I miss my best friend from high school.
His name was either Jeff, McBee, McTimmons
or McSeven, depending on a variety of
variables, none of which were his choosing.
My parents called him Curly
because he got a perm once
and the curls, years later, were still there.
We listened to music all the time
and together we got drunk hanging
with older kids from an Everclear
concoction mixed up inside of a cooler.
I worked at Dunkin Donuts for three
years, and my job was to hose
the kitchen floor and squeegee
the soggy donuts down the drain.
I also dumped 25 pounds of sugar
into a big-ass bowl, added some water,
color, and flavoring to mix up
the icing. I called my boss “dude”
once and after that, never again.
I first saw the Hell part of Bosch’s
“Garden of Earthly Delights” triptych
on a Deep Purple album cover
and believed at the time that the art
was made specifically for this record.
I found the image of the gigantic rat
eating people and pooping them
back out again especially disturbing.
This has been a poem about
a childhood friend, an old job,
and a work of art–all of which,
despite the decades, still inhabit
my very being, you know, as if not
a moment has passed in the interim.
Category Archives: Poetry
I miss my best friend from high school.
I hear the American High School
singing, the varied carols I hear:
students sing their way
down the hallways and
into classrooms, where,
sometimes, they stop
singing, quiet, heads
down, depressed or
the singing never ceases
and their verses and choruses
percolate and resonate through
each 87 minute period.
I hear the teachers
sing their teaching voices,
singing their lessons
mustering the energy
reserves to sing all the way
through to the end,
day after day, 180 of them,
year after year.
I hear the campus security
team, singing their
support and care for the
safety of everyone inside.
The cooks and the janitors,
doing what they can, their songs
keeping the people fed
and the building clean,
a deathless song without end.
I hear the singing of the entire
support staff, instructional assistants,
registrars, office secretaries,
couriers, all singing to keep
everything hanging together.
And I hear the principal singing,
juggling a dozen different songs,
sometimes singing the verse
from one after the chorus of
another, looking for the absolute
best tune from which to lead,
never completely satisfied,
always striving. All of them singing
in the American High School
through open mouths
their strong, melodious songs.
#426: The Veteran American English Teacher Reads an Inspirational Book for New Teachers (a poem on April 20, 2020)
The Veteran American English Teacher
finds this thing,
Apples and Chalkdust, Inspirational
Stories and Encouragement for Teachers,
among the effects that another teacher
left behind years ago in his third or fourth
year of teaching, leaving the profession
to work in a winery. Inscribed to him,
It was a gift from a student
or the parents of a student,
who must have thought this young teacher
was in need of some aspirational writings
about his chosen vocation.
The Veteran American English Teacher
is amused by this text, and,
far be it from him to disparage
its author, nevertheless finds
it one of the silliest things he’s
ever seen. Sincere, heartfelt,
and earnest, clearly coming from
the best intentions of its author,
the Veteran American English Teacher
finds it hokey–and he’s not, he would
argue, a cynical person. A kind of
chicken soup for a teacher’s soul,
it offers upbeat but inane advice.
Most of it, condescending pablum.
Here are a few
of its gems, all of which accompany
these tiny scenarios a young
teacher may face in the throes
of his or her workday:
Turn every situation, positive or negative,
into a learning experience.
Don’t let your concern for tomorrow
keep you from making an impact today.
It doesn’t really matter how big your
budget is if you are a good steward
of what you’ve been given.
Your undying commitment
may well be met by undying gratitude.
Teach your students to reach,
and they’ll never stay on the ground.
Attitude is everything! If you are unhappy
with where God has placed you,
look inside your heart.
It’s possible that, my colleague,
many years ago, after his third
year of teaching, read this last passage,
looked inside his heart, and then
decided that God wanted him
in the winery. The Veteran American
English Teacher thinks that if he had
read this book in his third or fourth
year of teaching, he would have wanted
to work in a winery, or anywhere else
but a school. Dodged that bullet,
he thinks. In his 33rd year, he wonders,
what would his book of advice
to teachers new to the profession
look like? And 25 years from now,
would some veteran American English
teacher find his handbook silly, hokey,
condescending, upbeat and inane?
He doubts that, but only time will tell.
Get out of the way.
Get out of your own way.
You’re in the way.
The only trouble,
the only obstacle,
the only real competition
It’s become a cliché,
a truism that nevertheless
unless, of course, it doesn’t.
And there may be
times and places
where and when
whatever is stopping
you from whatever
it is you’re trying to do
might be a gorilla,
or a ten-ton truck,
or an army,
or a corrupt society,
but EVEN then,
you have choices,
How do you want
to live? Decide,
and move forward.
despite of or in spite of
and most crucially,
despite of or in spite of
your big bad self.
In a sense, yes.
In another sense, perhaps
in the sense with which you mean it,
Maybe. A good word.
Ambiguity is everything–
I like the cut of your jib.
I hadn’t considered it,
but I will take it up with
On Easter Eve,
my house was egged.
Yeah, we were watching
television when suddenly
startled by the intense
the wall inside of which
we were engrossed
in a show, a wall covered,
I might add, with windows,
single paned, old glass,
that luckily, did not shatter.
These guys had to have
pretty good arms, because
our house is set away from
the street by a large margin.
These fools had to throw
over the fence and maybe
forty feet onto the property
to hit their target. They hit
their target and then they
drove off like chicken-shits
before we could even
figure out what had happened.
This was no random thing,
and that bothers me.
Today, on this Easter,
I have been thinking a lot,
way more than I would prefer,
about the kinds of things
I would like to say
to these assholes,
none of which is fit
for print, and none of which,
if I actually had the opportunity
to say these things
to the actual perpetrators,
would likely have any impact
on their pea brains.
But I’d feel better.
Yeah, I’d feel better.
My neighbor digs a hole, a big one,
in his back yard. I’ve met him.
He seems like a good guy and he
has a beautiful Husky and runs
a care facility for elderly folk on
the top floor of his basement
apartment. Of course, I wonder,
why is he digging such a gigantic
hole? It was raining and he was
wearing shorts and a t-shirt.
At first I worry. You know,
people can seem nice enough
and then the next thing you know
they’re burying dead bodies in their
back yards. Or maybe his dog died?
Do people still bury dead pets
in their back yards? In thirty-six
years, my wife and I have never
buried a dead pet in the yard.
I’m happy a couple of days
later to see the Husky running
around in back, and also happy,
but puzzled, to find out why
he’s dug such a great hole.
He’s buried in said hole a gigantic
tractor tire, you know, half way
under the dirt and half exposed.
I’m thinking, well, that’s a very odd
lawn ornament. I think I would
prefer gnomes. A gigantic tire
emerging from the dirt. To each
his own, I say, and then I start
to worry a bit about my neighbor.
I imagine that in a week’s time
he will have planted a half dozen
tractor tires in his yard, a tractor
tire garden, if you will. But today,
finally, on Easter Sunday, the purpose
of the tractor tire is revealed.
Some people are runners and others
are bicyclists, while still others prefer
going to gyms. This neighbor of mine,
he goes out there this morning with
an enormous hammer–like a sledge
hammer, and he starts beating
the tire–like he’s chopping wood,
high, forceful swings, over and over
again, the slam on the rubber each time
reverberating through the neighborhood
like a car door slam, only more rubbery.
He’s just working out, I say. That’s nice.
He’s just working out.
Glory be to mowing right before the rains come–
For black clouds as dark as coal just so far away;
For the vacuum cleaner purr of my electric mower;
Not a scent of gasoline in the air as I race against time;
The lawn patchy and poofed in spots where grass grows uneven;
Now smoothed by my efforts to even out the tufts and scrub.
All things green and bright and grey come together now;
Whatever is blooming, blossoms (even after last week’s snow?)
With blues, purples, yellows, whites; ablaze and darken;
Clouds gather girth as I finish my meditative labor. Rain:
Let it come!
I’m not interested in hearing about your bass rig
and all of your basses, and neither is our bass player.
You’re a sound guy–I mean, at least tonight,
that is your job. So please stop talking our ears off
about your stupid bass rig. I don’t want to know
about your tube amplifier; I don’t want to hear
about the make and model of your bass, how
many strings it has beyond the compulsory number,
how often you change its strings,
what kind of music you use it for, and what kind
of bass you use for other kinds of music.
I don’t want to know that you play bass
and sing lead vocals at the same time.
I’m just not interested. And I wish you had the sense
to discern, from my body language, maybe,
or from the fact that I’m not even looking in your
direction, but rather, trying to pack up my drums
as quickly as I can so I can go home and have a drink,
that I am not interested. Neither, and especially,
is our bass player interested in hearing about your
bass rig. She’s trying to be polite by nodding or smiling
or acknowledging your presence just enough
not to come across like a mean person, but trust me,
she is not interested. Just because she plays the bass
does not mean she is interested in hearing all about
your bass rig. And she’s not interested in you, either.
She’s not impressed, and like me, she would just like
you to shut your mouth and let us pack up our stuff.
You’re creepy and clueless. Please, stop talking.
No one is interested in your bass rig.
I lost my 16 year old and his buddy
in the crowd. They were making their way
to the stage in the early show throng
before the opening act did their thing.
I stayed back because I knew better.
As soon as the headliner played their
first note, there was an immediate surge
forward and the mosh pit was suddenly
on fire with the usual pulse, jump, slam,
and surf. I thought to myself, well, I can’t see
them. I hope they’re okay. I hope that if they
are not okay, they will make their way out
of the pit and back to papa. I did not see
them again until the end of the show.
They were both none the worse for wear,
sweaty, happy, full of awe, and holding
a rock show spoil–one of the drummer’s
beat-up, nearly broken sticks, a token
to be treasured, a trophy, a talisman
of the whole rock and the whole roll.