Sub for Social Studies

featured in the poetry forum March 21, 2024  :: 0 comments

“Do you think I need you?
I need you like I need cancer.”
What brought that on?
He looked like a white wall,
bald, eyes set far back, big hands, burly.
I don’t know what we’d done or not done
to make him say cancer.
I was sitting close to the wall, in back,
a sunny day, our room on the third floor,
Mr. O’Shea up front.
Mostly the eyes, not looking at us,
invited us to linger.
No one came up and took his hand,
or asked for an apology,
or looked out a window at cars
parked on a side street
that, ten years later,
was named for a beloved teacher
who died suddenly in a classroom
empty of students.
We sat still, Mr O’Shea,
sans clenched fists, stood
looking ready for a barroom brawl.
I think he said “need you like I need a cancer
running through my body.”
The logical question, did he have cancer?
Did he recently learn he had cancer?
Or someone in his family?
Isn’t that what cancer does?
If the battle becomes a losing battle,
it runs through a body,
as it was to do years later
in my father’s body, and in the bodies of
other fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters.
Before Mr. O’Shea came into my life
I was a 13 year old freshman.
I remember, outside Algebra,
I’d always see this girl, Debra Cirhocki,
a junior. I knew her name. Her brother
Jeff was in my freshman class.
Debra, a permed wavy blonde,
face of a teen Kim Novak,
boobs that today I’d call striking.
Back then, push up bras, popular,
made Debra even more striking.
She was tall, not terribly tall,
but tall and straight, she seemed.
In the crowded hall, outside Algebra,
I was always looking up at her,
in a tight sweater, those stupendous boobs.
We never spoke,
I don’t think she knew who I was.
I got to know her younger sis
a little, who, though pretty, wasn’t striking.
Years later, a school reunion at a Radisson,
in a cozy bar, I asked Jeff about,
got up the nerve to ask about, Debra.
She’d battled cancer, and had died
ten years earlier. I remember,
2:15 in Social Studies, Mr. O’Shea,
a white shirt, a loose necktie, a sneer,
years before the pink ribbons.

editors note:

Things we think about when we think about cancer… (Congratulations to Pete! He has a new collection out now: Voices from the Past. You can get your copy here.) – mh clay


featured in the poetry forum November 7, 2023  :: 0 comments

In a tent
close space between you and the ground
for warmth. A sleeping bag and under it
layered blankets, a quilt for softness—you’ll
be warm as I was that New Year’s Eve,
no cold air between what I was on and in.

When I unzipped the bag I dressed quick
and stepped out, 2003, high desert, Taurus
Mesa. Five above zero. A fire of mesquite
blazing, a path lined by rocks led to a rim.
Over the canyon crows flew, their gurgles
like bubbles in an office water cooler.

editors note:

Unzip your bag and step out from your snug… – mh clay

Our Friend’s Daughter

featured in the poetry forum July 29, 2023  :: 0 comments

Adolescents are children. I’m not like one of
these commentators who say the young
man barged into the Springfield
Target with an AK-47 and started shooting,
when talking about a 17-year-old child,
and where did he get the assault rifle?

But I am a war veteran. I know a mother
in Uvalde, Texas. The Springfield Target
could just as well be the El Paso Walmart.
Could just as well be a church, a school,
a post office. Gun Crazy is a good movie.
To see it, you’d have to rent or buy it.

But this wasn’t a movie, just a memory.
A dinner outdoors with friends in Taos. Bob,
an airline pilot from Florida, AK-47 owner
because, besides flying, he’s also in law
enforcement, says he asked a lawyer friend,
also an AK-47 owner, Would you give up

your AK-47 if it meant bringing our friend’s
daughter back? She died in the Stoneman
Douglas High School shooting. If giving up
your weapon meant bringing her back
to life, would you do it? No, it wouldn’t end
there, with the assault rifle, soon, they’d be

taking all our guns. The lawyer may just as
well have said the shootings wouldn’t end.
Yes, the criminals find a way. I understand.
But what about fewer guns, fewer killings?
When I came back from Vietnam people
asked, Did you kill anyone? Gun crazy USA.

editors note:

Crazy, yes; and NOT in a good way. – mh clay

My War Was in the War

featured in the poetry forum March 25, 2023  :: 0 comments

My war was in the mess hall where I learned Martin Luther King Jr
was struck down by an assassin’s bullet in Memphis, Tennessee.
My war was in a bunker lined with sandbags at Bridge Cargo,
at night outside the bunker looking down the long Shell Road.
My war was in shadows of barracks watching a sailor, Jack Lockhart

who had on one forearm a colorful parrot and on the other a geisha
in a long dress. Her eyes peeked over a fan, as Lockhart boxed
sailor after sailor. None beat him in our camp near the China Sea.
I stood watch at Bridge Ramp as forklifts drove in and out of LSTs
anchored dockside. My war was at Twenty Dui Tan, a house

in the suburbs of Danang, a Naval Intelligence Office. Outside
one night I saw a Vietnamese man who’d been on a motorbike
lying in the street, injured critically by a grenade. My war was bad
things happening around me. Sheldon, a guard at Museum Pier,
crouched under a stone bench, his hands at his helmet to drown

out mortar thuds, or try to, when the jeep patrol found him there.
My war was 101 Doc Lap, an employment place with an iron gate.
People in ragged attire and conical hats struggled against
the force of water, hoses turned on to keep these people from
passing through that gate. My war was a tower looking over a rice

paddy where, the night of Tet, many had died. Looking over
That paddy before and after that firefight. My war was the letters
SP in white on a dark blue helmet, and the black stock of an M-16.
My war was the war of many others, Vietnamese, American,
Korean, who were not in the jungle but in the city of Danang

and on its outskirts. The sun rose and set over Marble Mountain
and the China Sea. My war was Vietnam, my war was a few
get rich and many die. It was a Black GI carried in a straitjacket
from a boat at a ferry launch. My war was what I had a hand in,
sometimes called a conflict, my war in war. My war was all wars.

editors note:

One (every) soldier’s season in hell. – mh clay


featured in the poetry forum November 8, 2022  :: 0 comments

Resentment is a festival of flies buzzing
round a half-munched sausage link
and sauerkraut on a paper plate
I want to dump in a barrel
but not to walk fifty feet through flies,
germs, yellow jackets.

I love sauerkraut but not leftover
on a paper plate with flies.
There’s no more or less resentment here
in Lake Village than in Star City
or other delta towns.
Look at this mess!

I chose to travel to Lake Village,
enter its school, tell the kids about poems,
have them write.
My partner David Reveal’s feet propped on
the desk up front, I recite a poem
about leftovers. Who left this mess?

editors note:

Sometimes it’s the mess we carry with us. – mh clay

Bronx Hall of Fame

featured in the poetry forum June 27, 2022  :: 0 comments

I was there, she took me there
and it was a long line of columns.
I recall liking it. I liked that it
was a long line of white columns
with busts of men on them, Ben
Franklin, or men like him, or
like Jefferson and Jackson on the
bills, the tens and twenties.
No women, they were all men
who looked like Bill Clinton
might have looked, had he lived
a hundred years ago. I liked
that it was on a hill, a hilltop,
that there were trees with green branches
around. There was no one thing.
I liked that it was different, a break
from the ordinary, and I wasn’t
thinking all these busts are of dead men.
It wasn’t at all like a funeral parlor,
not dim like that, not spacious
and dark like a theater, it was outside.
I must have looked in the eyes,
the dead eyes that couldn’t look back.
It wasn’t like a person giving me
a dirty look or a look of sympathy.
I was holding her hand. She brought me.

editors note:

When looking into the eyes of the past, it helps to have a hand to hold. – mh clay

A Man Like a Tree

featured in the poetry forum April 6, 2022  :: 0 comments

“Sparky almost checked out
Of the hotel of life,”
Is what you say when a man
Past eighty falls from
A small scaffold his
California daughter told him
Recently to get rid of.
If years could be measured
In height, Sparky’d be
A sequoia—though he
Didn’t say that, but did
Speak of the fall,
The bruised arm, aching shoulder
And said this in what
Had been the Commercial
Hotel, founded by his dad,
Whose picture, a color
Daguerreotype, hangs
Above the lobby desk
Looking handsome, sapling young.

editors note:

Stiff, yet still a sap, if not a sapling. – mh clay

The Paragons Meet the Jesters

featured in the poetry forum September 25, 2021  :: 0 comments

Three kinds of people would steal my music:
the drug addict who sells it for drugs,
the music lover who sells it to a record shop
or adds it to their own collection,
and the person who wants it because
It’s mine and they want to steal something
I love that’s not part (or all) of my body
but part of my soul. The term
record shop signals vinyl, not a clunky 78
but a 45 disc such as I’d seen on a wall
at Swingin Slim’s in a subway arcade off
Times Square. I bought the Swallows’
It Ain’t the Meat It’s the Motion, took it home
and up in my room with the door closed
danced to its jumpy rhythm, and the
Dominoes’ Tenderly with Jackie Wilson
on lead. Eyes closed I listened seeing Judy
Hayman’s long face close to mine,
enraptured in her brunette beauty and
Jackie’s strong smooth voice. The thief
took that from me because I’m me
alone in a room looking out at windows
at green treetops and part of a gray river
that curves like an hourglass hip.
If they wanted even more they’d take an LP,
say, the Paragons Meet the Jesters.
They wouldn’t sell it so they could stick
a needle in an arm in a gas station rest
room, but because it’s mine, like that part
in R Kelly’s Slow Dance, “Let the record spin
Round and round,” a 45. Judy and I, she
taller by two inches, cling to its melodies
out on the floor in the school cafeteria.

editors note:

The lowest thievery; stealing memories. (We welcome Pete to our crazy congress of Contributing Poets with this submission. Read more of his madness on his new page – check it out.) – mh clay

Among Women Only

featured in the poetry forum February 15, 2021  :: 0 comments

No pretty girl will come and ask to sit at my table.
No gazelle will walk back and forth across the room,
no madonna with little crosses in her sharp black eyes.
This is a world without women. Nothing feminine
touches this floor which is cold and made of stone.
No finely shaped hand opens this door which is steel.
We men talk among ourselves. Here there are boxes
and bells to tell us when to stop and when to begin.

Sometimes I go off by myself. I go down the dock
and inside the freezer a woman dances before my mind.
I see her auburn hair, her large brown eyes, fair skin.
I hear her. She tells me she has a son with my name
and walks from table to table in the little restaurant.
She asks what I am writing. I say you, Gail, are all
I am writing. Her son and husband have no place here.
I am on a forklift moving pallets of roast beef eyes.

No fragrance, no faces like wheatfields, only frost
on boxes and voices over a loudspeaker and beef smells
inside truck carts after the trucks have been emptied.
Blocks away women with big hair, backbone, and style
mingle in the lives of other women, other men. Here
on the dock hangs a grill that kills flies and bugs
to keep them away from the meat. And in the cooler
men dressed for winter and loneliness hustle and thrive.

editors note:

The cool(ed) company some keep; cold embrace, frozen meat. – mh clay


featured in the poetry forum November 20, 2020  :: 0 comments

Two-three, February third
I have no Brylcreem in my hair
an elephant stands in my foyer
my windbreaker pocket holds a rabbit’s foot
I purchase Valentine roses
I haven’t eaten chocolate Easter bunny ears in two decades
I’m the same and not the same
as forty years ago
my parents at the dining room table broke
a wishbone, it was still light outside
early summer night
I’m happier now than forty years ago
even though I miss them
and recently had eye surgery
also surgery on my nose, mouth, and groin
and have seen a car break through the wall
of a Chinese restaurant
it’s been a while since mosquitoes buzzed
in my ear, Two-three
I wear my father’s watch
and remember his voice, and also my mother’s
two nights ago
my friend said
he could maybe see his late brother
here on earth and I could see my parents
since we might not get to see them
after we die
we left our campfire and walked
with flashlights, warming my chilled feet
I need to ask what he meant
by seeing them here, Two-three
an elephant stands in my foyer
a round mirror is hanging on the wall
a lantern sits in a plastic box in my garage
my parents at the dining room table
broke a wishbone
Two-three, I am the same and not the same

editors note:

All our recaps and random recollections make us the same, two-three. – mh clay