For John Swenning on the Occasion of His Retirement

They say that to be a poet, or even to read poetry, one must be slightly insane.
Which is not to say that the poet, or the reader of poetry, is to blame
For his or her own circumstance, predicament, or condition
Because it is really a matter of fruition.

Many a man or woman have I fervently but distantly esteemed
For the cut of his or her jib or the mire of his/her mud or the bite of her/his spleen
But whose poetic facility ranks right up there with The Best of Dick and Jane
Or Who’s Who in the World of Business, or a matchless tract on how to explain

The inner workings of ovaries or some other obscure but highly important organ,
And to listen to their patter for longer than 0.5 minutes I consider to be very borgan.
But, ah! The others, those rare bards peeking shyly out from behind their little tin shields
Who are equally at home yelling, “Grab a hunk of curb, asshole!” or yodeling odes about Elysian Fields.

There is no doubt that you are one of those not-so-closet poets that color the midst of us mortals,
And you are blest or cursed with a rare perception of what is right and good perhaps more than you ortal.
The fact that you choose to spill it all over everybody’s personal landscape, and make a few pea pickers of our acquaintance a tad disconcerted,
Doesn’t make your lyrical notions wrong or unwelcome in the minds of those of us with whom you have poetically flirted.

For it is plain as the nose above that cookie duster you call a mustache,
That poets, like everyone else, like to make a splache.
Fruition, you see. The favored friends you have carefully chosen to share the wit and wisdom of your sonnet
Are no less burdened to the task than is your ode-spreading head with the powerful urge to create laid onnet.

In other words, Screw it!
You’re constitutionally compelled to do it.
And those of us, who that one little fact doth realize and comprehend,
Consume your canticles with gusto, even if them we don’t always fully understand.

Disparaging trolls may piffle at what they consider the mawkish cutes you and I artlessly dispense,
But we sagacious souls turn our gaze to the stars and away from fools sitting on a mud fence.
If simple minded gherkins call us banal,
The are welcome to osculate the bitter end of my alimentary canal.

I like your stuff as much as you like mine, and if there is one thing I will always treasure
It is watching a man who unquestionably and wholeheartedly thrives on the pleasure
Of expressing his entire ethic in verse so that planet earth may as a place be a little bit better.
Even if he thinks it is ok to say farewell by means of a form letter.

(This poem was written in 1998 and presented to John the day after I received his form letter announcing his retirement)

Only in America

I had a doctor’s appointment the day the passenger jet lost its tail and made an unscheduled stop in Queens. My wife called from work to tell me about it. Sick to my stomach, I searched the online news websites for details. Nobody had much information.

I went outside and smoked a cigarette. The sky above the hills to the east was a wash of pink and gold. To the west, behind the house, rain clouds the colors of ashes were bunched like fists.

Later it began to rain. The water pounded on the roof, sending the cats flying for the bedroom, where they huddled cheek to jowl beneath the bed.

My appointment was a routine matter. I go in every six months to have my blood checked. I think my doctor feels the need to lecture me on the evils of smoking every once-in-a-while as well.

After the checkup, I went to lunch with my wife, who works in the clinic, and one of the other nurses. Later the doctor joined us. Nobody said anything about the tragedy in New York. The conversation was office gossip and chitchat.

The medical folks, knowing what was what about calories and cholesterol, ate lightly. Without apology or a twinge of conscience, I wolfed down a ham and egg salad sandwich and a piece of pumpkin pie.

The next morning the news was better. The Northern Alliance had waltzed into Kabul, and the guys in black hats were heading for the hills.

Weekdays I go for a walk in the morning with a friend. Our walking trail is a par course that winds through a business park on the southern edge of the city. On our walk that day, my friend told me that the Baptists were up in arms about the Harry Potter movie. According to them, it was satanic. I pointed out that the Bible has some wild and crazy stuff in it, too. My friend said that our religious nuts were as bad as the Muslims. My friend believes in God, but he doesn’t care much for religion.

Wednesday morning I read a story on the CNN Website about the rebels taking over a radio station in the Afghanistan capital and hiring women to read the news. Oh boy, I thought. Maybe we should hire the cowboys to do our public relations, too!

I checked my e-mail, and there was a message from my cousin in Minneapolis. It was a joke about a veterinarian, a cat, and a Labrador retriever. I had heard the joke before. I wrote back and told him that I was cheered by the fact that the good guys were winning the war. I also told him that I wasn’t going to fly on airplanes anymore.

My cousin replied that travel by air was safer than driving. Also he said he worried that the guys in the white hats would turn around and become the guys in the black hats.

I wrote back that you have to have faith in something.

That night I went to an AA meeting. The meeting secretary had dark smudges under his eyes; he looked like he hadn’t slept in a week. I asked him what was wrong, and he said that he had been in a car accident that afternoon. The car was a rental. His truck was in the shop because somebody had broken into it and stolen the radio the week before.

The meeting topic was gratitude. The secretary said he wanted talk about that because he was feeling pretty sorry for himself when he walked into the meeting.

A man who had been sober for nearly thirty years said that he was grateful for the things he did not have. He didn’t have a bail bondsman anymore, he said. And he didn’t have to get his financial advice or marriage counseling in bars.

When it was my turn to talk, I said that when we talked about gratitude in an AA meeting, I always thought about the pamphlet titled “Why We Were Chosen.” I don’t know why I was picked to get well, I said, but I was. I guess I just got lucky, I said.

My wife and I get up early in the morning, my wife because she has to go to work. I get up early because that’s when I wake up. I’m an early riser. Thursday morning I was up at five o’clock. I fed the cats, and then I went into the room in our home that we call the office, and turned on the computer. I went online and checked the latest news. There was a story about a plan in the works to destroy the United States. Mullah Omar was quoted as saying that “America will fall to the ground.” This wasn’t about weapons, the Mullah said. The extinction of America will come about if God is willing.

For some reason this story cheered me. I told my wife that I would be very surprised if God were on the side of the Taliban.

Thursday is the day the trucks pick up the garbage in our neighborhood. The sun was still below the foothills to the east of our house when I went outside to get the empty saucers and other containers that we use to feed the stray cats. An Oriental woman carrying two bulging plastic sacks was raiding the recycling bins, picking out the aluminum soda cans, I surmised. As I watched, she went from bin to bin up and down the street. Then she got into her car and drove away. As she left, I noticed the logo on the rear of the car. It was a Mercedes.

Holy Moses, I said to myself. Is this a great country, or what?

Tears Of Africa

No neon glare
on the plains of Africa,
no streetlights
in the Serengeti,
only night,
black as espresso.
Parched earth revived
by generations of tears;
Lazarus land.
of hunger closes in like hyenas.
Dream of them.

Dawn renews despair,
a second language here.
Red dust swirls
its death dance
with seeds of faith,
mere wishes upon the wind.
Children dressed only
in distended bellies,
adorned with flies.
I do not look them in the eye.

Tears Of Africa first appeared in [i]Snow Monkey[/i].

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