In the alley

Here’s a story. My first job, at fifteen, was in a bakery,
Cleaning the vast foul pots and kettles and baking pans
At night, for hours, alone, with horrifying chemicals, &
Finally locking the shop and trudging home in the dark.
I hated it from the first hour but I couldn’t quit instantly
Because I was afraid to be teased and be mortified. This
Went on a week. The back door to the bakery was in an
Alley that looked like a good place to get shot. One day
As I shuffled sadly down the alley I saw a slumped man
Sitting by the back door, smoking. I didn’t know him &
Figured I was about to get rolled. I was sort of relieved,
To be honest, because then I’d have a decent excuse for
Quitting. But when I got there the man stood up, and he
Said boy, I run the shop next door, and I see you in here
Working, and I bet you have not eaten, and that’s awful
Hard work, I know how that guy leaves his kitchenware,
So here’s a sandwich. Now, it’s not from me exactly but
From my wife who has a real sharp eye. So there you go.
I quit a few days later, and at my dad’s instruction I quit
Face to face with the baker, who was furious, and it was
No fun at all, but then I went and said thanks to the lady.
Even now sometimes I see that man smoking in the alley,
And standing up, and being kind to a kid he didn’t know.
Even now I’ll be walking along and suddenly there he is,
Waiting to be kind. We think we are alone but we aren’t.

First petitions

That there will be one or two waiting
with hands to hold you through floods
of crowds and reaching for you in rivers
of sports fans rushing past your head;

to lay on blessings of evening explorations,
fidget through long hours awaiting
the door latch and the fridge slam you
tucked into a familiar corner at home;

to give up reaching and fall at the bedside,
fold and submit you and your youth
beyond the touch of helping hands
to a kinder embrace, not here but not far.

Church yard: Rebuilding the labyrinth

A curving trail—the callused field obscures it
until we shovel out the clotted brick,
lug a ton or two of sand to fit
trenches, level rumpled earth, correct
courses. A mallet stuns a thumb, new blisters
bud as self-impressed we shout, “This row
is done!” but then a kid names names, prefers
George Toad, Kate Cricket, slaps William Mosquito,
pats Barkly, unleashed, our best company.
We rest and share cold drinks. David brings
homemade muffins, burned, blueberry plenty.
Sun flickers around us, summer’s wings.
Yet sand, we need more sand! Deer watch from trees
while we adjust the pathways on our knees.

Losing sight

Crossing the lake in thick fog with nothing
to be seen except the buoy to starboard
marking the rock we didn’t want to hit
that Tom said we’d already passed but
Whit said No, we’re way beyond it which is
when the boat rose up bow riding high to leave
us stranded the boat an ark the rock a mountain
the fog a cloud that covered us waiting for who
knew what—a voice, a face, a sudden shining—
but there was nothing more than thinking how
many times when losing sight we circle back
to where we started only to begin again.

Song to hum while opening mail from a friend

O the very fact that there are friends who write with their hands
Even if just the forefingers hammering away on keyboards, and
Also then print out the resulting muddle and scrawl and scribble
And pop it in the postbox! The lickable areas on the envelopes!
The Return Address Just in Case! The choice of stamps, and we
All blessedly have friends who carefully choose their stamps, &
Stand in line at the post office asking for the ones with Authors,
Or members of the Simpson family, or stamps with Polar Bears!
And the fact that there are fifty addresses in your memory, some
Of them no longer inhabited by the people you loved to write to;
Much like your mind retains past phone numbers and exchanges,
Like Mayfair and Ludlow and Allegheny and Cypress and Tulip!
And the fact that you can draw all morning on an envelope or by
God paint it flagrantly with horses and angels, and your postman
Will deliver it anyway! Probably grinning at the nut who mailed
It to you! And you can put a few grains of sand inside your note,
From the beach we went to as children, or a feather from a hawk
Who glared in the window like an insurance adjuster with talons,
Or a painting by a child, or a photograph of four of the names of
That which we call God for lack of a better label. Even the folds
Of the paper, and the paperness of the paper, and the fact that it’s
All about miracles and affection, which is to say, of course, love!
Sure it is. All the good parts are about love, in all its many masks.