We Don’t Talk

I sit in my recliner — much as he
would have — with his feet
at the end of my legs.

But, we don’t talk.

I see genetics at work when I’m tired
and rub my eyes
with the heel of my hand .

But, we don’t talk.

I have heard the anger of his voice
directed at my children,
but coming from my mouth,

But, we don’t talk.

I have learned through observation
the art of bitterness
and long held grudges.

We don’t talk.

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The road was built to curve around
the old cemetery,
tire worn asphalt mirrors weather
worn headstones.

It is normally a quiet way home,
only the occasional passing car,
these days it is usually me, a few birds
and the restless ghosts.

Across the narrow path is an
abandoned school,
chipped red brick, flag-less pole,
empty playground.

There is no instruction in the classrooms,
but wildflowers still grow over the dead.


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Don’t Shake Fountain Pens – a Haibun

The fountain pen was left unused for some time, wrapped in the leather cover of the journal I had sworn to visit daily. When I accomplished a thought and began to put it to paper the dry nib jumped on the page, leaving blank spaces and smudges. I made the novice mistake of giving the pen a shake….. Now there is ink splattered on the page and trailing across the blanket on my lap. My favorite blanket, something you must have when you reach an age of sharing recliners with dogs on rainy afternoons. I looked for a moment or two at the mess I had made and evaluated the consequences. In the past this evaluation would have been preceded by a tantrum, replete with yelling and expletives. Today, I am aware that the blanket is no more than old fabric with no intrinsic value, which now has some spots on it. The page was merely paper, absorbing ink as was intended. Perhaps it is age that causes me to contemplate before reacting, or life experience, or merely no longer having the need to be angry about unimportant things. I don’t know if it is wisdom that recognizes spilled ink is not a tragedy, or amusement at myself for being unwise enough to shake a fountain pen.

The entry I was intending to start before the ink calamity is to be a letter to my young adult children. An opening attempt to impart lessons I feel I failed to teach about life, and living it, and what matters versus what is trivial. I think now the letter will include an anecdote about shaken fountain pens and old blankets.

Cold and rainy nights
precede warm and breezy days,
each a beginning.

shared at dVerse Poet’s Pub



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Shooting Tequila on Friday Night…at Mellow Mushroom…when you are over 50

I am sure she was relevant once,
the center of the vortex
at nightclubs and beach parties.
Her trilling laugh carrying over the music
and a hair flip to inspire Pantene commercials.

She would have been surrounded by semi-desperate
devotees searching for acceptance,
who only knew she was fun and the object
of affection from the pretty and popular people.

She played the crowd,
used ‘my dear’ and a light touch to get drinks,
a press of flesh and unspoken promises
to get anything else.

Now she has crow’s feet and an ongoing
battle against grey,
she talks too loud for the suburban dinner crowd
and gestures with her salt-rimmed shot glass
to make a point.

She takes the shot with a flourish,
performing for her audience,
her husband sips his beer and turns
to the TVs pretending interest in ESPN.

The rest of the bar crowd is there to eat —
somewhere for an adult to sit
without waiting for a table — with a self-imposed
two drink max with our dinner.

We make an effort to ignore the tequila-enhanced noise,
remember some antics from our own youth — some fondly —
and move our judgment meter from slight annoyance
to a small measure of pity.



shared at dVerse


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Dreams – Restrained

The boy is twelve, maybe fourteen,
course, curly hair cut close to the scalp,
his skin is dark, the genetic dark of generations spent
roaming savannahs under a hard sun.

Now he roams rough streets in a hard neighborhood,
more often hungry than the ancestor with a spear,
more often afraid of the lurking predator,
more often alone, with no tribe for protection.

He dreams of escape from this life he did not choose,
to run from this place of hardship and fear
to where lines of difference are blurred
and seeking betterment is not betrayal.

At night, when he flees through his dreams,
a hand grasp him with a grip like a shackle,
refusing him the escape for which he longs,
a hand with the same dark skin as his own.

Ekphrastic of a Seattle Mural
By Artist Alex Gardner

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I found out today the custodian
for our office
had passed away.

We often exchanged pleasantries
when passing in the hall,
she always had a smile.

I never did learn her name,
or where to send
the flowers.

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The clock in the living room
is of an old design,
white, round face,
block numbers one through twelve.


The hands are also the simple,
traditional design,
thin, black lines
one shorter than the other.


A quartz movement marks
the time, pushing the second
hand around with an interminable,
repeating tick.


We converse often,
the clock and I,
when the nights are still
and the world slows down.


Life and love are often topics,
along with hate and death
and fear and loneliness…
subjects where we share expertise.


The dog is comforted
by the sound of my voice,
but seldom seems
to notice the clock.

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An Early Winter Morning in Atlanta

The frost on the highway medians
melts into mist at the first touch
of morning,
steam drifts up from
the sewer vents.

Graft echoes through
the streets
like the sunlight
reflecting from
the glass faced monoliths.

Underneath a marble monument
a King’s dream lies forgotten,
its hope twisted into
perverted idealism
and political catchphrases.

Suicide fences are installed
on the bridges
over the interstates,
but not on the ones over
the chattahoochee,
screwing up traffic a greater concern
than a hopeless body floating

Some things are difficult
to notice
bumper to bumper
at eighty miles per hour.

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An Agreement

Waking up takes a while: a vague awareness, followed by some dozing in and out, then taking stock of surroundings before opening my eyes. It is the sounds you notice most in that moment, not the feel of the sheets, or the weight of your head on the pillow, or the feel of the air conditioner, or whether you have a foot sticking out from beneath the covers. No, it is noise that reaches your consciousness first. In this case it is a faint beep coming from behind by head, regular and constant.

Opening my eyes presents me with a lot of beige and white; white ceiling, beige walls, white sheets. There is one splash of color, the blue shirt of the beauty sitting next to the bed, facing me, close enough to be holding my hand, a sensation just now making itself known. I know her…..yes, of course. I feel she should be younger, that is the memory that first presents itself. Not young, but before the small wrinkles and the grey hair. I give the hand a squeeze and I am rewarded with a smile.

“You look tired.”

She holds the smile and gives her head a slight shake. “Must be your eyes, I feel fine.”

“How long have you been here?”

“Not too long, just enough to watch you nap for a while”

“You need a hobby.’

“This one will do me fine.”

Some thought nagged for a moment, tugging from somewhere in the background but not allowing itself to be grasped. Something I should be remembering, something that needed to be done. It was gone. She still smiled, still trying not to be tired.

“How long have I been here?” I glanced to the window, trying to determine a time. Day time was all I could be sure of. Based on the greenery and flow of conditioned air I would assume late spring or summer.

“Not so long. Nothing to worry about.”

My pause was longer, chasing other thoughts that would not be caught. A couple of faces managed to stay long enough to be recognized. I turned back to find her watching me.

“How are the kids? Catch me up.”

The smile came back, slowly, and she gave my hand a squeeze and settled a bit into her chair. “Thomas is doing well, recently promoted. He and Elizabeth are happy with their new home, and the children seem to really enjoy the new school. I do wish it was closer though.”

“Grandchildren….yes. Two? Yes. And one other.”

“Yes. Two for Thomas, Maggie and James. And Renee has Joseph”

“My baby girl. And she has a son. The time does not seem to fit together right…. She is good too?”

“Yes. She and Joe are very happy”

“Just the two of them?

Her look became stern for a moment, then softened again quickly. “Yes, just them, for now. I think she is seeing someone, but she will not speak to me about it. Maybe you can get some info out of her.”

She talked for awhile, going on about the routines and trivialities of family lives. She covered school activities and milestones and the comedies life will provide. As she spoke things seemed to align in my head. The cogs reengaged in the gears of my mind, and there was clarity. Memories surfaced, some still fuzzy, others amazingly clear.

“Jamie.” I met her eyes. She smiled, nodded slightly and held my gaze. “My wife. My love, mother of our children. How could that not have been my first thought upon waking?”

I thought a saw a tear, quickly brushed away. And more memories crystallized. Less pleasant than the ones before.

“Oh, Jamie, no. How long have you been here. How long have I been here?”

“Not long, really. Just a little while”

“Dear one, you were never very good at lying. You are tired, I can tell. We talked about this, we had an agreement.”

“No,” she shook her head, “we are not going to discuss that.”

“We shouldn’t have to.” I met her stubborn gaze, though it was hard. “We discussed it ahead of time so that we would not have to now. So that decisions would already be made when the time came.”

“Not yet,” she said with another slight shake of her head.

“Jamie, love. I can tell it has been a while. I don’t know how long but I know it is longer than we discussed. And agreed to, many times over. You did not give them the documents, did you”

“No, not yet.” She was no longer staring me down, a slight quaver to her voice.

“You have to. We agreed to it, we signed the living will and the DNR, just for this situation. This is not life, for either of us. This is not the living you are supposed to be doing. You should be traveling. You should be spending every possible moment with our grandchildren, not sitting around waiting for me to wake up and wondering if I will remember you today. That is not what either of us wanted.”

“I know.” She looked back up and matched stares again. Then gave the slight shake of her head again. “But not yet, I cannot yet.”

I nodded, and reached for her hand, raised it and pressed it to my lips before speaking. “Okay, I understand. But you cannot keep this up, you cannot continue to neglect living. Promise me you will give them the document. Tell me you will do it tomorrow.”

It took some time before she answered. “I will.”

“Good. I love you, and I would never have wished this for you. It hurts me to know I have caused you to be here so long already. Now, tell me some more things I am not remembering, about when the kids were young.”

She smiled.


When I woke I was facing the window. It was dreary outside, a tinge of frost on the panes. I turned back to the room and found the only color other than beige and white, a red shirt beneath a beautiful face. She was not as young as I thought she should be, and she looked tired.

We exchanged pleasantries for a while before I remembered the questions I should ask.

“How are the kids?”

She smiled, took my hand and gave it squeeze.


Filed under Flash Fiction

The Early Boats – A mini-essay

I was up early this morning, breaking the cardinal rule of vacation. The combination of an hours difference in my home time zone and going to bed somewhat early the night before — much to my nineteen year old son’s dismay — made it impossible to sleep in. After tossing and turning for some time listening to the seagulls chastise the dawn I gave up on more sleep and went to make coffee.
I threw on some clothes, brushed my teeth and made the obligatory check of my phone while waiting on the pot to indicate its completion. Then poured my first cup and settled onto the balcony to watch the morning from my tenth story perch. The sun was rising behind the building so most of the beach was in shadow. Most of the early sand fleas — the elderly and those with young children — had yet to arrive. The heat of spring is late this year, leaving a chill to the morning breezes. The ocean is fulfilling its obligations: surface rippling, waves crashing, a perfect blue stretching to the horizon.
Half way through my first cup I notice a stream of boats heading out, fishing boats heading to their respective captain’s favorite spot. These are not fishing boats in the sense that they derive their income from the resulting sale of their catch. No. These are the tourist boats. Charters which have probably been booked weeks, perhaps months, in advance for the sole purpose of taking vacationers out into the gulf to ‘go fishing’. I did not count them, but there were at least a dozen, probably more, and I know the same scene is at marinas up and down the coast. None of the catch from the day’s efforts will be sold. No local residents or restaurants will be waiting at the dock to buy the fresh catch. The owner, and usually captain, of the boat is paid strictly based on headcount. How many people can he take out on the water and make feel like fisherman?
I have been on one of these charters. I did not much feel like a fisherman afterwards. Allow me to explain how it goes. Once checked in, loaded and under way one of the deck hands gives you the safety lecture and basis instructions as to how the day is going to go. The first stop is for bait fishing. The boat stops along the shore somewhere and all of the miscellaneous bits left from the previous day’s trip are used as bait to catch the small fish you will be using as bait for the larger ones you are hoping for later. When there is a sufficient amount you head out to sea and all of the ‘fishermen’ find a place to relax. The deck hands proceed to slice and dice the bait into the appropriate sizes. A fairly impressive skill set actually, to be able to wield a sharp knife with precision on a fast boat bouncing through the waves.
After forty-five minutes or so the captain slows, makes minor adjustments to the boat’s position and cuts the engine. Then the deck hands get busy; assigning positions along the rails handing out rods with hooks already baited and yelling out instructions, the main one being not to hook your neighbor. From this point on it is mostly a matter of drop and pull. The only skill on display is the captain’s ability to position the boat over the school of red snapper. Almost every hook dropped — no casting per se, just dropping it into the water — comes back up with a fish, which the deck hands deftly remove. I am sure there is an insurance policy in place which discourages having the patrons handle to hooks, someone might jab themselves and sue after getting an infection. You don’t even have to re-bait your hook if you don’t want to. The deck hand will happily come by and take care of it. You probably will not even catch him laughing at you.
This continues until the fish stop biting, then the boat is moved to another spot and you start dropping again, until the time you have paid for has elapsed and the captain heads toward the shore. On the way back the deck hands clean up, stow the rods and get everything ready for the next days excursion. Once back at the marina they clean and filet the catch and provide you with nice little bags of ready to cook red snapper to place in your cooler. They graciously collect their tips for a job well done and you head back to your vacation rental to nurse your sunburn and check one item off of your relaxation to do list.
Such is the nature of our evolved society. Activities which were once required for survival have become sport and recreation. The fathers and grandfathers of the fishing boat captains once did the fishing themselves and supported their families by selling their catch. Their grandfathers learned to fish as a way to put food on the table. Now the fishing is done by large companies with commercial fleets, and if we want fish we buy it in the markets instead of off the docks. We now work for the means with which to buy our food, as opposed to actually working for our food.
The same concept applies to most of our sources of sustenance. I know many hunters, and for the most part they are responsible outdoorsmen who either consume what they kill or donate the meat to food banks. But it is not a necessity for them to survive. Most of their food still comes from the local grocery store, and their families tend to prefer the plastic wrapped product from the meat department to the wild game in the freezer. Hunting has also become sport and recreation for the vast majority of us.
Farming and raising livestock have also gone by the wayside for most of us. Some may have a garden, some raise a chicken or two, but like the fishing and hunting it is no longer required for survival. There are some exceptions, especially among rural communities, and we are seeing somewhat of a revival of local farmers markets and roadside produce stands. However, our convenience driven society still drives most of us to the one stop grocery store to grab our meats, produce, milk, eggs, dry goods and cleaning supplies all in one handy buggy and a cheerful bag boy to help us get it to the car.
Depending on where we live, many of us are limited on being able to revert to a level of self sufficiency. If, like me, you have made a housing decision based on good schools for our kids, a ‘good’ neighborhood, etc., then you probably live in a world ruled by homeowners associations and covenants. Most of these types of neighborhoods have some kind of prohibition against livestock of any kind and gardens are probably only allowed if they cannot be seen from the road. Along with giving up our ability to feed ourselves without a grocery store, we have relinquished the right to if we so chose.
This losing of rights has extended well beyond the confines of a neighborhood HOA. These acts of self sufficient survival are now almost all controlled in some manner by government. You have to have a license (government permission) to hunt, often a different one for each type of game. You have to have a license to fish. You may be able to plant a garden and eat what you grow, but if you wish to sell the excess you are supposed to get a business license and a health inspection. And, of course, pay taxes on the income.
We have reached a point in society where it is easier, and, for most, more desirable, to be dependent on the institutionalized food chain than to provide for ourselves. It is also a skill set which is lost to most. We are a service based economy driven by keyboards and screens, and the vast majority of us, me included, are much more comfortable tapping on those keys than having dirt under our nails. Additionally, we have allowed ourselves to become subjects to governments which make it difficult to hunt and fish and farm, but easy to buy (and pay sales tax).
Happily, we are seeing many reversals, or at least acknowledgments of this state of being. The fashionable trend in restaurants is ‘farm to table’ and ‘sourcing local ingredients’, which will hopefully lead to same mentality in homes. Although, I have my doubts about the willingness of large portions of our society to give up our conveniences. There are also price considerations. Sadly, it is typically more expensive to buy from the local small farmer than from the grocery stores who are buying in bulk from the massive farms and facilities of major corporations.
Our food chain has become global like our economy. We don’t buy corn from down the road, we get it from Iowa. We get our pork from Virginia and our beef from Texas. Most of our fish come from farms instead of the ocean. Grain is sold across oceans. And doing it ourselves — whether it be fishing, hunting, or berry picking — has become sport and tourism.

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