(shared morsels with my dad)
His den was in the backyard, in the corner by the fence
He’d disappear for hours, his writings that intense.
Naps were also paramount, us kids would be the clock
Any excuse to go inside, though the door was never locked.
A cot to sleep, a desk to write, a chair to read Shakespeare
Some times he’d let me hold the skull that sat beside his beer.
The floorlamp cast a yellow glow that kept the corners dark
The Lucky Strikes, the wooden match, the smell, the smoke, the spark.
Then his one good eye would squint to keep the smoke from going in.
When he caught me tryin’ to steal a sip he couldn’t help but grin.
He said to take the can outside and pour it in the ground,
And told me it was full of piss since the bathroom’s out of bounds.
Sometimes he’d let me sit beside the lamp in the big chair,
The typewriter would peck away, grey smoke would fill the air,
I’d look at Shakespreare’s heroes in a book too big for me.
He’d quote a verse of King Lears’ fool if that’s the picture he could see.
A gift he had, his memory, seemed omnipotent at first.
Now I realize that language was his way to quench his thirst.
the whole back wall of the den was floor to ceiling books,
Faulkner, Steinbeck, Whitehead, Joyce and Saroyan
while the nooks
and crannies held treasures meant to fascinate a boy,
like a gold wrist watch, old fountain pens or a cross of Chinese coins
Ouside the den, a garden, where a purple fig tree stood.
The tree was big so were the figs, besides that they were good!
He’d plant and grow some vegetables, using compost ripe and wet.
Tomatoes, corn, green beans and chard were some of what we’d get.
Pop Tarts (cont)
We had a St Bernard named Berry, big enough to ride
Which we did from time to time when she’d let us climb her sides
Sometimes I’d fall and land hard enough to hurt
I’d get a lick from Berry then she’d lift me by my shirt
If the cry was loud enough and our mom came to the door
She’d lift me by our collar without tearing what I wore
And bring me to the back steps so that mom could check me out
A hug, some words, a grin, a smile no time wasted in a pout
The next adventure calling for a dog and maybe wheels
Drafting him into service without thinking how he feels
We were young and he was old, his patience wearing thin,
When he snapped our parents knew it was time to reign us in
His leaving left a question mark, like when will he be back
And where’d he go and is he sad or glad and all of that.
In his passing we were left without a reason for his death
which neighbor fed him something that took away his breath
we’ll never really know for sure, just suspicions about who
but the grace that came so naturally became a thing to do
whenever certain peoples names or bodies came in view.
Chores with Pop would keep us from the play with other kids,
we’d have to stay til it’s done right, until that’s what we did.
Sometimes the sacred typewriter would come outside the den
with a cardtable, typing paper, a pencil or a pen.
He taught us never to erase, a straight line through would do.
That way the word could still be read as choice against the new.
Another tree of green figs grew in grass we called a lawn.
Our neighbors yards we’d come to view by which branch we stood upon.
Our sandbox brought the neighbors cats and sometimes random dogs.
Mom wasn’t really happy when our dumptrucks found the” logs.”
So my godfather and my dad removed the box and sand,
and built a square cement tub deep enough to stand
up to our waists in water cold enough to chill
the summers’ heat while swimming circles, and cannonballs until
shivering and wrinkled blue, Pops’ whistle stopped the play
though we argued through our chattering teeth; time for dinner anyway.
Our father dabbled in gourmet, though our mother was the cook.
Both of them were teachers but it wasn’t always books.
As brilliant as my father was, we still did things by hand.
Like raking leaves and splitting wood and coffee grounds in sand.
His way of teaching showed us how, til correctly done his way;
quality not quantity with results designed to stay.
He built some drawers in our garage for apples, spuds and pears,
produce procurement from those drawers meant climbing a few stairs.
If he stood at the bottom stair and I the kitchen floor,
then I knew that I could fly through space out the kitchen door.
Trust or faith I don’t know which, as children it’s just there.
I’d be caught then set down safe, my thoughts still in the air.
Our older sister had first rights at saying what to do
Like when the folks had gone somewhere; their faith in her we knew.
Like water seeks it’s own level, I would follow mine.
My kid brother would come along almost all the time.
His faith in me is shocking, now, because we’re still alive.
That faith was tested more than once, a wonder we survived.
We had a flexie, we built a ramp, not too steep at first.
Too soon we needed altitude the woodpile not the worst.
The grape arbor up by the roof, we worked to get it right;
Just to get the flexie up, took both stubborness and might.
When my foot went through the lattice and I fell flat on my back
The ramp knocked down the woodpile so now that, I had to stack.
My breath was gone, I couldn’t yell, I couldn’t even cry.
My brother’s yelling for the folks afraid I’m gonna die.
Then my father’s face leans over me, his head blocks out the sun
And he sez if I don’t start to breathe we’re going to make a run
to that place where doctors work, called a hospital.
But the thought of doctors scared me into breathing after all
The three of us shared kitchen chores , we’d rotate once a week.
Peeling turnips, spuds or carrots, sometimes we‘d wash some leeks.
The piano stool would hold two kids standing near the sink.
The last kid’s in the frigidaire finding juice to drink.
When we finished cutting vegetables, and our fingers made it through,
mom would say which pot for which vegetables to use.
We had a stepstool for the stove, we could drop them in the pot
while the pressure cooker in the back would bounce when it got hot.
The alchemy of cooking with it’s magic, took it’s hold:
each parent had their own technique, one simple, one more bold.
My mother favored one pot meals, my dad would marinate.
His cast-iron skillet cleaned with salt, no soap touched what we ate.
Mom liked to use the Dutch-oven, but it got cleaned with soap.
When things got stuck steel wool was used, sometimes our only hope.
I’d been bitten by the cooking bug, my folks both showed me how,
a simple meal or work of art, stays with me even now.
Horsemeat was our main protein, stamped USDA blue.
The meat was leaner, slightly sweet without the marbled glue.
The marinade my father made: red wine, bay leaf, fresh thyme,
with diced red onions, olive oil, fresh garlic and some lime
or lemon zest then some salt and black pepper,
then in the icebox overnight; the meat for next supper.
The odors from that marinade still stir a memory,
remembering work done as kids brings back my family.
When I was little my dress code was a T-shirt nothing else.
Why this was I’ve no idea: no time to dress myself?
In a rush to get somewhere, discover a new game?
cruising the house I hear mom calling out my name.
I run into the kitchen, where the stool up to the stove
is still in place, inviting me, another place to rove.
My mom is at the kitchen sink, I climb up on the stool.
She’s got apples waiting, for the core and peeling tool.
Our stove was all electric, the manufacturer G.E.;
if you turned a burner on, it got red, you could see.
It was when you turned the burner off, accidents occurred.
I turned to watch my mom then sat, on the front burner.
It wasn’t red, must not be hot, but it just had been turned off.
The sizzle first and then the smell I tried to climb back off.
I’m yelling now, mom’s holding me, my butt is almost done;
she peels me off and carries me to first aid on the run.
She finds a salve, crying with me, she’s trying not to smile,
cause on my butt, I’m gonna have a bulls-eye for a while.
One morning on a Sunday I went into the garage,
To get some spuds for breakfast not be scared of a mirage
or ghost or boogey-man or whatever else he was.
The family car was parked indoors it had a passenger.
I ran inside, a little freaked at how this might occur,
My mom came running from the front, my yelling upset her
enough so that my dad comes in with soap on half his face.
By then the whole family’s there, waiting just in case,
peering out the kitchen door staring at the place
where in the back seat of the car a hobo takes up space.
My father opens the car door, the odor was intense,
he asks the guy if he needs help, no shadow of pretense.
The hobo looks a little dazed, we’re all waiting in suspense,
His apolagy’s so quiet that we almost couldn’t hear
He’d drunk too much the night before and it wasn’t only beer.
He was seeking shelter from the cold, that’s what brought him here.
His story over breakfast seemed to make our parents sad,
I uderstood enough to know that times for him were bad.
He’d lost his job, his home, his wife, his world must have gone mad.
He left us wearing cleaner clothes, smelling better than he had.
And that night when I went to bed I thanked my mom and dad.
A critical possesion when you’re of a certain age
The skate key, it was sacred, it helped to set the stage
Without it there was no way for the skate to stay in place
And if a skate came off when racing, it’s not just losing face,
The sidewalk tore your knees as well, it’s hunger never died.
The tennie was no good for skates, we know, because we tried.
The grip in front that used the key would squash the tennis shoe
At first we thought that strong a grip was what we had to do.
But really what was missing was a shoe that had a sole.
My dress shoes were the perfect fit, tight grips, straps on, lets roll!!
Only, as I cross the living room, mom‘s standing at the door,
Reminding once again that, this is a hardwood floor.
No skates allowed inside the house and what’s with your dress shoes.
I was busted, caught red-handed, no need to look for clues.
Aww mom I said, I’ll take good care, we’re just skating down the block,
“you leave the house with those shoes on, the front door will be locked”
so much for thoughts of freedom, flying down the concrete walk
first the skates and then the shoes, I’m too depressed to talk.
I’m certain she can’t understand the need for the right tool
Instead, she says we’ll find your shoes at the goodwill after school.