RITE OF PASSAGE

Back when I learned to drive,
“you’re-just-a-kid” was the unspoken
assessment I saw on the faces

of the world I lived in. Except
when I pulled my dad’s aging
Plymouth into the Esso station

where a man more than twice
my age washed my windshield,
checked the oil and water

and waited to hear what I would
utter in as much of a commanding
tone as I could muster:

“Fill ‘er up!”

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WHAT MATTERS

When you waken,
melancholy,
it may be
nothing more
than a dream
like the one
you had
in which
you are lost
in the city
even though
you’re never sure
what city.

What matters,
of course,
is not
what city.

What matters
is
you’re lost.

BIRTHDAY SONG AT CHURCH

Once a month we sang it

Happy birthday, happy birthday,
your friends are all singing,
may the year that is opening
bring gladness to you.
May it teach you to be helpful,
kind-hearted and loving.
Happy birthday, happy birthday,
happy birthday to you.

And while we sang it, anyone,
kid or grownup who had
a birthday that month,
was invited, was expected,
to walk forward with coins
that matched their birthday year
and drop them in the jar.

There were smiles and happy titterings
when the old-timers’ pennies, nickels,
dimes and quarters made a clatter.

Those of us who were six or seven or eight,
as we marched to the front, could overhear
what the grownups were whispering

— isn’t that Ralph and Anna’s boy?
— my, my, they grow up so fast
— sure looks like her momma, doesn’t she?

For us youngsters, our turn
was an annual rite of passage.
We looked forward to it.
It gave us a chance to shine.

THE BIG CHAIR

It sat just inside the front door
that opened into the most lived-in
room of the house — the kitchen.

Back then it was also the only
heated room and was large enough
to accommodate the wood stove,
sink, refrigerator, the table
where we ate our meals.

But mostly it was home to
The Big Chair where my father
sat after supper and hauled
me and my sister up to his lap
for stories, some read from a book,
others of his own invention.

Sometimes that chair and lap
held us both, other times
one-at-a-time, but always
wrapped in warmth and safety
and laughter and love.

WHERE I SIT

Where I sit to write lines like these
is in the corner of the room
where the window faces east.

I sit there early so when
there is a sunrise I won’t miss it.
All it takes is a glance to my left

to watch the world awaken
which means that sometimes
I do more watching than writing.

Which is probably a good thing.

THE WAVE

It’s that friendly gesture
we use to tell the driver
in the other car that we
really do appreciate
his kind consideration in
allowing our car to slip
into the traffic ahead
of him. Courtesy, we think,
should be acknowledged.
Which is why
when I paused to
let the guy in the red
pickup pull out of
the Sunoco station
in front of me, and
he failed to give me
The Wave,
I wanted to give him
the one-finger salute.

But I didn’t.

GROUND BREAKER

So here I am. Again.
Kneeling in the dirt,
shaking off bits of soil
from clumps of lawn
I’ve dug up to make yet
another plot for flowers.

My neighbor stops to chat.
What will you put here
she says and seems
to really want to know.

I haven’t decided I say
and see her shake
her head as if to
question my sanity.

She has, I think, a point.