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.

More poetry here.

Stories? Here.

BackAlley Jack

Learning from the best. A new story.

“Our future’s so bright we gotta wear shades.”

Every graduation speech, ever

Everyone tells stories in high school, about what they do and who they get with.   The baseball team at Van Nuys High School, 13000 Oxnard Street, Van Nuys, California, was a great source of these stories.  Whether they were true or not — that didn’t matter. They kept our minds from imploding under the weight of Curricular Standards of Achievement. 

It was 1985, and we were all just waiting to get out into the world, any world. And when that seemed impossible, or would take too long, we took matters into our own hands.  It’s called in Educational Literature “The Creative Relationship to Boredom.”

Where would we be without boredom?  Probably still eating raw meat.

There was Toby “the Bat” Bauer, slugger, blond, a man-child who would eventually go bald and who, it seemed, could inspire quite a few of the teachers.


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