Bio Note: After 30-plus years as editor of various publications, I drove a school bus for several years teaching high schoolers how to respond when an adult says good morning and kindergarteners that it's probably best they not lick the seat in front of them. My poetry collection The Sacred Monotony of Breath (Prolific Press, 2015) received an Edna Meudt Poetry Book Award from the Council for Wisconsin Writers.
The World We Pretended Then
The summer of My Baby Does the Hanky-Panky I baked to a sweet potato sheen watching adolescent heads dip like bobbers in sun-spangled waves, then pop to the surface to suck the jukebox filtered air, translucent torsos flailing in a wild dervish dance to the titillating lure of hanky and panky financed on quarters pilfered from mothers’ purses. My brother not so lucky a few summers earlier, the summer of Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight, when one dipped but didn’t bob— fisherman’s dream lifeguard’s nightmare— and he dove into the cool quarry depths to retrieve, then kiss a young man’s cool blue lips… as cool and blue as the summer of I Can’t Get No Satisfaction, I believe, when he pulled the ambulance into the drive to grab a quick sandwich on the way to the mortuary and asked if I wanted to see a dead guy— “Hey, Bob, do you want to see a dead guy?” was what he said—which of course I did, of course I did, so he opened the vault-like Caddy door and there he was, an old blue man who once played golf with President Eisenhower the obit later boasted. Fast forward to the summer after Jim, Jimmie and Janice died: highway tie-up on a mail run to Quang Tri, crowd donning black silk pajamas and paddy hats gathers around two young men and a young woman stripped to the waist and pocked with small muddy-red holes staring heavenward like sightless angels blinded by the sun those British boys promised was coming. We looked we listened then retreated from the dirge of snot and tears dripping onto a gurney of dirt to retrieve news from the World we pretended then meant home and melodies that might save us all.
Originally published in Sacred Monotony of Breath, Prolific Press, 2015
At home just a half-hour ago an old man, gait wide and arthritic, scuttled precariously across a Baghdad street. The newscaster frowned, as if he knew something the old man and I did not. Here, feet planted solidly in park grass, I watch a woman wearing a blue shirt and camouflage hat loop her bamboo pole toward the sky then water. She strokes the pole like a ritual of luck. Her son, six or so, climbs the rail and leans parallel to the pole daring that bobber to move. The boy, more sky than water at this stage of life, does not understand that luck precludes desire here. He cocks his head as if listening to fish whispers below. Strange conversation: like adults in the kitchen just before sleep or the dance of a bobber on gray murky water or the silent sun-drenched descent of dust in a bombed out building on the other side of a Baghdad street. Driving home a squirrel darts beneath my car but in the mirror lives.
Originally published in Peninsula Pulse
©2022 Robert Nordstrom
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