2020 Marathon Hour 12 – Frankenpoem

A faint mist of vaporous emotion wettens the eyes
The surface shudders as sublayers are drawn
never looking more fragile,
A titan of warmth and strength.
leaving deformed shelter and drenched disappointment.

Too many, too close.
unexpected diabolus ex machina.
drawing the eldritch sigil that’s come to mean “sleep”.

Plunging to the bottom like a doomed plane
But their ghosts remain with us, fragments of plot or detail,
lost opportunities.

2020 Marathon Hour 11 – The Right Thing

It can be moral, ethical,
kind, and decent.
Generous and honest.
And it can still suck.

It can be costly, scary,
hard and ugly,
agonizing and vulnerable.
And it can be right.

They warn you that right isn’t always easy.

No good deed goes unpunished, after all.

But how many ways it comes at you:
Lost friends, alienated relatives,
bullying, backlash, bitching,
stress, anxiety, doxxing,
beatings, lynchings, arson,
lost opportunities,
a life measurably more difficult.

Maybe they should emphasize that a little more.

Just finding the right thing can be messy
Minefield messy, with a side of timebomb.
The Law of Shared Space:
With two or more sets of feet, sooner or later
Someone’s toes are getting stepped on.
The Law of Schedules:
With two or more sets of priorities, sooner or later,
Someone’s not going to be where they’re wanted.
The Law of Action:
If you don’t make a choice, you lose.

Good people get hurt no matter what you choose.

Even taking all the pain yourself doesn’t just make it right.
Because you’re probably a good person, too.
If you’re worried about doing the right thing.

2020 Marathon Hour 10 – The Books I Can’t Remember

Want to see a writer flounder?
Ask them to pick just one favorite book.

It’s a nonsense question; as easy to pick as a favorite breath of air.

Far more fun to ask about their least favorites!

Let them rip into some sanctimonious tract by a dead white guy,
or a pile of disconnected words from an alleged intellectual giant,
Or that fucking magical realist thing with that damned goose.

But then there are the books between; not worthy of love or hate.
The stories that fade and blend, authors and titles forgotten.
Like that one about Neo-nazis by Clancy (or a ghostwriter),
or the unwieldy fantasy tome where the halflings were deadly archers.

But their ghosts remain with us, fragments of plot or detail,
phrases or images unmoored from their narratives.
Digested, like so many workaday meals; and made part of us.
Enriching our work with shades and flourishes learned
not from some great master or college class,
but from a book we can barely recall.
By someone with the courage to write it.

2020 Marathon Hour 9 – Forever Your Surfboard

The little one clings my bare back,
The less-little one counts down from 3.
I jump, the gasp from above lets me know
for a moment, my smallest child’s
Smiling face touches the sky.

I spread my arms and splash into the water,
Plunging to the bottom like a doomed plane
I stay down long enough for my backpack-child to detach,
And float amidst myriad bubbles and four tiny limbs, 
A momentary elasmosaurus.

I surface, to high-pitched giggling and cheering,
the mark of any successful dive,
And I swim.  The little one latches onto me,
A trill and a tug as the elder does the same
I hold my legs steady, and let them ride.

As I pop my head up, draw in a gasp of breath
I hear the elder singing,  voice as thin as she is, as high as her spirit.
“Daddy’s my surfboard!  Daddy’s my surfboard!”
The smaller one joins in, with croaking harmony
And one disagreement “Daddy’s OWAH turfboard!”

I glide deeper, cutting off their nascent debate.
No one can argue underwater, not even sisters.
They hang onto me and eachother like joy trumps oxygen.
Their gleeful laughs fill the air as we breach,
And fill me more than any breath in my lungs.

2020 Marathon Hour 8 – I Sleep Under Two Masks

I brush my lips against my wife’s,
my whiskers tickling her nose;
and wish her a sweet goodnight.

I grab the awkward, jock-strap, polygon of my breathing-mask,
CPAP – continuous positive airway pressure,
stretch the bands until it cups my mouth and nose and latch it on.
A makeshift facehugger of medical plastics, its tail leading off
to a bedside contraption filled with distilled water,
rather than coiling my throat.

My hand searches, past pillow and tube, for my eye mask,
Molded microfiber, pillow-soft, hypoallergenic, light-proof,
pull the single strap across the web of my CPAP’s bands
drawing the eldritch sigil that’s come to mean “sleep”.

Three generations ago, my great-grandfathers curled down
under homemade quilts in crowded homes where “heating” was a luxury.

Further back still, generation upon generation made due
with straw mats in houses of wood or sod,
flies and fleas and children for bedmates;
windows of glass were for churches and kings

And hard-footed progenitors collapsed under the revolving stars,
wrapped in the furs of beasts they’d hunted,
the fading coals of their fires at their backs.

The kiss is the only part they’d recognize.

2020 Hour 7 – Rock Bottom or Something Like It

Rock Bottom is where you start from
That’s what The Program.
The same twelve steps for everything
From booze to smack to sex to love.
All starting from rock bottom.

Maybe I never hit it.
I read a book by a lady
with the last name of song
and two years of memories spun
cherished keepsakes hurtling
landed like the sick twist of an
unexpected diabolus ex machina.

Affection recast as symptom,
devotion revealed as obsession.
Defense shown as avoidance.
Love swapped out for addiction.

It felt cruel, capricious, ugly beyond measure.
And true, undeniable.  Correct.
Something beautiful, an inner treasure,
had sprung from a poisoned pit in my soul.
I recoiled from it,retreated from it,
wept and swore at the loss
of who I’d thought we were
at knowing too much of where we’d come from.

And no addict gets better chasing their high.
Every junky and drunk knows that much.
So I had to say it, a slow, messy goodbye.
It felt like pulling a tooth:raw-red, bloody
a part of me yanked out, irreplaceable
My mind still runs over the spot, searching
for what it remembers, what feels like
it should still be there. And it still hurts.

Every time.  Every day.  Which maybe means I’m not better.
Or maybe means I still haven’t found rock bottom.

2020 Hour 6 – A Dying Cat, Beloved

Socks soaked, again
Nose crinkles with fury
one more fucking thing.

How many times?
Too many, too close.
Not spite, loss of control.

Worse than we thought.
Sticky paws, wet fur, plaintive meows
gone unnoticed for how long?

The vet’s not far,
And she’s been sick before.
Still, she might not come home.

Very old for a cat.
Almost old enough to vote.
And she’s been sick before.

She’s had a good life.
Five cat sisters, older and younger.
A safe house, a happy home.

She used to be so fat
like a low-flying zeppelin.
Yeah, a very good life.

A generation-old cat
with the love of three little girls,
She’s had a happy life.

Six months, a year?
Still, no cold exam table, no needle.
She gets to come home.

Socks soaked, again.
Ah, that’s alright, little kitty.
It’s just a tiny thing.

2020 Poetry Marathon Hour 5 – Umbrella

It was a rainy year in college.
I had a raincoat,
But the drops would always reach my glasses.
And three-quarters blind on rain-slick concrete stairs
is no way to weather a storm.

My first attempts were colorful, light,
portable, collapsible.
A fine companion in a drizzle,
although scarcely broad enough even for me.
But a hard New England wind, a gust of misery,
would throw the flimsy things inside out,
leaving deformed shelter and drenched disappointment.

Then I found the right fit:
double-layered, with a grip built for battle,
a stainless steel spine, and a hood black as despair.
I carried it forth into wrenching gales
and weeping downpours
and came out clear-eyed and unbowed,
even when my shoes were soaked.

At first I held it low and close,
a double-octagon of barely-covered spokes
warding off both water and fools.
But with time, I offered the shivering forms,
caught unprepared in life’s storms,
friends or strangers alike,
a place in that dome of dryness.

The grace and purpose of any umbrella,
is to be shared.

2020 Poetry Marathon Hour 4 – Rita


That’s the word for you,
even if you’d never have used it for yourself.
That’s the word, Nana.

Barely over five feet tall,
But in my memory (and those of all your other grandkids)
A titan of warmth and strength.
We had our fights and disagreements,
Politics and lifestyles, money and principles.
But we all miss you, Nana.

Divorced, by choice.
In an age when Irish-American women just didn’t,
When it was as much as your soul
to leave a man who cheated, screamed, and beat.
But for your kids, and yourself,
you escaped, survived, and thrived.
And you taught us we all could, Nana.

Seven children.
Two’s enough to overwhelm me,
even with a partner and 21st century distractions.
I can barely imagine seven
trampling, demanding, LOUD, little kids.
And then THEY started having kids,
some of them not even out of their teens.
But you managed, and we loved you for it, Nana.

Laughter, and cooking.
Those are what I miss the most.
After life, those were the greatest gifts you gave us.
A meal whose savor draws a houseful of people
pulls them round a table no matter their schedule or mood
and a wry, bone-dry jab that sets them all roaring.
That’s the Family you taught us, Nana.

2020 Poetry Marathon Hour 3 – Ode to The Booze I Bought for Quarantine

Up and down aisles of glass,
never looking more fragile,
I wandered until I found you:
Faithful old friends,
new comrades,
some along to see how they meshed.

A few for comfort on bad nights,
or to liven up good nights,
and some just because Quarantine.
I promised you we’d both see the end of this.
In weeks or months.

I brought you back in heavy bags,
set up a place where the kids wouldn’t bother you
We started hanging out almost every night
(once the kids were in bed).
The news got worse,
the streets emptied out,
the numbers got uglier,
routines crumbled,
tempers flared,
but you were there for me.

But as things darkened further yet,
and Quarantine just became life,
I watched you dwindle away,
losing weight and color,
until a few of you vanished entirely.

Had I been relying on you too much?
You wouldn’t confirm it
(always so stoic).

But neither would you deny it.
Because, after all, you’ve never lied to me.

I gave you more space; checking in once or twice a week.
We don’t hang out alone as much as we used to, but you seem fine with it.
You have your faults, but you’re not needy.

I promised you we’d both see the end of this.
Even if we don’t see each other much, until the end.


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