A Milkshake Brings Advice
I bring a milkshake every other week
to an old man in a nursing home,
a refugee from Germany who paid me
50 cents to cut his grass when I was
a kid in Chicago after WWII.
I couldn’t understand him then
and I can’t understand him now
but 50 cents was big money
in 1950, 10 candy bars,
10 popsicles or maybe 5 Cokes.
Or I could mix and match and trade
Pete the Collector for a baseball card.
Now my old neighbor sits in bed
and swigs his milkshake as I tell him
that I drove by his house the other day
and the new owners have planted
roses and lilies everywhere.
Every color imaginable.
A botanical garden in bloom.
He blinks at me, smiles
and takes a final swig.
Because of the language problem
we never talk about anything
except the house he will never
see again and then marvel that
he will turn 100 soon, quite a feat.
He smiles at that as well.
But he doesn’t smile when I get up
to leave and offers me advice
in the thunder of his accent:
“Someone had better stop ISIS now.
When I was a kid in Berlin, no one
stopped Hitler the bastard then."
Can You Hear Me in the Bunker, Leroy?
Sorry to hear ISIS has you in a funk.
But I’m delighted to know you’re not afraid
camouflaged in your bunker with an AK-47.
Now you’re telling me ISIS is the python
wrapped around the equator
squeezing our planet to death,
that ISIS will end global warming
and take out Putin too, that both are
greater threats than the global warming
you’ve preached against since the Ice Age.
We wonder how you’ll vote on Election Day.
I'm on my way to Larry’s Place,
a food pantry in the city.
I park a block away because
parking in front of Larry’s
isn’t wise even if one drives
a clunker. My old Buick
almost qualifies as that.
It’s getting up in years
but still able to get around.
I’m wobbling in the middle of
two shopping bags of food
my wife found in our pantry.
Someone at Larry’s Place can
take it home and have a meal.
If they have a home. Not all do.
Certainly not the fellow sleeping
on the bench outside Larry’s
in a black body bag, the zipper
slightly ajar so he can breathe.
Lots of people go in and out
but no one bothers him.
I go in, drop off my bags and
exchange pleasantries with Larry.
He says business is too good.
He says the guy in the body bag
is a new arrival from out of town,
suggests I have a chat with him.
His story is remarkable, Larry says.
On the way out I see the fellow
in the body bag is sitting up.
I give him five bucks
and he asks if I want to hear
the story about his body bag.
I say I’d like to but I’m rushed,
that I’ll be back tomorrow with
my notebook and camera and
I’ll pay him. After all, everyone
has to make a living. Or find
their food at Larry’s Place.
Billionaire and Beggar
A billionaire and beggar
die on the same day,
miles apart. They
never knew each other
but that’s no matter.
The billionaire is buried
with pomp reflecting
wealth and stature.
The beggar’s lowered
in a potter’s field.
Two workers shovel.
One says a prayer.
a major quake tosses
thousands of caskets.
Popped lids confirm
a truth the billionaire
and beggar share.
Dust and bones
in both their caskets.
Equality lies here.
Merry-Go-Rounds on Main Street
There are Merry-Go-Rounds
on Main Street all over America.
They hide in storefronts offering
payday loans to people who can’t
borrow money anywhere else.
Their commercials air on TV.
A payday loan in my hometown has
a widowed neighbor as a customer.
Retired and poor, she takes out a loan
she can’t afford almost every week.
The interest mounts and she has
to pay it before they’ll give her
another loan to pay more bills.
That’s how the Merry-Go-Rounds work.
She has no other place to go for help
except for her children who are unaware
their mother goes to the Merry-Go-Round
because they buy things they can’t afford.
The widow says she has to buy
food and clothes for her grandchildren.
She’s been our neighbor for years but
I had no idea until she told my wife
while crying over coffee. My wife
told me we have to help this lady.
I told my wife if we help the widow
we might end up at the Merry-Go-Round
ourselves. The Merry-Go-Round, I said,
will help us the way they helped the widow.
"Not good,” she yelled and now she writes
to Congress about Merry-Go-Rounds instead.