Cloud Gate, or “The Bean,” a sculpture in Chicago’s Millennium Park. I’ve only been to Chicago twice, but both times I was enthralled by the city’s architecture. As I’ve told others: In New York, my eye is drawn to the people on the streets, but in Chicago, I look up at the beautiful buildings.
The history professor’s voice circled
at a free evening lecture off Benevolent.
Two hours later he finished rummaging
for meaning, lifted his empty hands:
“How can anyone pursue a wohd
that literally means luck or fohtune?”
Later, on Hope Street, a grizzled gnome
followed me: “This here notebook holds
fahhunerdunthirdyone of the bes’ goddamn
poems in the whole goddamn world.”
He chuckled, held his script like a shield.
“And I wrote ’em all.” He rattled some coins
in a rusted Chock Full O’Nuts can.
“Which one do ya wanner heah first?”
An HBO movie with John Cusack is on the flat-screen TV.
The hotel is in a corporate office park. Snow, sleet, company car. No idea where I am.
I hole up with a big bag of kettle corn bought at the front desk for five bucks.
Tomorrow, a meeting with folks in the business. Plans to make, questions to ask, handouts, polite banter, business cards.
Tonight, I crawl into the pillow-top, king-sized bed.
Slumber party for one
For Don Short (1957-2008)
you were raking leaves
on the Maine coast.
And then you weren’t.
to listen to traffic on the interstate,
children a few streets over.
North wind carried sharp sea tang –
still a surprise
after decades of decay-scented prairie.
This led you back
to the boy-man you once were:
assured, jock, flirt, tease.
You smiled that smile
and scraped the last pile of what was
into a black bag.
Rubbing aching arms,
just short of the kitchen door
and the woman who shaped
meatballs for your supper.
You lay there,
searching for a wider sky.
But all you saw
was this dark tangle of trees –
something else you never got used to.
But what do I know?
No, in this last day’s shelter
you heard oaks and sugar maples
let go a great sigh
and shower you down
with golden leaves.
Like this line from the obit:
“Don always had a gift of gab. There wasn’t anyone he wouldn’t talk to, or have a kind word for.”
I have not written a poem about the day we left Marcus. I don’t know if I ever will.
The day of the sale was beautiful. Late September. Warm. Bright blue.
My father sat on the porch while his life was sold.
I wish I had bought the house.
I know it was sold to a good woman who blessed the day. Her name said it all. Joy.
But it closed a door on a past.
And I regret it. Always will.
I will move on. Retire to another home. Without a past.
And so it goes.
Today, as I celebrate my birthday, I honor the amazing women that I have met in my life. This poem is based on a story that a woman from my hometown told me. She was in her 80s at the time, and I had always known that she was a writer and a poet. But she was also the mother of a large family, who felt blessed not to have lost it all on a night long ago in Minnesota. Today, she’s in a nursing home far from Marcus, still surrounded by family.
A Long Life in a Small Town
She knows the face
that shows up on her porch
to repair her air conditioner.
A quiet boy who had played ball
on the school field next door
with her sons. All moved away now,
school too, except Charlie.
Neighbors say he can fix anything.
He looks like his dad,
even more like his grandpa
with those deep blue eyes.
Later, in her cooling kitchen,
Charlie smiles when she tells him so
as he eats a slice of rhubarb pie.
She tells no one about the dream: she’s wearing a blue cotton summer dress, lying in the front seat of a new ’51 Fairlane way up north near Pipestone. She’s bleeding. The sounds of screeching brakes and twisting metal have stopped. But the cries of her baby girl somewhere beneath her have not. Their four boys in back are silent. And where is Jack? Then a car door scrapes open. Charlie’s face is above her, so far from home.
That night as her home hums
itself to sleep, she pulls the story
from memory like a crystal vase
from her china cabinet.
How a man from her small town
on a fishing trip for Northern pike
was first to come upon their crumpled car
in a ditch on a lonely blacktop.
And how he watched over her family
(all thank God alive) at a big city hospital
until he knew they were out of danger.
How he expected no thanks because
That’s what you do in a small town.
And how years later
he’d stop by the ball field next door
on warm summer nights
to watch the youngest of her eight sons
play ball with his grandson,
the quiet one with deep blue eyes.
We had our first snow of 2012 this week, and there is six inches of fluffy stuff on the ground. Tomorrow it will melt away, get dirty and drab as we head back into the 50s. So, here are some simple images of snow and the many shapes it takes.