shyly, he sings

his voice echoed off 
hardwood and sheetrock
carried up the stairs
through the walls themselves
well past the mailbox
whose door refuses to remain entirely shut.

she said nothing at his side
and linked her left arm around his right 
as he played, carefully, though
so as not to break his focus
as if his entire focus
were not already her. 

to my love

i thought you’d gone out, she said mostly into her pillow.

no, darling, i was just downstairs. 

what were you doing, she asked, her voice soft in summer dark.

just straightening the kitchen, dear.

she adjusted for comfort beneath their blanket as he leaned against the doorframe,
waiting for his eyes to adjust.

are you coming to bed, she asked, her words thick and sweet.

yes, my love, i just need to write you a poem, first.

a plea to people in charge

every once in a while,
i end up blankly staring at
the edge of whatever it is i’m doing
eyes open and unmoving. 

and i might wonder aloud
‘what are we doing, here’
and my eyes will narrow into a squint
and my shoulders might slightly sag  
and i’m likely to shake my head.

what can i do when 

a terrorist organization in a distant land

and

a police force in my home land

look too much the same?

if isis and the ferguson police force
stood next to each other on a summer evening
and all i could see were their shadows
it would take me a while to tell the difference.

* * * 

to isis,

stop, please.

you are behaving as cowards.

to the ferguson police force,

stop, please.

you are behaving as cowards.

someone needs to be the adult in the room.
someone – anyone – within the walls
where decisions are being made,
please

say ‘no more.’

others will listen. 

please, 

no more shows of force

no more pride and belligerence

whatever it is you’re fighting for

whatever the hell it is

ask yourself if this is really the way you want to earn it

whatever the hell it is. 

the world is watching

make good choices, 

joel

 

robin williams, my missing oak

i have two sharply vivid memories of my childhood. one is an audio recording of sleepy hollow i listened to on a tape deck in my family’s apartment in nashville when i was . . . five? six?

i first swam unaided in a swimming pool shaped like a guitar
i swam across the neck, the shortest distance from edge to edge
these are the things i remember.

to this day, the sound of horse hooves on hardwood gives me the shivers. i still dash back indoors from taking out the trash at night, even though i bear little resemblance to ichabod crane, nor do i live in upstate new york (thank goodness).

anyway,

the second memory is an audio book of pecos bill, voiced by robin williams. i would sit on the top bunk of my bunk bed (i’m not sure why i wanted a bunk bed, as an only child. wishful thinking?) and listen to the cassette while reading along. i remember the tilt and meandering rotation of the solar system mobile in the right far corner of the room (near the window). i remember the angle of light falling into the window, across the floor and the trashcan where i’d fling apple cores, again from the top bunk.

my accuracy often required i hop down
and place the apple core directly into the can
and i’d often find seeds days later that i’d missed during cleanup.

what am i supposed to do when something that was always there, in the background, reassuring, the hum of a fan at night,

is no longer there?

perhaps i’ll rephrase,

what do i do
when the people who are supposed to live forever
don’t?

actors and storytellers, the daydreams and friends i grew up with, they are supposed to be permanent.

robin williams was one of my ancient oaks,
and i came back to town for a visit
and noticed the oak was gone.

peter pan is supposed to live forever. he isn’t supposed to take his own life.

so what do i do when . . . what do i do when, quite literally, a part of my childhood dies? characters are safe – harry potter isn’t going to get into a traffic accident. i know frodo made it and that he won’t get cancer. inigo got to retire and put his feet up and i don’t have to worry he’ll miss his father too much one night and hurt himself. but people . . . well . . . and i’d forgotten that williams was not the characters he’s portrayed.

i was in the cereal aisle of an iga

when i found out robin williams committed suicide.

i got store brand honey bunches of oats.

the worst part is, i wasn’t surprised. williams always struck me as . . . as too brilliant. too sharp, too able to feel. there always seemed to be a second story his eyes were telling behind the smile.

depression is real.
it is a liar and a thief.
it stole my pecos bill.
it stole his joy.

it is never too late.
it breaks my heart that a man
with such a gift for laughter
and ability to tell the sweet and sometimes sad truth
could not find peace.

* * *

considering i’ve already decided to avoid disney at all costs with my daughter (don’t get me started on the gentle and damning stereotypes of how disney treats its women and how they always need a man to make them whole), i need to make sure the world has as many permanent – or at least permanent as possible – ancient oaks for my girl to grow up with.

Love matters. we should act like it does, all the time.
if you are depressed or think you might be,
tell someone. tell many someones.

(i am often loathe to swing second person and give commands, but i’d rather come across as a little bossy than lose another oak)

check in on people you love.
ask questions.
be the first one to show vulnerability,
and if someone is vulnerable with you,
treat it as a sacred place.

no more losing pecos bills, please.

not like this, at least.

if we’re gonna go, let’s go because we were riding a tornado, ok?