Affective

I drive along the interstate to my hometown and pass
the houses that were
the houses of my friends
and enemies.

I order food from the place where I used to work;
the kids who work there now just don’t do the same job we did.

I think about when I was that kid:
standing in the window as the people of the town
waited for their fries.

Oh, the people I knew,
the people

I saw,

The people—memories peeping in,
from a world where I lived
I am still so close, all of the time,
practically next door and
thousands of miles away.

I come home to some new place that feels old,
driving east on the desolate street—
just last week crowded at this time of night
with students stumbling slurring home to sleep it off.

Orion rises on the horizon,
waves to let me know it’s his season, once again.

Discovering the Night

There must have been some kind of noise,
a semi truck downshifting
as it speeds down an overpass on the nearby interstate,
which sounds exactly the way a train in outer space would sound
to a young boy on earth, who watches it streak across the sky
like a shooting star.

Whatever the noise was, it woke me;
I looked out the window by my bed
into the neighbor’s backyard,
at the driveway to their garage,
at the emaciated mutt chained to a dog house.

Everything was still
and quiet.
I could see too well; it must have been a full moon
something seemed horribly out of place.

I tip-toed through the hallway to the top of the stairs,
worried about being found, completely alone and
curious who was guarding the house.

Halfway down the stairs, I could see that no one was in the living room;
no Mom or babysitter.
Any other time I woke up at night, someone was down there.

Seeing the room dark with the absence
of the television’s reassuring glow,
I got spooked;
I turned and hurried;

got back in bed and covered up.

When my heart slowed down so I could hear
how quiet everything was,
I tried to talk myself into sleeping.

That was when I heard:
Miss Kitty called out,
first in the living room, then up the stairs
a pleading sort of sound, not like any other meow.
It was the one reserved for calling her kittens,
the last of whom had been adopted out that afternoon.

Cool of a Summer Evening

Nights like this one repeat themselves;

maybe it’s a Midwest thing, I don’t know.
When it’s been humid and stifling for days on end,
it’s sometimes interrupted by the cool of a summer evening.

They remind me of nights before falling asleep,
ten or twelve or fourteen years old,
brothers and sisters out with friends or already asleep,
the house completely quiet and my bedroom clean, and
the smell of fresh-cut grass sneaks in on a cool breeze through my bedroom window.

The way town smelled on those long walks home
after spending the evening honing our skills with theft, alcohol, and drugs,
so we’d be well-prepared for the rapidly approaching first day of high-school.
Those first nights at the Academy,
my roommate out trying to make new friends, and
the feel of the air that carried cigarette smoke
out through the window of my brand-new dorm-room.

Then at the University,
when I had no roommate in my fourth-floor room
I lay in my lofted bed and listened to cars pass on the busy street below.

When that cool summer breeze hits me, everything seems so manageable,
like everything really is just as it should be.
Melancholy pulls those long-gone moments together,
all on a thread, made of the cool of a summer evening.

A Cat Experiences a Thunderstorm, but Not for the First Time

We were cuddled up in bed together
just moments before I turned out the bedside lamp.

When lightning lit the room again shortly after,
you had already disappeared from my side;
I hadn’t felt your departure,
could not feel your absence.

As the heavy roll of thunder follows,
I wonder if you recognize it for what it is.
You are an animal, after all,
so if your intuition—
your affinity with the spirit of the universe,
less clouded than my own by the veil of self-awareness—
does not tell you what this is,

then surely there must be a way, some string of proteins,
that genetics can endow you with vestigial knowledge of the storm.

Your predecessors endured so many,
before and since domestication.

But maybe you don’t know.
Perhaps your unthinking curiosity
compels you to try to understand,
in whatever capacity you can:

what possible phenomenon could shake the sky
and the windows in their frames,
to interrupt the gentle beating of the raindrops
against the wet surfaces
mere feet from where we sleep.

Sunday

Something happened this morning, when I sat in a café.
An old man at the table next to me,
who wore a hose attached to an oxygen tank,
removed it to get up and walk to the restroom.

For as long as I’ve had jobs,
I’ve had to work each Sunday morning.
Now that’s changed; I am free
to enjoy the ends of my weeks.

The old man, his head and shoulders slumped forward
with the weight of age and experience,
he shuffled around his table and the couple he sat with,
probably his daughter-in-law and son.

He passed my booth and the next,
where a hot young thing chattered with friends.

He rested his hand on the high seat-backs,
not because he needed the support, but just in case;
one can never be too safe.

I watched her eyes, which watched from their corners;
she was mortified, and paid close attention
to the wrinkled hand, lest it should inadvertently
brush her shoulder.

It was like she feared that old age is contagious,
and she might catch it if he got too close.

On his return trip, I saw his face,
the drooping, wrinkled skin and tired eyes.
Even behind the heavy lenses of his thick-rimmed glasses,

his tired eyes seemed bright and alive.
He was clearly thrilled
to have another Sunday brunch
to be with family.
For a moment I couldn’t help but think
that youth is oppressively sad, or saddening.

Suddenly I wanted to stand up;
I wanted to hug him, hold him close.
I wanted to kiss his cheek;
I wanted to whisper in his ear,

“You’re beautiful. I love you.”

The feeling was almost as strong as impulses I get
when I think some attractive young lady has smiled at me;
but there are ways to respond to those.

The feeling passed by as he did,
all they left me was desire
for some reassurance.

I just want to believe that the old man
will experience nothing but joy
right up until he experiences nothing at all.

After a full week at work,
followed by a weekend of play,
I look at this old man and wonder
if I can make it through the afternoon.

But then I see a girl in a booth
on the other side of the dining room,
twenty-something and still hasn’t learned
to cross her legs when she wears a skirt.

Tomorrow is Monday,
the beginning of another week.

Self Esteem

I saw a kid in the coffee shop today,
probably late high school or early college age.
He looked a bit like the kids I knew when

I was his age. They were confident, affluent,
self-possessed. I couldn’t sit in a room with them
because I was insecure, poorly dressed, and impulsive.
They could see it written all over my face, I thought,
not just how poorly I fit in, but also how afraid I was
that they would find out.

I didn’t feel that way when I saw the kid today.
I could imagine a conversation with him,
being myself, saying what I think, not worrying
about whether or not he would like me.

I remembered being drawn momentarily into conversations
with those guys I knew when I was his age, trembling,
sure I’d sound like an idiot, knowing that they’d judge
each word and mannerism. I’d make a weak effort and defer,
happy when someone else would jump in, drawing off
the desperately unwanted attention.

As I watched him leave, I thought back. For the first time, I considered
how interesting it could have been to get to know the guys I was afraid of,
instead of reliving the awkward discomfort and regretting wasted youth.

The Fulcrum

I sat at the mirror and studied myself,
trying desperately to find the muscle
that would allow me to wiggle my ears.

I held my fingers at my temples,
smiled, frowned, and adjusted my eyebrows
in every conceivable position,
but my ears didn’t move, even slightly.

I broke a sweat in the process,
my girlfriend came and went with
a disapproving glance, but I didn’t want
to risk it, there could be a chance that
I’d stumble upon the secret, now as alluring
to me as the holy grail, dark matter, or the prize
buried in the box of breakfast cereal.

If I can master this, I thought, then what’s to stop me
from learning to fly, or mastering telekinesis?

I read on the internet later that a person
could learn to wiggle ears by way
of a few properly placed electrodes
which stimulate the right muscles,
so the person can find them.

It takes a serious effort
to refrain from taking apart my electric razor
and wiring it up to my head.

It would be a small price to pay for enlightenment.

For a good worthingelectrician please follow the link.

Boogeyman

When it comes in,
it reminds me of my little brother’s girlfriend,
sixteen years old: how she holds his hand tightly and follows
closely behind him as we proceed through the haunted house.

But it’s not difficult for my brother to understand the panic
she feels as she rounds each new corner.
I can’t begin to imagine
how to explain the dread I feel
that strikes in broad daylight, in familiar places,
to my lover, whose hand I hold when it seems
that I’d fall off the world if I didn’t.

The scariest part is supposed to be not knowing
what’s coming next, or from where.
His girlfriend stays just as scared
when all the secrets are out.
One spook follows us to the car;
she continues to scream and cower even after
he’s taken off his mask and smiled.

That’s how I feel, face down on the couch;
it’s a beautiful day, and life is going well.
I hold a blanket tightly over my head,
scared to death for no reason at all.

Sleeping Alone

Some nights I sleep alone,
not because there’s no one here with me in bed.

She sleeps next to me in my bed, but I know
that she’s thousands of miles away, on the other side
of an ocean, with people I don’t know.

I do know their faces, because she’s taken
out albums and stacks of loose photos;
for the first few minutes, she’ll explain
who they are
where they are
how she misses them.

I miss her as much as they do, or more,
when each of them smiles as they
whisper to me that she belongs to them.

They remind me that she has a life already;
I’m only here for comfort
until she can be with people she loves again.

The Smog

Smog in Los Angeles

We headed down to the record store,
somewhere in the Hollywood Hills.
We found a parking garage and wound our way up.
At the top, I had to be the tourist—
taking advantage of the height for a photo.
I was shocked, looking through the lens
at the trees in the distance, or between them,
when the outlines of buildings became apparent,
peaking out from behind the heavy air.

I recalled an afternoon, not long after giving up
grass as a recreational pastime,
when I spent twenty minutes looking for the book-
bag, which had been on my back all throughout.