Gifts Of Christmas


1.

A gift,
For me?
Oh you shouldn’t have!

Is it really a selfless expression of your affection?
A gesture of love?
Or an obligation?

Is it genuine?

Does your gift reflect who you think I am?
Who you think I should be?
Perhaps it’s more about who you are,
Who you want me to think you are.

Is it an object of serious intention?
Designed to awaken?
To arouse?
To cause a reaction?
Or is it just for fun,
A playful reminder of the inner child?

Am I taking this too seriously?
Giving too much thought
To what is impersonal?
Is it merely generic?
A gift that says:
We are not close.

Did you wrap it yourself?
With your best paper?
Or was it the tail end of your least favorite roll,
Reserved for those who do not matter?

Have you actually touched this present,
Or did someone else purchase and wrap it for you?
Did it come by mail from a warehouse?


2.

Will those I love most
Disappoint me with thoughtlessness,
Or will I bask in the warmth of their intentions,
However artfully or clumsily conveyed?

Will my more slow-witted relatives
Prove true to my expectations?
Will the superior intelligence of others
Be clearly demonstrated
And make me feel stupid
For the lack of imagination my gifts reveal?

Will the ego of the gift-giver
Overshadow the generosity of the gift?
Or will the giver’s inferiority complex be manifest,
So sadly displayed by the soullessness of what is given?

Will the gift be of use, of value,
Or merely a cheap trifle soon discarded,
Donated to the local thrift shop?

Perhaps the most important gift of all will be absent,
The gift from the one I love most.

Or perhaps after all the wrapping is cleared away,
When the communal ceremony has ceased
And the gift-givers dispersed,
I will steal away to some private place
And press my lips to the gift I treasure above all,
It’s meaning so fervently constructed,
Without form.



~ Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

Working World


A little bird flew down
From her nest
Into the old car.

Joseph terribly sad sleeping
In the midday sun,
While the work of the world
Went on all around.

Even the little bird,
Pecking sandwich crumbs
From the dashboard of the open convertible,
Doing little bird work.


~ Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

The Work Of No Work


How this busy world conspires
Against the simple act
Of sitting quietly in a chair
With pen and paper in hand,
Writing down a thought or two,
Or not writing at all,
Doing the work of no work
All poets must do.


~ Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

Trash Day


I hear the truck lumbering down my street,
Creeping around the cul-de-sac,
Transmission torquing,
Short bursts of brakes screeching.

The side loader clamps and lifts
And shakes empty the black containers,
Metal clanging,
Hydraulics hissing,
The packer compacting trash in the hopper.

The diesel engine groans toward my house
And I run outside.

I invite the garbage man in for coffee and coffee cake
And we talk about his family:
Aging parents from Slovakia
Who still call themselves Czechoslovakians.
“It is from where we were born!”
A tattooed son who will not go to college,
A daughter still young enough to play with dolls
But pretty enough to cause him worry,
A wife who works at the hospital.
“No more night shifts!”

Driving the big truck
“Is a good job now.”
Sitting sky high in the cab.
No more lifting like the old days.

He goes to church each Sunday.
The stained-glass windows are midnight blue and apple red
And fill the air with color.

I offer to warm up his coffee
While my next-door neighbor looks out his window,
Wonders what in the hell is going on.


~ Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

Suburban Twilight


Suburban twilight,
Punctuated by porch lights
Welcoming weary workers home.

“Hello darling,”
She says,
“I missed you,”
Her bare shoulders
Framed by the thin straps,
Too loose,
Of her tiny, translucent dress.

This never happened to me.

A bunch of soccer ball boys,
Too young to go on a date,
Stand together in a jagged circle
On a grass-dirt field
While their parents lie to each other
About nothing in particular,
Waiting for the game to begin.

Back on the boulevard
Commuters swim upstream,
Fighting their way back
To the suburban spawning grounds
For a few hours of fun
Before it all shuts down in sleep,
And regret.


~ Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

Time


There was a day
When the balance between young and old
Shifted,
And what was strong
Began to weaken.

The day passed without notice
Until many years later
When I realized what happened.

Now,
All my ambitions,
All my aspirations,
Reduced to this single phrase:
“While there is still time.”


~ Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

Maria Something


She doesn’t know why her car stopped.
I don’t know why it ran,
A thing many times discarded,
Salvaged only by her desperate situation.

From Mexico she comes,
This young, sculptured woman,
To work the rag trade
In secret, sweaty buildings
Where all generations labor
Behind rows of blunt, brutish machines.

I cannot help her,
Knowing little about cars,
Less about miracles.
I lend her my phone.

“Gracias,” she says, smiling so sincerely.
Her eyes are black stars in a white-hot sky.

A breeze riffles her pleated white skirt
With hot and dusty Sunday afternoon air,
Revealing her long, leather-brown legs.

She is calling her cousin,
Waiting for him to answer,
Leaning against the warm metal skin of my car,
Pressing her carved, callused fingers
Against her feverish forehead,
Pulling her burnished brown hair away from her moist neck.

She waits for him to answer.
I wait for him not to answer.

I want to be with her
In some flickering candlelit room,
Her lips brushing against my ear as she whispers.

I want to touch the source
Of this inviolable beauty.
I want to know how she can smile
So killingly sweet,
Knowing what America would do
With such a life.


~ Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

The Upper Crust


His finely manicured fingernails,
So clean.
He never earned money with those hands,
This denizen of the upper crust,
So certain that poverty is the fault of the impoverished,
A moral judgment upon those unworthy of wealth,
While he takes credit for the accident of his birth.


~ Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

Car Wash


It’s a slow morning at the car wash
And the Mexicans are relaxed,
Making each other laugh,
Whistling,
Free from the manic afternoon rush to come.

One of them walks by,
Spinning a towel on a single finger,
Smiling at me with missing teeth,
Looking like a man who feels lucky,
Lucky to have this job in sunny Southern California.

Now he is drying my car with a towel in each hand,
Bending and stretching,
Familiar with all the secret places where water hides.
He jams his body upside down
Into an impossible back-seat angle
To wash the inside rear window.

A car horn honks and a woman sitting near me startles,
Finishes whatever she was doing with her cell phone
And walks to her car,
Walks around her car,
Inspecting,
Pointing at small spots only she can see
While the obliging car wash worker looks on,
Generously wiping his cloth where her finger points,
Smiling patiently.
She gives him her receipt and a dollar,
Not quite satisfied,
Not expecting to be quite satisfied.

The man working on my car finishes
And twirls a towel high above his head,
Like a pizza chef.
He is a virtuoso towel twirler,
A talented man who asks very little from life,
Who expects less.


~ Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

So Busy


My love is talking on the phone,
So busy,
Too busy to hear love’s examination of the heart,
So much to do.

Of course you love me,
Quote unquote,
Make love,
Quote unquote.

So much to do,
So busy,
Who am I?
Who are you?


~ Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

Leaving For Work


Leaving for work I see my little cat
Streaked in morning light,
White, orange and yellow,
Sitting still with paws folded
On back of an easy chair
Watching circling sea gulls
Flown inland from the storm
As what’s left of the rain
Drips curiously from the eaves.
A slight amusement.

The street scrubbed slick and clean
Refracts radiant points of light,
Myriad tiny suns
Spread across thin wet skin on black asphalt bone,
Black as bare tree trunks
Against cloud-white sky.

Most of the workers are gone from these streets,
I am late,
Most are gone
Yet I cannot help but linger
To taste this forbidden time,
Forbidden to me,
This absence of time.

On my way once more
The chilled air snaps
Little leaves falling as branches blow
The song of some little bird
In some neighboring tree
Singing quietly,
Calling me.

The sound of a passing car also calls.
It calls me as I stand
Transfixed by birdsong,
Beckoned by the world,
Called by my ambitions
And by no ambition at all.

There is so much to see here,
So much not to do,
For the mountains in this valley
Are streaked with virgin snow
Among silent solitary clouds
Frayed and twisted by wind.


~ Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

Really


You do not have to want
What the world wants,
Or be what the world wants you to be.

You can be happy without a fortune,
Content without fame.

Really.

You do not have to seek
What the world seeks,
Or give up what the world gives up.

You can be the first of a kind
And the last,
And never mind.

Really.


~ Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

The Poet And The Ink


Did you ever stop and smell
The stink of ink
From your fountain pen
And think:
When, oh when
Will I write again?

Or did you dwell
On the smell
And think:
What the hell,
I’ll have a drink.


~ Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

Plotless


Someone is telling my story,
Moving my life from chapter to chapter,
But my storyteller is raw and unskilled.
He labors on and on,
Weaving the most complex and intricate details
Through the most uneventful scenes.

You will wake up early this morning
And drive to work in heavy traffic.
Yes, you will drive to work every day,
Except for the weekends.

Many of us are displeased with our storytellers.
Will our plots ever take some meaningful shape?
I wonder.
These lives are poor fiction.

He wakes up early and takes a cold shower,
Trying to shake off the fatigue
From working late every day this week
In his colorless fluorescent cubicle.
He reties his tie for the third time,
Finds his car keys,
Grabs his half-empty cup of coffee
And begins the long, difficult drive to work.
He listens to the news
And thinks about the many phone calls he must make
When he gets to the office.

It’s a puzzle to me
Why we put up with this at all.


~ Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

Morning Calculation


The difference between six
And nine
Equals the difference between rise
And shine.


~ Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

The Revered Old Man Of Letters


More than a celebrity,
He was like a father,
Teaching me things my father never conceived,
Illuminating the past,
Foretelling and forewarning,
Opening my eyes to the moment that is a human life.

He became a celebrity,
Interviewed frequently,
Newspapers, magazines, television,
Events and awards,
Honorary degrees.

He lost the freedom of anonymity
And no longer spent entire days in random thought,
Not much time for self-reflection,
Not much inclination for self-criticism
Now that so many were so admiring.
He had arrived,
And no one near him would dare criticize.

He spent his days repeating,
Reflecting on what he’d already written,
Preparing speeches and presentations,
Anticipating interview questions.

Writing became an afterthought,
Squeezed into shrinking moments of time,
Resting on tried and true templates,
Formulaic.

He was still a brilliant man
But now a singer who sang his hit songs
Over and over again,
Compliant with popular demand,
And so his brilliance was etched in stone
And his new writing was old,
Repetitive,
Tired and imitative
Of who he had been
When he was not yet bound by the chains of adulation.

Years passed and he became an icon,
Reduced to a pop culture concept,
A reliable source for reporters on deadline
Who needed a celebrity quote,
For talk-show bookers
Desperate for a last-minute guest.

In his emeritus years he proclaimed the future had soured,
The younger generations such a disappointment,
Hypnotized by technology.

“All I need is a pad of paper and a pencil,”
He declared,
Drawing the boundaries of meaning around his generation,
His past,
His youth,
A time when he had embraced the emerging unknown
And put his rapture into words,
When he was still young enough to imagine
Without fear of literary obligations,
Before he became the revered old man of letters.


~ Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

Not Hats


The teacups of time are filling,
Spilling,
While we mad hatters make haste,
Not hats.


~ Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

Money Train


Every mornin’
Climb on board,
You climb on board
That money train.

You be rich
Or you be poor
But you climb on board
That money train.

Hear that whistle,
Hear it blow,
Train’s a’ comin’,
You gotta go.

You be rich
Or you be poor
But you climb on board
And they shut the door.


~ Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved




Twenty Dollars















I wanted to ask her to marry me, but I needed twenty dollars, bad. So I asked her for the twenty, figuring I’d see how that went, then maybe I’d ask her to marry me, later, after I’d paid her back.
“You don’t have twenty dollars?” she opined inquisitively.
“Well, not on me,” I rejoined affirmatively.
I began to think this exchange did not bode well for my chances of matrimony. At least not with her, the exotic gothic office receptionist with an Iron Cross tattooed on her left shoulder.
I needed the Andy Jackson because I had to eat some barbecued ribs for lunch, and the twenty would cover it. Normally, I bring my lunch to the office in a brown paper bag, and, actually, I had brought my lunch. But every once in a while the hunger for meat on a bone overwhelms my senses.
Were this an earlier age and were I your run-of-the-mill Cro-Magnon, then I would have taken my Magnon minions on a hunt and laid low a big beefy bison or perhaps a wily warthog or two. It’s a guy thing.
“What do you need twenty dollars for?” she Spanish inquisitioned.
“Meat.”
“Ha! Right!” she obtused, laughing mockingly as she pretended to answer the phone suddenly.
“Well, if you can’t spare the twenty, how about marrying me?” I said to her mentally.
Perhaps it was all for the best. Perhaps she would not make the ideal mate. Perhaps I was moving a little too fast, considering this was her first day on the job. But it’s like my great-great grandfather used to tell my great-grandfather, who passed this ancient wisdom on to my grandfather, who, in turn, passed it on to me, over and over again: “Take your aim and stake your claim.”
Then I remembered the killer asteroid. In a movie I’d watched the night before, this killer asteroid came careening into Earth and made a terrible mess, dooming nearly everyone except those who were unusually photogenic.
There is no killer asteroid, I appreciated spontaneously. Not yet. No killer asteroid. No end of the world. Just day after day of waking up and slicing hair off my face with sharpened steel and scraping away dead skin cells with a lathered loofah. Yes, everything is OK, even when it’s boring.
I looked down upon my small self and laughed. My petty concerns. Ha! Ha! Ha! How petty. How very petty. This momentary illumination subsided and I refocused on the immediate task at hand: trying to satisfy my most animalistic, procreational desires, i.e., meat and sex.
Near the end of the working day I returned to the desk of the new receptionist and asked her if she’d like to go out to dinner.
“You’re kidding,” she ridiculed.
“Not at all. I think I love you,” I extravaganzized. “At least I am interested enough in you to eat food in your company.”
“I thought you needed twenty dollars,” she rationalized perplexingly. “I thought you were broke.”
“I just remembered,” I announced in an orgasmic burst of self-realization. “I have a credit card.”
Later, after dinner, we went to her apartment and made love for two hours while she insulted me. It was great.


~ Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

Measure And Weigh


We are a people
Who measure and weigh,
Measure and weigh,
While the moment itself
Slips away.


~ Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved