The Last Year of His Life
My brother and I clean out Dad’s room
at the assisted living facility.
Six bags full of
paper: shopping lists, letters
magazines: Physics, Science
receipts: utility bills, credit card
I use a few bags to cover framed photos
to take home. Mt. Denali, the pileated
woodpecker picture I gave him for Christmas.
In a black lawn bag, we stuff
the suit he wore to Mom’s memorial,
sweat pants, his khakis, shirts, items
we thought Goodwill could use.
I remember my skates,
simple really, compared to today’s.
A platform for your foot and 4 metal wheels.
A key to crimp the skate to the rubber sides
of your sneakers before you could take off.
We didn’t have sidewalks so the road was our rink
or the concrete floor of the basement,
swing yourself around the black plumbing pipe.
Push--glide, push--glide if you could call
it that on the rough surface. I tried making a turn,
fell, took a chunk out of my knee, still have the scar.
The town’s only rink was supposed to be integrated
but black children were not allowed.
Wanting equality for everyone, Dad enlisted us for a test.
My group: white kids, the other: black and white.
We paid our fee, got skates with wheels
and boots; rolled on to the smooth, wooden floors,
with loud music, flashing disco lights.
Can’t remember if the other group got in,
Mom came and took us home.
Later, the roller rink was torn down
leaving an empty lot in its place.
Boston Literary Magazine
tipping brown head
beneath the lake’s water,
its blue legs pedaling in air,
idle by river’s edge
green headed male, drab mate.
Brown water ripples their shadow
on jade water
amidst the feeding birds,
strings of razorbills winging, a
Judge: Robert Parham
Number of qualified submissions: 47
1st place: Jenny Hubbard, “Philip Larkin (First in English Literature, St. John's College, Oxford) Takes a Job Shelving Books”
2nd place: Barbara Brooks, “Still Life”
3rd place: Sharon A. Sharp, “The Pursuit”
• Janet Warman, “Love Pantoum for Andy”
• Jeanne Julian, “The Light”
Judge’s comments: “The prize winning poems could hardly be more different. The first place poem, ‘Philip Larkin….’; is a sonnet capturing not simply its literal subject (Larkin) but reflecting as well the tone of his work and his temper (one suspects). It is a poem complete—no small accomplishment. ‘Still Life,’ the second place poem, offers completeness in an utterly Eastern fashion, its fine and quiet imagery both its heart and its being. In third, ‘The Pursuit’ illustrates well how qualitatively close these top poems were. Confident in its form and the weight of its refrains, the poem settles within itself, a pleasure to read.
I didn’t get there in time for Dad’s surgery.
Drove along the interstate watching
winter oak leaves hang on in the wind.
The next day, he was pretty out of it on morphine;
thought my brother had killed himself
and that it was WWII.
I tried to orient him. Watched the therapists
put him in a chair. I knew he
would never walk again.
We have been trying to call you.
I had been in the shower.
You need to come now.
Decisions have to be made.
He was on maximum blood pressure meds,
on a breathing machine sucking for air,
he looked like he was hurting.
Dad has a living will.
My brother is 10 hours away,
let me call him. Then please turn the drugs
and breathing machine off.
His breathing remained regular
and blood pressure low,
I didn’t think he would last long.
Told him it was okay to leave.
He hung there in the wind
until my brother came.
Then his breathing got irregular,
his pressure lower, and he let go.
Broad River Review
I have two house keys on the same ring;
look so much alike I put a dab of yellow
paint on mine. The other is to the house
I called home for 44 years.
Dad bought it because it had a barn and pasture.
We paneled the walls, got new carpet, replaced
the barn’s sagging foundations.
The house was empty after Mom died--
even though Dad was there.
After he left, emptier still.
In the end, it contained only mattresses,
a computer, a couple of old chairs, and lamps.
Everything else went to Goodwill or a friend’s church.
It has been sold for a month now--
house, barn, and 7 acres in the middle of town.
Don’t know what happened to the computer and old chairs.
Asked Dad what I should do with the key;
he never answered.
Took the key off today
Dad is gone, no reason to return.
I only need the key with the yellow paint.
Poetry Quarterly Jan 2014
Can’t even walk downstairs
and remember the length,
best to mark the section,
take the board with me.
Measure twice, saw once
Damn, can’t see the screw’s slot
to fit the flat blade,
best to put my glasses on.
Better to light one candle than stumble in the darkness
Had to learn to cope molding;
messed up one piece, sliced my finger,
Practice makes perfect
His voice echoes in the empty room.