Earned Wisdom

I hadn’t been home long enough to take a shower and there came a pounding on the door and I knew only too well who it was, and he was the last person in the world I wanted to see. I answered the door.

“Ah Heartache my old friend,” I said, “come in you, son-of-a-bitch, come on in make yourself at home. You know your way around, there’s beer in the refrigerator. I got to grab a shower.”

He didn’t say a word but he headed for the Hotpoint refrigerator next to the Frigidaire gas stove. I got in the shower and washed off the grime from the roofing job, I’d hated for the last month. One more week and that would be done. Then hopefully the rains would start: I’d be off with unemployment checks until an editing job promised me, turned up in January. In the meantime I could get some of my own writing done, without worrying about the wolves at the door.

This guy and his friends however were worse than wolves. I got out of the shower dried off then wrapped a towel around my waist, walked through the bathroom door and there he was, with his feet propped on my coffee table watching the six o’clock news. He had gone through one sixteen ouncer. He annoyingly belched and then gargled with the last bit of the first beer as he was opening the second one. I’d been expecting him but I was wishing he’d gone back to California where he belonged

“Looking kind of down in the mouth,” I said.

“Been with that bitch Self-Pity again haven’t you?” I said.

“You sick bastard, we all know how she treats you!” I said.

I went back in my bedroom finished drying my hair put on some shorts and an old Hawaiian shirt and hit the fridge and zipped open a tall boy for myself. I just sat there eyeing the tube with as much attention and chagrin at the commercials as Heartache gave David Muir. I wanted him out of the apartment but felt a strange premonition he needed to be there. Then there came another knocking at the door.

I answered and there he stood. Misery in Friday night togs looking like an escapee from a disco pogrom from decades ago.

“Yeah, I might have known it would be you,” I said, as I opened the door.

“Come in it seems I’ve got some company you’re gonna love. The beers are where they stay cold.”

It wasn’t three minutes before there I was, with both of them on my couch, drinking my beer. A round like this two months ago with them and I’d gotten into a card game and I got behind on the cable bill and there would be no Football until I went back to work in January.

I brought out a can of oily sardines and a bag of chips before they got around to yelling for food. I’d scarcely gotten the hosting job done when a banging started at the back door.

“Who the hell could this be now?” I said out loud.

I made my way back through the rubble of beer cans on the back porch with its idle fishing poles and the washing machine that never worked and there he was—his left shoulder facing me and looking up into the sky bright almost neon twilight of October’s bright changing colors that were solemnly turning gray and there he was.

“Loneliness, you bastard,” I grumbled. “At least you brought beer.”

I made my way back into the apartment Loneliness shuffling in behind me.

“Look who’s here boys,” I yelled.

I went for another one my beers before they were all gone. I knew Loneliness bought the cheapest beer money can buy but at least he brought some. Every three months with the change the seasons it seemed he abandoned whatever twelve-step he was in and ended back on my back porch with the cheap beer. I made my way back into the living room and they all were making more noise without saying anything. Now Heartache was whining about Self-Pity and whether she was going make it back into town.

“That’s all I need,” I said out loud, “is to have her show up tonight.”

I then made a mental note not let her in if she did. When I discovered that there was nowhere to sit, I took to the floor in front of the tube and they’d switched on a two month-old golf tournament where a football game should have been, and I knew it was going to be a bad night. Then I heard the door begin to bang, I didn’t move but it got louder and louder. I let it bang, and they all began to grumble.

“Go away you Bitch!” I yelled.

“Answer the damn door!” said Loneliness, and then Heartache got up expectantly to answer the door thinking it might be her. He’d been dating her for three years, each time they got together it would last a couple weeks to a month, then she’d jilt him again–and here he would be.

“SIT YOUR ASS DOWN!” I yelled, “We don’t have enough beer, the last time all four of us were together–she came in a mini-skirt all hiked-up with torn ass nylons, and she brought whiskey, and her nice tits, and the two of you got in a fist fight and tore this place to pieces–after only about thirty minutes.”

Loneliness thought he heard a woman’s voice from the front porch. “Let me in!” she said.

“SHUT UP! GO AWAY!” I screamed, “If I let you in, all your demons will come too! Get off my damn doorstep you bitch!”

“She’ll go away eventually.” I said. I got back to the Golf tournament. There were 18 beers left in the Fridge and I began to drink in my empty room.

Tribes Have Customs

I was listening to my wife
Tell a story from work
About a small girl with a wad
Of chewing gum in her hair,
& as she drove I was trying
to look at notes from
A lecture by Rupert Sheldrake
From last year, Sheldrake was making
The point that civilizations have laws
& tribes have customs, as my wife talks
About the child I remember her
From last year & her notable step-father
Tattoo Tom we’ll call him, he’s full body tats
& gangland Northern Cali,
Been down by law many times, he
Was out then, but awaiting a jam that
Would likely send him back to prison, in the meantime
He would chat with my wife when he walked the
Kids to school, they were always on time well groomed
& happy, he told my wife of drive by shootings,
& holding the kids in his arms in a safe space
As the bullets tore through the house,
He’d been on the same tier as Charlie Manson
In Pelican Bay, or some other Maximum Security
Can, all locked away from all the rest of us, Tom had made
His amends, but he’d not become a civilian, since
He’d been born into the gang life & the customary model
Was criminality, yet Tom still  deeply cared
For the children & they were happy, but now he’s back down by law
& the little girl has had gum in her hair
For the entire weekend, is always late for school,
& doesn’t always have clean clothes
Sheldrake, from my notes, says,
“Atheistic scientists cannot have the Mind of God
For the source of the physical laws of the universe.”
—neither did Manson

Then suddenly

The Vaux’s swifts that had been up
& down the river feeding on flying insects,
Began to draw close & come together
With high, rapid twittering, high whistled chipping,
In ever tightening circles,
Swirling & swirling,
They all go up to spin together in a great pinwheel-like circle,
Coming more & more altogether directly above the chimney,
Then suddenly,   in one morphic resonant being they come down
& into a whirling black-funnel-down tornado-like cloud gyre,
Fifty feet in height, above the house & then into-the-chimney
In a second or two,
Full of this day’s hatch settling & chittering for
Brick gripped sleep.

My father never drank by James Ross Kelly (Me, as a Child Poetry Series

Silver Birch Press

My father never drank
by James Ross Kelly

My father never drank
While he was working
When he was not working
A bottle of Jim Beam appeared
On the dining room table like a Roman pillar
And when it drained down another appeared.

My father was generally working
Sixteen hour days in the oilfields
Seven days a week until
A well came in or there was a dry hole
In between in the moving of the oil derrick
He was off, & he would drink, in the
Mornings there was beer at Lyle’s
& later at the St. James Hotel
Where there might be a card game
& I’d drink cokes and stare at the
Huge painting of Custer’s Last Stand

On a barstool I’d sit & his pals
Would call me little Jim Beam, I took no
Notice of this but liked the smell of stale beer
& the…

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These Pelicans by James Ross Kelly (Where I Live Poetry & Photography Series)

Silver Birch Press

by James Ross Kelly

Four pelicans on a log downriver
Sit like squatting men
this crimson Sacramento River evening,

& one rises up a sleepy watchman
& slowly waves his wings,
As a good breeze blows up river,

Paired mergansers begin to move away
As I sit down and look at the pelicans
Whose white through binoculars
becomes pink for a moment
With changing clouds & sunset

I’ve never wanted flamingos,
I’ve been waiting
For these damn pelicans to show,
& they sleep on the log

All the while I’m sitting under cottonwoods
That release a snow like namesake floating &
Blowing up river, & mallards
Begin to sound and take air across the river

Two pair wheel & move up river
Then turn again, reverse & land
Near the shore below me
Across from the pelicans,

By me the wild grape from
The cottonwood hangs dead

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An Unkindness of Ravens

On the death of poet David Lloyd Whited

It has been over four fortnights since my friend
David died, his widow at his deathbed calling
Me & asking me to speak to him
Through the phone, he in a coma
Children and Marian around so, I panicked &
I prayed the only Christian prayer
I could think of, “Lord bring him back
We need him here, his good cheer and we
Need more of him and Lord don’t take him!”
I’ll apologize to no man for my panic

When his wife arrived from her
Work that Friday he first allowed that he’d not gone
To work as he was feeling bad, & minutes later he
Was on the floor, that Friday night
Having collapsed trying to sit up with Marian’s help
On his couch, didn’t feel good that day
& he stiffened up and went to the floor
I was 700 miles down I-5 I could not go
& there was no good outcome surmised by doctors
The Poet’s heart had given way

In Alaska I saw repeatedly every deer season
An Unkindness of Ravens as they are called
When in a feeding frenzied  group to
Herald every afterkill of blacktail deer,
A snow laden clamor of raven and eagle
Blood on white snow unsympathetic
As most obituaries but louder, & yet
I know only the antidote of fond memory

David & I as young men
Drank and read our poems aloud
& reading poems we crawled through bars & bistros
& fished behind the Snake River dams
& off the derelict sand barge on Maurey Island
& caught ling and true Cod & sharks out of the Puget sound
I carried him out of at least three bars & one night
Off the Tramp Harbor pier
This was the man that wrote:
“Sadness Drives a Fast Red Car”

He died Sunday morning after Thanksgiving
I did not go to the funeral, did not know of a wake
Cremated out of the hospital & as there is usually
These days, no acknowledgement of the body as a rite
A memorial in a church in Tacoma was due
Work friends, one brother, grieving Marian & son & daughters
I called her the morning of the funeral
& I asked her to open all the windows
In their little  house on the Puget Sound
At the mouth of Judd Creek
When she left to go to Tacoma.

My good poet friend David is dead