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Cut on the Bias - Excerpts

Falling Leaves
                       Let us spend one day as deliberately as nature,                           and not be thrown off the track by every nutshell                                       and mosquito’s wing that falls on the rails.
                                                                        -Henry David Thoreau

Leaves fall

making patterns

of burnt colors

on the cold ground

of my life.

Endless days

raking them into piles

against the winds

bury my smiles

for I focus on

the tidiness

rather than the laughter

in life’s messiness.

But, life is found

in broken wings,

in cracked nutshells,

even in piles of dead leaves.

Life refuses to be tidied

by the stubborn rules

of my old handmade rake.

The leaf of my father

hung stubbornly,

refusing to join his brothers

on the ground

and as I waited

for the silent hush

of his fall,
I forced myself

to stop raking

long enough

to see the beauty

in his changing colors,

to laugh with him

as he spun in the wind

from his frail stem.

Back Talk

 

When I was a kid, I could scoot around

on my mental roller skates to any city block

in Chicago and speak the language of the

hood, the words which colored that culture.

 

I spoke enough Polish to order the best

pierogies or tell off a punk Polack. I used my

basic Spanish to shop at the local Puerto Rican

mercado and Italian to flirt with cute Dego boys.

 

Foreign phrases common to these old neighborhoods

stuck with me – vanffancul,(with rude arm gestures),

jak się masz, dónde está el baño, dziękuję, ¿Qué pasa?

They flew effortlessly off my tongue.

 

The years have now confused my links to language

with detours to other definitions and passing phrases,

with traffic delays around newly-constructed words.

Old lingo now lingers on street corners I can’t find.

Pigmentocracy

 

I recognize Jesus in a custom Armani

driving his Mercedes-Benz CL65

in heavenly Beverly Hills. He is white.

Believers emulate by bleaching their skin.

 

Devotees beget a universal frenzy of faith –

whitening flesh, rounding eyes, narrowing noses

The global god is white too. South African coloureds,

lighter Latins, Eurocentric Arabs, pale Asians

 

Our nation is under god, the same white guy.

Less black-looking blacks, or any colors

closer to the guy’s,

reap divine sanction from the flock.

 

My Filipino father followed Jesus to freedom land –

bleached his hands, married whites, westernized his

clothes, tongued English, baptized a naturalized

citizen – went to heaven of the American Dream.

Jungle Gym

 

The inner-city beachfront unleashed

gushing fire hydrants mobbed

by neighborhood kids in underwear

for swimsuits, flooded streets

 

their ocean. They were hard at play

in pavement playgrounds – gangways

for ball games, abandoned cars in weed

lots their forts, and rooftops their hide-

 

go-seek park. Music was cornered

under street lights by doo-wop dudes

with pompadours who dazzled chicks

with beehives. They be-bopped

 

together to transistor radio tunes. Slum

kids know no-frill fun. They makeshift,

quick-and-dirty improvise, and dump-

dive prosperity where they find it.

Enigma          

 

My father came

in the footsteps

of a post-war survivor

distracted by demons.

 

He seemed to care

in obscure ways,

difficult to discern

as I much preferred

 

tangible hugs.

He did his dutiful best

to provide for me by hard

work, his insignia for love.

 

Since he decoded caring as

Maintenance, he checked

the frequency of my bowel

movements as a baby

 

to measure my well-being

like a mechanic

dips an oil stick. He once

showed emotion when he

 

punched trash cans

in the alley after I had

an all-nighter prom, an

unfamiliar tradition

 

in the islands. Still shocked

by his departure from military

restraint, I don’t know if he

was angry or relieved

 

when I came home so late.

As an adult, I settled for

the unsolved mystery that

was my father. Beginning

 

with hugs, I cared for

the old man until his

last days in the ways

I had wanted for myself.

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