The Poet Spiel

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Arthur Won’t Be Coming Home This Year

Elsie’s meringue weeps more than she’d like today.
She hasn’t lost her touch for turning it the perfect golden
nor stacking it a proud four inches deep.

She hopes one of the grandkids will drop by for a slice
of lemon pie on the way home from school.
Rolly is her favorite — he takes the time to admire
her collection of black glass knick-knacks.
She has so little left to her name.

Her kids sold off the farm and most of her possessions
to pay bills when Arthur passed —
then moved her
into this tiny shoebox house.
They’d said, It’s big enough, Mother, Grandpa won’t be
coming home no more.

Arthur won’t be coming home this year—or next.
Or next.

Elsie wakes each morning thinking she’s been robbed.
What’s happened to her coal pail, her pitchfork,
her mess of baling wire for fixing things?
She devotes her time to marking everything she possesses.
She embroiders Elsie on her undergarments, scribbles it 
on every card in her Canasta deck,
even manages to scratch it
into her kitchen dishes.
Though one might well expect to find the odd lard mark here
or there in any cookbook, in Elsie’s Household
Searchlight Recipe Book, the pages are smothered
with her name—and on one page, she’s written,
had one cookbook stolen, want it back.
She rubs her name in lipstick on the back screendoor.
She carves it into the oak arm of Arthur’s platform rocker
as she stares dumb-eyed at the snowy TV screen.

Arthur won’t be coming home this year—or next.
Or next. He pure and simple will not be coming home.

And then she starts another pie.       
If one of the grandkids doesn’t show up, she will dump it
in the backyard and watch the squirrels
make a meringue circus of themselves.
She whistles Swing Low Sweet Chariot.
And one of these days she needs to get around to finishing up
her name on the pages of her bible.
The paper is too skinny to write on.
It rips when she applies pressure with her pencil
and when she uses her blue fountain pen,
the ink blobs and musses her dress.
She wouldn’t be in this predicament if Arthur hadn’t passed.
She’s afraid to ask one of her sons to try to fix the snow
on the TV one more time.
Maybe it’s just her eyes and she’ll need to spend money
she doesn’t have on new glasses.
She drops her favorite heavy brown ovenware bowl.
One less bowl—and this was one that had been the most difficult
to scratch her name into.
Her upper lip rattles—oozes shiny balls of sweat
—then goes hard.

She prays if she ever makes it to the other side
she won’t bump into Arthur.

first published in Human, Pudding House Publications ©2003
also in: she: insinuations of flesh brooding, March Street Press, 2008 



Chet Sullivan bought Dottie these draperies
that go from the ceiling to the floor.
They are kind of a dumb light green —
like dead grass.
I think they look stiff
like you can’t touch them.
I don’t understand why
the curtains are bigger than the windows.
I am supposed to sit stiff when we visit here.
I am supposed to call Dottie Mrs. Sullivan.
I am not supposed to interrupt.
On the coffee table there is a carved box
that Chet brought from Japan.
It is full of Camel cigarettes.
Dottie smokes.
Even though she knows my mom and Dad don’t smoke
she offers them a Camel.
As soon as she begins smoking
she starts gabbing a lot.
Then she and my mom go to the kitchen
to arrange plates of fancy cookies.
Dottie made special lemon bars today.
I smell them but I have to wait politely to be offered one.
Chet and my dad start talking about raising beef.
They compare stories about cows eating their placentas
out on the open range
so the coyotes wouldn’t know
where their calves were born.
They forget I am here.
I go to the bathroom
and make a lot of noise peeing
straight into the toilet water
just in case somebody wonders where I am.
Then I sneak into Chet’s den.
He has three Jap skulls on his glasstop desk —
more than any other soldier in this town.
Everybody says he is the Skull King around here.
Chet says the skulls are from real men —
not plastic skulls.
I don’t know if the men had kids like me.
Chet sure seems proud about them.
Every time I look at them
I try to touch them
and be a proud American.              

Pre pub: AlphaBeat Press, Come Here Cowboy

The Poet Spiel: A lifetime of mental illness and decades of psychotherapy provide rich material for Spiel to work with. At age 76, queer and confounded by loss associated with vascular dementia, he struggles to keep his lips above desolation. His most recent book is Drawing and Musing.