I awoke just past dawn,
pillow-headed, the lamp still
burning from last night’s read,
my neck a rusty hinge.
Then I remembered my dream
of loss, peopled by a cast
of former co-workers I barely knew.
Today, I promised,
I will love no one & no one,
nothing, shall love me in return.
If, exhausted by the blunt ironies
of the highway, you stop late
some afternoon at an old cemetery
laid out in a churchyard alongside
an unmarked two-lane, you may be
the only visitor walking the rows.
The caretaker, hearing the metallic thud
of the car door slamming shut,
the hurt-kitten whine of the front gate,
might stroll over for a look-see.
He’s an old-timer, lanky, white-haired,
his face a bit flushed from two hours
of raking & sweeping. He will fiddle
with his pipe & give you the once-over
but he won’t interfere. He’s seen
his share of lone travelers drive in
to wander among the headstones,
parsing the passage of years
from the dates on the family plots.
He’s learned the dead, speaking
their own enigmatic tongue,
have much to say to the living
& although he grasps more & more
of their buried lingo each passing day,
that is a conversation he will not interrupt.
A gust of wind rises
at your back & takes your cap
with it down the street
& you have no choice but to chase
after it, your favorite cap,
a newsboy's, tweedy & broken in.
It is mid-day on a street lined
with small homes, the neighborhood
hushed in silence but for the March wind
keening through the trees
& somehow you're strangely happy
running after your cap, happy
it stays just a few yards ahead
yet easily within your reach.
In a few moments, you think,
my cap will be safely on my head
where it belongs, none the worse
for the wear & more fitting
than any dead monarch's crown.
He sits in a rocker on the porch
waiting for patients, stoic & abiding
as the cosmos, the shade
darkening his face like a veil.
His method is the laying on of hands.
It hurts here, he tells the first.
And here. Then a long silence.
Open up your heart to the wind,
the patient is told. Let it blow through you
until your bones become crystal.
That’s it?, questions the man.
I ain’t paying for that.
You already have, answers the healer.
By now, a crowd has formed.
The entire town—a hamlet where strangers
are unknown—is wrapped in a cocoon of pain.
Conversation is muted, although the words
miracle worker and saint can be heard.
It’s been a tinderbox of a summer, yet today
storm clouds scent the morning breeze.
No one has forgotten how to pray.
LEW THE BARBER
Lew the Barber claims
he is semi-retired; pondering
his options but all done
with cutting heads. Still,
he rummages through
dumpsters for aluminum
& whatnot, rolls his own
from a wrapper of rough-cut.
from your daily round,
you may spy Lew crumpled
face down in the stairwell
like an old handbill,
the bright shards of a half pint
scattered like chicken feed
at his feet.
he will take his leisure
in a beach chair just off
the entranceway & smoothing
his graying hair with the edge
of a creased palm, hold forth
on past loves so pretty
they could tear the skin right
from your eyes while insisting
he is a genteel drunk,
a sit-down drunk, not some
stumbling-down wino who makes
the alleyway his home.
Stop to chat
& Lew, intent on recalling
your name, may proffer a swig
or two from the six-pack
of long-necks at his side,
growing silent as you raise
the bottle to your lips.
Sid Gold is the author of three collections of poems and a two-time recipient of a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award for Poetry. His work has appeared recently in Flock, Free State Review, Gargoyle and Innisfree Poetry Journal. His fourth book, "Crooked Speech", is forthcoming on Pond Road Press. A native New Yorker, he lives in Hyattsville MD.