Monday, January 22, 2018
do you remember our first summer
how we climbed up to the attic while your parents watched reruns
and you showed me your favorite record.
you held it out to me with bony fingers,
said this is how music is s’posed to sound and I marveled at the magic,
needle carving vibrations into vinyl.

you closed your eyes as springsteen spoke to your soul.

you tapped the floor in rhythm;
the full moon and a million stars shone through the porthole window,
lit up your hair with a ghostly glow,
blond locks mingling with pale light
and it wasn’t just me and you anymore because you and music were one,
the damp dusty air thick with thunder road.

you carried around those words and notes like they were holy.

three summers later you met a girl;
she didn’t like springsteen like I did, always changed the radio without asking,
but she worshipped you, you told me.
after school you’d go to the attic.
I’d climbed the elm outside the porthole window, bring a new vinyl sometimes,
and you’d share your dreams unbridled.

then your dad’s truck sped down the driveway, gravel spinning, and didn’t come back.

your girlfriend called it off,
because you wouldn’t tell her the reason for your black eye, she said.
but that night I climbed the elm,
reenacted your favorite song,
and when you laughed, lips turning up in a sort of half-grin,
music poured out.

but we always knew springsteen would carry you away once you found the courage.

with the scream of harmonica
you found what you were looking for, redemption beneath a dirty hood
I didn’t know which was louder:
those living chords, the soundtrack to your life
or the screech of tires on tattered black asphalt and the clash of metal on metal,
seventeen summers gone in a blink.

the impulse of a dream evaporated in the miasma of blood and metal.

so I chased it for you,
six months late, graduation gown in rags in the back of this chevy,
windows down, springsteen thundering,
hightailing it out of this old tired town.
I left everything behind me except the lull of your song in my ears,
and I and the music were one.

the impulse of a dream riding fulfilled on waves of the night.

where do you take you denim?


Saturday, November 25, 2017

they must be done,
must be done before Dad stumbles home,
stumbles home with beer.

Beer bottle in hand,
he tosses the cabbie a twenty,
twenty hours gone, now he’s back,
he’s back and fumbling.

Fumbling in the dark for keys
in his pocket, they aren’t there;
they aren’t there so he knocks,
knocks and pounds let me in.

Let me in, but the dishes are dirty,
so I meet stench of his breath,
his breath in my face whispering,
whispering did you do the dishes.

I do the dishes under rushing water,
it muffles his sighs that weigh,
weigh on my shoulders and eyelids and bones,
bones shuttering with the slam of the bedroom door.

The bedroom door,
behind it Mom lay ill,
lay ill two months past,
two months since she whispered warnings.

Warnings: don’t forget,
don’t forget to do the dishes

Blue Wooden Kitchen Table

Sunday, November 12, 2017

We never had much except mornings around the blue wooden kitchen table with meat from the neighbor’s pigs and grits from our make-shift mill. Grandma held a pen cap between her teeth, brows furrowed at the Sunday crossword. Grandpa was looking down at his latest Stephen King through thin wire glasses while he dabbed the corners of his mouth with a red and white checkered napkin. Eleven letter word for prominent, Grandma mused, and Grandpa said, Illustrious. He chuckled as Grandma hit him over the head with the rolled-up newspaper and said, I was asking Lila Jane, Hank.
            They wanted to send me to the boarding school across the state border, the one where Momma went to be a writer. On the shelf above the kitchen sink sat a jar, LJ’s school fund scrawled across the front in permanent ink. Grandpa would come home from the bank every Friday at drop a twenty in. Every month when I watched Grandpa sigh and lay his head in his hands while he paid the bills I would climb onto the countertop by the sink to get the jar and bring it to Grandpa; at first he would push it away with his tired fading hands, but then he would look up from the check book and his blue sparkling eyes would meet my hazel ones as he would reach out to cup my cheek with his palm and whisper maybe someday.     
But someday came and Grandpa collapsed on the linoleum and never woke up. I can't forget Grandma's murmurs of oh Hank oh Hank oh Hank my Hank when we lowered him into the ground the next week, how they folded up the American flag and laid it in my shaking hands because Grandma was too weak from the tears to grasp anything in her fingers.
The next morning Grandma and I sat at the blue wooden kitchen table and I skimmed Grandpa's copy of Children of the Corn. Grandma said, six-letter word for Russian peasant, originated in the Sixteenth Century and I breathed muzhik; she smiled when she tapped me on the head with the rolled-up newspaper. 
The jar on the shelf above the kitchen sink was long-empty so we replaced it with a picture of Grandpa in his uniform from the war and I rode the school bus to the local high school so we could save gas. Grandma tried to make coffee in the mornings but one day she sputtered over the words this coffee tastes like dirt, can you make it for me, Hank? So Grandma moved to the old folks home a couple towns over and I quit school and worked four jobs and made barely enough to cover Grandma's rent. 
The chairs of the blue wooden kitchen table creaked as I sat to dial the wretched numbers of the wretched man in the city apartment two states over. I’m in trouble, I said, and he recognized my voice. His words were slurred when he asked you’re not pregnant, are you. I said no, I’m not pregnant, but Grandpa’s dead and Grandma’s lost her memory and I can’t pay the rent. I got a check two weeks later, a big check made out to Lila Davis. I scoffed when I opened it because I didn’t know that girl, I was Lila Jane. But I signed the check and put it in the bank and went back to school and worked two jobs instead of four. And things got better.
           Momma had always told me hard work pays off in laughter so I grew to relish the achy feeling at the end of the day when my muscles felt like jello and little pieces of my hair were stuck to my forehead with sweat. I’d sit down to eat dinner at the cafe where I worked and smile as I ate because this was a place of unity and equality. In these walls no man had power over another. The beggar laughed with the Ivy League school girl over a song on the radio that had too many words and didn’t rhyme, and they took their coffee the same, black with two sugars.
I was taking classes at the University a couple towns over, in the same town as Grandma’s old folks home, and I’d sit and do Business Calculus at the blue wooden kitchen table after I got home. And one day a knock on the door yielded the view of a red-haired boy and some friends from the University. We need a place to stay and we heard you have extra rooms, we’ll pay rent, they said. So they sat at the blue wooden kitchen table while I changed the sheets in Grandma’s bedroom and the guest room. I told them about Grandma and every Sunday we’d take the crossword to her. Sometimes she thought the red-haired boy was Grandpa but it was okay because their laughs were the same, like honey on a buttered biscuit cooked golden brown.
A few semesters later by the exchange of golden bands the red-haired boy’s sheets became mine. We were having coffee at the blue wooden kitchen table and I was wearing his old Ghostbusters tee shirt when we got the phone call. Two weeks later Grandma was in hospice, but she had always said don’t hook me up to those machines, Lila Jane, let me go when I’m ready. So we let Grandma fall asleep and never wake up, and when we lowered her into the ground the next day it was just me and the red-haired boy there to say goodbye. He brought Sunday’s crossword and laid it on her grave, and I could hear from heaven the way Grandma rolled her tongue at the word fervent.
Two years passed and my belly was growing with the life of another human and the wretched man from two states over knocked on the door. Except now he was broke and cold, lost all his money from gambling on the Las Vegas Strip. I need a place to stay. I thought about how he didn’t come to walk me down the aisle of wildflowers when I wedded the red-haired boy, how his wedding gift was herbal tea, the only kind I didn’t like. But the red-haired boy smiled and shook my father’s hand and he stayed with us for a long while, in exchange for the money he lent to help us get by all those years ago.

He was sitting at the blue wooden kitchen table when he said it: I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. So we helped him back on his feet. He worked four jobs and rented the guest house out back, came home every night with muscles like jello and hair stuck to his forehead with sweat. And every Sunday we’d eat meat from our own pigs and grits from the mill. Little red-haired Hank ate from the spoon his Grandpa held out for him, and I whispered words to my red-haired boy as he filled out the Sunday crossword. We never had much more than that, but it was enough.