he droned on, and I waited with the empty 2% thermos in my hand. Tick, tick, tick. Finally he got his change and left.
“This is empty.” I handed her the container.
She took it, turned to the small refrigerator behind her and filled it up. I accepted it back without a word. I filled my coffee cup to the brim but did not put the lid on correctly. When I turned to go, it spilled on the floor.
A older woman at the table closest to the bar looked at me as if to say, “Well, you gonna clean that up?”
If I didn’t catch her eyes, I could have just left. If I didn’t have lingering mother issues, I would have left. But I did, and I do, so now I was obligated to clean it up or else every customer in the place would think ill of me. Here we go again! What the hell do I care what these people think of me? If I wasn’t stuck here in this coffee shop purgatory waiting for my bagels, I would be gone and life would be perfect. If someone slipped on my light decaf coffee, it would be their problem.
I smiled weakly and tossed several napkins on the floor and swished them around with my foot. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Now I was going to have to pick up dirty floor napkins that I touched with my foot. My life was spinning out of control!
I picked up the ball of dirty towels and tossed them in the trash container and then I turned to my coffee cup. Crap, I didn’t put the lid on properly because I was so concerned about the stares of those stupid table people! Now I had dirty napkins hands! AND I had to wash them!
I took the cup with my left hand trying to balance the loose lid on the top while not spilling anymore of it. I headed into the bathroom to wash my hands. But the lid was sliding off and I became overly concerned that whatever was flying around in the air of the men’s room would end up in my coffee.
Oh hell, it stunk to high heaven! Why do people do their number two business in public restrooms? Even though, I didn’t have to use it, I gingerly peered into the bowl. It was worse than I imagined! What sort of beast could produce something so large? Now I would not be able to get that image out of my mind for at least the next three hours.
I washed my hands quickly and fixed the lid on my coffee cup wondering how much of that thing in the toilet ended up in my coffee. That was not the biggest of my concerns. I turned to the door. There were people beyond. If I opened the door and the smell wafted out into the dining room, everyone within smelling distance would think I was responsible. But what was my choice? Should I stay in the restroom and pass out from the fumes? What would the headlines in the papers read, “Man drinking coffee in the bathroom dies from the stench of his own stool!” A picture of me lying on the floor would go viral.
I decided to leave the bathroom. I always wonder about people leaving public restrooms with drinks. Were they drinking while doing their business? This was all too much. I opened the door quickly and got out into the dining area without being noticed.
I sat down at a two top table and buried my thoughts into my coffee. I’m doing ok. I’m doing ok. All will turn out well if I could just hold on for another minute or two.
“Here you go sir, sorry for the wait.” The manager said bringing the bagels over to my table.
I jumped slightly, startled at the proximity of my bagel bags. I thought I covered it up well although the manager did have a smile on her face that was larger than the regular customer service smile. I got up quickly and paid for my order.
Stepping outside to freedom I exhaled deeply. I was free, but to do what? Go home and put the bagels in freezer bags, wondering how much I would be able to fit in each bag? Could I fit eight in a bag? And what happens if there is an extra one? Do I mix everything with the sesame or even worse, the plain? Will the plain retain its plainness in a bag with other types of bagels? Sounds like a political conversation.
As important as that all seems, I longed for the excitement of the bagel joint; where orders are not filled in a timely fashion and loosely placed coffee lids create danger at every turn. I turned to enter again but realized I couldn’t go back in again. Not now. Ah well, there is always the next time. There is always the next time.
If only Love had left me
When I asked it to
Instead of lingering
Like a scar
From a past
If only Love had left me
When I screamed
For her to go.
“I do not want you anymore,
Your companionship is painful to me,
When you are here
When you are gone.
And maybe soon
I will forget
That time or this
That smile or kiss.”
But she, refused to leave me.
In the background
In the shadows,
In the hidden corners
Of my mind.
Barely audible words
Above the cars in the street
Or the low hum of the office air vents.
“Remember, remember when…”
Replacing remember we
With remember you.
“Remember when you and I laughed over our sorrow?
Remember when I helped you through?
I will not help you anymore.
No not again, no not again.
But I will evermore remind you of days I did.
So down a lonely road, you go alone
Because I fill a space in you,
Which would be filled by another
If I would go.
But I will never go.
No, I will never go.”
If only Love had left me
When I asked it to.
I cannot ask again.
I cannot, no, not again.
My book, Happy, was published in late July. The subject matter is racism in America. Two kids, a twelve year old African-American boy with Autism and a five year old white girl get lost in the riots after another unarmed black youth was shot by a policeman. Deshawn Smith is a civil rights organizer who lost his way until he heard about the two lost children. These are the words he spoke to the crowd.
Deshawn Smith walked on the stage. The crowd grew quiet. He looked out over the people standing in front of him. They were waiting for his words. No one was on their cell phones. No one was talking. They wanted guidance. They wanted a leader that spoke for all of them. And he felt humbled.
“The statue behind me is of John Patrick. A man who fought for freedom and equality all his life. He did not spew hate or preach violence. He led by example. He showed that each of us, white or black, man, woman, and child has value. That is what my movement is all about.
But somewhere along the way I was turned from that idea. I forgot my original purpose because it is easy to see the hate of other people and give back nothing but hate in return. Too many people have died because of racial inequality in this land founded on freedom. Too many people are kept in poverty because we fear others, we fear the stranger.
But there are two children, one black and one white, who did not fear each other but trusted each other and cared for each other. They know nothing about racism, or poverty, or injustice. They know trust, and friendship, and love. They are lost somewhere in this city. They are hiding because they cannot abide the hatred that they see all around them. They are frightened by the burned out buildings, the looted shops, and the body bags lying on the sidewalks.
And why shouldn’t they be? None of us want this kind of world for our children. The question I ask you is why aren’t we afraid of that? How did we come to accept hatred as a part of our society? How can we live in a world where this kind of violence is accepted?
Let us join together today to fight the hatred, not by throwing rocks, not by screaming slogans, not by intimidation, but by looking for two kids who have shown us how to love. Get with a group and take responsibility for a street or two. Go through every building, every alley; let’s find these kids. But I ask you one thing. Welcome a stranger into your group. If you’re black invite a white person in. If you are white do the same for your black neighbor. If you’re Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or Jew, find a stranger to work with. Because the way to fight hatred is to see the other not as a stranger to be feared, but as a person who has the same hopes and dreams as yourself.”
The book is available at: https://www.createspace.com/6305829
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