Poem Published in Slippery Elm


Letter to Harper from the Edge of Sixty

Dear Stephanie: Some distances, some lives, can’t be quantified.
Knowing that two-thousand miles separates us offers slim
hope for a quick cup of java at a local cafe, but the gape-mawed
dragons lurking below those map edges are at least discernable,
and their fires have no doubt been doused by the confused oceans
corkscrewing over the rim; I detect steam, but no smoke.
The ruler measures in inches, never minutes, and certainly not in
emotion. Saying I miss you is easy and true, but how do those
words evoke the rocks under the surface? I turn sixty in six
days, and what I wouldn’t give to crumple some of those ancient,
wasted hours and toss them into the burn pile, to watch them rise,
transformed into winged smiles and realized dreams of what never
happened to both of us. We could hold hands and observe the odd
little phoenixes fluttering into the past, where they’d patch damages,
circumvent losses and scour clean those close corners in the lost
rooms where memories go to die. I miss you is shorthand for
the atmosphere is too transparent to conceal my longing, and naps
are a poor substitute for the real thing
. How do we hide what
is evident even to those who don’t know us? I admit failures and
improprieties, and, facing, open-mouthed, what I desire most, hope
to mitigate misbehaving parts and even some misunderstandings.
I am both the man I thought I was and one whose scars remind me
of someone I might have become, if only. The magic eight ball
spins out signs point to yes, no matter the question, so I’ve mastered
the art of cautious phrasing and willful optimism. Two nights ago
we lost ourselves in a dream in Nowhere, Texas, which seems
apt and is hardly a metaphor if past experience indicates anything.
Even GPS couldn’t help us, but frankly I don’t want guidance.
Being lost with you beats the hell out of any other reality, and might
offer us more time together, and I’m already teetering on the losing
side of that equation. I love being your old man, and want nothing
more than to be just that, at noon, on that rickety bench in Nowhere’s
square, guitar in hand, crooning “Wild Thing” and swigging cognac
while ignoring the perplexed onlookers awaiting their court dates.
I’m contemplating these colliding strands of time and cartography,
wishing for a past that never was to ease the burden of this
present. And there’s the future, which bends to no one’s whim and
seems fraught with scaled fire-breathers and sharp-toothed crags.
But we knew that going in, and stepped forward because there is
no other direction. More brave than stupid, ya think? You are
my true north, my everywhen, my night smile and contented belly.
Let’s keep sculpting our day, a piece at a time, chipped here, rounded
there. It’s taking shape, Babe. Love, Bob.



“Letter to Harper from the Edge of Sixty” was a finalist for Slippery Elm’s 2020 Poetry Prize, and was recently published in the 2020 issue, alongside “Answer” by Stephanie L. Harper, also a finalist. Many thanks to the Slippery Elm Literary Journal’s editorial team, and especially EIC Dave Essinger, whose professionalism and personal kindness place SELJ at the top of the ladder in the world of literary journals. If you have a chance, take a look at SLEJ‘s offerings – they’re a print journal – or consider entering their Deanna Tulley Multimedia Prize, now open for submissions.


Letter to Schnee from the Stent’s Void


Letter to Schnee from the Stent’s Void

Dear Dan: I’ve been trying to revive that dream,
the one in which the rare Texas bird sings “cuckoo, y’all,”
before shimmering through the night’s shrilling heart
and wakefulness, as you clamber up the balcony to join me
in knocking back Japanese single malt, chilled soba and Doritos.
The distance between earth and a first floor balcony may vary,
but the fall’s impact can’t ache so much as what never was or won’t
be. My mother’s family hovers out there in the World of Darkness,
while I stumble through my days under the Texas sun, rice grains
trickling from holes in my pockets, studding the way between
there and here, back and forth, between us and them, now and
maybe. I confess that communication doesn’t come naturally
to me. I’m reticent and slow on the uptake, and enjoy my time
as a shaded diminishment with only occasional forays
into the light. So much to learn, so little capacity. I could spend
hours watching the spider working among the unread books,
while my mandolin languishes in its case and the earth
keeps spinning, spinning, holding us in place. What tunes
have I forgotten, which remain unsung? The wire mesh tube
in my heart cleared the way from a numbered life, and now
I roll along in words, which bear their own bags of worry.
But I’ve learned to empty and stack the burlap on the floor near
the resonator, and the sacks magically replenish themselves
every night. So it goes. Empty, refill. Like a glass of Hibiki,
or blood pumped through our anterior descending veins.
Tonight rice and peppers will fill my belly, with fish, a mango
cream sauce, and a bitter ale, which I would share with you,
perhaps in another dream, or better yet, in person, under
stars announced by mythical birds on a warm night with
laughter in the breeze. No ladder needed. Come on up. Bob.


“Letter to Schnee from the Stent’s Void” was first published in Lost River in August 2018. Many thanks to editor Leigh Cheak for publishing this piece.