POOL BUM

“Hey! You! Come here!” Black man, about thirty, in Pitt sweatshirt and Pirates cap, stands at the fence and motions one of the tough talking grade-schoolers over. “I said, Come here! Yes, YOU! I’m warning you, leave my daughter alone. Don’t call her, don’t talk to her, don’t approach her.” He fiddles with his car keys. The kid smirks. “Listen to me,” I suspect he wants to add “you little asshole,” but he restrains. “If I ever hear that you’ve said anything like that again, you’re in deep trouble. Understand me? Real deep trouble. And that goes for my wife, too. You’re to leave them both alone, got that. You can tell your mother what I’ve said to you, I don’t care. You can tell your pa, too. I don’t care. But I’m warning you, hear?”

(The blond brat, walking back to the pool from the fence, smirks to his buddies.)

I’m itching like crazy. This has been going on the past two weeks, ever since the first flea bites. Those are gone now but the itching gets worse. Hellfire. Mites? Fungi? Anemia? Allergies? (WATER! Hot showers or swimming?) Negative effects from the sun? First sunbathing in three weeks: my tan’s faded to half.

Hot shower and soap up thoroughly. No relief.

Much lotion, which I’ve been using for a week and a half anyway.

Iron pills.

Spray, for relief: Solarcaine. Tinactin. Bactine.

Avoid water now. Salute the dad.

Riverside 1~*~

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IN ITS URBAN DECAY

It’s life in the inner city, usually not far from downtown and often in an enclave near the river. High density population, at least compared to the suburbs, and filled with children. Usually blue-collar or poor or a mix of students added in, it’s noisy and lively, even colorful in its urban decay. You can walk to the store or corner bar.

We lived on the second floor and later, a street over, on the third.

That’s where these poems originate and resonate still.

Riverside 1~*~

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MOODY RIVER WINDING AWAY

What may appear to be a lazy river meandering amid its wooded isles deserves consideration and room to run wild.

Passions arise and freeze over. The flow dwindles to rock. Rats run along the shoreline of factory brick at the dam. A few miles on, either direction, the dairy herds gather.

All of it reflecting my soul when I lived there.

Susquehanna 1~*~

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BLIZZARD? WE KNOW THAT PAIN

Following the rapidly changing weather forecast for the weekend as it evolved over the past seven days has spurred many emotions where I live. For a while, we watched our snowfall predictions rise for Saturday and then Sunday, prompting us to reconsider scheduling a gathering at our house. Let’s wait, my wife counseled, suggesting the next weekend could be even worse. And then the anticipated depths we viewed kept declining until, suddenly, there was no precipitation of any kind on tap for the weekend. What a relief, we thought.

But then we saw where that snow would be headed. It’s a strange feeling for New Englanders to see a blizzard steering south of us. Sparing most of us, in fact. We know what it’s like to be hammered and then buried. But we’re equipped to dig out, too, and accept it as part of the price of living where we do. We even know what it can do to a crowded city, where there are few places to dump the mounds as they accumulate. Driving along a street, you’d keep asking, Is that just a big pile of snow or is there a car under there?

It doesn’t take much snow to lock up a city, in fact. No matter how prepared a metropolis, six inches can really muck things up. And a foot can take days to clear free. But two? Now it’s getting serious.

We also know that even an inch of wet snow can make for some very hazardous driving. Forget what those four-wheel-drive advertisements say. We’ve seen enough of those vehicles spin off the road into the median strip or guardrail. There are acquired tricks to driving under these conditions, along with cautions. I think of it more along the lines of boating.

So when we see expectations of up to two feet of cold wet flakes blowing across Virginia and Maryland and even a corner of North Carolina(!) — and similar impacts on the District of Columbia and Baltimore — our sympathies fly southward. That’s even before Philadelphia and New York City are hit.

You probably don’t have neighbors with snowplows on their pickups, for one thing. You might not even have your own snow shovels at hand, much less snowblowers. As for those boots and gloves? We understand.

I can’t help but recall the broader term for “global warming” was “climatic instability,” which is what we’re seeing. Remember that if you hear the word “record” being applied to this storm. And no, I won’t refer to it by the cable channel’s name.

If you’re bearing the brunt of this storm, you have our sympathy. We know you’ll have your own names for the experience, few of which are publishable in polite circles. Our best advice is to stay put and take things easy as long as you can and hope you stay warm. Declare yourselves a snow day. And remember, this too shall pass.

WITH FLAMES AND A DEMON OR TWO

Anais Nin once contended that each of us has a demon. My response was – and remains – Just one?

Each demon, we should note, is different.

Our struggle is what thickens the plot – or dulls it. It can draw us together in intimacy – or drive us apart.

The eleven prose-poems of Harbor of Grace reflect that energy.

They tell of intense friendship propelled by a shared faith that flames and then explodes. Of the Old Ways bordering Amish and other Plain peoples in addition to urban conflict over the horizon. Of commitment and human shortfalls, too.

Harbor of Grace is the translated name of the town at the mouth of the Susquehanna River where the dedicatee of this collection was born.

harbor cover.jpg.opt370x493o0,0s370x493~*~

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MORE THAN THE BAKLAVA

When I moved to Baltimore, I was surprised to find all of the local pizza parlors were owned by Greeks. Not Italians?

Well, it took time before I discovered the alternatives, beginning in the city’s Little Italy.

But that occurred about the same time I was told most diners were owned by Greeks, too. And I’ve come to love diners, even though I’d been introduced to the real thing way back right after college. They just weren’t fashionable then.

Well, somewhere in-between there had been the Dairy Queen owned by a Greek-American who, though a big error by the Bank of France, wound up instantly nearly seven-figures rich – and took flight to his homeland before the error was discovered. It was a big news story where I was for the next month, before he repented and returned.

So more recently, I ordered a pizza from a local parlor. Wanted to support a young friend who works there. When I picked up the box, there was no gaudy image of a fat smiling chef on the top of the steaming box – a good sign, in my book. And then I noticed the design was mostly white with blue trim, adhering to the national Greek colors. Along with a border of … the signature Greek key pattern. OK, I thought. I get it. Even before I noticed the words gyros and pizza in a little house, side by side.

That does it. I’m definitely going back for a gyro.

And, for the record, the box is distributed from our favorite Italian grocery in Portland, Maine. Has me wondering about the rest of the story.

SABBATICAL LESSONS

As I said at the time …

When I was 38, several developments occurred in a way that allowed me to give myself a year of unemployment, drawing largely on savings. Rather than travel the world or undertake some related activity, I hunkered down in a writing spree [that resulted in the novels now (finally) being published]. The sabbatical meant that for the first time in my life, I had a period of uninterrupted concentration on this work. The writing itself. Three fast novels, now to be revised, and thud! skidding to a crash or whatever. Enough to expand to a dozen, in the hours of revision after I went back to the paying work. Looking back, I know it had to be done. And done then.

Nevertheless, in my struggle between practicality and art, there’s been a longstanding sense of guilt in spending time on myself. To my surprise, a resolution came through a workshop on prayer, when we were divided into smaller groups and then asked to write out a prayer request. Not for what others might need or a social issue, but for something we needed individually. “Ask for something for yourself,” which the others would then pray for.

Of course, each of us works differently. I’m not one for the blank sheet writer’s block syndrome: I’m usually springing from notes jotted down earlier. (Pacing is another matter: just where is this going? And why?)

In contrast, I recall a poet friend who was also a public school teacher; he was quite prolific during the busy school year, yet during the summer, could produce little, though he could never quite figure out why. (He could also stare at a piece of paper for five hours and then turn out a sharply focused gem.) The other friend, having all the leisure in the world, could produce only disconnected flashes. Could it be some juggling or resistance is also essential to the practice?