Monday, May 27, 2013

Gene McCormick- Three Poems

The Neighbor’s House

It is a sun-faded, pinkish salmon-colored aluminum sided split-level so popular in the nineteen-fifties. The eaves and trim are white, dark shingles cover the roof and electrical wires run from and alongside the house. The furniture is straightforward, chosen for family functionality over style and, fifteen years later, is still serviceable. Being late May there is no smoke from the chimney and in fact the air conditioning is on. There are no children playing outside on the porch nor in the front or back yard where the swing set is motionless and no one sits at the aluminum patio tube furniture adjacent to the sliding glass door or fools with the gardening tools laying about, mostly because it is Tuesday during school hours. The flag in the southwest corner of the front yard near the bed of impatiens and next to the driveway is at full staff and wafting a bit, though the air is still enough to hear a phone ringing from inside the house. Robins and finches flit about the unpainted concrete birdbath.

Two overflowing plastic trash cans stand at the front curb, near the flagpole, waiting weekly pickup: there is no car or SUV in the driveway and closed garage doors make it uncertain if there is a vehicle parked within.

Sitting in the front seat of a Chevy Silverado in the adjacent driveway, engine off but keys in the ignition, it takes little effort to see over the shrubs, to observe the upper window, the only window at that level of the neighbor’s house, where a female walks past the un-curtained uncovered window. She walks neither slow nor with haste but with the purpose of doing what a woman alone in a house might be inclined to do, passing by every minute or so, sometimes every fifteen minutes. Sometimes an hour, or longer.

The Business Lunch

Waiting at the hostess station
like the proper businessmen they are,
the two suits exchange small talk
and are rewarded by being gifted
a table set among pillars and posts,
making visual monitoring by
surrounding diners problematic.

A forever-age-thirty-nine server
efficiently takes their order:
chicken parmesan for one,
grilled salmon for the other;
one drinks tea, the other just water.
Both are old school: clean-shaven,
shirts, ties, suit jackets;
one wears a tie clip and cufflinks
and carries a briefcase, one doesn’t.
The former signs with a fountain pen.

The shared mealtime is a
Punch and Judy show,
the businessman on the left
pointing and gesturing,
the other holding up charts and graphs.
Talk of “parallel paths” leaks out among
nods, smiles and controlled laughs
that punctuate lunch as if scripted.

Paperwork is shuffled, put away;
the most direct route
to the airport is agreed on:
standing, they shake hands.
Lunch is consumed in less than an hour,
plans and contracts finalized.
Meeting over.

The hostess smiles a wordless goodbye
as the sun only slightly tilts west.

The Tuesday Breakfast Special

Ed sits at his accustomed booth
for the first time in months.
Trying to save a few bucks,
he hasn’t been eating out but notes
little has changed at The Greek’s,
least of all the burnt goat and feta
scent of breakfast specials.
How ya doin’? he greets Tanya,
his preferred greasy spoon waitress.
Just fair, she says, just fair.
Husband, kid problems? he asks
and she says No it’s just me.
Feel like I’m going to explode.
My heart’s too fast
and my blood pressure’s so high
the doctor wants to put me
in the hospital even without insurance.
Says I have neurological problems.
You know, a brain disorder.
It’s like I’m at warp speed and the rest
of the world is in a school zone.
I’m on valium and some other
medicine starts with a “c.”

Smiling, Ed does what he can:
Your hair is longer; it looks good.
Thank you, she says, I’m letting it grow
long in summer, short in winter. Ass backward.
Well, you look pretty, he says,
averting eyes dead from thirty years
serving cheap food for minimum wage
and now further drugged by relaxants.

Keeping up appearances is hard when
my husband’s been out of work since
the lumber yard went bust.
And what he makes plowing driveways
and mowing yards don’t help much
even with unemployment checks.
Then two of my kids moved out and that
broke my heart.
I tore up my bedroom the other night.
Trashed the wallpaper, shattered the
vanity mirror and don’t have a clue why.
Just because.

Leaving a two-dollar tip for a $6.75
three-egg bacon omelet Tuesday special
didn’t seem like it was gonna help much.

Three months later, there are changes.

Tanya’s green eyes are clear and bright.
I’m off of valium now, she says,
setting down a menu and list of specials,
but I still take blood pressure meds.
My doctor made me take a week’s vacation
doing nothing, which helped a lot
but sure worried my regular customers.
Now that spring is here I can get
cheap therapy by gardening on off days.
Don’t need Medicare for fresh air.
Katie, my youngest, is moving back home
and knows she’ll have to pitch in.
With nice weather coming Steve’s
mowing lawns at thirty
houses and he is starting
to get a few businesses.
My head has slowed down
like normal brains,
or so they tell me.
I’m having a good day.
Today is a good day.
A good day, today.

Time passes everywhere except in The Greek’s,
where three breakfast specials, one of which
is always an omelet variant, are posted
daily on a chalk board.  A disused ashtray
(no smoking in restaurants for years now)
of jellies, orange marmalade and apple butter,
sits on each table and booth with real and
artificial sweeteners and a ketchup bottle.
Thick coffee cups sit upside down in saucers,
awaiting service, and a battered newspaper
is available, missing the sports section
and with the crossword already filled out.

Tanya has not worked her regular shift
the last several times Ed ate there.
He asks her friend Kathi.
She’s okay, she only works Mondays,
Tuesdays and Fridays now but she’s doing good.

Funny thing about The Greek’s parking lot.
There are always more cars parked in it
than there are customers in the restaurant.
Some may park and walk next door to Wendy’s,
or go to the other side and shop the 7-Eleven.
The parking lot is nearly full. The greasy spoon
seems empty.

Winter turns to spring…
Since smoking is banned in restaurants
young patrons catch a smoke outside
just as there are one or two obnoxious
cell phone users inside spewing loud artificial
conversation.  If they would throw in some sex,
Ed considers, it wouldn’t be so boring.
Retirees talk away their remaining time
at the larger six-top tables.
On this day during Memorial Day week, a time
to reflect, honor and commemorate, tiny flags
adorn tables and booths, stuck in miniature
glass vases of paper flowers. Some Greek, Macedonian,
Serbo-Croatian, U.S., French, and German.
One Confederate flag and a few Ed can’t identify.
It’s an international neighborhood.
Everyone’s lost someone in some war or another.

Tanya is gone, replaced by Opal, petite, but for an alcoholic
paunch fifty-ish, blue-eyed bright-haired blonde, her
ponytail pulled tight to accentuate
silvery earrings, a colored glass necklace,
too much makeup and red tortoise shell
prescription glasses perched on her head.
Snug black tee shirt and slacks, trendy
and youthful, but crow’s feet, taut neck lines
and a subservient, beat-down demeanor
confirm decades of waitressing and men
only she could love but anyone could attract.

Opal doesn’t know Ed’s usual order
nor has she paid her dues allowing baseball,
football or sex banter. Near the end of his meal
Opal leans slightly toward him—
Everything good?
Yes, perfect, he answers, having treated himself
to eggs benedict instead of the bacon-and-cheese
three-egg omelet special. Ed takes large bites,
overloading each forkful, quickly clearing the plate.

Opal sets the check by his newspaper with
her name and a smiley face in pink marker—
Need anything else today? she asks.

Brief Bio: One could say that Gene McCormick once scaled the Eiffel Tower in his bare feet to get a bird's-eye view of Marcel Proust's grave.

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