Friday, February 27, 2015
At the bottom of a cardboard box, pressed
by the weight of a Random House
dictionary, an electric toaster
oven, a Hoover portable vacuum
so full of dust the motor burned up,
an old softball, some greasy gimmie hats,
an incomplete set of melmac plates and cups,
a salt shaker, one of those holiday
hand towels too corny to ever use,
a miniature plastic pony with a
missing tail, two child-sized muddy yellow
rain boots, an electric hair curler,
and a pair of corduroy pants spattered
with blue paint, rests a Hank Williams cassette.
It is a big box, so it takes a while
to get to the bottom. The tape is cued
somewhere in the middle of a sad song
about feeling lonesome; Hank just started
singing the chorus when the tape was stopped.
Someone couldn’t take it. Or the day turned cheerful
and the listener did not feel like hearing
about sadness. Maybe the phone rang. Maybe
someone knocked at the door. For whatever
reason—one we will never know—Hank could
not complete his song, his recorded mouth
stuck open at the bottom of this box
donated to a local thrift store.
Say what you like about his music, Hank
had apparently said all he was permitted
to say about his singular version
of sadness. Nobody is listening.
Half a dozen additional boxes
and a mound of stuffed plastic bags
need to be opened. The volunteer at
the sorting table is too busy to cry.
Friday, February 20, 2015
The photo in the magazine glowed with the kind of luxury reserved for families of wealth, a financial torch passed down for generations with nobody getting burned, so I made my reservation, two nights, and asked if they offered an AARP discount.
The voice at the other end of the line had a distinct British accent and he asked me to repeat my request.
“AARP discount” I repeated.
He said he’d never heard of such a thing, that it sounded a bit guttural for their hotel, and that maybe I’d prefer one of those new hotel chains with refrigerators and microwaves in every room.
“No, I’ll stick with you” I said and he said “Very well.”
He could have said “Very good” but his language – a sign of breeding – assured me I had made the right choice.
When I arrived no uniformed valet greeted me, which seemed odd. I parked the car and walked into the lobby. The check-in desk wasn’t really a desk, but an old three drawer dresser beside a wooden stool.
“Very antiquey” I said to the receptionist.
“Pardon me?” she said.
“I was just commenting on the old world elegance of your furnishings.”
She glanced down, shoved a sock back into its drawer.
“I beg your pardon” she said, a twinge of embarrassment flushed in her cheeks. “Do you have any luggage?”.
“I left it in the car” I said.
She reached into another drawer and retrieved an oak paddle which she slammed against the dresser. Immediately a little girl clad in rags emerged from behind a curtained doorway where it appeared she’d been sleeping.
“Get the gentleman’s bags!” the receptionist shouted, as she swatted the girl’s backside with the board.
“No, really, I’ll carry them myself. They’re actually quite heavy” I said.
The little girl glanced back toward her keeper like one of those orphans you see in an illustrated Dickens novel.
“Very well” the woman said, and the urchin disappeared behind the curtain.
I climbed the stairs to the fourth floor, toting my suitcases. A sign on the elevator read “Out of order” and the creaking stairs reminded me of a Bronte novel, though I can’t say which one, those sisters arranged in my mind like identical hotel room doors.
I located 432 at the end of the hall and as I reached for my key somebody inside the room coughed. I knocked.
“I’m sorry” I said, “I thought this room was mine.”
The same little girl pulled the door wide and ushered me through with a gesture. I surveyed the room with a sweeping glance while she went back to sweeping the floor. A wooden palate in the corner with fresh straw spread across it, a bucket turned upside down beside a bigger bucket with a lid, like a crude unsteady table, and a pitcher of water.
I had stepped into another century and my luggage standing in the hall looked so out of place I decided to leave it. I closed the door. A stench from the street came up through an open window.
If I could survive for two days without festering boils and a fever I’d have to consider this little getaway one of my most memorable.
Friday, February 13, 2015
As students take their seats, Russia
looms gloomy and cold. Here it is a warm
fluorescent evening. The hills where Chekhov
grew up stay gray as a schoolteacher’s slate.
Nobody can see the snow falling unless
they imagine chalk dust five feet deep.
The urge to talk about losing a loved one
falls to nobody else but me, who’ll be
speaking for Chekhov. I start to say
something about sorrow but the flutter
of textbooks and a shuffling of feet
make me look up at the many young
faces arranged as a study in grief. I say,
Turn to page twenty-one, and a shiver
sweeps through a dark grove of trees. I ask,
How many have ever suffered great loss
and Anton at the back of the room
raises his hand, clueless that his life
had ever been assigned as homework.
Friday, February 6, 2015
The universe empties through a hole
in the back of my head.
I can’t see it disappear,
don’t feel it like a draft under the door
but I know that’s where it goes,
sure as potatoes sprout eyes in the dark,
sure as the figures from my dreams
appear like glyphs on the walls
of my calcified skull.
In the imaginary direction of time
I am always starting over
and yet I have always been
like a particle of energy
drawn toward an event horizon,
a black hole
elongated like spaghetti by mathematics
then inexplicably let go.