You’ll see it when you know it.
He lives in my garden; only I have the key. There is no gate, no lock to un-lock like those posh private parks, just a tree and some grass, balloons from a story and maybe an old bottle of wine we bag before law comes spinning around, on the hunt for happiness. Over there is our first kiss on the stone pier they said Cortés built, stretching out into a tequila moon; and where that old lady sits, remembering or forgetting: a flight to somewhere, one screen lit in the dark, yours, watching the same movie, three times. He is my garden; only I have the key. No sock-puppet politician or fisting Missouri FratBoy can trespass our grass, mock our tree, pull down those balloons. He is my garden, eternally lost except to me, safe like drunk wine and watched movies, invisible to those who don’t speak love, far from parched howls and Christians, close as breath.
*Dedicated to Josh Hawley, who thought his own hand was up in the air as he declared war.
“On the Phone, 1978”
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.
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. “We’ll see.” 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, family, peace.
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 this thing.” 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? Fuck it.” 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. He followed. “You want to go get some new brake pads for your car?”
“Oxnard Street Poet”
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. Lovely day, awesome morning, top of the world, hello, hallo, 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 and care and age.
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 the crunch of boots brushing beauty until he is silent, resting just behind. They sway with the field. “You ready?” She holds the grove, the shade, the cross, grave, heads to the house, husband close behind until she reaches back her hand to find his waiting as they wander their way home.
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