A Happy Poem or Two: (from A Scattered Shower of Poems, circa 1985)

As I was moving from PA, I literally found some of my old poetry in a shoe box I thought was long gone. The following poem is from the second of two collections I wrote back in 1985. One was called Assorted Absurdities, and the other, A Scattered Shower of Poems, hence, the image. Both volumes were a mixed bag, and seeing some of the poetry here on wordpress tonight, I got jealous (yes, jealous. Don’t judge me…well, go ahead, but it won’t matter…really, it won’t…ok stop, I can’t bear it)

I hope you enjoy one of the better efforts (imho, as they say…)

A thing I must more often do

Is write a happy poem or two,

To fashion words into a smile,

To while away a little while.

But then a word, a line

Not right,

And then I’ll stay up through the night

And curse and brood and BREAK MY PEN!

Oh goodness, there I go again…

A thing I must more often do

Is write a happy poem

Or two.

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.

A Scattered Shower of Poems

1985 All rights reserved

Closed for the Season

One of my favorite summer activities in my new state was to go down by the waterfront and look out over the sun spangled waters of Raritan Bay, watch the dinner cruise ships, the fishing boats and jet-skis, hear the gull cries echo, smell the brine (that is brine, right?) and envy the homes of the comfortable with their private beaches WAAAAY on the other side. (Here, I imagined a home invasion where I arrived with luggage in hand, saying, “I’m only staying for a week. What’s for dinner? Is that flatscreen a 1080p? Where’s the guest bedroom? Is the maid friendly? )

As I imagined my bemused but agreeable hosts allowing me access to their luxurious residence, I’d go to the ice-cream parlor and get a chocolate shake, or something with cookies in the title, or a chocolate based flavor with an extra ‘drizzle’ of caramel, which in my case means almost more syrup than ice cream. Next to living free in a rich person’s home for a week, (before I get my own, of course),  I could happily die drowning in a vat of caramel.

Soooo….it was the third week of October, and a quiet Friday evening. I went down to the waterfront, and after re-establishing the fact that the homes I liked were still there for the envying, I ventured to the ice cream parlor, only to see this sign:

CLOSED FOR THE SEASON: Our last day was October 13th (Columbus Day)

   I suppose it’s the right thing to do with an ice cream store in the winter, but really, could they not have converted into a coffee shop for the winter?

I stayed for awhile, enjoying the peace and quiet, not envying anything or anyone, happy to be alive, happy the gulls were still there, happy the sun was out even though it was setting, happy to feel the cool wind off the water, and I could see the twilight colors filling in with deep blue shadows, and watch the night lamps come on to push back the impending darkness for a while.

I could hear the gentle lapping of small waves against the rock wall, and I watched the first stars come out, small and shy, like children peeking from behind a grown-up’s leg.

It became all right that the ice cream parlor was closed for the season.

In fact, it was perfect.

Underground Encore

Just to provide some background for this story:  I started out as a guitar player at the age of 11. I had a classical acoustic guitar and I was going to be the next Earl Klugh. Between the ages of 14 -17 I sat in with these old jazz heads in Washington Square Park.

I stayed mostly silent but they let me join them on some of the easier stuff, until one day I heard the words from the de facto leader of the group. “You did a nice job on that.” It was, at the time, like a five-star rave review in the New York Times, but way led on to way, and in time, the group thinned out, and eventually they didn’t come back. And after awhile, as I sat in with new players and did new songs, way continued leading on to way, and I stopped going there as well.

I’ve often thought about those men, old men even then, no doubt passed on by now, and I’ve been thankful they were gracious to a young man with a love for the music who didn’t have the equipment or the know-how to play it, but who took what he had, and eventually heard the words, “You did a nice job on that.”

As jazz continues to hold a precarious place on the American music scene, I wanted to write something to show my appreciation not just to those men I sat in with, but to others like them who keep the flame in the hot tunnels, smoky clubs, concert halls, and  libraries and museums around the country and around the world. Now, without further ado….

The sun was sinking into the river against the city skyline. Leon sat in a patch of it as it came through the window, his shirt and tie barred, like Cyrano’s body, with the shadow of crossbeams that separated the window panes.

The doctor came out, and Leon stood up.
The doctor’s face said everything.
“I’m sorry, Leon. The tests are conclusive. I don’t know what to say that would make it easier.”
“Ain’t nothing left to say.”
“Is there anyone you’d like us to contact?”
“Got someone, but I’ll take care of it.”
“All right then. And Leon…” The doctor offered his hand.
Leon took the doctor’s hand in both of his.
“You done what you could, doc. thank you.”

******************
He walked out into the evening, the street alive with people and lights, cars and movement, the last of the sun ray’s deepening the shadows to a dusky blue.
The subway rumbled beneath him, and he headed toward the nearest station, then stopped.
Be underground soon enough. No need to rush.

He chuckled at his own weak joke, and took the long walk home.

*****************
His daughter was all he had left for family, and he wrote her now:

“Everything you need to know is in that old cookie tin you gave me for Christmas all that time ago. Everything’s in there, along with a note for my last wishes. I got some time yet, but I don’t, so you don’t have to come tomorrow, but don’t come too late. I don’t want to go in no potter’s field, though He’ll find me if I do.
“Just try not to let it happen, that’s all.”

*********************
His battered saxophone case was under the rickety bed, with the tarnished, well worn saxophone inside. He pulled it out, and sat on the edge of the bed, and looked at it, going back in his mind to the smoky nights, spent playing til the sun came up, so dapper he glittered in the spotlight, and later the feel of a full, warm woman on his lap, in his arms, in his bed, til time passed and the people moved on, and the clubs closed, and his career stalled, and stopped where it had started, and never moved again.

********************
Bars replaced clubs, drink replaced music, and even the most stubborn woman he’d ever met who tried to stay with him no matter what, threw in the towel before her own youth was wasted with a man who couldn’t move on, whose identity was too closely tied to what he did, and not who he was.

********************
Back into the evening streets, his case bumping along his spindly left leg, his suit fitting badly, but clean, and his face washed, he paid his fare, went down to the subway platform, but he didn’t open his case for change this time.

***********************
In his mind’s eye he saw her, regal in her red dress, her red lips matching, all of her full and shiny in the dim light. Her mahogany eyes gazed into his as she leaned forward to light his cigarette, and as he took her hand in both of his, she leaned forward and whispered in his ear.
“Play me something.”

She was leaving it up to him what to play, and he knew so many songs, but as he looked back into her eyes, and saw her smile at him, the song came like a lightning strike.
He played her something. And something else, and something else, til the band caught the pattern and the gist as they caught them staring, and they smiled and shook their heads, and simply followed.
“Leon at it again,” said the piano man. “On three, fellas…”
Three months later, they all came to the wedding.

*************************
Leon played the set through, but it was melancholy with a twist of bitter, haunting and bluesy and sad, with a splash of hope, and a sprinkle of joy.
A young cop began to walk toward him, but something made him stop, and he paused for a moment to listen, and a crowd began to gather. This was not the average subway joe who practiced for coins. Those who knew music knew this was the real thing, and those who didn’t felt it.

“All the Things You Are” echoed throughout the station and into the tunnels, a plaintive, restive, devotion leaking out with the realization of how utterly unattainable all of her had been, in the end.

*********************

The song ended, and the crowd clapped loudly until the rumbling train drowned it out, and they turned away to get on with their lives.
The cop came up to him.
“I know you. I know that song. My father had one of your records, and he played it all the time.”
“Did he, now?” said Leon, wiping the mouthpiece. He grinned, turned to look at the cop, a twinkle in his eye. “Only one?”
“No sir,” the cop laughed, “he had others, but that’s the one he played the most.”
“Played,” Leon said. “Is your father still alive?”
“No sir, he passed away five years ago.”
Leon straightened, gave the cop full attention.
“I’m sorry, young man.”
The cop said nothing for a moment, then “It was an honor to hear you play live, sir. I only wish my dad would’ve been here.”
“My pleasure,” Leon began to walk away.
And then he turned to the cop, and seemed to think a moment, and walked back, and held out his saxophone case.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m giving this to you.”
“Why? I can’t take it. Don’t you need it?”

Leon sighed. “No, I don’t. See, I’m about to meet your daddy, and we’re gonna be talking jazz for a long, long time.”
It took a moment, and then the cop’s eyes widened.
“Won’t be long now. Left everything else to my daughter, but she ain’t gonna want this old battered up horn. Won’t mean nothing to her except her daddy wasn’t home a lot, and she won’t even think to sell it, and probably just throw it away.”
The cop looked downcast.
“You gonna take this?”
“I can’t, sir.”
Leon leaned in, like he was telling a secret. “Tell you what, turn it in to lost property, then file a claim for it on my daughter’s behalf, and take it later.”
“Mr. Leon, are you sure?” The cop took the case like a sacred offering.
Leon straightened again. “I am. It’s the least I can do for a young man who grew up with my music, and who saw my last concert.”
The cop seemed to flinch.
“I…I’m sorry, sir. I truly am.”
Leon put his hand out, and the cop took it, and Leon put his other hand over it.
“It’s all right, son, you done what you could. Thank you.”

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.
May 2, 2014
All rights reserved

Shadow Whispers

I stared into the Shadows

The Shadows stared at me

And so we asked each other

“What is it that you see?”

I said “I see the ashes of plans

I once did trust”

The Shadows whispered back to me

“We see but blood and dust.”

 © Alfred W. Smith, Jr.
2009
All rights reserved

Waiting on the World to Change

A few years ago, I heard a song by John Mayer called Waiting on the World to Change, a song about idealistic and virtuous youth waiting for the corrupt and evil aged to die off. The song’s most telling lyric went as follows:

“It’s not that we don’t care, we just know that the fight ain’t fair,

So we keep on waiting for the world to change.”

I thought it rather lightweight  for a protest song. I also thought it was the most naive thing I’d ever heard from a young man who’d traveled the world several times over.

Why would you wait?

Still, it will be interesting to see what unfolds while you do. Here’s why:

The ‘love your brother’ and ‘equality for all’ generation, when they began to experience true competition for resources as a result of their policies to ensure that equality in the 60’s, became the ‘angry white men’ of the 90’s and began working to repeal the very laws they enacted, becoming, in the process, worse sell-outs and hypocrites than they accused their corporate fathers of being in the 50’s.

And the computer, an invention of the Boomer generation which Mr. Mayer is waiting to go the way of the dinosaur, has upped the ante considerably, and taken things globally in an instant.

Today, a segment of the 60’s generation of love, peace, equality and freedom throws rocks at immigrant children, repeals voting laws, advances the aims of the very corporations they once vehemently denounced, and seeks to distance themselves from those who they were once like in the past;  the other segment is permissive and apathetic in their adult responsibilities to the point of letting the country fall into anarchy.

So no, dear young people, you can’t afford to wait on the world to change. You are going to have to wade into the American wasteland, and get blood on your clothes, and get in peoples’ faces, and make unpleasant sacrifices, and make your voices heard. There is seldom a birth of a new thing without some labor pains being involved, and getting stoned like your grandfathers did for most of their first thirty years is not the way to go about it.

I’ve heard the saying: “These kids live in a different world.”

No you don’t; you live in a different time.

Yes, it is a scary, parasitic, greedy, lustful, materialistic, and intimidating time enhanced by constant connections and distractions, and things baying at you for your attention and money, but you are not in a different world; you’re on the same planet, and as far as we know, it’s the only where you can live outside of a clunky spacesuit, and without devices that will keep you from becoming a runaway hot air balloon.

So let me ask you, Mr. Mayer and company:

Can you really afford to spend it waiting?

Will you?

Fading Echo: Chapter 2

KurtKomoda_EchoDkSM

In the early afternoon, Echo felt the cool grass under her bare feet, and her white diaphanous dress barely hid her charms for modesty.

She gazed about in amazement, looking for Time, who’d manifested himself to her in the form of a sculptor, and barely pushed her through time before Death’s gory scythe claimed their lives.

Can time be killed?

She dismissed the thought; it was enough that she was free from the rocks that imprisoned her in her grief all those centuries ago.

The gods had long ago abandoned the region, and her, and the rains had stopped, leaving the land to change to desert, and her alone inside her stony dungeon; she no longer had the luxury of even repeating the words of someone else, and her loneliness crushed her spirit as she slept, and woke to silence, and slept again, in a cycle of living death.

And then the netherworld travelers happened to stop in front of her.

And now she was here.

************************

Breathing in the fresh clean scent of the forest, even in its pungency, made her shiver with pleasure at life once more. She wanted to kiss Time again; his scent had stirred her, but he’d hidden himself.

Maybe there will be…time…for that later. Her mischievous thought brought a smile to her lips when she heard someone rushing through the woods in her direction.

Before she could hide, the figure emerged; it was her King, flushed, panting, and looking over his shoulder as if a wild boar pursued him.

She took the knee before him, and he paused a moment in front of her.

“Rise, child.”

She stood. “You do me honor, lord.”

“I would, had I time.” He smiled at her with lust, but time was of the essence, and he’d sated himself elsewhere.

“How may I serve you?”

“Juno pursues me for my dalliances with some of your sisters. I would that you use your skills of conversation to detain her while I escape until she calms down.”

“I am at your service, Majesty.”

“There’s a good nymph.” His hand cupped her cheek in a mix of paternal affection and a lion testing the softness of the skin of its next kill.

There was a rustling behind them, and Echo wanted to laugh as Jupiter bolted like a frightened deer into the woods to escape Juno’s wrath.

*************

The scent of lilac wafted in the air, and Echo walked toward the blooming bush, and gathered some in her hands, letting the scent wash over her, as Juno came from the same direction as Jupiter, her eyes sparking with fury, her nails digging into her palms.

She spied the nymph by the lilac, and rushed over to her.

“Did Jupiter pass through here? Tell me, and don’t you dare lie!”

“To lie to my Queen is to die. I only just arrived, smelling the lilac in the air, and wished to gather some for my bath. Would my Queen like some for her own?”

“No. Thank you. Did you see Jupiter?”

“I did not, my queen. I would run to hide, for I am but in this faerie cloth, and the King is potent in his lust…”

Juno’s eyes flashed.

“…so my sisters say, my queen. He has not taken me to bed, nor would I go, for we are friends, you and I, are we not?”

Her voice softened.

“I have sat at your feet, and eaten from your hand. I live at your pleasure, and die at your command, and my queen has been most gracious not to seek my death. I would not risk such by bedding your lord and husband, though he grow angry with me, and threaten my life.

“So again, I would not lie to you; I did not see my king pass this way.”

Some of Juno’s steam began to dissipate as her gaze scanned helplessly around the woods; it seemed he’d eluded her once again, and her eyes began to shine with welling tears.

“Come, my friend,” Echo smiled, and held out her hand, “come smell the lilacs in full bloom. I will lace some through your hair, along with flowers of white and gold. We will look for them together, and when I am done, my King will be enchanted by you once more, and bring you his heart, cloven in repentance, for you and you alone.”

Juno sighed. “Oh, Echo. Dear, sweet, kind Echo, you are ever my solace, ever my friend.”

“I’ve no other desire, my Queen.”

Echo surreptitiously cast about for Time once more, but he was not present.

********************

They spent the afternoon together, and Echo chattered away; her knowledge of the woods and all therein was extensive, her curiosity about matters royal always favored Juno’s views, and as the sun wheeled to the chariot house, they gathered the lilac, the yellow posy, blue periwinkle and daisy, and Echo wreathed them round, and crowned Juno, saying she was now a nymph, and had to stay in the forest where Echo could teach her all there was to know.

Juno laughed, and Echo laughed with her, not like her.

And so the afternoon went, until they came to a clearing, and sleeping by the base of a tree, was Jupiter.

Both women stopped in their tracks, and gazed upon the sleeping man, clothed only in a loincloth, his royal vestments left wherever the pool was that he’d indulged himself.

Juno turned to Echo, who in trying not to reveal anything, revealed her guilt.

Slowly, Juno took off the crown of flowers, and her arm flashed, and she caught the nymph across the cheek, knocking her to the ground in a spray of blood and blossoms, her dress now immodestly gathered about her as she scuttled along the ground as Juno bore down on her.

Then Juno stopped, remembering she was queen, and shuddered with unspent energy as she pointed at the nymph, her extended hand alight with power…

***********************

Echo closed her eyes, Time forgotten, reliving the horror of the day of Juno’s curse, unable to scream, or plead, or move, she lay like a newborn babe before a ravening wolf, and suddenly Juno shimmered, and stood still,  immobile as Gorgons’ men, yet not of stone.

Time stepped from the woods, and at first Echo was uncomprehending; then she began to realize what had taken place, and slowly, she got to her feet, and walked over to him.

He’d aged more, his rounded frame now thinning, his beard, neat and trimmed, salt and pepper, was now ragged, stained and unkempt.

His eyes, sharp and keen when he sculpted (for she’d looked deep into them as he cut her out), were now almost rheumy to the point where she wondered if he was blind.

“What happened to you?” she asked.

“This is my gift to you,” his voice rasped in her ears.

“You’re giving me back my voice?” Her eyes welled up in wonder.

“It is better to die than to never speak your own words,” said Time.

Echo was overwhelmed.

“What will happen to them?” her gaze took in Juno and Jupiter.

“She will strike him with the bolt that’s meant for you, and he will lose his ability to charm your sisters to his bed.”

Echo ran to him, embraced him, ironically now speechless with gratitude.

She looked into his eyes, and saw the light go out; he was truly blind now.

Death had his shroud; he didn’t bother to tell her he would not make it back to save himself.

He’d answered her question now: Time could be killed or saved, redeemed or spent.

She found that she had a choice to make, and with her heart quailing inside her, she made it.

© Alfred W. Smith, Jr.

2014

All rights reserved

Fading Echo: Chapter 1

The_grim_reaper_by_Funeriumcycle

Chapter 1:

    Death and Time were walking through a mountain pass in the waning light of a westering sun, a path they’d walked many times before.

As he walked, Time cycled between youth and age, but whether he skipped with youthful exuberance, or hobbled painfully along on his walking stick, Death’s tread was ever constant, and eventually, he would catch up to Time.

Whenever Time stopped to rest at the end of his age cycle, Death covered him with a new blanket, until the child shaped re-emerged, sticking out its tongue at Death, sprinting away as fast as it could, and Death would take the remains of the blanket, now full of holes and moth-eaten, frayed and rank, and pack it away in a satchel he kept on his back until the next cycle.

And Death would rise, patiently, and plod behind, the mountain winds snapping at the hem of his black and crimson robe, the bone handle of his scythe, serving as a walking stick, making puffs of dust, or crunching gravel, or click-clacking on stones, or making divots in the soil, depending on the paths they walked that day.

His rhythm never varied, but seemed random somehow.

Time never waited for Death, but Death always waited for Time, though there were moments Death grew impatient, and pulled Time along before he was ready.

Time wept the hardest when Death took him away, because sometimes he simply wasn’t prepared to go; there were more memories to share, more places to explore, but Death would not hear his pleading.

It didn’t matter to Death; his world was ever silent.

Where Time saw colors and seasons, meadow and river, flower and tree, birds and animals of all kinds, heard their songs and braying, saw them breed in the spring, saw them in the fullness of life and strength and beauty, Death saw only bones, twisted trees and blackened flesh; the only splashes of color in his world were scarlet and sepia, which turned to black when what he’d seen centuries before passed from being merely old into ancient, and from there began its long, slow descent into the Mire.

Death and Time worked in tandem then, to nourish the earth and comfort the living, but other than that, they went in slow, seemingly senseless circles around the earth.

These circles they made by land, walking trails or in the backs of wagons, tracking the migrations of animals, the turning of seasons; by air, flying through the dark, spinning inside the maelstroms of calamitous storms of rain, or sometimes, sand; by sea, riding the backs of drifting clouds across oceans and continents, Time all the while proclaiming what would be, and Death, watching, waiting, to proclaim when it would not.

****************

Time was cycling now, coming out of the uncertainty of musky puberty into the more mature stability of manhood. His whiskers grew full and shiny, black as crow feathers, black as Death’s Mire.

His muscles filled out, and he was hard and rugged. Instruments of violence and building filled his hands at any given moment, depending on his mood. Sometimes the instrument was the same, like when he used a hammer once…

Today would be different.

Through a trick of the light in the shadowy canyon, Time saw a face inside the rock.

“Death, do you see?”

Death turned his eyeless sockets on the place, and nodded sagely, turning again to look at Time as if to say, “What of it?”

“There’s a face in it! A woman’s face! Someone is in the rock, Death. I swear! I can see it!”

Death, if he were capable of it, would’ve given a smile.

His bony arm swept in an expansive gesture, his finger pointing to the setting sun to indicate the twilight shadows playing tricks.

“Then it plays well, alchemist! She is in there…”

Death took out a broken hourglass;  the sand sloughed off his fingers, and the shards of glass glistened like iced tears in his ivory palm as he slowly shook his head: No time.

Time threw back his head and laughed, and the canyon echoed, and so did the rock face beside him.

Death and Time stared at it then. It had moved ever so slightly, its mouth barely a gash, and laughed as Time did.

“The rock is enchanted,” Time whispered, and the rock whispered it too, softly, but there was no mistaking it this time.

A chisel and hammer appeared in Time’s hands, and with great patience and skill, he cut around the contours of the rock, following its grain.

Death gave up all hope of moving, and walked off, his walking stick scraping in agitation at the packed dirt.

On a large flat rock that overhung the canyon below, he waited, looking down into the wide and windy chasm, to see if there was anyone he knew…

********************

There, in the valley below, by a dried up crater that once contained cool, still water surrounded by willow trees, a withered flower had grown through the bones of a man who died with his arms outstretched, as if embracing something that had pried itself from his desperate grasp.

The flower was where his heart would’ve been in life.

Ah, Death had known him.

What a vain and foolish boy…

******************

Time’s whiskers, glossy and black in the evening, were now streaked through with white, and his body was becoming a bit rounder, his face a bit more full, the hard angles retreating.

The moon rose, full and pale and high, and clusters of stars glittered and flashed like celestial fireflies.

The figure was indeed a woman, and by the light of the moon her stony appearance melted, to reveal beneath its hardness a woman of great beauty, stunned by her new found ability to move and feel once more.

She touched Time’s face with a grateful hand, and kissed him for a long time.

He eagerly returned the embrace, and parting breathlessly, he thought she would thank him, but she did not. As she gathered herself, he questioned her.

“Can you not speak?”

“Not speak?”

“Yes, madam. Can you talk?”

“You talk?” She patted his chest, shaking her head in frustration.

“You can’t talk?”

“Can’t talk?

Time seemed amused, but she wasn’t; she was trying to tell him something, but could not seem to get it out. She only repeated what he said, and in time he realized.

“Gods be…you’re…” he snapped his fingers, “Echo. The nymph Echo! You’re Echo?”

She pounded his chest again, nodding hopefully. “You’re Echo? You’re Echo? You’re Echo?”

“Yes, yes, all right then.” He tried to take her hands down, but she clutched at him and would not let go, but he finally got her in a firm grip, and lowered his head, and looked into her eyes to calm her.

Her manner was of a bird, set free from its cage, which could only walk trustingly into a waiting hand because it couldn’t fly.

She seemed to settle, and held his gaze, her breathing slowing, her liquid eyes large and luminous in the lunar light.
“You’re so beautiful,” he whispered.

“You’re so beautiful.” She smiled, and put her hand to her mouth, blushing.

Time also smiled at the unintended compliment, and then shook his head, frustrated now as she was.

Death grew tired of waiting, and they could hear the skritch of his walking stick scythe as it scraped the path, and emanated from Echo’s slightly parted lips.

Behind them now, he looked at Echo, and her skin went from blush to blanche.

Time turned to look, and keeping one face on Death, made another to look at Echo.

“Don’t worry, he won’t harm you.”

“Harm you.”

“He’s not here for you.”

“Not here for you.” Her face twisted, as if with a bitter memory; he saw the agony in her eyes that she could not speak on her own.

Time straightened his stance, and put his hands on her shoulders, looking down at her.

“I will give you a gift, a once-in-a lifetime gift. It can only happen once. Do you understand?”

Death was no longer motionless, however, and upended his scythe,  and Echo fidgeted under Time’s hands again.

He tightened his grip once more. “Do you understand?”

“Do you understand?” she was nodding again.

Death’s scythe descended, but seemed to slow the closer it got to cutting them down.

As it whisked through where they’d been standing what only seemed like an instant ago, Time disappeared.

And there was no echo.

© Alfred W. Smith, Jr.

2014

All rights reserved