Heart of Hearts: poem 7

My father’s heart fell victim to heredity… 
Here you will find the rest of poem 9 of the poetry marathon. 

Heart of Hearts
Posted on August 14, 2016 12:02am EST by pgerber

My father’s heart fell victim to heredity four years ago.

The surgeon placed a stent in his aortic valve to brace

the walls and keep the blood flowing.

I imagine the stent shaped like a bridge to strings,

like the one that bolsters the cello

in the corner of my room collecting dust.

But even before that, he couldn’t pass the physical

to join the Korean War–his heart murmured

something the doctors did not like.


My father’s father died of a heart attack, or

maybe complications of diabetes that betrayed his heart.

He was a musician and a piano tuner,

who sometimes imposed a cello lesson on me,

firmly pressing my fingers to the finger board

nearly 45 years ago on that corner resting cello.

All of his 8 sons played musical instruments.


The 21 year old I work with at the sweet shop,

whose name may be Rob or Mike or John,

is someone I would say has a heart of gold,

but for his laziness, though still an amiable sort.

He has a pair of friends, twin brothers, who

come to pick him up from work and take him home.

One told me that Rob-Mike-John had five heart attacks

when he was only a sophomore in high school.

His doctor said he was lucky to be alive.


My mother’s heart is strong, always has been.

Her mind and body are ravaged by demented

disease, forgetting to allow her to live, but her

heart beats resoundingly under her ribs, her doctor says.

And though the cuffs don’t hurt her any more,

too little flesh on her arms, her blood pressure rocks.

Sans word, thought or flesh, she is pure pulsing heart now.

The short-sweet life of a teenage carnie (Ten For Today)

I’ve never joined or worked for the circus. Can’t even remember going to one as a kid but must have as an adult with small children. I just don’t remember one. Maybe I’ve blocked it out. I know zoos are a drag. I get bummed seeing the animal prison cells, even the ones that try to look like “natural” habitats. I know–and the animals do too–that they are NOT free. It’s unnatural.
But I did work in a carnival on Long Island for a couple weeks when it was in town. I don’t recall where it was, some place for it to spread out over a good square half mile or so. I want to say at the Islip Speedway or maybe at the Farmer’s Market grounds, but those don’t seem to jog my memory. Yet I can see that carnival in my mind’s “movie” reels.
The booth panels were coarsely painted royal blue, where the tickets were sold and pay checks were picked up. The rest of it was a winding affair: serpentine rows of small squar-ish booths, tents, food stands and rides. I worked a game booth. The floors strewn with straw partially hid the dusty dirt floor beneath.
Actually, I worked a few games: the balls thrown at wobbly flat wooden clowns with painted white faces that only took three balls to knock down three clowns. They defied the laws of gravity and never seemed to fall all the way down. I also worked the ping pong ball toss in the ceramic cups that alchemically caused ceramic and lightweight plastic to create super bounce. And then there were water pistol shooters to knock down ducks or rabbits passing back and forth. Hardly anyone won, so I mostly collected quarters.
I remember smelling popcorn around me and on my clothes for two weeks solid. I was 13. I just learned to drink coffee, creamed blonde and sugared sweet. That summer, I also found a boy who liked me. I don’t remember his name though I’m sure it started with an R or an M. He was cute, brown short hair with a bit of curl in the tresses. He kissed me and put his arm around me a lot, claiming his own. I was thrilled to have attention paid me–my company desired.
He would visit me at the carnival. We’d get coffee on my breaks, and he’d walk me to and from the carnival. We’d go on rides sometimes after my shift, though for the life of me I must not have had much of a will to survive, having seen how those rides were assembled and by whom. No one looked to me as if they were long into their parole, even with my young, naive eyes.
And when the carnival started packing it up, I looked for the guy who asked me if I wanted to earn a few dollars manning the booths, to no avail. I checked the blue wood paneled booth with the door sign “administration” or something official like that, but I was told to come back. I did. Twice. And then I brought my mother, who I watched stomp up the two stairs to the booth window, her arms flailing in threatening gestures and her shoulders pulled back. I couldn’t hear the exchange, but she came back with cash.

Ah, the short, sweet life of a teenage carnie.

When Darkness Comes (Daylight): Poem 3

Daylight friezes trim heights,

Stony edifices still standing

Ancient decaying battles,

Fading listless gray above

Technicolor tile mosaics.

When darkness comes daylight

Photoshopped to his taste,

Scrumptiously thin-thin waifs

Adorn full fashion billboards,

Eye-catching corners round

Apartment ledge jumpers.

When darkness comes daylight

Poised for the leap, these

Downers decorate the city

Like gargoyle guardians,

Villains to pop protagonists

Puffing smokey smile rings.

When darkness comes daylight

When sirens slice vulnerable

Sleep like death opened out,

Who can hear the whispers,

Tunneled mice scampering,

Twisting babies suffocating?

When darkness comes daylight

In frozen wincing skies hidden

Behind baby blue blinds drawn

The day’s delusional dreaming,

But when the darkness comes 

Noble neon lights us illuminate:

When darkness seizes day’s night

A Man: Poem 2

A man seeks to keep his love
under an arm’s distance
a gun shot’s trajectory
invisible line
across an isolating barren sea–
as a man is wont to do
protect his own
by killing the barriers out there–
without opening, closed bloom.
And the man that would capture me so,
would eat me bleeding
as he shot the waves away,
reaching our limits only he sees out there,
across the divide,
but I see between us,
passing over like summer
between us—
not knowing we’re gone
til the sun set.


Acrophobia–poem 14

When FDR declared the nation had only fear to fear,

he never had a gun to his head,


never had a cobra hood opened at his bare legs


or strolled past the body of a jumper from a Manhattan 32 story high rise,


the thump of the fall nearly lifting my feet off the ground.
But it wasn’t then that acrophobia hit.

No, it was the carefree days of carnivals and Ferris wheels,

free from regulations and safety straps, not even for seats

that turned upside down with the slow-turning wheel.

I was five and my car mates were nine and ten, measurably

larger, taller than I so that the metal bar kept them in as

the wheel spun us upside down and then right side up,

me clutching with all my strength to keep myself inside.
Thanatophobia. I had never heard the word in my five years,

but I lived my way through it many times since, perched on a ledge
peering down thirty floors into a postage stamp courtyard,
pondering the weighty sum of a life’s body at its impact against the immovable.

Have a Nice Day: Poem 21

When I came to California, a gruff New Yorker,
well nigh 38 years plus change ago,
the first time I heard, “Have a nice day!” from
a super market clerk after I had purchased
a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter and milk,
I thought to myself, “What the actual fuck?!”
I had no idea what she was up to or what she meant.
And then I heard it everywhere, “Have a nice day,”
said the ice cream store clerk and the sandwich shop
cashier and even the gas station attendant.
I thought I had landed on some spooky, sticky planet
of gooey good cheer, totally fake and reflexive.
So now, much more accustomed to the saying,
as common as “Where should we go to eat? Or
“Did you finish your homework?”, I jokingly reply,
“Don’t tell me what to do! I have authority issues,” and
I wink, the closest I can come to a smiley faced emoticon.

At the Diner (Hour 23)

At the diner at 4 a.m.,
cheesecake and coffee
the brew so dusty sweet
and the cake real ricotta.
At the diner, we’d talk
after the bars close
and the beer wore off,
and eat French fries
or eggs and put dimes
in the table top juke box,
hear our favorite songs
like Free bird and
Sympathy for the Devil.
And we’d splay our
legs on long, red, vinyl
seats sometimes cracked,
our backs against booth
walls of plastic sheen.
At the diner, we’d hum
the songs we heard at the
bar we just left, our favorite
local bands playing, while
we drank Heineken and
smoked Camel cigarettes,
out back for a J or two.
But under the bright lights
of the diner til quarter to 7 or
later, we’d laugh sometimes
spitting our coffee or Pepsi
at some stupid shit one of us
said, and everything’s funny
when you haven’t slept all night.
At the diner, off the expressway,
the waitresses know us, and
bring us our eggs and toast
the way we like them, sunny
side up and easy tan and grape
jelly in the little plastic peel off
boxes, three or four of them.
And every Friday and Saturday
it was the same for us three,
Deb, Jackie and me, at the diner.

I believe in moons

“Martian moons are Phobos and Deimos,
the latter translated as Panic,” I told you then.
It was mid-way through our junior year–our glory days.
I would leave you that very next week for California.
The last time we drove around the lake in your jeep,
open air, breeze whipping the hair against our ears, you
replied: “I don’t believe in moons, stars or planets.”
I still don’t know what you mean.


My childhood household held food that never rests on my pantry shelves. My mother, who cooked or assembled three meals a day for five children and one husband, subscribed to the then food pyramid. Dinner always consisted of a meat, starch and vegetable. Ours was barely a blue collar wage earning home, straddling the middle class line, so my mother bought what was cheap and easy: whole fryer chicken, chuck steak, potatoes, Minute Rice, lamb chops, pork chops, Green Giant canned peas and carrots, corn, beets and green beans. Special meals around the holidays expanded into beef stew, stuffed cabbage and chicken soup. She ground liver, eggs and onions into chopped liver for Passover.

My father liked Devil Dogs, Yankee Doodles and Ring Dings with a tall cup of milk before heading out to work late afternoons, so there were plenty of those box cake snacks in the house, along with my mother’s favorites, Entenmann’s coffee cake or coffee cheese cake. We lived under the fragrant shadows of that cake-snack factory. Entenmann’s filled our stomachs and noses.

After I moved away from home, past the college days of living on graham crackers and cottage cheese or jars of peanut butter, I shied away from those foods. For one, I could not find snack cakes with the same names in California, nor could I afford the price and weight-gain of them. My first job in California landed me in a frozen yogurt shop, where I ate hot fudge yogurt sundaes most every day. I needed to lose a couple dozen pounds after six months there.

But on my own, I chose healthier foods, simpler foods, like veggies and high-fiber carbs. When in my twenties and already married, I started working out at the gym. My intake was largely sugar or fat free, ready-mades and packaged foods until I learned to cook ten years later when my oldest daughter sprouted teeth at 9 months. Then, meals were consciously and conscientiously planned for freshness of ingredients and taste suitable to both the gourmand adults and plebeian small children–not an easy feat.

Before children, my husband and I dined well, sampling Southern California’s finest cuisine and accompanying wine. We were working professionals without children for 16 years, so we honed our pallets here and abroad. We ate plateau de fruits de mer in bistros in Paris; stone-grilled caribou and buffalo in Banff, Canada, apres ski; pabellon criollo in Caracas, Venezuela; and street stand tacos mariscos in San Felipe, Mexico.  We ate haute wherever we went. 

After kids, we had to bring the haute cuisine home, so we hosted dinner parties. I subscribed to Bon Appetit, invested in cooking tools and amassed recipes. I learned to shop for and prepare rib roast and imported French oysters for Christmas dinner and portobello pot roast for Chanukah. I mastered the soufflé and creme brûlée. We served 9 course meals til 2 a.m. to guests lined along stunning tables of Reidel glassware and hand painted China with perfect wine pairings

But then life got busy. The children grew up and into unforgiving, unyielding soccer-school schedules that left us eating on the run, in the car and out the door. My husband and I were back to ready-makes from Trader Joe’s and “healthier” fast foods like chicken rice bowls from Wahoos or Waba Grill. Happily, I still get to cook Thanksgiving dinner every year for the entire 20 to 30 of our clan to keep my cooking skills primed.

And then there was that one year I tried to single-handedly polish off an entire Thanksgiving leftover ten-pound Honey Baked ham, 2006, I believe. So sick, I couldn’t even think about eating meat for weeks. I just never picked up the habit again. I’ve never really missed it, except for the occasional temptation, like the lamb we bought up in Humboldt at the farmer’s market that my niece barbecued or the smell of a burger sizzling in the fry pan.  

Unlike my childhood household, my family never talks about diets or obsesses about food or weight. We did give our daughters choices based on experimentation. Like the times they wanted to eat donuts before playing soccer just like their friends did–instead of the banana or Luna bar I’d give them. I let them. Then, after watching their sluggish performance, I’d ask them how it felt fueling on donuts before a game. That’s all it took.

My mother, who dieted constantly–lurching between binging on a bag of Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies and going to Weight Watchers–did not impose restrictions on our eating habits unless it was snacking before dinner, but her constant struggle and obsession with weight was modeled to us. Some of us took to conscious eating as a result.

My young daughters wanted to follow my lead and forego the meat, but I did not allow them to until they understood how to eat meatless. Now, both mostly adults, they each have their own versions of a regime suitable to their lifestyles. The older is learning to be a vegan gourmet, while the younger is enjoying the role of test taster. Me too.

Bar Tending Ambitions: Ten for Today

In my thirties, whenever I’d go to a party or otherwise meet new people, inevitably the subject of what I did for a living came up. So often when I revealed I was a lawyer, I’d end up hearing someone’s legal problems. Of course, I’d make the salutary joke: “Okay, I’ll listen (tapping at my imaginary wrist watch), but I’ll have to charge you.” Ha ha (sigh).
The dreaded question, “What do you do for a living?” became a drag, so I started answering, “I’m a bartender.” It came to me on the spot once, and then it stuck. Everyone who asked me what I did, I answered, “bartender.” Then the conversation moved on to something else. Rarely did anyone want to hear more, and I was fine with that.
I once had aspirations to be a bartender. I was 19 and working at a Mexican restaurant as a hostess, training to be a waitress. I was promised a shot at bar tending when I became of age and had enough experience waiting. Until I got “laid off.” My manager, a middle aged man (could have been 30 from my young perspective of what middle age was back then), and I butt heads on this one point. He hinted at first, but after I didn’t bite, then insisted that I wear make up; he thought I needed a less hippy, more sexy look as greeter and server, especially when I worked the bar.
Ten or more years later, one early morning when I found myself watching the sun rise outside the window of my 12th floor law office after pulling an all-nighter to meet deadline, I closed my gravelly eyes before heading home to change clothes. Heaven forbid I should be seen with the same suit from the day before. In the soothing warmth of closed lids bordering on seconds of sleep, I flashed on a flicker of fantasy: I’m giving up this hellish grind and going to bar tending school.
That thought–that I could always be what I pretended to be–gave me solace. Still does. When I grow up, I still want to be a fifty-something year old bartender. Is it too late?