Sunday, October 27, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 183: Boys Nite

Boys Nite

A beer in the car is a good thing,
sweet and cool after a day in the office,
tart, sour, an end to tension,
an invitation to the coming party.

(Don’t crush the cans on your forehead
because your cheeks get wet
and your eyelashes stick.)

So I was wiping my face at the front door,
five cans of a six-pack dangling by a plastic ring
-- and no one answered my knock.
After another beer, I kicked, impatient, walked in,
wandered around the green carpet, hand on hip.
“Hey!”  Noise.  I followed it, descended into a smoky pit
down the stairs carpeted by candy wrappers and spare change.
Halfway to the bottom, I heard laughter
billowing out of the nimbus cloud.

“Hey, man!”

Sweaty, big-bellied friends in t-shirts
are good to have when your pack is heavy;
they lighten the load without being asked.
“Where are we headed?” I said,
because that's always our problem,
and threw the empty ring-tab
onto the overflow of trash.

A committee is a good way to reach decisions,
four mouths moving in unison,
eight arms rising high with the passion of the moment,
feet tapping with energy,
eyes watering from second-hand smoke
until everyone agrees it's been a hard day
and we all need more beer.

So into the car, me in the back,
kicking the suicide passenger in his ass,
making wishes on the change at my feet.
“Why don't you clean this heap?”
someone asks, and the driver explains
floor change is a family tradition.
“This way, I'm never broke.”

At the beer store, we have not quite enough
for a case, so the driver goes back
and scrapes the floor for quarters.
We get another six-pack
and everyone is impressed by his wisdom.

“Love,” the suicide passenger snorts.
“What is it, anyway?”
No one answers.  We crack open the case,
start the engine, and fall into thought.
And I think, This is sort of like love.

I mean, I have no idea where we're going
and neither does anyone else in the car
and really, it doesn't matter.
If I could stop time, I'd stop it in the car,
with this beer to my lips
and we'd never have to get anywhere
because for us, man, that’s the problem.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 182: Interstellar Waste

Inter-Stellar Waste

The boss was lizardish,
green and brown with a criminal record
but a regular guy, easy to work for.
He led the boys, Click-click and Dave,
from planet to planet;
and they picked up the crazy junk
no one else would touch;
neutron stars, strontium, powerful politicans,
acids, plague victims, antimatter,
and the odd corpse of a robot
which had failed in a bid for world conquest.

Click-click was the handler,
a black bug who hoped for better things,
like an end to Dave's abuse.
He begged to drive the truck but
the boss said "No, pilots need opposable thumbs.
It's in the union contract,"
so it was Dave who wove them through the web
of space and time, bottle in hand,
stubble on his jaw, complaining about his girlfriend,
wondering where his life had gone,
a thousand years off course
before anyone noticed.
They had to stop for directions twice
before they found the dump.

After Dave backed up the truck
and they jettisoned the load,
the boss swung them into orbit,
turned the oxygen to its highest,
and got them stoned on sweet air.
They felt like pals, then.

Click-click told them he would go
back to school for his degree.
The boss said, "Scum.
We're all just scum."
Dave stared into the black hole and
wondered aloud where everything had gone.

- Originally published in Beyond magazine

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 181: Old Rhinoceros Face

Old Rhinoceros Face Comes

Old rhinoceros face comes to her
in love, though he is from another star and she
is a plump, heavy-jowled gardener
always on her knees, breasts hanging down,
dressed in two or three shirts,
who speaks only Spanish.

Every day he comes to her,
ridiculous in his hot-blue spacesuit,
and brings her flowers
which she has never seen before.

Pinwheels and double-diamonds, half-hearts and bubbles,
hanging ivy which floats, hydrogen in the peduncles,
plants with crude, petal-blue eyes,
ones that sing like birds from their thick, brick pots.
She cries, "Vaya, vaya," spurns them all,
but still he comes.

She shakes her coal-black hair, wipes dust from her cheek.
He swings his arm around in circles.
He has no elbows.
Inside the crystal helmet his crinkled grey skin
grows white as he raises his voice.  He implores her,
bends down on a joint which is not a knee,
but she is firm.

"Nunca," to his proposal, "nunca" to other planets,
to gray-green skies, gnarled constellations,
to broken moons of silver, rings like a crown
-- "no, nunca" to spires on spaceships, to hopeless romance.
She is too old for all that
though, once, when he tried to give her a rose,
she smiled.

- Originally published in Beyond magazine

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 180: Memory's Cluttered Garden

Memory's Cluttered Garden

Back on its tarnished hinges
The gate of memory swings.
My soul wanders into the garden
And stubs my toes on things.
Stooped, I inspect an old nightmare.
Why did it once seem profound?
It's detritus from drug-addled college.
Who left this lying around?

Why do we save the tripe and debris?
Why not just laughter and bon ami?
The puddles of tears, the sweaty sheen of fears
Mar the landscapes of our memory.
Mental frost rots treasures on the vine;
Embarrassment over enlightenment burns;
A carefully tended rose withers on the stem;
Crabgrass grows over tender ferns.

We feed our blossoms wholesome water
And showers of laughter every night
But the sad truth of the garden is
Memory's buds flower stronger with fright.
Still this is an Eden of blossoms and surprises.
Still this place is precious and pure.
Pure what, I don't know, maybe pure clutter,
Or purely accident.  The past is unsure.

I swear I'll clean up the back yard
Some day when there's not so much rain
I'll weed out my memory's begonias
And plant fresh roses again.
For now I shut the gate of the garden
And turn my back on its noise
For it's better to live with the clutter
Than waste time with yesterday's toys.

-- A response to an old poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox.