after the morning service ended,
I found myself parking my beat-up sedan
in the cul-de-sac where my parents lived.
Untucking the tail of my dress shirt with one hand
and locking the front door to my car with the other,
I eventually tossed the dark blazer jacket
over my shoulder like a burden I was forced to carry.
And as I gazed at my parents’ driveway from across the street,
I noticed—ensconced beneath an old canopy tent
filled with rows of chafing pans and folding tables—my family
bunched together with distant relatives and familiar strangers.
So I loosened the Windsor knot around my neck
and prepared to cross the road
a station wagon pulled in front of me.
He was an elderly man.
An out-of-towner by the look of his plate number
with eyes focused on me
like a dog begging for table scraps.
"Hey there! I am terribly sorry to bother you,” his voice broke
over the motor engine as he lowered his passenger side window,
“but can you tell me how to get back onto the main highway from here?
I am afraid I took a wrong turn, and now I am a bit lost."
So I rummaged within the depths of my trouser pockets
and retrieve an open pack of tissues and a roller ball pen.
With a few poor illustrations of crooked lines
and scribbled marks, I finally handed him the directions.
“That should do,” I insisted
as we both began watching my little nephews
and nieces playing tag around trees
and deflated balloons in the front yard.
"I really appreciate this," he replied
clenching the paper between his fingertips,
"and I apologize for keeping you
from your party.”
There, my response fell short from my tongue
while he began to turn his vehicle around.
“Have a nice day!" he urged before heading
down the block into the blur of the May sun.
I should have said thank you
I thought to myself,
but we just got back
from a funeral.
There will be a moment in time
when you come to terms with the fact
that it has finally happened to you:
the lukewarm invitation
for your upcoming high school reunion
tacked on your kitchen cork board
like an obituary column
about a youth you once knew,
or the younger distant cousin
you haven’t seen in years,
who went from baby bassinet
to provisional driver’s license photograph
to suddenly becoming a proud parent for the third time.
Even sprucing up in front of a cheval mirror
at nine o’clock on a Friday night for bed
could potentially be an evident sign of this.
And these are exactly the subtle reminders
I have been turning my attention away from
every time I feel a twinge in my lower back,
or when my arms and knees burn like live wires,
digging out my buried walkway this wintry morning
from last night's five and a half feet of snow.
And as I keep jabbing the sharp blade of my shovel
into the powder that covers the rest of my neighborhood
like a crime scene blanket draped over a fresh corpse,
I try to identify what's beneath it all,
yet I can't seem to recognize yesterday anymore.
I knew it wasn’t you that summer afternoon
when I decided to quiet my head for a bit,
wandering along the crowded boardwalk by myself.
Not because you only preferred
the beach in September to avoid the swarms
of drunk college kids and snooty tourists,
or because you were caught up
with some odd jobs that day,
making repairs around the house.
But simply because the little clenched fist
pounding against the wall inside your chest
decided to cease one day about ten winters ago.
Yet there you seemed to appear, anyway:
doppelgänger, stunt double, déjà vu look-alike,
with your back to me holding a beach viewfinder
between the palms of your hands,
swiveling its chrome-plated shell like a gun turret
as you stared through the tiny lenses to examine the shore.
So I carried out
my own investigation
and tiptoed in your direction,
but when I got three feet from behind you
there was no urge left in my body
to shout your name anymore
or tap you on the shoulder
in order to debunk what I already knew.
All I had to grasp was that brief moment
we both stood there together
on our own pedestals—
searching for something more
beyond the naked eye.
The Blank Page
It must have been
at a workshop
when I overheard this comparison,
or maybe it was trapped
inside a chapter
from one of those overpriced
“How to be a Poet” craft books
I purchased long ago
that writing every day
is a journey,
an ideal exploration
from point “a” to “infinity,”
the metaphorical motorhome
that travels along
the winding road of the mind,
flooring it from title
to final punctuation mark.
But every so often
I lose myself here:
in the blank page,
where each direction I take
is just another
dead metaphor for freedom
as old thoughts
beg like panhandlers,
seeking alms for stale time
and second chances,
while ideas I deserted long ago
dwell on every other block
lined up in rows
like teeth from a hacksaw.
And as I circle around
for what seems like forever,
I only end up where I started.
So I lock the doors
keep my eyes ahead
and hope the next turn is a sign for home.