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Ron Wallace
Sex at Seventy
after Issa
This morning we’re having a rollicking good time in
bed, doing things we haven’t done in years.  My
goodness!  You’d think we’d want to keep this hidden
from public view, to keep what happens in the house
in the house; we’d want to be discreet.  But no,
here we are unveiling lips and tongue and teeth
until nothing that we could possibly do is left
to anyone’s imagination.  Come on in
and join us. You there!  Yes, you!  Who says the
old aren’t sexual beings, too?  Is your mouth
filled with laughter?  We’re laughing, too, but
it’s a beatific laughter, laughter so feel-good
it becomes us. We are the laughter, and, with luck,
will be the laughter, no matter what abounds.
Ted Kooser
You were a college student, a waitress
paying your way through the ‘sixties,
and I was recently divorced, alone
and lonely, looking for someone to love
in those dreary years when it seemed
no one else was willing “to make
a commitment,” as we said back then,
and I mustered my courage and asked you
to dinner, and met you at your door,
and we walked downtown, both of us shy,
both awkward, both scented and scrubbed
and overdressed and clopping along
in new and uncomfortable shoes,
and over wine and dinner, as we began
to feel more comfortable together,
sometimes touching each other’s hands,
I told you my story and you told me
yours, the way young people will,
you finishing yours with the news
that you had leukemia, the slow kind
that with “adequate treatment”
could keep you alive, at least for a time,
and it frightened me, having no courage
for anyone’s pain but my own, knowing
nothing at all about love, and surely       
you must have been terribly hurt
to read all that in my expression,
and forty years later I’m still ashamed
to have been the kind of person
who could then walk you back to your door
still early in the evening, and leave you
there with a dry little kiss and a promise,
who would never phone, who would avoid
the restaurant where I’d first seen you
wiping the tables, working your way
through so much more than college,
you in your starched uniform apron
with a plastic tag pinned to your breast
and your name that I’ve even forgotten.
Roberta Murphy
from Blue Skies
Janine had been gone six months when I sold the ranch in Texas and bought a garage in Northern Virginia.   Soon as I told my mother-in-law, Cora, she called in the posse.  I was on the phone with a dozen relatives, on Janine’s side and mine, all of them trying to change my mind.  I said the same thing to each one.  “It’s a done deal.  The contracts are signed.  I’m outta here in two weeks.”
“It’s criminal,” Cora said, “to abandon Charley.  It’s too soon.  She’s still grieving.”  She’d have had me arrested if she could’ve—sent around the law enforcement officer, her son Gene, with a pair of handcuffs—just to keep me in Texas.  But I wasn’t breaking any law.  My daughter wasn’t a minor.  She was 19 and in her sophomore year at UT in Austin.  She drove out to the ranch most weekends, but that hardly counted as being in my care.  Besides, Charley knew I’d have gladly taken her with me.
“You do what you have to do, Dad,” she said,  “but I’m sort of settled in at school, and also I don’t want to quit my job.”  She was majoring in Spanish and doing volunteer tutoring of immigrant kids.  “My little group depends on me, so I guess I’ll stay.  If you’ll be okay going on your own?”
“I’m sorry to part from you, honey.  I just can’t stand it here.  Memories are swarming.”  Everything reminded me of Janine, the house we’d lived in, the ranch we ran together, the great stretches of land where we rode side by side every evening—the whole damned state of Texas was one huge memento.  Too many scenes came before my eyes, worst and most persistent the last one, which Charley, thank God, never saw.
“You’ll come to me for Spring Break, right?   It’s only a few months off.”
Cora and Roy, her grandparents, would cherish and protect her, uncles and aunts and cousins would surround her.  She’d manage just fine, maybe better, without her moping, useless father.
“That’s ridiculous,” my sister Nancy said.  “How can she be better without you?  And you won’t get better either by running away.  You’re making the mistake of your life, Andy.”
“Second mistake of my life.  According to you, my first was marrying Janine.”
I called her later to apologize.  “There was no call for me to drag up old stuff,” I said.  “I know you’re grieving for Janine, too.”
“I never said it was a mistake to marry her, Andy.  I loved Janine.  How could anybody not love her?  ‘Don’t be obsessed with her,’ I said.  I’m still saying it.”
They were opposites, my sister and my wife, Nance a homebody with four kids, and Janine . . . a daredevil, no denying.  First time I set eyes on her, glittering and gutsy, she was competing in a WRPA rodeo in San Angelo, and she dazzled me.  Don’t be obsessed with her!  Nancy might as well have said, “Don’t breathe.”
“So long, Deadbeat Dad,” Cora said on the phone on the day of my departure.
“You’re taking your horses and leaving your daughter,” Roy chimed in on the extension.
“I love you, Dad,” Charley said on her cell.  “I’ll miss you a lot.  Be careful.” Those were the last two words she’d spoken to her mother.
Jo McDougall
They hover on the outskirts of our lives
like mosquitoes,
their voices as grudgingly welcome
as the calls of crows
scrubbing across snow.
We forgive them their trespasses
as one forgives a toddler tugging a sleeve,
but they intrude
in the way that a woman
smashes the six settings
of her mother’s antique Spode
at a garden party, beside the white verbena.
Stephen Dunn
The Visitors
No one seems to be home,
and the note on the door
says “Gone,” yet what are words
these days but things
just slung around? Still,
we’ve traveled such a distance.
If they’re gone, it would be
almost unbearable,
not because we love them—
in fact they’re hard to love­—
but because, you know,
we’re the kind of people
who think a step forward
is a step well taken.
Life’s too short, we always say,
and don’t put off until tomorrow
what you can do today.
We pass these things on—clues
for living well and long.
We suspect they’re here, hiding
as they often have behind “Gone”
and “Beware,” and other signs
that we know are really saying,
“Find us, please.” They’re always
sort of lost. And this house
of theirs, this house is weird,
as if it was built with floorboards
that wouldn’t tongue, wouldn’t groove.
Something about it feels forced.
On their walls is some framed mish
and mash, which they call art.
The door’s unlocked.
They don’t appear to be here—
closets emptied, refrigerator unplugged,
and a note on the kitchen table, addressed
to us, which they cannot possibly mean.
Vince Sgambati
from What Took You So Long?
Nick said that the will granted Ida lifetime rights to the house and its surrounding eight acres. Nothing would be sold before she died unless she agreed to it. Ida asked him if he wanted a drink. Nick had mentioned that he was the sole heir to assuage her concerns––he was quite comfortable with his Aunt Winifred’s wishes. “Beer or something stronger?” Ida said. A lit cigarette hung from her frown, and behind blue smoke her face was a grille of February frost. Nick wondered, had Ida always been sharp edges and abrupt angles or had age stolen some hint of softness. Most likely she was never pretty. He had seen pictures of her, but she was well into her forties when the photos were taken. Handsome was the most you could have said about Ida and that was being kind. Before her, there were photos of Millie, but Nick had never met Millie, nor Ida for that matter, until that day when he told her the details of his aunt’s will, as if she hadn’t already known them; and they sat beside the creek, beneath hemlocks; and she used gardening shears to cut open the plastic bag of powdered ash and chips of bone.
“Here, you do the rest,” she said, and Ida handed him the open bag then lit a cigarette.
“Isn’t there something we should say?” Nick asked. “Maybe read a favorite poem or prayer?”
“I’ve already said goodbye,” Ida muttered. “This isn’t Freddie. No way she’d be sealed in a bag. How’s that for a prayer?” Maybe it was the cigarette smoke that caused Ida’s eyes to tear.  Nick whispered Amen.
He thinks of that day and tastes the shock of Ida’s Bloody Marys, more vodka and hot sauce than tomato juice, as he unfolds a letter signed by Jonathan Wheaton, Esq., Skaneateles, New York, and then reads Ida’s enclosed obituary. They had exchanged empty words––he and Ida––as empty as her obituary, which says nothing of his Aunt Winifred, just as Winifred’s obituary had said nothing of Ida.
The house is now Nick’s to do with as he pleases. Only his. No kids to consider, and as of four months ago, no wife either. An amicable divorce, little fuss over money. She made more than him anyway; Nick could keep his teacher’s salary. No pets. She was allergic to dander, cats and dogs, or so she said. Plants? Who had time to water them? However, she had found time for affairs. He pretended not to notice, like he pretended not to notice the birth control pills she said she had stopped taking after he suggested children, only a suggestion. Nick wasn’t one to make demands. Ultimately, his wife’s indiscretion with a delivery boy, one of Nick’s high school students, would be his final humiliation. When he asked her for a divorce, she simply smiled and said, “What took you so long?”
Robin Chapman
The Words We Lack Spiral from the Dark
—for Will, from a line by Kim Hamilton
Crossword puzzle, says Richard, pointing to the jigsaw
puzzle Will and I have worked, reassembling Van Gogh’s
The Sower, sun setting in yellow sky on purple fields.
Jigsaw, we automatically reply. Though last night,
in the mountains, I looked up at planet Juniper
in a blue-black sky. Jupiter, said Will, though names
are hard for him to come by. Frayed, the mind’s net
of sound that sings up the world, the cochlea’s hair-
trigger delicacy, the tongue’s report, the dusty archives.
But not heart’s recognition, your face and mine.
Oh love, in the turning years to come may what we lack
be only words and not the heart’s intent. And the words—
write them down, across, puzzle-shape; read aloud;
what we mean spiraling up again from the dark ink.
Anita Skeen
Mourning Tom
We end in joy.
          ­­—Theodore Roethke
I will do it with splashes
of ochre and orange, alizarin, cerulean
on a canvas as wide as his Huck Finn grin,
a riot of kiwi and turquoise storming
the cliché: desert hues at sunset,
Cape Cod wind and water, wood grain
and tree limb bending to
his sculptor’s hand.
I will do it by fusing matchsticks
with glue sticks to sharp sticks, to broken
sticks, to stockade sticks, by building
boxes, by boxing in the light
in bricks of glass that catch
the morning swimming by
like tropical fish in a tank.
I will not tear the world apart.
I will do it by taking the stage
where I can be absurd,
abstract, abnormal,
where I can be an abdomen,
an Abominable Snowman,
a man lost in snow,
a white sock.
I will do it by telling tales
of my Italian relatives,
Uncle Giovanni and Cousin Dominic,
though I have no Italian relatives,
have never been to Italy,
and do not drink wine.
I will come to love hummingbirds.
I will do it by cooking
with every spice on my shelf:
oregano, basil, cardamom and dill.
Cinnamon, mustard, chili pepper, sage.
I will make a poem for the palate,
a prayer for delight. I will mix
and mash and make more than enough.
I will feed everyone.
CJ Muchhala
In the Fullness
I am created over and again
by every lightspill under thunderclouds
and by the clouds themselves sighing
on the river, by every explosion
of eagle from the ancient white pine
and by the pine itself which shushes
the wind’s complaint.
O the bullfrog drums in his throat
and wolves’ voices bell
against the darkening moon. My blood howls.           
Ganglia, epidermis, organs, bones
remember. There
was the beginning, and here,
here it comes again.
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