FOR MARJORIE AT SEVENTY-NINE

(Inspired by Janis Ian)

No truth to learn at seventy-nine
Except that living on is fine.
So many friends now turned to dust,
Their camaraderie once robust.
A few, surviving faint and frail,
Now faraway as memories fail.
No unlived dream for which to yearn —
At seventy-nine not much to learn,

Except sometimes the past unwinds
And leaves a word or thought behind,
A song or phrase recalls a scene —
The world was old at seventeen
But still too young for “might have been”
Before the births and deaths begin —
Now living on is fine
At seventy-nine.

You’ve got your true love at your side
To share the times we’ve laughed and cried,
Our magic moments still alive
For love has helped them to survive.
“Together” is now a precious word,
The sweetest song we’ve ever heard
And each new day a Valentine
To share together — at seventy-nine.

No need for old age solitaire
Sheltered in places with despair,
No time to waste remembering when
“Remember was” will come again:
The present’s a wide and shining place
For past and future to embrace
And living on is just divine
At seventy-nine.

(FROM SANIBEL JOE AT NINETY)

Winter Solstice 2003
(Year of my Quintuple Bypass)

I thought at first
The cataracts had come back —
the sun glinting cold and yellow
over the tennis courts
brought out the Bollé glasses.

Nor was noon better —
the sun still low and stuck in time
as I drove on the causeway
to and from
the mainland mall madness,
gray gulf and sky,
whatever shred was left of day
shrouded in jaundiced twilight.

For once I was relieved
to see night begin
with Venus burning bright
and low like a jetliner
and even lower on the horizon —
the thin crescent of moon
slivering into renewal.

From darkest day had come
most shining night
and on this longest night
of my longest year —
the promise
of ever-brightening days
waiting to rise
above my horizons.

Joe Pacheco

IN THIS HOUSE

Prone on the sagging divan
I see the breeze flirt with the curtains
Through the open window

Bolts of sun shoot into the room
Archways caress them
Into shadows of themselves

Landscapes warm wheat-hued walls
Taormina, Taranto, Rockport Harbor
Dream tips

Just when sleep soothes my aching back
Wind gusts the French doors wide
Waking my wandering mind

I could die in this house

Gary McLouth

 “Eclipse” is a villanelle which appears in my weekly poetry column, “Poetry Place” at SantivaChronicle.com

Eclipse

Beyond my window blooms the moon
Hangs ripe and full before sunrise
Moonbeams scatter round the room

Awakened from night’s cocoon
Circle of light before me lies
Beyond my window blooms the moon

Over the moon a shadow looms
Watching it grow I’m mesmerized
Moonbeams scatter round the room

Lunar light will darken soon
Earth masks moon as it arrives
Beyond my window blooms the moon

Penumbra passes light resumes
Emerging from its dark disguise
Moonbeams scatter round the room

Serenely shining ancient rune
With the power to hypnotize
Moonbeams scatter round the room
Beyond my window blooms the moon

Lorraine Walker Williams

“Orlando” has been published in the 2018 Winter issue of Pen Woman magazine, a national publication of the oldest literary organization for women in the US.

Orlando

I have driven through you,
I have stayed in your city—
Visited Disney with my daughter.

Still… Orlando, I had to be
almost three thousand miles away
to be touched by you,
to be at the edge of tears.

The Rose Bowl Parade, bands marching,
flower-filled floats, the pageantry, then
you arrive in a rainbow of bloom,

white stars on a blood-red sea,
a dove rising. The message—
Honor and Remember Orlando.

A cold and shrouded January sky,
a slow procession as the crowd
claps chilled hands. Hearts fill
and spill for you, Orlando.

I was horrified after the shooting,
glued to the screen as the tragedy
unfolded, yet no tears fell,

Orlando—until this flower-filled
morning of hope and healing,
at the beginning of this New Year.

Lorraine Walker Williams

Lorrainewalkerwilliams.com

Jim Gustafson — Waffles

Waffles

You should eat a waffle! You can’t be sad if you eat a waffle!
― Lauren Myracle

What the Three Wise Men thought was a guiding star was really the glow of a big yellow Waffle House sign shouting loud in the night. They followed its light for hours, through dew drip darkness;
dodging eighteen-wheelers thundering along the interstate.

At the sight of the Waffle House, they raised their hands in praise, as they prayed a prayer of thanksgiving. There was plenty of room at the counter. A friendly server named Mary and a short-order cook called Joe greeted them with warm smiles.

They chatted with Mary, while they waited for waffles. It was obvious from the way Mary and Joe
at each other, the way their hands touched when she handed him their order slip, and the slight patch of purple on Mary’s neck that she and Joe had a thing going on.

The Wise Men watched the batter ooze and flow. The steam streams rose, the hot iron genuflected and rounded the white dough. An aroma, sweeter than the holiest incense, lounged.

All three had maple syrup. What self-respecting wise man would have anything else?

As they poured the syrup, it seeped through the land of little cross on the gold sacramental wafers.
Road sounds were drowned by the satisfied smacks of their lips. Slight rainbows spread in buttery spills across the maple juice sea.

“Is not the architecture of the bee, designed as this catacomb cake?” said one,
“Is not their honey homage?”

“Is ice cream not best waffle coned? Has ever there been a more divine form?” asked another.

Could any fair maiden’s smile not spread with the gift of this well-plated pastry?” said the third.

When their plates lay still and sticky, in the afterglow of the well-buttered, syrup soaked waffles, they paid their check, and left generous gifts for Mary and Joe.

Having been told of heavy traffic along the interstate, they returned home another way.

Jim Gustafson
From Driving Home
Aldrich Press, 2013
Available on Amazon.com

Poem by Joe Pacheco

A Nuyorican Child’s Christmas In Vieques
(My First Tropical Christmas)

No hableh ingléh en Viequeh,”
(Do not speak English in Vieques)
I still remember my mother’s words
a few days before Christmas
and after we had just completed
a five-day steamship voyage to Puerto Rico
and a long drive in a público to Fajardo
where we were waiting for “La lancha
to brave the choppy straits for two hours
and land us on my mother’s home island,
Vieques, an island off
the eastern shore of Puerto Rico,
itself an island in the West Indies.

And I still remember
that when half the island came
to greet my mother
and see the first americano
born in the family
and hear him speak English
and kept demanding
Habla ingléh, habla ingléh,.”
that I held out for as long as I could,
repeating after each request
my mother’s admonition,
“No hableh ingléh en Viequeh.”
but the bribes of bananas, oranges,
sugar cane and pennies were too great
for four year old me to resist
and I succumbed by reciting
the first stanza of the Star Spangled Banner
that my brother had taught me
before I left New York
and even though I was not too sure
of the meaning and pronunciation
of many of the words,
a shower of applause and pennies
rewarded my first adventure
into performance poetry.

A few days later
I wowed the crowd even more
at my uncle Agustin’s house
when I remembered it was Christmas
and added to my repertoire
“Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”
but when I asked,
“¿cuándo viene Santa Claus?”
I was given the bad news:
Vieques was one town
Santa (San Nicolás) didn’t go to.

Everyone watched my reaction
in a careful silence
until my devastation was relieved
by my uncle’s revelation
that there were Tres Reyes,
Gaspar, Melchor and Baltasar
who delivered presents
not on Christmas Day
but on January 6 because
the camels on which they traveled
were much slower than reindeer.
They would be tired and hungry
and if I left some straw for them
in a shoebox, the next morning
I might find presents.
‘Three Santa’s! Three times more presents!’
I remember thinking in English,
‘and they don’t even have a list
of who’s naughty and nice.’

I obeyed and did not speak English in Vieques
except on those performance occasions
and that one time when my Uncle Braulio
tripled the ante to three pennies
to hear me say curse words
but the Spanish I spoke
was an equal source of delight  —
larded with English words and syntax
hybrid utterances such as
me comí five bananas and no me gustan anyway
were preserved in family lore for decades.
I didn’t realize then —
I was one of the pioneer speakers of Spanglish.

There were parties every night,
and three of my uncles were the island’s musicians
and my cousins and I
would accompany them on parrandas
to people’s houses where they played
while everyone sang aguinaldos
and danced and ate and drank
and partied on to the next house
with many of us being carried sleepily
and piled on beds and hammocks
at each stop.

On New Year’s Day, I wept with my cousins
who were heartbroken over the slaughter
of their pet suckling pig, Cucharón,
but that evening we fought over the rights
to his cuerito — roasted crinkled skin,
that tasted better than candy.

Barefoot and happy the entire time,
I spent my second remembered Christmas
with coconut palms instead of pine trees,
sand instead of snow, sleeping in open shacks
without doors, rocking softly in hammocks
canopied with mosquito nets,
with Three Kings and camels and straw
and hand-made gifts in shoeboxes,
and family singing and dancing every evening —
the rhythmic joy and faith of the aguinaldos
shining through their poverty,
illuminating and deepening
the memory and celebration
of all my Christmases to come.

~ Joe Pacheco

Chistmas Poem by Joe Pacheco

The Night Before Christmas on Sanibel Isle

Twas the night before Christmas on Sanibel Isle,
Not a gator was stirring, not our one crocodile.
The Roseate Spoonbills wore pink underwear
While Blue Herons were sleeping legs up in the air.
The shops had been emptied of I-Pods and stones,
And last-minute shoppers dialing cell phones.
The Drawbridge Protection was in its last throes,
And from Lake Okachobee poured freshwater woes.

But I with my Flo-Max and Ma with Botox
Were just settling down to our new cable Box,
When all of a sudden nothing bright did appear,
A Lee County Light outage — the one hundredth this year.
The cordless phones in an instant went dead,
No television programs to be watched while in bed.
But the land line we’d kept and the cellular phone
Brought assurance from police we weren’t alone.
When would lights go on? —the police had no clue,
But ‘twas holiday season and they were only a few:
The rest had all gone to Bell Tower Fair
In hopes that Saint Nicholas soon would be there.
The generator purchased after Charlie’s big blow
Had gone back to Costco when FEMA said no.

So with one trusty flashlight we walked to the beach,
Met snowbirds collecting every shell within reach.
The moon shining down on red seaweed below
Made some of us wish we had stayed north with snow.
But Sanibel’s no-see-ums not blinded by light
Had all come to wish us Merry Christmas that night.

So back to our houses we ran like a flash,
Closed all our windows and pulled down the sash,
Called Lee County Electric on our cellular phone —
Their message informed us they had all gone home:
In the spirit of Christmas they were proud to say,
An emergency crew would work Christmas Day.

Till then, it concluded, cheerful and bright,
“Merry Christmas to customers, from Lee County Light.”

~ Joe Pacheco

It was time to go back home. Following rainbows to the once familiar towns of Kankakee and Bradley, Illinois wasn’t the same. The old days remembered were gone. Perhaps that old saying’s true after all – “You can’t go home again.”

So Michael, the perennial hippie, and his 17-year-old son, Travis, made a hard decision. Could they make the 2000-mile journey in the old 1969 Chevy van, which held all their worldly goods? Not only clothes and mementoes Michael couldn’t part with, but the cherished ‘63 Harley? Mom and Dad would help out with some extra cash, but could the two of them actually make this trip?

It’s one thing to travel alone, as he’d done so many times before, but now his boy was along and it wasn’t the late 70s or 80s anymore. Yet, they had to leave. There was nothing for them there; no work, except odd jobs. And so they left one afternoon when the wind blew softly and the sun shown down on them as if to say, “Be on your way. Bon voyage.”

The old buggy cruised along for several hundred miles. Oh, not perfect, but good enough. His childhood friends said it wouldn’t go a hundred miles, but they were wrong.

Goodwill Industries in Tacoma originally owned that old van and Michael was the second owner. Except for having to paint over the words Goodwill, it was a good buy for three hundred bucks two years before.

It made the trip to Kankakee and then over to the next town of Bradley and was now carrying them back home to Tacoma. They stopped to eat at fast food places along the way and even spent one night in a motel, not wanting to spend any more than absolutely necessary. Otherwise, they slept in the van.

“It’s good being out in the fresh air with clouds that paint pictures, if you think hard enough, and the wind makes your hair cover your eyes a little,” said Michael. “People are mostly friendly, too.” And Travis nodded.

He used to travel with a scruffy black dog, Jake, years back, but now he was with his son. Maybe the old dog made some treat him better than they normally would have on those wayward treks over the road when he was young. He didn’t know for sure. But now Jake was gone.

Oh, they had to stop from time to time to let the engine cool off and add some oil, but that was to be expected. He’d phoned Mom and Dad collect from various places, so they wouldn’t worry too much about him and Travis. Michael thought he knew what Moms and Dads felt because he was a parent now, too.

The inevitable did happen. The old van broke down as they rolled into a whistle stop of a place called Murdo in South Dakota: population 679. Lucky for them they weren’t out in the wilderness. They could see a small motel in the distance and hiked there after locking the van.

Michael told the motel manager, a fellow named Patrick, his tale of woe; how they had to get the van running again and didn’t have much money left for the long trip ahead and maybe he had some work they could do. “I’m a roofer,” Michael said to Patrick, “and a darned good one, too.”

Patrick listened hard to all Michael had to say. “Tell you what,” he sighed, “there’s a guy down the road who needs somebody to finish a job on his RV roof. Seems the fellow he had doing the work just walked out on him yesterday, no warning, just walked out. Go on down there and see what he says.”

Michael did just that and, lo and behold, the man hired him on the spot, a total stranger, but then if you looked into Michael’s earnest green eyes, you would understand why. He and Travis started the very next morning real early and worked all day. The rickety old van was examined by the man at a near-by garage and it was determined it needed a new engine.

“It will take some doing for one to be found for such an old model in this out-of-the-way place,” the mechanic said. Michael worried how much it would cost, if one actually could be found. The search was on. In the meantime, Patrick worked out a deal for them to stay half-price at the motel.

It would take several days to finish the RV job, enough time to fix the van, if they  were lucky. The first day, the RV owner even gave them lunch money. Another man staying at the motel overheard them talking to Patrick and took them to dinner. “People ARE good, there’s no denying it,” Michael said to Travis in a quiet voice.

Patrick had some wood out back he intended to use for a utility shed someday. “If you can put it together on the week end,” Patrick said, “I might be able to work out a few days no rent.” Michael jumped at the chance. With Travis’ help, they did a fine job, too.

A few days later, while at the local Laundromat, he and Travis struck up a conversation with the manager. They told him they had no transportation. The fellow offered to take them to a junkyard that might have what they needed. The three of them went over there a couple of hours later, when the Laundromat was closed, and it was like a miracle! Sitting on the shelf was the exact size engine they needed and for only $175.00.

It would take a day or so to get it installed, however, and Patrick was going away. They had to move out of the motel. Patrick told them to walk uptown a few blocks and see the lady who ran the only other motel in town.

“I’ll call her first,” he said, “sorta set things up for you. Maybe she can find it in her heart to help out.” And then Michael and Travis met Ella. She needed bushes trimmed and some other odd jobs done around the place, which was in pretty sad shape. They could stay there half-price, a real bargain.

“You won’t believe it, Mom,” Michael said long distance, “the best people ever live here in Murdo, South Dakota. I even met a guy who has been here four years from Alaska. He said he broke down and never left. The people made him feel like this was his home.”

On Day Eleven in this town of Good Samaritans, the old van finally ran, almost like a top. Michael and Travis packed their gear and said their good-byes to Patrick, Ella and the other assorted friends they came to know in not quite two weeks. It was a bittersweet ending to a piece of life they would never forget.

Driving slowly out of Murdo, Michael glanced at his son sitting beside him and, with a faraway look in his green eyes that glistened just a little, he murmured, “Remember this place, Trav. This is what the world can be like. Never give up or lose faith. Like my mom always said, ‘Look for the good in people and you will find it.’”