Birthday 2017


When Loren first told me

there was such a thing as ageless,

it seemed like a concept so far away,

unthinkable and untouchable.


Now I mount the stairs

with the timidity of a mouse,

unable to satisfy anyone,

including myself, and these days


I find life fits together like nesting boxes,

tucked inside one another,

too small to carry anything of substance,

a little too snug to slip away and fall.


Dear, I worry you need to find someone

who might suit you more tightly,

filling emptiness only youth can fill,

perhaps a couple boxes short of ageless.





I finally dreamed of you last night, father,

standing in front of Union Hall,

tapping a fresh pack of cigarettes

on your palm, patient and smiling.


You were in your comfort zone—

workers circling like subjects

around royalty, eyes upward

waiting to be told what to do.


I often wonder if you wanted

to remain a commoner, not forced

to become a king, family in tow,

from the time you wore short pants.  


In the dream I had last night,

no one dared speak unless spoken to,

question your confidence and cool,

you who willed open the heavy, wooden doors.




You can hear the click, clack of her heels
down the hall, during the ordained quiet
of the classes. She hopes to turn heads.
If you look, you may see red leather shoes,                  
commanding the respect and attention
of spawning students at the all-boys school.
Miss Mangione is a Catholic, an only-on-Friday one,
wears the tightest skirt she can get away with,
walks as if her sweater is pulling her to morning mass.  
But first, she squeezes into those shiny red shoes—
shoes from a magazine she can barely afford.
Shoes she won’t wear more than twice a year.
Heels so high she might see God.
She stops in front of a 52 inch TV in the lounge
to watch the Pope’s resignation on CNN,
a little tear on her cheek like Magdalene.
The Pope wore holy red Prada on his feet,
now fated to brown like regular men.     
Miss M’s stilettos more sinful as she heads home.  


The hotelkeeper, Marika,
does everything she can to make
this place what its name suggests:
friend to strangers.

I'm an odd Odysseus
dragging a suitcase up
a hundred stairs, huffing,
embarrassed I'm still searching at my age.

I'd just as soon hole up in my cabin
than fight my way along cobblestone paths
with half the heart I had
when I played soccer here as a boy.

I hesitate to hold onto Marika's arm
since men don't touch married women in Greece,
but she senses I am struggling,
takes my elbow anyway, stares straight ahead.

We don't need to say anything—for this final leg,
she's a silent figurehead guiding her sailor home.

Everything smelled of paint thinner,
to some degree, around my father
and our house. A foreign perfume,
or a man’s spicy cologne.

It circulated down the driveway
from the beds of tired work trucks
to the can-full garage, through the yard,
never empty enough to play in.

There was a lone lilac bush
just on the other side of our fence,
begging me to breathe in her fragrance
every morning, but instead, I rose

before the others to inhale my father
as he loaded paint on the pickup
with one hand, pulled lovingly
on his non-filters with the other.

Cigarettes, paint fumes, and stale whiskey—
an intoxicating concoction of scents.
They followed him day and night,
and I respected his aura of thinner.

It hung everywhere in the air,
just as a father’s force lingers
forever heavy in a man’s life.
Strange how our jobs seep out

of us unnoticed, undetected
except to those who need us.
I wonder if I smell of lead pencils,
new paper, coffee, and chalk.