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POEM: words of wisdom

words of wisdom

“it’s only a paper moon”

no, that’s not what he’d say

“you’ve got to take care
of your family first”

is that it? or maybe

“keep your head down
and get a separate room
at the end of the hall”

it’s not as if all his sayings
were collected in a book
this is a guy, after all,
who was famous for not talking

I wish he were here now
because I’m at the bottom
and can’t figure out what to do
I think he’d be a good one to ask

we used to spend most of our time
talking about big bands
or the latest episode of Lawrence Welk

I remembered all the names of the Welk people
even though, truth be told, I’d only seen the show
a few times

but I always knew I could get him talking
if the subject were Pete Fountain
or the Glen Gray band

he took me to my first concert
Pete Fountain and Al Hirt
at The Shell in Canandaigua

two guys from New Orleans on stage
two guys from Pittsfield, Massachusetts
in the audience, swinging

when I wake up, the first things I see
remind me of him: a purple moon,
a vase of flowers, a Parisian riverside

and out here in the living room
another of his paintings
and a cross-stitch of my first initial

did he ever have a long night when he doubted?
when he couldn’t pay the rent and the food
was running out and it was all too much?

he was from a different era, when men
didn’t talk about those kinds of things
they were just expected to hold up their end

he worked at the same place for 48 years
never took a sick day — not one
my resume looks like the classified ads

in later years I heard some rumblings
he was stubborn, his weapon was silence
and I guess that may have been true

I never saw it, though
he was who I wanted to be
a class act

someone called me that yesterday
“a class act”
but I can’t see it

I’d like to be sitting in the passenger seat
of one of the endless parade of white cars
listening to WYLF (the “music of your life”)

maybe he’s driving me to my clarinet lesson
or he and Grandma are taking me to Burger King
or over to their apartment for dinner

Ring Dings and a block of Velveeta in the fridge
potato-chip chicken and mini cheesecakes
broccoli covered in cheese and Ritz crackers

and that old glass coffee mug with the recipe
for Irish coffee on the side, mostly whiskey
with some coffee to take the curse off it

even though by that time neither of them drank
but they always had liquor in the credenza
in case a mixer broke out / it never did

god what I’d give right now to go over there
to explain all this and how it all happened
and ask him to forgive me and to tell me

“I love you and you’ll be OK”

is that what he’d say?

Published in Audio Poems Family My poems Poetry


  1. Numinee Numinee

    Yes, that’s exactly what he’d say, and it would be true.

  2. Cheryl Cheryl

    What would they say, if we could suddenly get them to talk about their lives?? That they too were imperfect, unsure, even sinful. They were just like us, but buried it better…

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