Tag Archives: ladies

In Monroe, Wisconsin

For J.P.

You were the best of us
Even when we were at our best
In that big drafty room
Wearing clothes owned by other people
The love – big love – poured all over us
When you opened the door that morning
We let it wash our souls like Lake Michigan water
You were generous and brave and honest

Later you raged against injustice
You lifted the heaviest of loads
You were the best of us
Only you knew how good we could be
And you never let us forget

I Celebrate Your Life (a sketch)

It’s summer days like these that I miss you most, Sweet Sister
When the radio seems to be playing all the right songs
When the sun warms me but doesn’t burn me
That I most often think of you and the life we had at home

Sweet Sister – we never knew what we were missing
We had our own universe there in that place that was built on love
Looking back we learned it was somewhat fractured but no less brilliant

The day when you shocked that lily white world
In your pristine white gown and over-sprayed brown hair
You laid that crown on the virgin’s metaphorical head

The night we sat at the old picnic table and drank cheap wine
We talked about nothing all night long until we heard the birds
The sun came up over my right shoulder and hurt your eyes

There were people who thought better of me than of you
Their minds were small and their vision was blurred

You became more like the old man than I was – despite what they said
You became more like the old man than I was – despite how we were raised
You became more like the old man than I was – despite how easy it was for me

Then came that box of building supplies and we built bridges not walls
You always asked for empirical – all I had to offer was anecdotal

It’s summer days like these that I miss you most, Sweet Sister

I celebrate your life
I mourn your passing
Mostly I just miss you

In Three Years (The Silver Shoes)

We never dreamed there would ever be a time that we weren’t together
You bought me these silver shoes when the black ones just didn’t fit anymore
Soon after the day we found each other – we knew that we would be better off apart
But we were trapped by empty promises to family and friends
The biggest and the emptiest of these lies were the lies we told each other
The biggest and the emptiest of these lies were the lies we told ourselves
We hung on – foolishly – to an idea that had long run its short course
There were nothing left but easy habits and low expectations

When I knew the weight of our life together was too much – I walked away
It was just before Independence Day – weeks after we marked our third year together
At that point you didn’t love me anymore – if you ever did at all – I’ll never know
I loved the idea of you but I only stayed because I was afraid to leave you alone
That final split was breathtaking liberation for me
That final split found me bursting out of the cold dark water
That final split was my rebirth into a better saner world

I finally pulled those new silver shoes out of the box today and tried them on
They are soft and comfortable like I always hoped we’d be someday
They’ll break down and fall apart in about three years – just like we did

In Kenosha

She has played piano here for a hundred years
Her bony fingers tripping lightly over the keys
Her clarion voice warbling songs of praise or sorrow

She is a slave to her own muscle memory these days
She says that it’s better than a slave to her practical memory

She has introduced the congregation to generations of babies
She has buried friends and loved ones and strangers
She will surely play here for another hundred years

1974: Revisited

On the crowded bus in the inky darkness
On the wings of a child’s naïve utterance
You get dropped back into 1974
A chubby kid in a tattered parka
Crunching through the new fallen snow
Your footprints tell the story from the back door
Through all of the yards ending at the railroad tracks
No one else from your neighborhood walks in this weather
You clutch your brown paper Jewel gym bag in your frozen fingers

Your basketball shorts are hand me downs
They were once your mother’s dance shorts
No one will ever know – that is your prayer anyway
The kids are more distracted by your cracked cardboard shoes
The school shoes pinch your feet and scuff the floor

The low-slung building overflows with familiar sounds
New gym shoes squeak on the highly polished floor
Bouncing balls beat uneven rhythm in their own time
Chuck Taylor rules the day – that big blue star glares at you
That big blue star threatens to remind you who you are
And the steamy locker room offers no solace – no comfort

You are not one of them – not in 1974 and not now
You are not one of them – not in this bus and not in this world

The siren piercing the night drags you back to 79th and Vincennes
Your little house on the quiet street is a hand me down
It was once your mother’s home
They all know – they all know

You finally get close to figuring out who you are now
You are you mother’s son and this is where you belong

Philadelphia 1977

I was never beautiful even when the illusion of my own beauty seduced me
And I carried that illusion – used it as a shield as I navigate my mortality
The illusion has let me down like an underfed love connection in Philadelphia – 1977

The philanderers and the charlatans of my dreams have finally caught up with me
They have taken my legs out from under me – as if there was nothing I could do about it
They did me a favor – they have stripped away the artifice that held me safe since 1977

I will never be beautiful but I will be honest – I will be out on the limb reaching for fruit
The best of what that old tree offers – that appears to be just out of reach – that fruit
I will not let myself down like bottle of vodka and a stranger in Philadelphia – 1977

On a Rooftop in Cicero

Because a lifetime ago something happened on a rooftop in Cicero
And no one ever really got the whole story
So we filled in the blanks ourselves
Ours was a much better story anyway
It was all about this guy one summer night on a rooftop in Cicero
His mother was taking him back to where he came from

When he saw her face in the drunken haze of the shameful moon
He wanted to push her off of that rooftop in Cicero
She moaned and reached for his throat as she opened her eyes
There is some truth here – some of this story is true
She looked in the eyes of her own son and didn’t know what to do

Now his oldest son looks just like his best friend
It is uncanny how much his kid looks like his oldest friend
No one here seems to want to talk out loud about it