Back by trees that stand
into sky, green against blue
or grey to steel snow,
she watches yellow grain move
to and fro, audience to
a calm horizon and her heart.
She hears wisps of
boots brushing stalks until
both are silent,
resting just behind.
They sway with the field.
She holds the grove,
the shade, the cross,
then heads to the house,
husband close behind until
she reaches back her hand
to find his waiting and they
wander their way
More of the same? See Honor and Other Virtues here.
He’d be dead in three months. Bob.
The big guy came walking up the
driveway, eyes fixed on the lawn.
Dad was watering. Same jeans
he had in the 70s. Same brown
flip-flops. He didn’t stop moving the
hose back and forth. I stood watching.
“Listen, we gotta talk. Bury
It’s what everyone wanted. The whole
block. Just make up, some said.
He didn’t mean it, others said. He said he was
sorry. I just wanted them to be friends again.
But I knew my dad.
“Mom, you gotta talk to him.”
She pointed to the ring not on her
finger. She shook her head.
She went back to her coffee.
She knew him too.
“Go home, Bob.” That’s all dad said.
Bob looked at me, then back at the
lawn. “I said I was...You know what?
He walked away. Home.
Dad coiled up the hose. “He
talks too much.”
When Bob was dead, his wife
waved me over, drunk on her porch.
“I’m sorry,” she slurred. “Bob never
should’a said those things.”
She reached for my hand.
“Honey, it was just a joke.” Her pinkie went up.
“Honey, he didn’t care about that stuff.”
She rubbed my hand.
I shifted away. I left. Dad was on the
porch, standing. I went into the house.
“You want to go get some new
brake pads for your car?”
Pizza Port, Morro Bay, California
It was quiet until it wasn’t.
But waiting for pizza is hard
on kids. I wasn’t surprised
when the little girl started to cry.
Her brothers drank their Cokes.
Mom looked at Dad. It’s your turn,
her eyes said, twinkling. She
watched the game on the television.
Dad picked up the crying girl,
following the game until she sat on
his leg and leaned in:
“I miss Lolly” before resting on his
flanneled chest. It looked soft.
His hand covered her back.
He whispered: “I miss her too.”
“Can I get a new one?”
He was all hers.
Pizza came. No grace but grace.
Mom wiping her boys’ mouths,
Dad pointing out uniform colors
on the TV, on his forearm one tattoo,
his smile large, kids fed,
old truck outside, no room but room,
My grandma stood outside the door
to the garage. The cord went through the
crack. I wouldn’t hear what she was
saying. The drier spun to her voice.
“Get away from the door,” my grandpa said.
“I want to hear what grandma’s talking about.
I think it’s me.”
Grandpa’s eyes changed. He took out a deck
of cards from the drawer. “Wanna play 21?”
He set the cards on the kitchen table.
When she finally came in, I was concentrating
on my Ace. One or eleven. Her hands
surprised me. They were on my shoulders.
“Eleven. See?” She pointed to the eight.
I looked back and up. Her hair was lit from the
ceiling. She was my grandma.
I decided right then:
she was my grandma.
It begins. It ends.
The story goes on.
Footsteps on the ceiling,
toilet flush, water rinse,
softer not-fast feet
take time now that the rush
there’s room for words and maybe
(he never laughs, but they do).
A crunch. Munchy-crunchy. Fun.
He must have it — women in
a steady stream says stud, right?
They spend the night once or twice,
seem sated, smile in the elevator next-day.
He must have it. Yes.
But the story has another side,
an aside, something in the margin:
the crashing lasts but a paragraph,
sometimes two if the writer is good,
mark the start and mark the finish
and then the toilet and the water
and the softer feet
another paragraph another night
another woman smashing the headboard
into sentences that end
measuring exposition and completion
as that steady stream
is suddenly understood.
The dog that looked like a bear,
big and ruffled and angry like
hibernation was not going well
jumped against the wall of the hall
tore away ravenous down the way
pulling a too-small child, dragging that
child towards the elevator
but it couldn’t wait and squatted
and pissed a lake when the
elevator doors opened so it ran
ran ran for the doors as the child
fell through the urine and shrieked
more angry than sad, and let
go of the leash and the dog/
bear jumped on Anush the
woman in the elevator who lived
with the dog and the girl and then
she screamed at the dog and the
girl covered in yellow urine, all
Armenian words now fighting in the
hallway so even the dog came slinking
back and the door of their apartment
opened and a fat fat man in black
velour pants and a chain around his
neck bellowed, walked out into the center,
bellowed some more until Anush
screamed again, this time at him,
the contempt! Oh wow the contempt!
She snarled and screamed and
two more children wandered dumbstruck
out of the door, no shoes on their feet,
shorts and t-shirts that didn’t look
real real clean, one eating cereal
out of the box until Anush screamed
at them and they ran with the unine-covered
girl into the apartment and the dog started to
quiver back on its hind legs behind the man,
started to strain and soon there was poop poop
on the floor but the man didn’t see it
and stepped backwards and stepped
right into the poop and swore:
Anush backed up, he moved forward
to kill her and this is the way it
went until an even older woman
like grandmother-old came limping out of
the apartment and said something kind or
that sounded kind because the man stopped
in his shitty tracks and Anush took a
breath and even the dog seemed better.
The old grandmother held out her arm and
her son came to her and gave her his hand
and called another name and another child,
a new one, came out of the apartment and
took the dog to the elevator and down and
they all walked inside the apartment and
closed the door and there was still piss
and shit on the floor but, finally, quiet.
Plastic lights bobble along the patio wall.
Inside multi-colored paper clips and fabric boxes,
yarn and sequins stacked in cubbies,
child’s playroom for greeting-card guru,
red construction paper and computer screen
the size of a bed, fine stiff tulips
relaxed piano notes —
she found her Santa Barbara.
Bougainvillea spills over the view
framing sunset-valley eye-level
magenta thin-petals and
lighted plastic bobbles and chimes
dance and dangle,
wise-woman hands inked and painted,
record of joy and death transformed
She sits with crafted memory,
a garden only a few square feet
visited every day.
Down from clouds
beer for beer-bellies
tucked under flesh folds.
“Cleaning girl did a nice job.”
Two waters on counter
Beasts circle fat and bald
thin black sock-hose in beige carpet
flight bags lean on table
beer cans crack.
Bald one experts TV
enters Animal World.
“Text your daughter” says
sweaty navigator leaning at table.
Bald now-greasy pilot nods
drifts back to TV:
what would win — alligator or lion?
Happy B-day text
phone slips inside couch
“Marjorie gonna bring chips?”
Alligator kills lion
as sleepy-not sleepy drink
rolly fingers grip cans
no chips no attendant
(from I Can See You — A Collection of Neighbors)
Huh, pilots, right? Here’s some more people. Click here.
And then the STORIES! You gotta see these stories! Click here!
His phone vibrates. He looks at it.
His little girl tries to stay straight on a pink bike.
He hardens, hangs onto the pink seat.
so his daughter doesn’t hear.
She peers at him, waits. She knows
riding is over. She holds the handle-bars.
They have plastic streamers.
“Just gonna be a minute, okay?”
He knows he’s hoping. She doesn’t care.
“Just a minute” as she puts her feet
permanently on the ground.
“Don’t got it.”
“Don’t know. Comin’ clean wit-chu, man.”
“Don’t know whadda tell you. Don’t got it.”
“What? The fuck you say to me?”
“You threatening my family?”
“I’m gonna fuck you up!”
“You threatening my kid?”
The bike lays on the cement. He spins around
desperate for his daughter.
She’s down the breezeway
talking to a baby palm tree
in a huge gray planter.
She waits for it to talk back.
He softens, turns:
“You get your fuckin’ money, okay?”
“Not gonna happen, man.”
“Don’t got it, plain.”
Now he looks scared.
It covers him like darkness.
He sweeps windows,
scours for signs.
Turning around and around
stumbles toward his little girl,
touches her head,
she looks up at him,
she’s happy, points to the palm tree,
the gray planter,
tugs at his shorts.
“The tree wants Daddy.”
He says: “Yes, baby. It is.”
He keeps his hand on her head.
“I’ll get you your fucking money.”
The girl digs in the potted palm,
tries to climb in.
She’s looking for worms
saying, “Here, worm, here, wormy-worm.”
“Tomorrow. Stay away from my girl.”
It’s over. The phone goes into his shorts.
He picks up his little girl. He walks past the bike,
stops, looks at all the windows,
goes back, picks up the bike in his other hand,
(from I Can See You — A Collection of Neighbors)
In twelve years in Los Angeles, have you ever seen a neighbor?
Older than the sidewalk cracks and
street, settled on his flaking porch,
he remembered the Valley when it was trees.
“I’m ready to not be old,”
he said as I passed by.
His eyes were uncommonly blue,
for an old man.
He said: “They published my poem.”
I was on my way to school,
about to not stop.
“Once I get the book,
I’ll read it to you.”
The book cost $49.95.
He held up the flyer they sent.
But he was proud,
so I said nothing.
“Hallo,” he’d say,
waving from his chair.
“Hello,” I’d say,
not wanting to be rude.
top of the world,
have a good day.
Joe was great-uncle wrinkled,
and I had class to get to,
I was a Senior.
But everyone should talk
to a grandpa sitting on a porch.
He asked if I wanted to read his poem.
The book was thick with cheap paper.
I was late but said yes
and the poem was about apples
and I didn’t have to make something up.
It was worth more than the book.
“Do you like it?” he asked.
“I want to read it to my English class.”
Joe gave me his book.
He said to be careful with it.
“I never got published before.”
We sat watching cars
speed down Oxnard Street,
heads moving left to right
then back again, ready.
Joe made coffee
and I listened to stories.
He voted for Roosevelt
and Nixon, twice —
“bet you no one’ll ever tell you that!” —
He didn’t like his grand-daughter.
He said I wouldn’t either.
“Uppity. Ugliness is inner.”
He said if you wanted to get
a pothole fixed in LA,
put a movie-camera next to it
and the mayor would come fill it himself.
He so near the end
talked to me so near the beginning,
said we were bookends on God’s shelf.
His hands trembled, so I carried the cups.
“That’s what age does,
shakes us loose
from the inside out.”
The Oxnard Street poet and
an uppity kid who learned to listen
to words warmed by coffee