A Father’s Day Memory (2018)

My father’s love of music got to me at an early age. In his apartment he had a ‘music room’ with a reproduction of Picasso’s Three Musicians (Musicians with Masks) painting.

There was always something on the turntable, a ‘featured artist,’ and stuff I played just out of curiosity. I would get lost in the sheer variety, the crafting of the cover art, the liner notes, which I’d read while the music played. It opened the jazz and classical worlds for me, two genres that your average kid growing up in the South Bronx didn’t really have access to.

He had a particular fondness for the jazz organ of Jimmy Smith, the flute of Herbie Mann, the percussive mastery of Mongo Santamaria, and the radical balladry of Nina Simone.

What impressed me the most about my dad regarding this was his prodigious memory.

During my high school years he’d moved out to Teaneck, NJ, and I spent summers there house sitting while he was at work. There wasn’t much in the way of chores except on the weekends where I’d help with the gardening and woodworking projects, but during the week I was free to dive into the bookshelves and records most of the day.

One day I was playing Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis (Solemn Mass) because I’d never heard it before, and didn’t even know he’d written a Mass. My father walked in, listened to a few seconds of it, and identified it somewhere in the middle of the first movement.

I was impressed. To this day, I wouldn’t be able to identify that if I heard it; it’s not the sort of thing one often plays outside of those who are Beethoven aficionados, or hears played even on classical music stations. It’s a long, serious piece of music, to put it mildly, and I couldn’t say then (1977) how many times he listened to it himself, but it was often enough that he recognized it from a tiny section of audio.

As deep as his love of music was, I don’t know why he never became a musician himself; he was pretty much the kind of man who could do anything he set his mind to. But as far as I know, he never did.

The passion with which he did love it yet remains, and became a permanent part of my life. It provided an escape from the streets, a release for expressing myself, and a legacy my sons continue.

I now have most of my dad’s collection now, Missa Solemnis among them. I haven’t played it yet, but summer’s just starting…

Early on the Bay

The water between the rocks

sounds like the giggles

of an alien child.

The silence is

pierced

by birdsong.

And I am all too aware

of the time passing,

but it’s time

well spent.

I am solitary,

but not alone.

The difference is telling,

but I’m used to it now.

The sun feels so good,

like a hug by the fire

after a stormy winter day.

Small waves make

white gold sparkles of sunlight,

blinding even as they beckon,

but I’m not ready

to go.

Slow Down, the End is Near

Every autumn gathers summer to itself,

and takes it underground.

So it is with humanity,

gathered at the end,

knit together by bone, if not blood,

in guts, if not glory.

The maggots ingest our spirits.

The worms gnaw on our flesh.

We are bound to sin in our flesh,

and bound for someone to share

life eternal in our spirits.

There is, in the end, only one question that matters:

Where?

 

Heart of Steel, Soul of Stone

The heart of the city

is made of steel.

Its soul is made of stone.

It gives no mercy, and has no pity.

It eats the unprotected innocent and spits out

runaways, junkies, whores, and thieves.

It gleams like a glass eye, but like a glass eye,

doesn’t see the harm it causes.

Some write upon its heart to make their presence known,

their absence felt.

The city makes it a crime, and begins its slow erosion

of the anguish of your screaming soul.

It will not remember your name.

It will not care.

It may pay you in cash,

or redeem you in blood.

The choice is yours,

but not really.

 

*Photo by Loes ten Den at Unsplash

Holding Out Hope

 

Here, a small bright blossom

that contains a wish,

a hope,

a fantasy,

a dream

you hold dear,

a love you crave,

a life you desire,

a treat you’ve been missing.

My gift to you,

My wish for you,

My prayer over you,

My love of you

is all contained

within this

small, fragile,

world,

soft and fragrant,

sweet and kind,

and forgiving

of the fact

that I plucked it

from the source of

its beauty, now fleeting,

because you

are worth the life

of a small, bright blossom,

lasting,

and far lovelier.

Take it.

Together

we will be,

fragile, mortal,

and fleetingly beautiful,

holding out hope for far more

as we get less

than we truly deserve.

Dreams in Flight

‘Follow,’ they told me.

“But it’s way up there! How am I supposed to follow it?”

“Move.”

“But it’s faster than me.”

“Overtake it. Capture it. Subdue it. Claim it.”

“But it’s…”

One by one, they fell silent.

One by one, they went away.

The dream flew onward, and higher,  and further out of reach.

I watched until it was out of sight.

The cold darkness engulfed me,

and the ticking of the clock

grew a little louder.

I sighed, and walked through the night after my dream.

“Surely, it will land soon.”

But I’m still walking,

and the sky is clear.

 

*Photo by Ian Espinosa / Unsplash

Tears Are Not Like Rain

They say, these poets and writers, that tears fall like rain.

Tears don’t do that.

The salt of suffering is not in raindrops.

They accentuate the sadness already in your soul.

They make the room more intimate, and proximity

to a pretty mouth a dangerous and exciting time.

But they are not tears.

Tears are born of the sea, of emotions set adrift,

of a loss of direction, like storm clouds

blotting out the stars.

Tears are quiet, glistening

in the persimmon light of the setting sun.

Creeping like translucent shadows to hide

in the corners of the lips of that pretty mouth.

Tears are a release, a breaking dam that floods

the plains of your reason,

that slakes the thirst and balms the wounds

of a broken heart.

Tears are not like rain, but they are a reflection

of the inner turmoil of the roiling sky,

washing away your resistance.

And like the storm,

whose sobs are bolts of lightning,

let the quiet, pelting hiss of hurt

pass over you, until the clouds break,

and the tears stop.

And the sun in your smile returns,

bringing a rainbow to bind

the pieces of you

back together.

Tears are not like rain.