1964: “Nickel Dreams”

As I write this I’m en route to Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station by a train moving south along the Eastern coast. Many years ago, while still in high school, I traveled north to Philly, and in this poem from my 2017 collection, Baltimore Girls (Finishing Line Press) , I recall my solo first train journey  to visit my friend Marcus W. “Mike” Moore, at Haverford College on the Main Line.

Nickel Dreams

Along the Fuller Brook path wending
through backyards, there’s no one about
except a few women with
small dogs on leashes. The brook –
not as high as I expected.

The blackened piles of snow
all melted away, roof rakes,
ergonomic shovels, the chemicals
we strewed on sidewalk and porches.
Mere memories of winter.

The sun strains to appear.
It warms the day but I can hardly
see my shadow, perhaps only  faint
suggestions of a shadow, a darkening,
barely perceptible.

On a day like this, full of spring’s promise,
I cut an armful of jonquils from my mother’s garden
wrapped them in newspaper, a cone
around the butter yellow blooms
so fragile, their stems easily snapped or bent.

Go to 30th Street Station, Mike said, for the transfer
But watch out if you’re there right at six, when
the dogs are let off their leashes,
dogs in gray flannel suits, carrying
smart leather briefcases. I understood.
He loved to quote Dylan: I don’t want to be
A singer in the rat race choir.

As I rose near my stop on the Paoli local
an old man glanced at my flowers.
I withdrew one and handed it to him,
without a word, hopped off at Haverford.
Mike stood on the platform, his long scarf
artfully draped around his neck,
tweed sport coat festooned
with buttons of Lenin, Freedom Now, Stokely
Carmichael. We walked through the campus,
his arm around my shoulder.

This will be my life, I thought.
His roommates were out. We
skipped dinner, built a fire. We
Talked about the war, about Yeats.
When it was late and
we were so hungry we couldn’t stand it
we strolled to the Blue Comet
for the cheeseburgers—I can remember
even now how good they tasted.

We took the back way to the women’s college
—I‘d set up camp in the guest lounge.
Mike kissed my cheek, handed me a nickel
the Paoli local had flattened into an oval,
Washington’s head all distorted.
I carried it  around for years,
that talisman of my life to come.

 

 

 

Harp Music

The famous doctor said you haven’t really lived
till you get a death threat from a guy with a cell phone
just over the state line, someone who maybe read about my  work,

found it sinful, against his principles,shaking the foundations of
whatever it is he called his religion or ideology. But I felt
much better when the cops paid him a visit, and he faded away.

With you, it was the phone calls from a harpist, slight and pale,
ebony-haired, tearful.She looked at you across the wide desk
covered with case files, foolscap pads, ball point pens.

She told you her father had died and her husband had left, wanted
nothing more to do with her. You counseled her to mediate.

When she got home, she phoned the office for hours, starting at midnight,
careening along into dawn. Twenty-five messages on the tape
each more high-pitched and insistent, her voice growing hoarser each time

letting you know just what miseries she’d  visit on you. And yes, she knew
you had children, and she had them, too, in her sights.

A couple drinks later, you stood behind home plate at your son’s little league game,
trying to forget about it, wondering what she thought when the police
hauled her away to the cold hospital room.

You told someone the story, then told someone else, hoping it would amuse.
The police said not to worry. Her psychiatrist said it’s just disordered thinking,

But she wouldn’t give  blood samples, take meds, insisted
the judge come to the hospital, where she  sat, docile, polite,
hands folded, refusing treatment.

Wait another ten years, your friend said, pointing to the ball her son knocked
out of the park into the woods. You’ll laugh about it, you’ll see.

Months, perhaps years later you chanced to see her on stage with her instrument,stroking the harp so gently, pulling sweet tones from the strings,
steel core with wire wrap.

You glanced down at the program, ran your thumbnail under her name,
Wondered that she found her way back from four point restraints,
soft, padded, leaving no marks.

She’s better now, you thought, settling back in your seat,
Closing your eyes, fighting hard to let the music engulf you.

Originally published in The Song Is…

 

It’s National Poetry Month–go hear some live poetry!

I’ll be reading at  these venues, from my new poetry collection, The Glamorganshire Bible, as well as some brand new poems–hope to see some of you there!

Wednesday, April 4, 7 PM, Wellesley Books, Wellesley, Massachusetts

Sunday, April 8, 2 PM, Ferguson Public Library, Stamford, Connecticut -central  

Monday, April 9, 7 PM, Westwood Public Library, Westwood, Massachusetts -main library