Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words. ~Robert Frost~
PROFESSOR SEAGULL MEETS THE BARFLY
Sometime in the mid-1940s, somewhere in Greenwich Village,
the dictionary definition of a little old man
shuffles up to a bus stop bench and frowns.
The old man sports a thick jungle of gray hair
and a wild tawny tiger of beard. He has wrapped himself
in a grime-colored trench coat that’s one size too large.
His toes peek through the toes of his worn, boxy shoes.
The source of the oldster’s chagrin is the lanky form
of a young man, much worse for wear,
who happens to be sprawled across the bench.
The young man’s face is pinched and mottled with scars.
The black of his feral crewcut betrays traces of early silver.
Uneasily asleep in New York’s damp October,
the young man shivers from the beige thinness
of his wrinkled summer suit.
The old man, indignant, knocks on the young man’s head
with a gnarled fist. “Sir! Pardon me, sir!”
the senior citizen says through his nose.
“You are in MY seat!”
The pock-marked kid stirs and pushes the senior’s hand away.
“Shove off,” he growls. “This is public property.”
The old man snorts, undeterred.
“You impudent whelp! Clearly, you haven’t the foggiest idea
of whom you’re speaking with. I’m none other than Joe Gould!
Noted Village character, wit and raconteur!
The subject of a celebrated New Yorker magazine profile!
Valued friend of authors, artists and seagulls throughout the city!”
The kid sits up slowly and rubs his eyes.
“I thought you were Little Orphan Annie. Clam up, huh? My head hurts.”
Joe Gould leans over the kid and sniffs the air.
“Aha! I thought so. Your breath reeks of whiskey!”
The kid sniffs a time or two himself.
“And yours reeks of. . .ketchup. Now beat it, Grandpa—
I got dibs on this bench, see?”
Gould pulls a pebbled school notebook from under his coat.
“I’ll have you know that I’m a historian—
the author of the longest, as yet, unpublished book on earth:
The Oral History of Our Time. Nine million words and counting!”
The kid scratches the stubble on his chin.
“Big deal,” he yawns.
Joe Gould’s eyes blaze.
“This bench is my office. The place where I commune with my muse,
as I record the speech of our day for generations yet unborn.
I’ll not see it misused as a flop for a common sot!
Vacate it at once, or I’ll return directly with a policeman!”
The kid grimaces and sighs. With effort, he stands up.
Abruptly, he reaches back to New Jersey
and clocks Gould in the face with a left hook.
The aged bohemian drops like a corpse to the pavement.
He’s out, cold.
The kid, glancing about, quickly searches Gould’s pockets.
He finds nothing, besides a pen and a bag of sourballs.
He retrieves Gould’s dropped notebook and uses the pen
to scribble a message on a blank page:
Bukowski tucks the notebook and the pen in Gould’s
coat pocket and walks off, sucking on sourballs.
The candy is the first food he’s tasted in a week.
RETURN TO RIVERDALE
Buchman placed his purchases onto the conveyor belt
of the Kmart checkout stand.
The cashier, a twenty-ish girl with Buddy Holly glasses
and a blonde and blue-streaked ponytail,
considered each item she dragged across the scanner.
“How many kids do you have?” she asked,
tapping the keyboard on her cash register.
“I’m sure they love the show.”
“None,” said Buchman, rooting for his wallet.
“Which show is that?”
The cashier’s nose wrinkled. “Then who’s this for?”
She held up a digest-sized magazine with a candy-red cover.
“Do you read Archie and Jughead comics?”
Stepping nimbly over the trampled carcass of propriety,
Buchman swiped his Discover card and
sincerely hoped it cleared. “Not yet,” he said,
“but I will. I heard that John Prine reads Archie.
If a mind like Prine’s can glean something
from the A-Man, then I figured I’d better make
a return trip to Riverdale.”
Shoveling the merchandise into a bag, the girl
looked at Buchman like your dog would if
you asked Fido to do plane geometry.
“John Prine,” Buchman repeated,
as he signed his name on the little screen.
“He’s a great lyricist. He’s written some
of the sharpest songs of the past fifty years.
I’m sure you’ve heard ‘Angel From Montgomery?’
‘Sam Stone?’ ‘Jesus the Missing Years?’”
Somehow, the titles became questions.
The cashier’s face said FILE NOT FOUND.
She tore off Buchman’s receipt and forked it over.
“Be sure to tell Veronica I said hi,” she gibed,
looking through him.
The dig cartwheeled down Buchman’s back.
“Will do!” he grinned. He walked off with his bag,
wondering if John Prine, the strumming folk-poet,
fancied Veronica’s legs as much as he did?
DUSK RETREATS FROM DARKNESS
Kirklyn trudges out into his backyard.
He knows he had a purpose in doing so,
but sweet Christ, for the life of him,
he can’t now recall what it was.
He watches the sun sink below the tree line.
Dusk’s invasion is at hand.
Kirklyn makes this observation of troop movements
his reason for being there. It pleases him.
Kirklyn hears, from two doors down,
voices, laughter and activity.
Through the neighbors’ chain-link fences,
he sees a group of young people
divided by a net—three on each side—
playing some kind of game using racquets.
They’re having a good time;
their cheering echoes off of each house,
until the noise floats beyond earshot
down the otherwise empty block.
Kirklyn smiles, slightly, in recognition
of the sounds. Such revelry used to come
frequently from his own yard.
The memories are hazy, but he knows
there were many faces—young ones,
just like the neighbors.’ And he’s sure too,
that games were played in his yard.
A big white ball was used. Or was it yellow?
Sometimes, thinking was hard.
Kirklyn shifts his weight from foot to foot,
trying to recall when the cheering in his yard stopped.
He thinks he might’ve had something to do with it.
He may have asked the young faces for quiet.
Kirklyn knew that he once enjoyed quiet.
He probably asked them more than once.
And just like that, the revelry ended.
Those young faces left and didn’t return.
So long ago, and yet he still feels
the weight of the fact pressing him.
They couldn’t have been mad, Kirklyn ponders.
After all, they did as he’d asked them.
They gave him quiet—plenty of quiet,
day in and day out, more quiet than he
had ever thought possible. So much quiet.
Until quiet was all he had. Were they mad?
Or was it him? Sometimes, thinking was hard.
Kirklyn knits his brows. How surprised
he’d been when he learned that quiet
made it difficult for him to focus his mind.
No freshness. Nothing to push back on.
Just himself, thinking his own thoughts,
over and over, until those thoughts
wore ruts in his mind, like the paths
his feet wore in the grass as he wandered
his yard, day after day. Stale thoughts.
They tired him.
If only those young faces would come back,
at least once in a while. He’d be happy
to invite them over. Names. Names, names.
Sometimes, thinking was hard.
“Mr. Kirklyn?” says a woman’s voice.
Kirklyn turns and sees a lady in a white uniform
standing on his patio. There’s gray
in her long brown hair. She seems familiar.
“Please come in now, sir,” she asks.
“It’s time for your medicine.”
Kirklyn follows the lady into the house
as dusk retreats from darkness.
THE HAPPIEST HUSBAND IN TOWN
Grady was visiting his sister, Min.
It was a pleasant-enough conversation,
made even more so by the coincidence that
Grady needed money. This time, Min said no.
“Hey,” Min said, after lowering the boom.
“I exchanged messages recently with a lady
I know on Facebook. It turns out that
she works with a high school flame of yours.
Do you remember Renata Russo?”
Before Grady’s mind’s eye, the name conjured
a soft-framed image of a diminutive girl
with olive skin, flowing black hair
and firm, grapefruit-sized breasts
that she’d rub against Grady’s back
whenever they passed in the hall.
“Yeah,” said Grady, scratching his ear.
“Renata was a nice kid.”
Min burst out laughing.
“Nice? I seem to remember Mr. Helvey,
the gym teacher, catching Renata and you
under the bleachers during lunch one day.
Your hands were up each other’s everything.
It was the scandal of that term.”
Grady sighed. “Well, Renata was a friendly girl.
Her hair was as soft as silk.
She let me comb it for her sometimes.”
Min fished her cell phone out of her purse.
“See how times have changed, my brother.”
Grady peered at the little screen. There displayed
was a photo of the now-middle-aged Renata.
She was still diminutive and her breasts,
as far as Grady could see, had survived the ravages of time.
Her hair, though, was now close-cropped and steel gray.
In the photo, Renata held hands with a taller, heavier woman.
The other woman, judging by her physique,
was something of a gym enthusiast.
“Who’s the other chick?” asked Grady.
“Your Facebook friend?”
Min flashed a mischievous smile.
“Nope. That’s Renata’s husband—Diane.
My Facebook friend says they married last month
after dating, on and off, for several years.”
“Hmm,” said Grady, nodding. “My best to them both.”
Min’s face fell half a mile.
“That’s all you’ve got to say? After discovering that
your great high school love is a lesbian?”
Grady crossed his legs.
“If Renata brings to Diane what she brought to me
under the bleachers years ago, then Diane’s
going to be the happi
Jack Phillips Lowe
Jack Phillips Lowe is a lifelong Chicago-area resident. His poems have appeared in Clark Street Review, Nerve Cowboy, and Creativity Webzine. Lowe’s most recent poetry chapbook is Jupiter Works on Commission (Middle Island Press, 2015). And he believes that Drooper, of the Banana Splits, is the most underrated rock bassist of the 1960s.
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