Light Up Boys

When we were nine, Louie and I copped a pack of Lucky Strikes. Mainly, he did. The smokes did come from his apartment, from the carton stashed in his mother’s dresser and I only waited on the back steps while he pilfered.

I brought the lights because someone was always smoking at my house and they only kept matches around in case the lighter didn’t work. In fact, there wasn’t a day I went without the ratchet noise of the thumb-induced spin of the friction wheel, the flame leaping up to ignite that orange ashy circle and hearing the metal lighter lid snap back in unison with a sharp flick of the wrist.  Synchronized with a deep draw from a cigarette, cradled by my mom’s first and second fingers, or from a cigar pinched by dad’s thumb and forefinger and watching their faces magically reappear from the dissipating smoke, who wouldn’t want to light one up?

Louie and I ran a coupla blocks down to the railroad and a side-tracked box car, with its doors slid wide open, beckoning us, “Come on in for a smoke boys. Get out of that hot July sun.” So we clambered in, sat leaning against the side of the car and lit up.

Well, eventually, we lit up. There was coordination involved. I noticed Louie held his Lucky like a lady. I had kind of a smug satisfaction knowing I used my thumb, smoking like a man.

I about went cross-eyed looking down my nose to the end of the cigarette trying to get the match flame to line up with the end of the cigarette. I was either about four inches past the ignition point or in danger of scorching my lips. Finally, we decided to light each other’s cigarette but, even then, it never occurred to us to suck in when the match was in the right place.

There we sat, next to the door, in the shade of the boxcar, sucking on one cigarette after another. I told Louie that my folks talked about inhaling. We didn’t, quite, know for sure what that was until we discovered it by accident. Our eyes watered and our heads hurt. We coughed and gave serious thought to puking when, darkening our doorway, a silhouette of a head said, “Boys, give me a stick.”

We didn’t know what a stick was but, the guy scared us about half-to-death.  We jumped up and wanted to flee but we were afraid to get near the door, our only avenue of escape, where the faceless head wanted a “stick.” We bounced from side to side in the car, even managed to knock one another down.  Louie kept shouting, “Don’t hurt us.  Give him a stick.”

I feared the silhouette might slide the doors shut and our bodies would be found frozen next winter in Winnipeg.

“Boys, just give me a cigarette.  I ain’t going to hurt you.”

I kept thinking, “What he really means is that he ain’t going to hurt us much.”

Louie tossed the cigarettes over to the doorway, as kind of an offering. The silhouette took two and disappeared.

We peeked out the door of the boxcar.  The coast was clear and we didn’t slow down until we got to Louie’s back porch.

We both were about to turn green when Louie said,  “If you bring the matches I can get another pack tomorrow.”

I didn’t play with Louie anymore that summer and he moved away just before school started.  As for smoking, I never tried again until I was in college in the ’60’s but, I never inhaled.

Insecurity Blanket

More scared of being scared than scared,

she cowers under the covers.

Barely breathing and keeping quiet

she hears only her heartbeat.

In darkness, under cover,

she sees nothing.

then, comes the smell

of tepid breath,

then, comes the beat

not in sync with her heart,

then, in deep distress,

yellow eyes glow

then, the mouth full of canines

snap in her direction.

then, the blanket is thrown off

when she calls, “Mommy,”

then, no one answers,
as, the blanket muffles…

Needy Man

Four minutes seep by,
so he freaks out,
as his call goes unreturned,

every sixty seconds.

His confidence hissed out of him,
like steam from a punctured pipe,

about the time he lost his job.

He absorbed attention,
like parched grass gulps rain,

about the time arthritis gripped him.

Suspicions whirl,
anxieties engulf,
as he discovers,
no one needs a needy guy.

Fear of Buzzing

I always give a wide berth to bees,
so I notice when they’re absent.
Behavior borne not of fear but healthy respect,

and recollection of stingings.

Avoid a soaking
get out of the rain.
Avoid a stinging,

stay away from bees and,

where bees hang out,
which makes me
suspicious of flowers, spilled coke

and other blooming things,

so while wide-berthing hostas,
listening for tell-tale buzzing,
I notice flowers still bloom

but bees are gone.

I wish no harm for bees or me,
hope to see them next spring,
but, until then,
I walk boldly by the hostas.

Most of All, I Miss…

I miss the crack of the bat,
the slap in the glove,

dirt and blood collected grabbing a backyard fumble.

Gone is dawn fresh dew,
wicked into blue jeans from waist-high soybeans,

when I walked fields, hoeing weeds.

Nearly forgotten are post-midnight bike rides,
past teeth-bared, ready-to-bite dogs,

and skeleton-filled cemeteries.

I remember script less dates,
starring long smooth legs,

delirious hands and confusion.

I miss,
smells of rain before it falls,
fractal forest shadows,
dreaming of love,
reading Dickens and Dickinson the first time,

my hand wind-surfing at 70 MPH out the car window.

Most of all I miss me.

Seeking Trash

He never found an unbreakable speed limit but, braking was the exciting part of riding with Dad.  The blur of speeding was predictable.  If we were in the car and dad was driving, and he always drove, we were speeding. 

Braking hard was always a surprise.  Some of our cars didn’t even have safety restraints.  When the cars did have seat belts, they were buried in the seats because Dad hated them, reasoning, “If we are in a wreck and the car catches on fire, we might not be able to get the belts loose and we’d burn up.”   He also comforted my seven year-old self with, “When we get in a wreck and get knocked out, the cops may not be able to get us loose before the car explodes.”

My safety restraints were the dashboard and the back of the front seat.

Continue reading Seeking Trash

No Matter How Hungry

She sees me glance at the kitchen floor,
shrugs her shoulders
and says, “It has character…

tells a story.”

The seven inch slash of marinara
speaks of pizza abuse,
spaghetti flinging or

some Mafioso mystery.

Crumbs leave a trail
so disturbed by foot traffic
that neither origin or destination

can be tracked.

Splots dot the vinyl floor
in denominations of dimes, pennies,
nickels, quarters, and,

still crawling, intergalactic currency.

Mainly, the floor cries out,
“If it falls jelly side down,
don’t pick it up
to eat it.

You May Recall

Often late in July but,
always in August,

cicadas sang.

Dogday cicadas lullabyed,
then awakened me,

usually, within the same hour.

Like everything repeated,
their song’s rise and fall,

grows familiar.

When that happens,
you notice them about as often

as you think about breathing.

You brush away a silent skeleton,
realize the song has stopped,

and night is as empty as a cicada’s shell.

Someday, your mind may brush against
a rough, frail memory and you may recall,
I once sang for you.

Care For an Apple?

Premeditated flickers 
beneath lifeless eyes

whisper, “come here.”

As fangs display,
she leaps away

from the striking snake.

Shouting encouragement to her hoe
she swings, reflexively, reactively,

righteously in response to preemption.

As dead eyes flicker out,
she weeps,
wondering of fruit and trees.