In (and out) of the loop

local coffee place
sipping my solitary cup
checking email

next table over
a group of men older
than I, age gap not of
grandfather-grandson
severity

the six zealously swap
tales of doctor visits with
enthusiasm once reserved
for one-night stands
summer romances

familiar names swirl
through their regaling
conversation;
Alzheimer’s, Chron’s,
Cirrhosis taking the places
of honor once held by
Mantle, Mays, Snyder

reeling off statistics like
they were twelve again
arguing conflicting treatments
with firm convictions that
their guy is absolutely
the better player

the conversation is
not foreign to me
only the proximity

mornings often find me in
front of my laptop
messaging with friends from
various stages of my life
scattered at far-flung locales
sharing their struggles
acknowledging my grudgingly
accepting empathy of
Parkinson’s, arthritis, diabetes

their statistics quoted from
doctor’s words, websites read,
support groups attended
and I thankfully, at times
guiltily have little to add

taking a final sip of coffee
I can simply log off, get up,
leave my tip on the table
or mug by my computer
thoughtfully walk away

Mark Lucker

Pictures

We
were a long
time ago

years?
decades?
lifetimes?
carbon dating?

time is filled in
a long forgotten
coloring book
half the pictures
never finished
bold, black-line
outlines dated,
quaint

stumbled across
by accident
you flip through
remembering
all the scenes
beach, park,
ball, puppy

love ?

first few pages
carefully colored
giving way to
partially filled
marker-mosaics
lacking nuance
or hue
unrealistically
bold

and only now do
you understand the
illogic in staying
within the lines

as you toss the
book in the trash

Mark Lucker

From Here to Less Certainty

A day at the beach
we have been here before;

I am trying to be
Burt Lancaster
as you hesitate to play
Deborah Kerr with
self-conscious protestations
I have heard many times

But today the kids are
not with us, the friends who
we accompany sit engrossed
in their sun-worshipping,
paperbacks, inflatable-floating

oblivious to us and not
burning with our middle-aged
or any other sort of passion

my long smoldering fantasy
plays a recurring loop in
my mind’s eye always,
not oddly, in pristine
black-and-white

admittedly I have never had
Burt’s shoulders, jaw line,
hair, stature
I have tried vainly to
master his presence,
make it my own, yet
sadly cannot stand
and drip water on you
with marquee panache

you lay on your towel
my attempts to entice you
to join me once, just one
time, in a sandy embrace
while the gentle surf
plops meekly upon the shore
are warily deflected

It then occurs to me your
reticence might be overcome
by bigger, bolder surf
or more unique idea

but I am what I am

as I sit on the warm sand
I wonder if crashing waves
really would set your heart
pounding or if I should
just let the tide go out

Mark Lucker

Literalists

“I would slay a dragon for you!”
said he from out of the blue
his lilting voice a hopeful
spontaneous, off-hand musing
had him hoping for more
as she looked up from her
paperback mystery romance

“There are no dragons”
she stated flatly, perplexed
as he quietly sighed, continued
reading yesterday’s newspaper

Oath of June

“Do you solemnly swear
to tell the truth, the whole truth
and nothing but the truth?”

“I do.”

“You may now kiss the bride.
Liar.”

33 (For Johnny)*

Twenty-one years was not nearly enough;
we had just embarked when you left.
Thirty-three years is not nearly enough
to erase what is indelibly sketched

not a pencil caricature, a dimly recollected
photographic snapshot or grainy home movie
just you, at nineteen, before illness
rudely smudged and dog-eared the picture

you are smiling, damn it

you always smiled – warranted or not – but
really, when was it not, for us?

I cannot for the life of me conjure up images
of you at forty, thirty but especially not now

I imagine your asphalt black beard still thick,
neat, coarse…tinged gray, framing sly grin
your perpetual smile-induced squint turned
permanent as well-earned crow’s feet

‘imagine’ is all I can do

I have aged gracefully, so I’ve been told,
a goal you will never attain, a good-natured
insult I will never get to hurl your way

you left, life went on

The plans, hopes, dreams, big ideas we
discussed to death oddly survived yours
some of mine came true, differently than
we could’ve ever dreamed, but still true

the shared versions departed with you as
my road strangely and happily diverged from
plans made, starting with your leaving,
life taking me along for the journey much as
I have taken your spirit within me

The calendar now ironically tells me that
the years since you left match the numerals
you wore on your South High football jersey
the same numbers I have always worn for
company softball teams, and just because

I see you so clearly now – slashing through the
defensive line of time and memory, breaking
into the clear, smiling and always running free

*Johnny Wilkins 6/11/58 – 8/9/79

Muse bemuse

Erato

She has been a muse
nothing more and
everything less
since we met as teens

inspiration still flows
from a fleeting reminder;
hearing her name
(commonly used by others
out of parental laziness)
the searing stubbed-toe
pain of an emotional owie
only she could’ve kissed
and made better

longing springs from trying
to remember just why
pinpoint specifics of how;
pixellated memories
vaguely distinguishable
from imagination

I was never her destiny
not even on the periphery
of being a fallback option
as I don’t believe she ever
wrote a single word of me,
save long-ago-stopped-
exchanging Christmas cards

Thalia

as my muse she has become
more verb than noun
a contemplative touchstone
to a time when faux
inspired creativity passed
for honest insight

confirming my relief that
I am neither sculptor or
painter…but a simple poet
– prone to and forgiven for –
hyperbole and other creative
transgressions, writing with
suspended creative license,
failing to not yield
to the pedestrian

Snapshot

The picture was taken
from too far away

the two of us sit on the
apartment steps
the manicured shrubs on
either side dominate
we are framed, she and I,
by wrought-iron railings

Still, it is the only picture
of us that I have

she wears sunglasses and
her acorn-hued hair
cascades over her right
shoulder, trickles down
almost to her lap

I sit on her left
my hand behind, not quite
coming around her back

We hadn’t been together
very long; a few weeks
later any snapshot would
have been much different

more focused, more intimate
more of what we became
before we went our
separate ways

All that is left is a yellowing
bent-corners Instamatic
photo, circa 1979

Were it of anyone else,
finding it in a stack of old
pictures I would squint,
wondering just who these
people were, so far away
from the picture taker

…by the dashboard light?

What was in our youth, mood
lighting for teen romance –
dim, yellowish-orange tinged
spotlight on amateurishly
fumbled front-seat lust

has become, in our middle-aged
driveway rendezvous, moment-
before-we-go-in-from-a-night-out

a weird glow of two blue-hued
Smurfs who now bumble with
seatbelts due not to inexperience –
but for lack of practice and the

confusion of hazily remembered
Gumby-like nostalgia with the
logistical impracticality of now,
coupled with the odd, irrational
fears of inadvertent deployment
of dashboard air bags;

unlikely, yet boast-worthy episode
rendered less useful with no locker
to hang out by, no peers to awe,
chiropractic co-pays in the offing

Now we just kill the engine,
go inside, sit down and watch the
news from opposite ends of the couch

On a Wednesday in 1989

As clear as twelve-hour old coffee
she told me goodbye
a jolt of caffeinated remorse
left me wide-eyed and pondering
as the glare from dawn’s light
screamed, painfully, ‘morning after’

The pot turned out to be empty
a good thing, in retrospect as I
sure as hell didn’t need topping off