Honor and other virtues

You’ll see it when you know it.



“My Garden”

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.


“Words, 1988”

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.


“Elsie”

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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