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l<3ve poems

“Love is mild, except when it isn’t. Except when it’s a raging inferno with the sole intention of destroying every ounce of sanity you have left. But yes, it’s mild. And that other stuff too.” ~Anonymous

0612d8fcf89e1f08abc66fc7fc6b92f6I made the mistake of telling someone that my next book of poetry is going to be full of love poems. It seemed to me a stroke of genius, but I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to create a whole book of 50+ poems exclusively about love. In my mind it was going to be difficult because my brain creates poetry quite organically, so how was I going to shift my thought patterns and make the poetry cooperate? I needn’t have been worried, because she said:

“But most of your stuff is already love poetry.”

Which of course made me laugh, but she was deadly serious. And she would know because she’s listened to a lot of my poems at poetry night, she’s read the vast majority of the ones on my poetry blog, and she’s purchased both of my other collections of poetry. So I took stock of my poetry. I dug as deep as she probably didn’t have to in order to find out that she was absolutely right.

I write mostly love poetry. No, not the treacly sweet love poetry that would make a 1950s poet proud. Nor even the devoted, puppy dog love poetry that dominated the 1980s. No, I write the love poetry that is intense in its own analysis of itself, that drives all night to end up in the same place where it began. I write the love poetry that wishes it were something else, but it can’t help being about love.

So that makes it easy, I guess, compiling a book of my love poetry, even if it’s not the book I thought I was going to make when I started on this journey. Because this is my reality. It’s the love I’ve seen more often than any other in this world. It’s not the mild, “I want to hold your hand” kind of love, not the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse inspired love, but is instead the persistently desperate, sad love that strives for something more, the love that needs acceptance but usually breeds regret.

Which means my job is a lot easier than I thought it would be. Just write poetry and it will probably fit the mold.

Sam

Two Parts

6a12888bb450cb0e1caa447145add377“You grew up where?” he asked me, incredulity in his tone, head cocked to the side.

“Philadelphia,” I repeated, for the apparently hard of hearing barber, whose nametag proclaimed him BoCeephus.

“My cousin Dewey was born and raised in Philly,” BoCeephus said as he brushed off the tattered apron and placed it around my neck. “Went to school somewhere in North Philly. Don’t know the name. Had a good ball team. Not that he was on it or anything. Dewey had a trick knee. Never was good at sports.”

I knew his type, the kind who had connections everywhere and nowhere at the same time, the kind who had to make small talk even when waiting for the subway.  Yeah, I had known guys like that my whole life, whether they were Main Line or ghetto, old city or downtown. They were only different insomuch as they didn’t look the same. But once they opened their mouths all that came out was the name dropping because that’s all they knew.

“I think Dewey went to Fox Chase, or somewhere like that,” BoCeephus continued, and I’m sure he said something in between but I had totally tuned him out. It was easy to tune people like him out.

“I knew people from Fox Chase,” I responded, because I knew he would go on until I said something, and I wanted a good cut. Most guys I know will do basically anything for a good cut, and everyone told me this was the place to go. So I told him I knew people from Fox Chase, because who would know different?

He tightened the apron strings around my neck with surprisingly nimble fingers for a wizened man who had obviously seen more than a little in his time on earth. The barber shop was surprisingly empty, given the word of mouth that had brought me to the place, but the ambiance was bar none. The smell of aftershave in the air, the stray hairs on the tiled floor, all hearkened back to childhood Friday afternoons spent waiting for the perfect cut, a fade with two parts. My momma always said I had to have those two parts.

“Yah, the more I think about it the more I think Dewey went to Fox Chase,” said BoCeephus, a bit louder because he had turned on the clippers and they buzzed like angry bees. “Yes sir, that Dewey was a cut up too. Been dead since ninety-eight, though. Damn X mess everybody up. But yes sir, he was from Philly too. Been a long time since I thought of him.”

“Many people from Philly,” I replied, because I felt like he expected it of me, the clippers moving across my scalp all tingly, bringing back more memories.

“Got that right,” said BoCeephus, laughing, a deep-throated laugh that seemed to come up from the ground, gravel deep down. “But don’t get many folks from Philly here in Columbus. More likely Pittsburgh. Yah, this a big destination for folks trying to get out of Pittsburgh, but not so much Philly. No sir. What brings you out this way?”

“Work,” I said. “A man’s gotta work.”

“You can say that again,” responded BoCeephus. “You want a high fade or a low fade?”

“Take it high,” I told him, because that’s the way I used to always get it, and I was feeling nostalgic, with the place, and the man, and the aftershave. Even the conversation. If I closed my eyes I could imagine I was back on 45th and Walnut, back in my own hood.

“Oh, and two parts,” I added quickly at the end, surprising even myself. I hadn’t worn two parts since I was ten, since my mother died, since I stopped caring. But something deep in my subconscious must have spoken for me, and I didn’t correct it once it was out in the open air.

“Two parts it is,” BoCeephus said. And I knew he would do it right.

Sam

14 is Ivory

weddingphoto3Fourteen is a daunting number, not just because it’s over 10, or that it’s beyond lucky number 13, or even that it’s a full twice that of 7, but because so much can happen over the course of 14 years. Fourteen years ago I was 26, no longer a kid but still not entirely secure and steady in my adult persona. If you had asked me if I was ready to take on the world I probably would have given you a blank stare and then begun contemplating just that. If you had told me at 26 that I would be here — now — I would have probably laughed in your face. You see, 26 is the new 18, and who knows anything at all when they’re 18?

But at 26 I did know one very important thing that has served me well over these past 14 years — I couldn’t let this woman slip through my fingers.

Now that I’m 40, looking back on everything that has happened since that day 14 years ago, I want to clap 26 year old me on the back, to give him a huge hug, to hold him close because somehow he was enough for her. Somehow I’m still enough for her, as inadequate as I always feel I am in and of myself. But she saw something in me then, and she sees something in me now, and here we are 14 years later, still enjoying each others’ company. Which is what marriage should be all about, right?

It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s been a thrill to know we are still together, to know that we still smile for no reason at all other than that we still love each other.

Oh, and 14 is ivory. One is paper, but 14 is ivory. I recognize the poignancy in that, at least on a couple of levels. It’s like the song goes, “Ebony and ivory, live together in perfect harmony…” Because I am ebony, and she is ivory, but not just in the obvious way, not just because of our skin tones that look so beautiful together.

She is ivory because when she gives, she gives of her whole self. She is pure in her intentions and in her execution. She is that rare gift that doesn’t expect anything in return, so I want to give her the world. I hope I’ve given her some semblance of the world over the course of these 14 years.

Ivory is also treasured. So many people search for so long to get the perfect piece of ivory, and they hold on to it because it’s precious. Shine a light on it and it brightens even more than that light, drawing the light’s essence into itself and magnifying it a hundredfold. It’s brilliant, and so is she.

When I first found out that 14 was ivory I laughed to myself because this world is an interesting place, because it’s the perfect embodiment for her. I love her for who she is, not just when I’m with her, but for when I am without. I love her for her raw honesty that strives to be nothing but what it is, which is perfect for me.

So, 14 is ivory, and we are 14 together. Our marriage is a teenager, with all the caveats that come along with that designation. Because, while she is perfect for me, our life is not a perfect one. Whose is? When we stood there outside City Hall after putting on our rings, as we exhaled, basking in the glory of our newfound marriage, 14 years ago, we weren’t thinking about the next 14 years. We were thinking about what it had taken us to get to that point separately. But we haven’t had to think about that since, focused instead on our own future, 14 years of which are now in the past.

But what a 14 years it has been! A once in a lifetime honeymoon to Ireland, a steely resolve to do everything we could to make sure we expand our family, two wonderfully rambunctious children, a new house almost completed, and all the minor and major occurrences that shape any life. It’s crazy to look back and realize that, from what might have been an inconsequential email, we have created a shared life, and we continue to live that life — together.

So, for my wife, thank you for being ivory. You wear it well. To the next 14 years…

Sam

Good On Paper

9f6daf4011c972bfcbd6025ea6686c5a_ice-cream-truck-ice-cream-ice-cream-truck-clipart_450-450When I was a kid I wanted the ice cream truck to break down on my street. In my head it would have been perfect: the frazzled driver befuddled by his misfortune, the machine only having an hour left on the generator, the driver throwing his hands up as us kids swarmed the truck and ate everything we could reach. FOR FREE. It would have been heaven.

It was so good… on paper. I thought it up in my head. I drew the stick figure children eating ice cream like it was going out of style. But I didn’t take into account the horrible stomachaches we would have been likely to have, or the vomiting that would probably have ensued later that night, or the poor driver out of product and having to (eh hem) eat the loss. I was a kid, and the scenario was good on paper. But I’ve grown up, and I’ve seen a lot along the way that is also good… on paper, but that just doesn’t cut it in reality.

How come things don’t always work out the way they’re supposed to? The numbers don’t lie, do they? There was this sports commentator, who, when asked to explain how a team that was supposedly unbeatable had just lost, said: “That’s why they play the game.” And it’s so true. That’s exactly why they play the game, why we live our lives, even though the cards are stacked against us at times.

There’s just something about David vs. Goliath that drags us in, isn’t there? We know the little guy is going to get crushed, because on paper it says so, resoundingly, but we root him on anyway, hoping for the improbable. It’s always a feel good story when the underdog succeeds when absolutely nothing was expected of him, in business, in sports, and in life overall.

But man, it’s got to suck for the overwhelming favorite, for the one from whom most was expected, for the one who checked all the boxes… on paper. Because, somewhere along the way, every time we hold someone up it just becomes a reason to tear them down when they don’t hit that expectation.

Sometimes people and things are just good on paper, and that’s all there is to it. Sometimes there isn’t a reason why “on paper” doesn’t translate into “in person.” It just is. Sometimes that girl who seemed so perfect on her eHarmony profile doesn’t mesh with you in real life. That’s why life isn’t live on paper. It’s why prospective employees have to interview instead of getting hired based on simply their resume. Because human beings aren’t just the words that define them. They aren’t just the numbers attached to them.

We don’t just live on paper. So good on paper is just a sign that we might be more inclined to succeed in real life. It isn’t a guarantee.

Sam

I fancy myself a burgeoning photographer. Not the kind who transforms weddings into memories. Not even the kind who captures the zeitgeist of an ordinary moment and makes it extraordinary. I just want to be someone who takes pictures I enjoy, and that others can enjoy. I blame Instagram for this, for the idea that everyone and anyone can be an avant garde photographer, that everyone and anyone can do what so few have done exceptionally well throughout the course of history.

But it’s not just Instagram, if I’m being honest with myself. When I was a kid I remember getting out the chunky old camera, loading it up with film, and heading out to the backyard to see if I could catch worms doing what worms do. I didn’t like pictures of myself, preferring instead to be behind the lens, figuring out how to perfect the scene. I still like figuring out how to perfect the scene.

Four years ago the Utica Public Library started a photo competition, wherein 70 (or however many) photographers chose their own scenes to share with the community. The entries were judged in one or more of several categories and winners of each category announced after three weeks of hanging in library’s main gallery.

It took me FOREVER to decide what picture I wanted to enter, because we could only enter one, but I was more than certain I wanted to be included in the inaugural contest. For some reason I was enamored with bridges that year, so one day when I was driving past one I had passed many times before I stopped. It was raining out, so I wasn’t about to get out of my car. And I didn’t have my camera with me, but I had my phone. So I took one shot through the windshield, in between the wiper blades swiping away the rainwater, and it came out just as I hoped it would.

wpid-Photo-Editor-Plus-1370630975995.jpg

There was just something about it that spoke to me, and speaks to me even now, even with the rainy windshield in between me and my subject. Somehow it got entered into the “Social Commentary” category in the contest and won honorable mention. I was honored.

The next year I wanted to do something completely different so I decided not to take just one picture and let it be. Instead I decided to head to Herkimer and do an authentic photo shoot. Only, I had absolutely no clue what I would end up doing, what subject I would end up picking, or how the picture would turn out. I only knew I had two weeks until the contest entry was to be submitted and I still had nothing.

Herkimer led me on some strange paths the day I went down there with my camera and hopefully also with some imagination in tow. Nothing stood out to me, however, even though I took over 20 photos that day. As I was driving out of town, though, inspiration struck hard enough to make me turn around. There was just something about the school buses slanted in their parking spots that hit me. So I took a photo, and after fooling around with my photo editing software, this is what I settled on…

flamingosenhanced.JPG

I called it “Flamingos.”

Keeping with tradition I received another honorable mention, this time in the category of “Striking Use of Color.” But I just wasn’t satisfied with all the standard static shots of inanimate objects. I decided for the third iteration of the contest I would photograph something animated. So I studied the cats who live here and I took various pictures of them. Yet they just weren’t cutting it. That’s when I came up with my brilliant but daunting idea.

I would have a photo shoot with a human being, something I had never done before. Once I had it in my mind, though, I couldn’t get it out. However, I didn’t have much time once again, once I had finally decided I would have a human subject. Luckily for me I work with someone who fit the exact profile of what I wanted for my human subject, and who was also available for a block of time to shoot.

We met at the Utica Train Station on a cloudy Tuesday morning. I was a little worried about the rain, but it had helped me before, so I wasn’t too concerned with it that day. I told myself I would take as many pictures as I could, in as many poses as I could, and I would pore through them later until I found the exact right one to submit to the photo contest.

And 55 photos later, here’s what I decided on:

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

I called it “Looking Glass.” It was a totally unexpected shot from the enclosed crossover bridge connecting the tracks going Eastbound and Westbound. I just told her to stand there and look out at the tracks and she delivered, the reflection kind of ghostly in the window, and the architecture of the building evident through the glass. Producing it in black and white gave it a stark realism that I loved from the start.

I received honorable mention in the “Black & White” category.

And now it’s one year later. I’m not really sure what I’m submitting yet. What I do know is that I’ve already taken whatever picture I will eventually submit. I’m leaning toward the “Nature” category, something I decided shortly after I found out when submissions are due, because I had never tried it before. We’ll see if I end up going that way after all because I have a few “Architectural” photographs that I might decide on.

Whatever I choose, though, I think I’ve found something that will last a lifetime, even if it’s just a hobby. Even if the only thing I ever submit photographs to is this contest once a year. I’m just excited to be behind the lens.

Sam

3 Cats

3catsI live with 3 cats.

No, they’re not mine, although I am particularly fond of them. That’s just how I’ve always been. These fearless, furry, fleabag felines are just so cute and lovable, especially the way they’re fiercely independent at times while positively cloying at others.

It seems like I’ve always lived with cats. Or they’ve always lived with me. Sometimes I’m honestly not sure which is true and which is the lie. Perhaps I’ve always lived with them because they let me. They come into my life at the oddest of times and I get attached. I look into their little, expressive eyes, and my heart melts.

But they come with a severely skewed caveat, or two, or three. Because cats aren’t like dogs. They don’t go outside to get their business done, which is a major deal. Cats need litter boxes, and people assigned to clean them on a regular basis, and litter too. Litter that needs to be purchased again and again. And again.

Cats also need food. Some of them are addicted to the soft food in the little cans full of “juicy bits,” while others crunch for days on the dry food from out of the bag. And still some others eat both, whining when the bowl is empty, even if it’s the middle of the night.

Because cats are nocturnal, or if they aren’t then they’ve fooled me for 40 years. They laze around all day long, coming out at night like vampires to chase each other up and down the halls, and up and down the stairs, hissing and snarling like beasts in a cage ready to rip each other to shreds. They wake me from my precious dreams, thinking we are in the midst of the apocalypse when it is just a typical 2 AM romp.

I live with 3 cats, and each one is completely different from the others. 2 of them come and go as they please (so long as someone lets them out the door and in the door when it’s convenient for them). The other 1 stays in, even though he tries to get out when he thinks no one is paying him any mind. We are always paying him some kind of mind because we know he is shifty.

There are more cats out in the back room, but I don’t go there. I am content to pretend I live with only 3 cats, to watch these 3 sleep all day long in the patches of sunlight that are all too infrequent on this side of the house. I am just fine with cohabiting this space, in giving them their space unless they want to be near. Because I’m a cat myself, my personality meshing perfectly with theirs, living a kind of zen-like existence without the benefit of claws.

And that’s okay, because there are enough cats here who do have claws. 3, to be exact.

Sam

Storm Clouds

These clouds gather
Sandpaper rough
Tinged with regret
Heralding the storm.

Sam

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