The Babalus

Musical instruments wail as the truck rolls
under the train trestle. We exercise the echo—
I bang my buffalo drum, Joe slams his congas,

Sandy shakes her tambourines, the kid
in front pounds his vibes, the guy in the back
goes full throttle on his drum kit.

Sunlight flares as the truck turns right. Crowds
on both sides of the street wave as we restart
whatever rhythm we were playing.

Every July 4th in Ridgewood, Joe hires out a flatbed
truck usually used to ship construction lumber.
Signs remembering Joe and Sandy’s friends

who passed in the prior year surround a frayed
banner with the name of our group— The Babalus.
We tie down our instruments and chairs and hope

to be the last float in the parade. Some years
they put us between a screaming fire engine
and a shrill ambulance, but other years are better.

When it rains hard, I cover my doumbek and djembe
in black garbage bags, water spraying on every beat.
Near the end of the parade route, we stop in front

of the Elk’s Club where Joe and Sandy’s friends
watch the procession and we play for a minute or two.
After the bows, we drive past the town’s reviewing

stand as the announcer reports how many
parades the Babalus have performed in.
We never won best of anything, our annual

get-together with no uniform, little rehearsal,
and an uncertain roster, but soaked or sunburned,
for all of us, drumming is breathing.

Boil Until Tasteless

Lettuce was always Iceberg. Cookbooks told our parents that the hearts were the best part. They were bitter.

Cheese came in two varieties, yellow and white, pre-sliced and wrapped in clear plastic.

Bread was almost always white; seeded rye was used for special occasions. Whole wheat was cutting edge.

Milk had two teaspoons of strawberry or chocolate powder stirred in to make it drinkable.

Cereal had more sugar than cookies.

Chinese food was salty and spiceless Cantonese. We never made it to that Szechuan place in midtown.

Ice cream had three flavors – vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. Then butter pecan was invented.

Vanilla ice cream, dumped into Coca-Cola, fizzed and erupted brown foam.

Soda and seltzer in thick glass bottles were delivered by some guy in a uniform. Dad put the empties outside a week later.

Seltzer had big and fast bubbles.

Sandwich fish was tuna fish. Salmon and sardines came much later.

Tuna fish and egg salad were made with large globs of mayonnaise. The result was flavored mayo. Sometimes diced onion was added for texture.

Borscht had sour cream, sliced egg, and boiled potatoes. Instead of borscht, really old people ate schav, which was green and had a sour odor.

TV dinners were fried chicken in aluminum trays. The apple cobbler never cooked right.

We survived.

— Published in The Rutherford Red Wheelbarrow #9 (2016)

Video of “There is Life to Do”

Here is a video of my monologue “There is Life to Do”, performed on June 4th, 2016 by Sam Perry (as the bartender). Tracy McQuillan plays the bar patron. The Strand Project is a collaboration between Lit Youngstown and Selah Dessert Theatre.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6C1v2PwPig&feature=youtu.be&t=4683

There Is Life To Do scene

Wayne L Miller and Sam Perry

Repast

orange juice yellow beets brown bread
once more she sets the table

arranging dishes
placing napkins

forks spoons knives
centering chairs by placemats

then placemats by chairs
tureen vegetable soup steam

cold salads covered
no grapefruit spoons or fish forks

yet again
she checks the simmering roast

reverently adjusting burners
almost hot enough

to start with
blue corn chips green salsa black olives

inviting me she
touches my shoulder

— Published in The Rutherford Red Wheelbarrow #8 (2015)

Corporate Theatre

An act performed with stock props—
common avarice, preferred prayer,
garaged convertibles, arrest warrants.

Setting: a dimly-lit office—
boxed files, encrypted evidence,
accrued interest, hollowed equity.

Enter the four players—
Founder. Investor.
Manager.  Employee.

A shroud falls after the first scene of
hushed negotiations, rash decisions,
turnaround specialists, legal execution.

Time of death? Written on a form filed by men of habit,
a notice sent to the local business rag,
a remark whispered in a pub— the company foundered.

The as-yet uncontaminated engrave an epitaph on the vault door—
Available, after the lawyers scrub out the stink of failure.
Of the stricken within— a rotting corp, with hands folded.

Recyclable employees claw into vertical positions,
managers supplicate quotations for furniture and fixtures,
founders stiffen attitudes, bury emails, spawn excuses.

Office equipment is consigned to a resting place—
disposal men grasp them by their attached cables
and file out, precisely positioning each into a black van.

Responsibility? Blame this! Blame that! Sue the consultant!
When driving by a seven car pileup, the officers direct:
move along, there are no lessons to be learned here.

Missed opportunities and fumbled execution
play no role because— well, just because.

Let’s raise money for our next brilliant idea.

— Published in The Rutherford Red Wheelbarrow #8 (2015)

Somewhere Else

I pick up a stick and dig a hole.
If I stand the stick straight up,

where on Earth does the bottom point to?
Google labels my fidget map tunneling.

An app calculates that I’m pointing
into the Indian Ocean, not far from Perth.

I learn that Tangier is opposite Christ Church,
and Hawaii is opposite a park in Botswana.

I swivel the stick, crossing cities and towns,
beaming Hey, I’m here, on the other side.

When my hand stills— where am I pointing?
What is the latest news? Who sings the popular songs?

Tracing a precise ellipse would sweep the equator,
but the app doesn’t have that feature.

Which circle’s diameter would intersect where the planet’s
mantle rests on the iron core, or the crust on soft mantle?

I think about pointing into the 32 Southern constellations,
starting with the Southern Ecliptic Pole in Dorado.

————————————————————
This poem was published as the
Red Wheelbarrow Poem of the Week
for August 12th, 2015. It was inspired by
some downtime at the NYC Poetry Festival
on Governors Island.