Rowboat

They said rowboat
lost untethered
with the ebb tide
one day late Fall.

She was to wait
but waded off
he back for the basket  
she in search of shells.

He forgot the sandwiches
in the car up the road
and the redundant bottle 
of purple pinot noir.

From the pier end
she fell hell bent
and got her into
the boat and off

waddled he oaring
she at the tiller
crossing the bay
to the picnic beach 

the old couple
coming years said
but the new owners
did not know them

said better keep
an eye out
not a good day 
for crossing the bar.

Say It Isn’t So

Say it isn’t so
whisper in my ear
it’s so soon for you to go
stay young with me dear
don’t make me grow old

Say it isn’t so
blue eyes once so clear
freckles on your cheeks
falling disappear
your skin where soft as milk

I used to slip the clutch
voluptuous your lips
your grip so loose
say it isn’t so
that now you’ve let go

There is no instant
metamorphosis
when bliss gives way
to the fish flouncing
in the bucket on the pier

Say it isn’t so
we’re all out of bait
you can’t remember
our last happy date
the old commiserate

but must go down alone
say it isn’t so
the best time of the day
when your eyes close
peace comes a wave

bubbles at the shore
at the tideline we talk
unsure is it going out
or coming in
say it isn’t so

After the Rodeo

One who behaves bears
want and likes we hear
called a good neighbor

not so with old friends
whose schisms gone
seeded of bickernesses

the aplomb the plums
you ate so cool and self
defining the sad clown

you know well long
after the greasepaint
has worn to raw down

and now we can laugh
at the one who slipped
and fell unexpectedly

but it’s canned laughter
the harmful joy
of this rodeo

where the cowboy
limps away to lick
his wounds

in the trailer
behind the tavern
plays a country song:

“I don’t know why
I married you.
I like you, but
I don’t love you.

It was just timing,
really, and I still
thought of you and
your friends as boys,

not men, the mean
characters my mom
went out with, and boys
could take you away

from the messiness of home
at least for a little while –
it wasn’t until later and
too late I thought

maybe I did love him
but by then I found out
it doesn’t take long
for most boys to become

men and now wonder
how and who is going to
take me away from
this old song again?”

The Urge

To bed, to bed, but quietly said,
with a quaint taste of ardour
and a slight touch here and there.

To wed, to wed, a bug to brush
away this so called love
of the troubadour,

whose quick amour
one does not miss
nor that tremendous bliss

of crushed roses steeped
in the gooey remains
of a Holy Grail lost,

whose love for itching
broke out in hives
along the flushed skin.

Temperature about the same
as yesterday,
rhyme outlook low.
Appears tropical
depression here to stay.
10 day forecast
too far out to say.
One never knows,
near or far,
but no one seems
in jeopardy tonight
who sleeps alone
in a bed of stone.

A Swimmer

When selfishly young
swimming up the waiting
tree the melons hung out
short tongue patient
and the bird pauses
in flight the voice unhooked.

Tongues burned for fun
and born with a bit of wit
at last fall off
into the bottomless pit
where the seafarer goes
to taste the fleshy fruit
and with a lick of luck
lives on but never
tells the tale.

We lived across a dusty tracks
(to make a quick cliche of this)
with the others who solely minded
their own one on one business
looking the other way
and waiting the proper time
to mow the ready hay
and bale for the coming fall.

Now older and just aging
a bit here and there
watered down and humbled
in a room in Opportune Pass
it’s all I can do
to bite my own inflamed
tongue when the urge comes
to untie me undone
turning and turning
on the moontide spit.

Three Men in the Breeze

Pinned to Ted’s chest a list of opinions
changed daily like a tie or underwear
and on his forearms his feelings tattooed
in secret for most days he felt nothing
unless he rolled up his sleeves

which he often did when Jocko came in
stinking of the couch where he put all
his cards into watching sports on TV
exercising his extensive vocabulary
culled from an encyclopedia of games

while story after story after story came
from the very vocal pen of one high
falutin bird dogging Mitch whose body
still twitched from his days in the ditch
of public service (“The buck stoppeth
here,” he liked to say, “safely in my
pocket. I did my time, it’s your round
to buy.”)

Mr. Moneybone knew all about finance
and happily pulled out a wad and spat
into a gold spittoon declaring one
on him for the whole house

though only Agnes in her corner chair
sipping rye correcting papers and
doubting Tom at the end of the bar
where the petrified wood curved
all the way into Montana and now

all their words gone to seed
mixed on the sawdust floor
with that tracked in from the road
in the Breeze a one draft pub
they considered their last deed.


Days of Wine and Roses

The days
of wine and roses
palm trees green
leaves dangling in bronze breeze sea
fallen fronds found for tiki faces
carved with pocket knives
in soft dry wood
of branch stalk deep eyes
and sharp shell teeth
long slender days
fat pug noses
and sunburnt legs
beaches galore
nevermore
a sober sunset for two
the days
of wine and roses
are here.

Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont, Mr Klein on Hydra, and Bendrix in the Wrong Bed

The theme tying the Palfrey, Klein, and Bendrix books together, apart from I read them near simultaneously, is how to live given our peculiar predicament in place and time. For Mrs Palfrey and Klein, the quandary is old age, for Maurice Bendrix, another of Graham Greene’s difficult but entertaining characters, it’s another man’s wife.

Elizabeth Taylor’s Mrs Palfrey finds herself widowed and looking for a suitable place to live out her remaining years. Daniel Klein returns to Hydra, the Greek island he first visited in his youth, now, the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus et al his companions, “in Search of a Fulfilled Life.” And Graham Greene, obsessed with another man’s wife, tries to reconcile lust, love, man, and God in London at the end of World War II, no less. The trio of books forms a sandwich of bread fiction with filling of popularized philosophy.

In Elizabeth Taylor’s “Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont,” first published in 1971, recently widowed Laura Palfrey decides she would prefer living in London at a partially residential hotel where she can take her meals and companions or not as part of the deal. She doesn’t have much of a plan, so the random but lifelike twists and turns come naturally, while old age seems to bring the same existential questions one faced in one’s foundling youth but perhaps put on the back burner during one’s years of forced employment or marriage, more concerned about the bread than the filling. But in old age, one returns to the choices of fillings. How, for example, we might fill our time.

Daniel Klein, in “Travels with Epicurus: A Journey to a Greek Island in Search of a Fulfilled Life,” argues for simplicity in old age, the art of doing nothing contentedly, a choice of course requiring a bit of privilege. But his point, in part, is that even those with a ton of privilege often waste it trying to stay young, while old age offers a predicament thoroughly to be enjoyed. Part of that enjoyment includes the gift of being untied from the train tracks of sex.

Graham Greene’s Maurice Bendrix in “The End of the Affair” enjoys no such respite. Another Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition with a movie-trailer-like Introduction better left unread or at least saved until after you’ve read the book, “The End of the Affair,” first published in 1951, is another of Greene’s fictions borrowing enough it seems from his own experience to qualify as fictional memoir, a good choice for those readers who might need the explanations of gossip as critical backdrop.

So, how does one live one’s old age? Well, one could do worse, for starters, than reading about it.