Interlude in Trader Joe’s Parking Lot

A man playing a sax
sits on a makeshift stool
in Trader Joe’s parking lot,

scrounging for his three kids
his sad story splayed
on tattered cardboard,

his reedy notes
a brass confession
soulful, plaintive,

squandered in this shitty parking lot
with the bouquet of urine
drifting in from dark corners.

I’m pulled in by the music
like a rogue wave,
and he has no idea I’m drowning
in long-forgotten memories…

Two kids under the spell of young love,
slow dancing under swaying palms,
rum and cokes with paper umbrellas
a pony-tailed sax player spewing pure honey.

I’m still clutching my cart,
loaded with organic what-evers
lost in sweet reverie.

I give him a few dollars,
carefully placed in his open case.
He nods, I quietly clap
in this ersatz concert hall.

Don’t stop playing sax man,
take me with you
somewhere, anywhere,
to when the promise of our young lives
was still dancing in front of us.

The Cuervo Gold and Clorox Blues

It’s not a good sign when you’re
mesmerized by the Westminster dog show.
Got to get out of this place.
Yes, even a well-planned foray
to Safeway will suffice.
I know I shouldn’t go, but I can’t relinquish
this last vestige of my old life.

Grocery list clutched in my gloved hand,
mask in place, fogging my glasses,
cart wiped down.
I try to keep myself from weeping.
We are all actors in a bad dream,
that doesn’t go away in the morning.

Will we ever get back to before?
Oh, the little joys I took for granted,
like my grandsons sleeping over.
I’m frenetic, rushing through the aisles,
cowering behind my mask.
I don’t look anyone in the eye.

I score a big win, paper towels.
But do I really need four more cans
of tomato bisque soup?
The masked man in red sweatpants
joyfully unloads big bottles
of Cuervo Gold and Clorox on to the belt.
He makes me smile.

A July Afternoon at the Wharf

I remember envying the tourists,
carefree, riding the cable cars, delighting
in their crab cocktails and sourdough loaves,
but I was lucky too, winning-the-lottery lucky,
having just heard results of my PET scan,
after three days of not sleeping, barely eating,
delivered nonchalantly
by a young balding doctor in desert boots
who read me my fate off a scrap of paper he pulled from his white-coat pocket
as though he was a prescient fortune teller.
Blessedly my cancer had not spread further,
though I’d need chemo and radiation,
“the gold standard of treatment.”
He was on to his next patient,
before I could even hug him.
We couldn’t go home that July afternoon,
bubbling over with our newly minted hope
and headed for the Wharf.
The sun brighter, the sky bluer,
a scraggly street musician sang Motown on a keyboard. I stood boogying to Marvin Gaye.
Passersby were amused by the sixtyish woman dancing by herself, but I didn’t care.
When I sat down laughing,
my husband hugged me,
and we kissed on the green bench.

Just Beyond

I try to recall cousin Erica’s second husband
you know…what’s-his-name
or that actor from Breaking Bad

but names elude me
hover just beyond reach
wily fugitives
from my once impeccable memory

they hang in that murky space
I can no longer reach with alacrity

sit defiantly on the tip of my tongue
so bratty– they sneak home at three in the morning
when they wake me up
and give me the finger

I used to spout the prologue of Romeo and Juliet
answer the questions on Jeopardy before the buzzer

this aging thing– it’s a bitch
hey, this is me who danced to the Doors
I thought I would surely dodge that bullet

and I don’t get why bad memories linger
like the burnt smell after a fire
stuff you wish you could forget
why can’t those thoughts
retire for good to that place of hazy recall

ah…but it’s the faded snapshots I treasure the most
sweet images of good times
ebbing and flowing like gentle currents
gathering on the banks of my mind—

I will fight against this aging thing
but I fear the battle is just getting started.

Mr. Avocado Man

An older man in khakis and a Giants cap sits on a bench
in late afternoon sun
outside Whole Foods on Telegraph Avenue
meticulously stacking
slices of whole wheat bread
then placing one on a napkin

he cuts and positions slivers with his plastic knife
from a luscious avocado
perfectly split, pit left in
setting the pieces like a precious mosaic
then scooping the sandwich with the napkin
pressing the two halves together

over and over he does this
absorbed and content with his handiwork
on his whole wheat canvas
then swallows each in a few voracious bites
taking up the next slice
to begin his avocado dance again

I am mesmerized, envious
picking at my tuna on a hard French roll
having just come from the hospital up the street
refusing to eat in their cafeteria
though there’s nothing really wrong with the food
except for me wanting out of the building

my newly-discovered lump gnaws
an unwelcome foreign invader  
how did it worm its way
into my soft and sexy right breast
I throw away my half eaten sandwich

closing my eyes as tears pool
sweet memories tingle of fevered nighttime groping
and morning caresses under tangled sheets
I cling to my husband of forty three years

Tell me Mr. Avocado Man
do you come here every day
with your stack of bread and perfect avocado
show me how you make your sandwiches
help me to forget today
and what I must face tomorrow

The Two Week Vacation

Never ready, when the father wants to hit the road, 
they’re not speaking, when he pulls out
into San Francisco fog, thick as a blanket.
At the toll booth, the kids skirmish
over who gets to hand the man the quarter.
The girl, twelve, frizzy haired, gangly and awkward
is yet to ripen and hates everything about herself.
The boy, sitting shotgun, ten, short and freckled—
whispers he hates his sister’s guts.
She hisses he’s stupid
and kicks his seat with her Keds.

The mother grimaces; her headache is starting up.
The boy fiddles with the radio;
the father yells, turn it down for crying out loud.
Johnny Mathis comes on, the father sings
to Chances Are, catches his wife’s eye
through the rear view mirror and winks.
She ignores him.
The kids make loud farting noises.
When they reach Sonoma,
blessed sun breaks through the fog shroud.
The mother smiles.
The father exhales.

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