He’s a young sixty-two, with a beanstalk frame
the grandkid loves to climb, determined to see
the big picture same as pa-pop, once he tires
of pushing jail chair choo-choos in a ragged circle.
What’s that song? Sunday morning coming down
—it was always on the radio, like Sean Phillips and
Buffy St. Marie, back when he could field
three-four-five haybales like marshmallows.
He could get all Zen and say it don’t mean nothing—
that the visiting room empties out slow as church,
mothers and children first, paunchy men last,
their silence counted in footsteps, like unpaid debt.
The Catholic in him resents the intrusions of rigid
sorrow on the holy day. Triumphant—was how
his family marched past the baby powder priests,
here it’s just slack gray guards and cameras.
A pinball scattering of men makes way for those
lucky guys, who will blend back into population,
quick as a reheated mug of coffee set on a concrete
floor—cools and bitters-up, wanting only a little sugar.
Bag of Bones
The guard dragged Frank
feet-first, as if he were
one more Saturday night special,
just another drunk destined for the tank.
Fifteen minutes of chest compressions
got the COs winded by turns
and the old man no further from death.
The corpse rested a few minutes.
No need to hurry, really.
It’s not as if he was about to sit up
and start dancing, but you never knew.
When the EMTs arrived
they might buzz him a few times,
even give him the kiss.
Stories would be passed around
like a beat up thermos of coffee
spiked with airline whiskey.
Scared me shitless, said the fat one.
Guy’d been flatlined for damn near to twenty.
Skinny said, Marty had one start singing,
right out of nowhere.
Irish. Pretty dead, though.
If Frank was alive he was keeping it to himself.
The nurse checked her watch.
She was sore from giving flu shots all day,
and kept rubbing her arm as if to wake it up.
It had felt good to actually do something
with pretty much guaranteed results,
not so scary-iffy as all this resurrection business.
No one said much after the story about the Irishman.
The zap battery had gone dead,
so it was all hand work,
press and pump, press and pump.
The fat one nearly said aloud,
Kinda like a factory job, isn’t it?
The skinny one packed up without a word.
Frank didn’t complain when the zipper
caught on his nose. It was pretty big.
Not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings,
the fat one apologized anyway.
He hadn’t known the guy,
but he reminded him of somebody,
just couldn’t remember who.
Where They Go
The dead are setting out on their journeys—
some to a Martha Stewart waiting room
outside the Pearly Gates.
Others not so well connected will forever feel
the blood pooling in their phlebitic ankles,
while Allah’s own TSA makes them reach for the sky,
shed their slippers, and prod them
with lewd questions in Farsi.
Pity them all: stricken, scourged believers,
harried, shunned, and outcast,
delivered from evil unto what, exactly?
Us atheists are partying like it’s quitting time,
one golden trumpeted last call.
No Bacchanalian blues allowed.
Pennies on our eyes? Are you serious?
Is it hot in here or is it me?
That all-enveloping white light
is a liberating match-flare
incinerating my farewell roach as the
Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,
ask a cop for directions.
Farsighted Arabs invented the zero,
and then—Inshallah—nothing had a new name.
A truly modest something,
a stand-in—an empty coat rack.
What did the first zero look like?
Thin, short, fat, ravenous? Try bulimic—
shedding all values for one dubious privilege,
the comfortable appearance of anonymity.
Where did zero go to school?
Schoolkids loathe you, pal.
You make chameleons nervous.
You’re the ultimate insult.
Yet, put enough of you in a row
like good little soldiers,
the most modest of quantities,
say, one little pinkie,
counted by a three year old,
gains incalculable standing.
Now—people will die for you.
Turn the tables and shout,
Get thee behind me, decimal point,
and nothing almost disappears.
What did you expect?
That you’d always be the place to be?
Canoodle with dollar signs?
Hob-nob with the deutschmark? Ones, twos, threes—
they’ll never have your sex appeal.
Richard Gagnon says writing has been a haven throughout his life. Though prose was his first love, poetry later grabbed him by the iambs. He credits Bill Freedman with clarifying and guiding his first attempts at poetry. Sixty-five, he says, is a good age to begin a new adventure.