Cut on the Bias - Excerpts
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
of burnt colors
on the cold ground
of my life.
raking them into piles
against the winds
bury my smiles
for I focus on
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
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
to see the beauty
in his changing colors,
to laugh with him
as he spun in the wind
from his frail stem.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.