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The first leg of our troika was removed easily enough;

Courage is a mercurial thing, waxing and waning

As frequently as the tides--or, perhaps more accurately,

It is like the doomed cell hosting a virus,

Left a barren husk of its former self once the germ

Has gone about its business and moved on.

In any case, he has happily cast off the burden of leadership

So often and unwisely fixed upon our martial heroes,

Content to appear at parades and other events of state,

Answering the roar of the mob in an almost authentic manner

(Though just barely perceptibly less so each year),

Living testament to the notion

That it is easier to be lionized than to live as the lion.

I had convinced myself that a two-headed regime

Would be perfectly workable,

That I could be the yin to the yang

Of my erstwhile alloy colleague

(The intoxicant of power

So dulling my senses that I could believe such nonsense),

The contemplative man of thought acting as a counterweight

To the fiery man of action, the man of the blade.

I had somehow presupposed

(Such was the vastness of my delusion)

That my old brother-in-arms would defer

To the appeal of painstaking analysis and meticulous planning;

It was if I had forgotten that, provided with the genie-like largesse

Of the acquisition of anything he desired, he’d asked for a heart,

As if there wasn’t enough sturm und drang taking place

In that miniature steam boiler of a chest!

While I had buried myself in charts and task-force reports,

He had enmeshed himself in consolidating power.

When his yeomen, huge-hatted and well-armed

Came to my suite of offices to place me under arrest,

I was, at my core, not particularly surprised.

To parrot the line of so many of those who have shared a fate

Much worse than my own,

I am well treated by my caretakers-***-captors;

My living quarters are comfortable enough,

And I can read, write, and research at my leisure,

Provided I don’t attempt to transmit any of it

To the outside world. 

Beyond the boundaries of this small compound,

I am a non-person; neither my name nor image

Has appeared in the pages of the Daily Ozmapolitan

For several years now, and it is whispered

(With the full knowledge and abetment of the current elite)

That I am, in fact, gravely ill if not dead.

I could, I suppose, rage against my confinement,

Shout my grievances and pronouncements against autocracy

To the heavens, but my cottage and the outbuildings

Lie in a thickly forested place, and it has not escaped my notice

That all of these structures are built entirely from wood.

No matter, then; I am the victim, first and last,

Of my own foolishness, my own inability

To resist the nectar of power, the ambrosia of command.

I, of all people, believing the road could run both ways!
He'd lived in the remaining house on the little byway,
The place and its existence somewhat accidental
As it was built as the groundskeeper's cottage
Accompanying a rambling edifice
Built by a former president of the mill,
That once-grand structure gone to rack and ruin
Nothing remaining save the odd bit of foundation
Poking forlornly above crownvetch and milkweed,
Though the lot of the man we'd dubbed the ogre
(The notion that he had an actual name
Not occurring to us at the time,
Though, as Nicky Demmer wisely noted
Whatever it might be, it must be unspoken.)
Was only slightly less unkempt and foreboding,
And it is hard to remember what exactly made him
Something to be feared and avoided at all costs,
Perhaps the combination of height
(Though lessened yet somehow accentuated
By a slight yet perceptible stoop)
And a widow's peak at the top of an unusually high forehead
Bookended by wiry and unruly locks,
Perhaps the fact that he rarely appeared in the daylight,
And then squinting as he turned his head to the sky
In the manner of one who fully expected
That it would fall, Chicken-Little style
But in any case his lawn
Was strictly no-man's land,
And any wiffle ball or frisbee,
Regardless of how new it may be
Or the retribution attached to coming home without it,
Remained behind, mourned but forsaken
And at some point we moved beyond our unease,
Too old for such superstition,
Moving on to other totems, other portents
Though some years later I happened upon his obituary,
Laying out the signposts of an ordinary
Though vaguely underwhelming and melancholy life:
He'd worked on the third shift at the mill all his days,
Thus precluding much of the social commerce
With his fellow man, no Rotary or Odd Fellows rites
To be performed at his service
(Of which there was none, burial being private as well)
And the list of survivors was limited to one daughter
Wholly unknown to us, ostensibly taken elsewhere
By an unmentioned and unmourning mother.
The item, brief and unadorned as it was,
Brought me back to that fretful nine-year-old self,
Though imbued with a greater disquiet,
As I had a deeper knowledge of the finality
Of cold, agate type, among several other things.
Wk kortas Feb 10
He’d been away for any number of years,
Days cascading over the spillway of time
Into pools of weeks, oxbows of months,
And though the town was much as he remembered it
(Though a little more tattered and careworn:
Another broken windowpane here,
A wall in grave need of paint there,
One or two more storefronts gone to plywood)
The cemetery was all but labyrinth to him,
A corn maze of granite and narrow drives,
The plots having metastasized, the stones having spread
Like so much crownvetch overpowering the simple grass,
But he’d been able, after any number of false-starts,
Uncounted instances of double-backs and do-overs
To locate his father’s marker
(The man gone some forty years now,
Taken by…well, who knows what
His mother, stunned by the prospect
Of having to step into the dual role
As nurturer and breadwinner,
Too stunned to even think of requesting an autopsy.)
He’d come, ostensibly, to make his peace
(Whatever that hackneyed phrase entailed)
But he’d ended up, if not as mute as the stone he faced,
No more than a cow-country Caliban,
Haltingly sputtering bits and bobs of half-phrases
Concerning the implacability of accidents, the vagaries of chance
The coffin-lid limits on mere men and women.
He’d given up the ghost, finally,
And as the daylight slipped away on the bumpy old horizon
He’d simply brushed some dried bird guano from the gravestone,
Then picked the dead bits from the flowers
Doing their level best to hold on
In the urn he’d wrestled from his mother’s ancient station wagon
Two, perhaps  three, days ago
Before settling back into the car to try to divine the way
Back to the main road
(He’d found it in surprisingly short order,
And perhaps a quarter-mile or so down the road,
He’d come upon a small rabbit,
Frozen mid-lane by his headlights,
Finding himself in a world not of his making
Not knowing whether to flip or fly;
He’d missed it by mere chance, nothing more,
And he wondered if the poor thing
Would be so lucky with the cars behind him.)
Wk kortas Feb 8
The fifteen-seater bounced and bobbled on the landing strip
(The arrival delayed a touch, as the single runway
Required one more scrape by the snow plow)
Coming to a more-or-less steady stop
For the brief but brisk and uncovered walk
To the crackerjack-box terminal,
Then, after the requisite tears and hugs,
Tumbling into the back seat of the ancient family truckster,
Driving in the dark past those houses and convenience stores
You assumed were still there,
Those changes to the lay of the land
(Subtle to those still around, downright abrupt
To folks who’d cast their lot elsewhere)
A thing resigned to the light of day,
And after the catching-up small talk
Devolved into the realm of the awkward,
You’d ducked out to head for the Cow Palace,
(The entrance to the bar still festooned with the sign
You must be this tall to drink at the bar,
Probably in its third generation of half-kidding)
For the just-a-couple-but-several-times-over,
Catching up on the particulars
As to who’d hooked up,
Who was no longer a couple
The general goings on in their circle
(But something lost in the translation,
Certain names not coming to immediate mind,
Certain nuances which now escaped him)
And come closing time they’d settled up
Then piled into Cully Scott’s ancient Lincoln
Eight of them all told,
Drunk as lords and high as kites,
Beyond legal or spiritual redemption,
Somehow not barging through some guard rail
And straight into the Kinzua Creek,
Pulling up to his front door just shy of four A-M.
He’d navigated to his room,
Which was spinning more than just a touch,
And when Sunday morning came,
His parents were unable to rouse him
(They’d half-jokingly checked for a pulse)
So they buttoned, zippered and scarfed themselves
In a manner befitting a bright but brisk January morning,
One of those days which moved you to opine
That it looked lovely from the warmth of the couch,
And as his parents departed for a warmed-over sermon
(Preacher’s handiwork endlessly re-cycled, after all;
Likely all involved able to repeat it word-for-word)
He’d remained under mounds of covers,
(Fast asleep, though he’d later remember
Beingly vaguely cognizant of the bells
Calling the faithful to services)
Sleeping the sleep of those
Resigned to lesser, somewhat intermittent epiphanies.
Wk kortas Jan 26
(In memory of Glen Slater)

Ya stupid sonuvabitch, the place is deserted!
It’s gotta be a ******’ night game, ya ******’ mook
But though the parking lot had the forlorn look
Of a down-on-its luck strip mall on a weekday afternoon,
There was just the hint of activity and indeed a game,
A friends-and-family affair with the Cubs,
Losers if not particularly lovable,
So we departed the ancient Gremlin
(Ostensibly painted cab-yellow,
Though festooned with enough Bondo and duct tape
To make it difficult to tell
Where car began and slapdash repair ended)
Strolling toward the deserted ticket window
To drop the two-bucks per for upper deck seats,
Knowing that we would find amenable ushers
Willing to let us move down to the boxes
After it became fully apparent
There was no last-minute influx scrambling off the 7 train,
And we sat in the sun-drenched field level seats
(Though its warmth a relative thing,
The rays’ angle and the decidedly April wind
Requiring buttons to be snapped
And collars to be turned upward)
Viewing the spectacle of two clubs
Dutifully and somewhat optimistically
Performing the rites of Spring, each nine knowing
There would be no October heroics in their futures,
Their first-rate plays and foibles
Gathering our appreciation or scorn
Between gulps of over-priced watery beers,
And as we sat in this unlovely stadium,
Looking for all the world
Like some Bunyan-esque chipped ashtray
Plopped down on an unprepossessing landfill
(The hopes and wistful dreams of this children’s game
Perched uneasily atop ancient sardine tins and discarded rattles)
We agreed that we would do this again,
But it never came to pass, as life its ownself
Rolled on like the cap of John Pacella
(Invariably flying off his unruly mop
From the effort of launching yet another fastball
In the all-too-vain hope it would find itself
Somewhere in the vicinity of the strike zone)
Tumbling brim over crown in the swirl of the breeze.
Wk kortas Jan 19
She would never dream of arriving at a session
Looking like a first take--not like the bass player
With his shirt collar rising and rolling
Like some unplanted meadow on an Upstate hillside,
Or the trumpeter whose ancient corduroys
Have not seen a pressing in months if ever,
Or the sad young man at the mixing board
With the hair sticking out like wire brushes
Splayed for the softest swish possible.
She would never dream of appearing in any manner
Not fully together, the muted gold blouses
(Accentuated with a bright red scarf)
The tailored skirts of crimson or brown,
Hair freshly salon-coiffed, lipstick and makeup just so.
As she is not a performer as much as the stuff of legend,
And those hunched over traps and cymbals
Or bunched cheek-to-jowl with the acoustic tile
Are utterly bewitched by the sounds,
So familiar yet with all the life of twenty years earlier,
Yet the tape playback seems to file a dissenting opinion:
There is a certain frailty to the timbre,
The odd hitch and hesitation in the phrasing
(She does not betray much while listening,
One headphone pressed to a single ear,
Save for the odd fleeting furrow to the forehead)
But it is something that is paid little mind,
The quartet and singer plowing ahead
Until such time she gathers coat and purse
In a gesture which clearly states That is all for today
And she leaves the studio to walk the few blocks home,
Passing by some down-on-their-luck brownstones,
Their facades recently whitewashed in the vain hope
Of masking the irrevocable cracking in the walls,
The buckling of the edifice's foundation
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