Back when I was little,
I wanted to be a bird.
I wanted to fly, to soar
over the earth in the crystalline
blue skies, soar with the robins
who taunted cheep cheep
from the trees.
So I fashioned myself
a pair of paper wings--
construction paper,snow paste,
feathers drawn on with
brown and black crayon.
in tiny, sweaty palms,
I set off to the backyard swingset,
its metal rusty and warped.
The perfect launching pad
for my ascent, my mission.
Each step carried me
up to the slide. The robins
continued to taunt me
in a mocking chorus,
but I ignored their taunts, turned,
wings outstretched, and jumped.
Gravity, a cruel parent,
sent me tumbling down
to the grass below,
the green cushion not enough
to protect against skinned knees
and the torrent of liquid embarrassment
cutting through the dirt
and grime on my cheeks.
My invention ended up on the ground,
two sandaled feet stomping
an angry waltz onto a pair of paper wings.
I didn’t take flight this day
or any day after that.
The gentle breeze refused
to keep me aloft,
it did not urge me toward
My brother, the young man
sitting in an old man’s bar,
dragged there because Jim
wanted company while
guzzling down cheap beer
and playing billiards.
A community of bikers, Army vets,
men in pressed suits, planted
at tables, eating mixed nuts
out of bowls, and talking
about sports, talking about work,
talking about nothing.
He told me he didn’t belong there,
but maybe he did, a clean-cut
college boy still trying
to figure out where he fit
in life’s grand scheme--
trying on different guises
before settling on one.
Here, son. A sudden voice,
a grimy hand stained by mechanic’s grease,
held out a Michelob. The guy, drunk
and oblivious to whatever
plagued his mind, nodded.
Buying you a beer before
before you ship out.
He thought my brother’s buzz cut
meant Army, Navy, Marines, and
assumed his destiny was to fight
in a country not his own.
Jim laughed, and pieced
together the story, made
up of details from his dishonorably
discharged Marines days, about
how my brother was a Marine
just like his old man, what country
he’d be in. The guy, too full
of booze to notice the story’s flaws,
thanked the both of them
for their service and stumbled
back to the bar for more of whatever.
Jim didn’t see the big deal
about lying, making up stories.
My brother did--out of all the identities
to choose from in this life,
he never wanted to become him.
For the woman who gave me
my first sip of wine, after I asked
if it tasted like grape juice, or Kool-Aid.
For the woman whose seventy-seven
years of life ended up as miniscule,
For the woman who taught me
never to become an alcoholic:
not worth the investment or time.
For the woman who enjoyed
crossword puzzles, yard sales,
quilting, and a good cup of coffee.
For the woman who clipped coupons,
bought generics, and would have
blanched at an obituary’s price.
For the woman whose obituary
cost a little over two hundred
dollars, and would speak to frugality.
I wanted to keep her rose-colored urn,
sit it on the coffee table in the midst
of my old newspapers, dirty dishes, and
outdated magazines with smiling
celebrities on the glossy covers.
I wanted to sit, have a cup of coffee,
and converse with her ashes, perhaps
take a spoonful and mix them into
the scalding liquid so I might taste her,
the earthy dust to which she’d been reduced.
I wanted to scoop my hands into her expanse,
sift her through my fingers, pour her out
onto the wood and trace doodles till the tips
of my fingers turned gray and my
palms became coated with pulverized bones.
I wanted to sprinkle her on the grass,
food and fertilizer to aid in the photosynthesis
of her cherished rosebushes and purple
irises planted around the perimeter
of her chain-link fence.
I buried her in White Chapel Memorial Gardens
on a February morning, the frozen air chilling the marbled urn,
while the priest said his obligatory prayers.
I prayed her ashes wouldn’t solidify.
So. You’re from Missouruh.
the end of the word dragged out
like a long syllable of seeming confusion.
My salad fork, the tines decorated
with bits of lettuce and cucumber, paused
halfway to my mouth, and I gave a sharp nod.
He nodded back, and jabbered on,
Missouruh. I’ve been to Branson,
you know, the hillbilly Las Vegas, I saw
the St. Louis Arch, and don’t the weather
get crazy in Missouruh? I shoved the fork
into my mouth and chewed out frustrations
about people who sit beside me at lunch and ask
about the place I’ve called home my whole life,
the place where the weather can’t choose
between one extreme or the other, the place
where I caught lightning bugs
to keep in a temporary mason jar home.
I thought about telling him it was Missouree,
not Missouruh, but the same thing would happen,
the insistence on the added syllable flavored
by a country twang, a colloquial lemon
to a glass of syntactical iced tea.
I wondered what his reaction might be if
he happened to be from Mississippi or Illinois,
and if I said to him: Mississippuh. Illinoise.