Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Ward
Old boxers have sad faces.
I saw it in their passing eyes as I watched YouTube videos of hunted men in tattered robes. Was there hunger enough in their belly for one more meal? One more steak? To fight for a warm bed. To awake without the blinding headaches they knew would someday come. A concussed fury. The descent into a dementia born by the rage of too many EverLasting fists. The Endswell to their broken brains. The final count in a homeless shelter. The final count in a locked back ward of a city hospital where no other crazy man believes any more. Where their only glory is the fading flurry of punches against bare white walls. This is where they fall. Where the motherless boxer dies. Those forgotten, nameless men who are buried with their half-clenched fists. 
...Their hospital robes-- cleaned, pressed, sanitized-- passed from the dead to the dying who box against the shadows of sadness.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Wilt vs Bill
Through milky eyes I watched basketball on black and white TV. The network of the times. The sixties. Wilt Chamberlain against Bill Russell. L.A.’s yellow jerseys or Boston’s Irish green. Wilt “The Stilt”…as straight and tall as a California redwood. The unstoppable force of nature of whom it was said could score against God himself. Bill Russell, slender and lean with his spider arms, the “Watcher of The Sky” would rebound most any ball...catch it in mid-air and pass it into the stealthy hands of running men.

Our parents generation had their poisoned debates: race, war, civil rights, north, south, Asia, turmoil in the streets…are you for or against?…too much change...not fast enough. George Wallace or Dr. King? Whose people will die in the Holy Land? We would fear and despair at these things. That fear and despair now backlashed after all these years. But then we had our own giant debate: Wilt vs Bill. West or East. Who was greater---the outstretched big man in Yellow or Irish Green?

I remember two new boys on our street. Brothers. Black and Proud and from L.A. Their father stationed in the Northeast, sailing on Coast Guard ships. They strutted and spouted that Wilt “The Stilt” was better than any man. We told them in our Boston voices, that they should beware, they are in Celtic’s land, and the custom was Russell was the best and ours. They both looked at us and sighed in disbelief: “Oh, man! He’s not yours.”

My white friend said let’s settle it with some game. On a late June night we sneaked past our parents’ houses. It was 1968 and the months of assassinations and we thought it best they not be aware we would play basketball under flood lights. My friend and I always knew California was soft and easy, but the brothers played faster and harder than we imagined. We played Boston hard in return and saw the surprise in their eyes. We weren’t going to give them an inch on the tar. We pushed them a couple of times, and they pushed back. Then someone suggested we switch up the teams, break up the tension.

That made all the difference. I played with one brother. My friend with the other. Thirteen year old boys finally freed to run easily under the stars and through a soft breeze. Like black and white ribbons we flowed past each other, the sounds of basketball as a summer symphony gamed in perfect harmony. We ran till we could breathe hard no more. Till the sweat stopped flowing from our skin. Then we smiled and told each other our names.  

Monday, March 27, 2017

I met a man who told me he had a father who ran scared from town to town. He'd take his kids in tow, a wife cryin' in the front seat, he'd race them down an interstate. The two lane blacktops are long gone, just like his father who died last year, finally a brave man in his death bed.

The man told me he tried hard to stay in one place. But he had his father's blood and he'd race in the streets; scared as he was, he'd take his boys and wife from town to town. His wife would cry sometimes. He would wipe her tears the best he could with the back of his hand touching her across a front seat. She'd turn away and sob: "You're just like your father, too afraid of one place."

I heard this story and promised myself I'd never long for the days of the two lane black top. That sometimes there are frightened and fast lives on an interstate. Like a million miles, a million stories, two boys in a backseat will never forget.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

I held the head of a dying man.
Watched the sunset of his eyes.
He lay in the cold alley between a bar and a church.
During the in between hours of night and day I would see the homeless, the mad, the drunkards, the crack heads. Often their lips too cold to call on an evening prayer.

I held the head of a dying man
Watched the sunset of his eyes.
I did not know his name. I smelt alcohol on his breath.
With my tired hands I would not let his fallen head touch the cold concrete.
Together we raised him in his death and rested him against the wall.
The morning voices of broken heart angels would sigh: Another soul vanishes --its promises never blessed between this bar and a church.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Hurting Lips
I drink black coffee and eat burnt toast, but it doesn't wash away the pain--deep down in my rib cage.

She's just a girl--just out of college, almost half my age.

Last night I fought him hard. Thought I could win her love; but he was as young as she and he beat me down like an ole' bag of bones. I got one eye blackened the other turned blue. My teeth knocked loose.

She's  just a girl
Oh just a girl
Hot coffee swells my throbbing lips
The back of my head hurts
A waitress says I'm too old to fight for someone so young. She's nice; eyes me for a second as she's done over the offering years.

But I can't help myself
--maybe I'm in a crazy suicidal dream stage

She's just a girl
Oh, just a girl
One eye's black, the other blue
I got pain on my hurting lips

Somebody hold me up!
The waitress pours more coffee and washes over me with her sugar eyes. Like a blinded fighter, I've taken a rest before my next round.

She's just a girl
Oh just a girl
I don't want to be your early morning remains
No, I don't want to be your remains

Who am I,
Who am I,
The waitress holds me up. Let's me lean on her woman's chest, and steadies me under a mauling starlight.

She's just a girl
Oh no, she's just a girl. 
Let me be with the forever one if I can just release her with my hurting lips. The waitress let's go and I turn to see kindness in her sweet eyes.

I know that once when she was young she was just a girl. Oh no, just a girl. With no heart for a man almost twice her age.

(Poem's inspiration comes from one of the Who's most underappreciated songs: 'Athena'

Saturday, January 7, 2017

I woke up early. Across the way a carpenter was hammering nails into boards that made up a small house frame. Just as I was to speak to him-- tell him to respect my sleep, a robin landed on my window sill. The bird walked nimbly and then quickly took to the morning sky. I knew then that I had to rise before it was past my time. So I dressed in worker's clothes and held a hammer and took a couple of imaginary swings. I walked across the way and told the carpenter: "Here I am." He handed me a bag of nails and together we built a home where the robins would stay.
The Realist
With a wooden spoon I stirred burnt oatmeal.  Most of the large flakes had turned black and stuck against the bent aluminum pot. I cursed myself because it was the last of my food. Breakfast was the large meal that would keep me going until the afternoon.  By then I hoped to beg or steal for something to eat.

I was a realist. I knew that my near future was bleak. I knew that in two days it would be the end of the month and I would be tossed out from my apartment because it was the third month in a row I couldn’t come up with the rent. I knew that the last scoops of the unburned parts of the oatmeal could be my final unholy breakfast. I knew that I was banned from the food bank as I could be an out-of-control madman who caused a ruckus with staff and clients-- and I shouldn’t have taken a swing at the director because I thought he was calling me names when all he was doing was trying to calm me down. But there were those Christmas carols singing in my head; cursing me, threatening me, making me hear the voices of devils. The cops never should of beat me like they did, their night sticks cracking open my skull and their boots kicking me along my legs. They shouldn’t have let me bleed in the cell and make me clean up my own wet blood before they sent me out alone into the cold morning.

The weatherman said it was going to be below freezing and I had no place to sleep. No family, no friends, no homeless shelter worker to take me in. Once I had all of them, but I caused a ruckus in their lives too. I knew I was unemployable, because I had bad posture, bad clothes, bad teeth and I carried myself like some sort of distorted, twisted lunatic.

I hated everything. I hated my life. I was mad, like in crazy angry. So I hit myself with my wooden spoon. The hot oatmeal burned my face and the top of my head. But I wanted to hurt myself some more and more. So I hit myself again and again. And I poured the pot of scalding steaming oatmeal over me and I felt the stinging bubbling welts on my blistering skin. I placed my right hand over the red burning ring of the stove till I couldn’t bear the pain anymore.

Let the hospital take care of me. They bandage you up. They feed you there. If you don’t cause a ruckus they might find you a place to live where they can feed you. Maybe they can even stop the devil Christmas Carols singing in your head. Otherwise I’ll starve and freeze to death during the first days of winter, my last meal the remains of burnt oatmeal