The day having wasted away, he slumps
in an easy chair, his labors seemingly
amounted to rubbish. Tonight he feels
subdued, quite pooped as he cowers under
the big shadow of corporate compliance.
He kicks back and pops open a beer,
lifts calloused feet onto the ottoman,
relaxes, and yawns as the moment rises
and then falls without notice.
His wife lurking in the living room
watches sitcoms she doesn’t care for,
afraid the lazy bum may get canned,
and then what would they amount to?
Their souls may tell them it will be alright,
but when the money runs out hopes expire.
He’s certain that out there possums
are mating on white sands of finality.
He shuts his eyes in order to connect
with fond memories of their wedding dance.
It was a time before the fire between them
was extinguished, their problems still solvable.
Cherubs chirped then, and church bells rang.
Lollipops tasted dandy, and cracked sidewalks
seemed smooth as maple syrup on pancakes.
Now they both suffer from indigestion,
the mortgage is way overdue, and his beer
has gone flat sitting on the coffee table.
Meanwhile she’s run out of channels to surf,
and neither is a candidate to accomplish much.
He feels somewhat like the event horizon
of a black hole from which there is no return.
He mumbles a few sentences to her as he reads
the daily paper, but she doesn’t listen,
distracted by post menstrual syndrome.
At times their thoughts are dead on arrival,
and indecision regularly alternates
with systemic anxieties. Their ambitions like
seeds planted in salty earth refuse to sprout.
They wear blue jeans with holes in them
and drive a car with worn-down engine parts.
They can’t come up with any other choice
but to slog ahead, non-participants in their
doleful indifference, any truth beyond what
they can touch and taste way out of reach.
Suicidal tendencies appear on a daily basis.
And it’s not as if they’re on some noble quest
to free Palestine, wearing belts with bombs.
Manifestoes like eating, sleeping and talking
don’t make much sense. They act as though
magicians are playing peekaboo with them,
taunting their psyches. His inner voice says
take ten paces to the left and reach eternity,
which would doubtless dampen the sting
of those issues that plague him the most.
But he’ll never approach this elusive eternity.
She embraces pragmatism, somewhat inclined
to advocate a constructive end. For in the end
the beginning, or so she thinks Robert Frost
said. Upward to darkness, downward light.
They cannot defuse shrill voices that cry out
in the night. She dreams dancing a fandango
on a giant polished iridium mirror, romancing
a throng gathered at the crown of creation.
He struggles to exterminate those visions
of heaven that he concludes must be spurious.
They both fantasize cosmic factories wherein
stupefying monsters are pumped out in droves.
Their attempts at sex are about as satisfying
as paying income taxes. His ego is on sabbatical,
and hers continually probes the caverns of death.
A ship at anchor is battered by a stormy sea,
their weightless spirits pacing upon its deck.
An unexpected quietus arrives as they walk
their slinkies down steps to the basement.
He deduces there must be a lion awakening
while a purple satyr serenades him outside
his bedroom window, dancing in the shadow
of a black sun, perhaps product of a quasar.
She nods on and off while listening to AM
radio and darning socks. He projects himself
collecting galaxies in a tote bag. She might
be accused of welcoming her grim demise
when one takes into account such lethargy.
No-one should be surprised that feral ghosts
attack their minds like lightning, or that
the holy grail seems to them a dead myth.
Having faith would only get in the way,
he reasons, so refuses to read the Koran.
And if he did it wouldn’t make an impact.
For him the simplest of activities are enough.
The lighting of a cigar, hogging the couch,
surviving a nightmare to wake into the light
are his rewards for toughing it out. Otherwise
he might as well go ahead and end it all. She
not to dwell on such boring topics as mortality
will mope around in a moo moo, stuff her face
with savory pies, play pinochle with herself.
When he walks crowded city streets or peruses
stores at the shopping mall flat broke, he feels
totally anonymous, shunned like a download
containing a virus. And to think in their youth
people would remark at what a lovely couple.
He’s become bald and arthritic, and she flabby,
perhaps all there is to what’s called destiny.
They remain incorruptible in the eyes of their
peers, which isn’t saying much because those
whose hopes and dreams are so sparse are in
denial that humanity is purposeful. Even though
magnificent echelons of joy, pride and ecstasy
loom within the grasp of anyone who would seek
them, they remain resigned to a fate in which they
view themselves as victims of a massive disaster.
Although their cute kitten rolls a ball across
the kitchen linoleum, it offers scant solace.
There is enough pressure built up inside
these two to make them explode like a boiler.
One day their ship may come in, but don’t
hold your breath because you’ll turn blue
as they contemplate returning to the womb.
The great Yogi Berra said “It ain’t over till it’s
over,” but this isn’t the same America anymore.
No more Betty Grable. No more Sinatra.
We keep dodging genocide by a whisker
like asteroids that pass close by Earth,
the odds against us mounting.
Ghandi said “An eye for an eye causes
blindness on both sides.” Currently
both sides are sitting on a time bomb
that’s ticking loudly
and about ready to blow up.
The spoken word will not help.
One can only shrug that so far
we’ve avoided the ultimate tragedy.
When the day arrives that we know
our time has finally run out
it may be prudent
to avoid going scrambling
randomly through karmic vaults.
Once I drew the conclusion that love is a loosely
officiated charade, I pooh-poohed any notion
of ever being worthy of redemption. I felt I’d
broken just about every rule any God had set out
and didn’t deserve their rewards. Nevertheless
I needed something to lessen the pain my broken
heart constantly dwelled on. I tried fashioning
my own God out of brain waves, but that was
nothing but a dud. I bought heavy work boots
and trampled vacant lots like Paul Bunyan just
to let off a little steam. I spoke several languages
fluently to myself, which made me feel a bit better.
I employed carrier pigeons to convey messages
to my cosmic wife, but she never returned them.
I often stood erect in my private Eden for hours
taking notes on invisible angels. I would chronicle
their every action, name and classify each one.
Paratroopers fell like fireflies in big bright helixes
carrying payloads from continents I may one day
want to try on for size. Why had the street become
so sloshy, and how was it the sun had grown dull?
I got to thinking perhaps the porpoises deserved
a break. But I could not provide it myself because
I held no sway over nature, similar to dipping my
toe into an inferno. I felt guilty about trespassing
sacred ground. But then nothing is sacred anymore,
so you couldn’t rightly accuse me of encroachment.
Oddly, I became popular due to my unusually dour
demeanor, and the press was after me day after day,
hounding me, collected at my front gate. All I wanted
was to be left alone in my sculpture garden to chisel
serenity of the very highest degree from dark matter.
When I go to sleep tonight I think I’m going to dream
about shooing pterodactyls away with redwood trees.
I know of no other city than Berkeley that would name a middle school after a radical like Malcolm X.
Back in the days when Berkeley hummed
they were more than tolerant of liberals
like Mario Savio, who touted free speech,
drawing overflow crowds at Sather Gate
and blocking the entrance to Sproul Hall.
In Berkeley they backed Bobby Seale
and his ravenous Black Panthers
with zeal unusual in any era.
That’s when extreme emotion was
status quo. The people loved
to get riled up,
Berkeley years ago one of the first cities
to declare itself a nuclear free zone.
And now the sign hung on Durant Street
designates it a drug free zone as well.
But it really isn’t drug free, because
plenty of junkies still call People’s Park
sweet home, along with winos and drifters.
And as for nuclear free, what can this
possibly mean? The atom’s been split
and you’re not going to stuff that genie
back in the bottle.
The university students mix well
with lots of screwy types and tourists
along Telegraph Avenue.
These days I feel this relative indifference
amongst the population. Be they dismissive,
laissez-faire, uninvolved or introverted,
it’s as if they couldn’t care less about changes
that don’t bode well for the human race.
It doesn’t bother them that skyscrapers pop up
like hotcakes in the area, bold structures
the Earth can’t afford anymore. They’ll apply
great strain on the electric grid and water
resources, depleting the Earth of materials
that should remain untouched for generations.
Collectively the people have no clout, perhaps
because they’ve forgotten how to shout.
And yet among them the geniuses we must
count on to dig us out of a hole. Without
the likes of Cal and its brilliant minds
there would be no solutions possible.
We would bow to pollution and consumption
and let humanity fade away.
One could look at our Earth as a huge
battery, its native riches immense,
barely tapped over billions of years.
And then comes modern man
with his heavy hand
draining it of life and limb.
We’re seeing Capitalism at its most vain,
but Capitalism isn’t the only culprit.
The cup from which midnight oil
is daily sipped is running perilously low.
And Berkeley keeps its fingers crossed.
Dr. Jekyll Can't Hide
The Old Monterey Book Company is closed,
so I scan the front window, igniting my
What blasts back at me
is an antique lithograph of Walt Whitman
hung from a weathered wooden post inside.
The lithograph yanks at my heart. Here is
venerable Walt grown old and submissive,
gaunt and grizzled. It’s as if he’s arranging
a truce with some higher power, making
final arrangements for his funeral.
Directly across the street the Casa Bonifacio
hotel once stood, where the impressionable
and youthful Robert Louis Stevenson boarded
during his month-long visit to Monterey.
On most mornings he would leave his room
and stroll over to an eating establishment
long since replaced by the transit plaza,
where flags ripple and whap atop tall poles.
There he would engage the gregarious host,
Frenchman Jules Simoneau, in subjects
enchanting, fascinating, and sometimes dour.
They were joined by Monterey transplants,
Scotsmen, Portuguese, Chinese, Italian
and Americans who were often mesmerized by
the lively banter. Today a block away we have
boisterous beer guzzlers at the Bull and Bear.
They whoop it up while waiters sling plates
of grub, and music parishioners regularly collect
on the patio, listening to reggae or soulful blues.
Across from the transit plaza Yellow Cabs wait,
lined up along an adobe wall. Aromas from
Peet’s Coffee house fill my lungs with frolic.
I want new everything. I want Stevenson’s voice
to ring anew in my soul. I want Walt to come back
and fill my coffee cup with liquid gold. Old as new.
But I don’t want to watch frivolous cartoons
like Heckle and Jeckle the way I did as a boy.
They’re no longer cool, no longer pertinent.
Moreover Dr. Jekyll still can’t shake
his impetuous id Mr. Hyde, nor can I.
Thomas Piekarski is a former editor of the California State Poetry Quarterly, as well as Associate Editor of Impact magazine and The Literary Monitor. His poetry and interviews have appeared in dozens of literary journals internationally, including Nimrod, Portland Review,
Mandala Journal, Cream City Review, Poetry Salzburg, Boston Poetry Magazine, The Journal, Gertrude, and Annapurna. He has published a travel book, Best Choices In Northern California, and Time Lines, a book of poems. He lives in Marina, California.