from the Shepherd’s Center
This short collection is the fourth by our Shepherd’s Center Poetry Group.
These pages are meant to be a memento of our weeks together during the winter and spring of 2011, which I believe have emboldened us to find and affirm the poet in ourselves and others. Thank you again for sharing your talent and insight with the group.—Bob Demaree
Her dad admired him,
so she did too.
He got them free tickets
to Yankees games.
They read his bylined column
in the Herald Trib.
He was famous
in the family
for colorful language—
his signature line:
“You take a pee,
and we’ll take a powder.”
After the paper folded,
he did PR for the Jets.
He invited her to see a game
Her dad was dead by then.
She was thrilled!
The epitome of the young
she dressed with care.
He offered a drink;
she opted for Pepsi.
They sat together on the couch.
Suddenly he lunged
and tried to kiss her.
In anguish, she cried:
He said: “You have
to call me uncle?”
He explained it was
She agreed to go to dinner—
not sure why.
He flirted with the waitress,
who seemed to know him.
The numbness wore off
on the train back to
She called home.
Her mother was outraged;
her sister, embarrassed.
Then never told Aunt Bess.
Actually, he was an older first cousin.
He was likable, and a favorite of my mother.
He helped his father on the farm,
But during the great depression he tried to sell kitchen utensils.
My mother encouraged him to practice his spiel on her.
She bought a colander.
Riding a cycle he specialized in robbing
filling stations. An owner was reading a
newspaper, facing the door.
On his lap was a pistol, which he fired.
Uncle Gordon died in an
Long, elegant fingers untouched
Work boots, muddied,
Pith helmet tilted
A lock of black
hair fallen front.
A gentleman’s farm of
lawns and gardens,
mowed by a Saturday tractor
the fragile tissue of words
wrapping your small grief—
the sweet smell of hay
and the mare’s sweat,
the unbroken membrane
to be born—
without lifting your eyes
about you tightly
your thin translucent caul.
the light is cool and clear
and the air is filled
with the sound of words
their cramped wings.
A winter scene in Maine
a lonely abandoned beach
On the table, no hot dogs, no drinks
only clean, white snow
A mild wind is blowing
clouds are moving
The only sound is the ocean
slapping against the rocks
If your gentle soul listens
you may hear the voices of summer
trapped inside the garbage can
children laughing, crying and playing
adults telling stories, laughing, singing and
Sounds of sea gulls begging
for scraps of food
Now the gulls are calling to small fish
"Beware, beware, here I come."
Anguish and action,
Twin consequences of the flood of oppression,
Rise like the ,
Plagues and pyramids,
Pharaohs and prophets
Come and go.
Let my people go.
Let my people know.
Surge and suffering
Shatter safety like the hull of a seed
Lying on fertile ground.
Full of fun and frolic, my imaginary pal decreed:
“Strip petals from your mother’s roses;
To scatter across your bed.”
When Mother found us, lolling like movie stars
Tipsy from the fragrance of forbidden floribunda
she grounded me, ignored my accomplice.
My imaginary pal coerced me to slide down a fall.
I knew I shouldn’t. I wore new jeans.
“Take them off,” she said. “No one will ever know.”
Mother lifted ragged panties from the trash.
Scowling she asked, “What is this?”
I started, “My imaginary pal…”
Stopped, stared at my sneakers, who would believe?
My imaginary pal bullied me to ride my bike
Far, far away, fast on a busy highway.
I protested; she controlled the pedals.
Home after dark, I faced my silent mother.
She peeled a hickory stick.
“Why don’t we go deep into the wild woods?” I asked
One stormy day. “Okey dokey,” answered my imaginary pal.
Wicked wind howled; we stumbled over roots and bone.
When we sighted drooling dogs, I shivered, flew away.
My imaginary pal skipped on, foolish, unafraid.
Snatched up from witting,
Towed into space and freed to fly
At a speed above the edge
Where flying becomes falling;
Held up only by the love of wind,
For the planes’ form
Which took three centuries
And confirmed by
The tandem company of a hawk,
Wings also motionless.
We move together
In perfect freedom,
Knowing and accepting
If I Should Die
How did that childhood prayer go?
Something vague about the soul?
I seldom went to bed without it;
no wonder I have insomnia.
I remember a friend from the city who came to visit, and it was the early morning
rooster that caused her difficulties.
Then there was the neighbor boy who named
his pet rooster “Fi Shu Die” because the sharp
piercing crow cut through his sleep and dreams
long before the sleepy kid would have chosen to rouse.
But no cock crow do we hear today; no Chanticleers
within miles of this retirement housing, nevertheless
“If I should die before I wake..” is of major concern,
and a portion of us living here is almost surprised
every morning, on waking, to do just that,
One dear, poor friend, with fading patience
Daily faces that morning disappointment.
But as for dying before waking or otherwise:
May it never be said that I have passed away.
Nothing that submissive, that acquiescent for me, ever!
No euphemisms, please, especially—God forbid—
May it never be said that I have passed.
The teacher in me demands that it be said:
Life is not on a pass/fail basis:
no final grade you pass at death
by failing completely. I have passed
some of life’s exams, failed some, and would
prefer to have passed them all if I could have.
And, for Heaven’s sake, let no obituary report
that I have gone to be live Jesus.
(Jesus must feel terribly crowded) but above all
let me decisively, boldly, actively, die
or I will not play.
Such fine college students,
My minister proclaimed.
They sought a place to sleep...
My day care would work well.
Such committed young people,
As we talked earnestly
Of politics and change.
Such polite guests...
They left at dawn,
Infiltrated the crowd
Trashed the Democratic Convention.
Such lovers of peace
The Seven professed to be..
Until their violent acts
Blazed across the headlines.
My mother and her friend
Sixty years ago,
Wooden folding chairs
In the warm meadow,
Outside a white barn:
I’ve got two, who’ll give me three.
Cream cheese and olive sandwiches,
Brought from home,
Preferred to a hot dog
From the caterer’s wagon.
I’ve got three, going once for three.
My mother collected nothing in particular,
Loved those mysterious boxes,
Saucers without cups, perhaps a small
Unsigned oil landscape, hidden
Under an old Life Magazine.
Her friend would offer sagacious bids
Even Carnival Glass,
Storing up wares
For a retirement shop
Which, of course,