School of Hard Knocks

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School of Hard Knocks

I can insert key to lock,
peel an orange,
squeeze foot to socks—

but

I didn’t earn a 
Harvard Law degree,
or Stanford PhD—

I’m not a Rhodes scholar, 
or Oxford Fellow—

Cal Tech Engineer,
or win Summa Cum Laude.

 Lacking even a house cat’s
 portion of common sense,

I’ve had the common professors,

Mr. Mistake 
and Ms. Miscalculation,

suffered the lessons learned,
passed the potholes by

and taken my honors with pride
in life's hard knocks. 

. . . j

Latin As A Second Language

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Latin As A Second Language

“Do you understand Latin?” Mr. Horace, the principal, asked.
Standing my ground, I admitted to terra firma. 
After all, I was in the midst of seventh grade Latin. 
At twelve years of age, I was quite small then.

The spilled marbles cascading about had tripped me up. 
Needle and thread. 
I must remember me to patch the hole in my jacket pocket. 
Crucial details. 

“Do you know what innuendo means?” Horace continued. 
He’d closed the door to his office.
“Vaguely,” I replied. "Insinuating wickedness about a classmate?"
"Close enough,” he said, torching up a cigar.

When Ms. Strangle heard the marbles roll, 
every girl in the class swiveled and stared at me.

 How about ipso facto?” he asked.
“Never heard of it,” I admitted, silently cursing my ignorance. 
“I may have been down with malaria that day.”
I gave him a moment, then added, “Or something much worse.”

“The enemy of one’s enemy, ipso facto, is a friend,” Mr. Horace recited. 
“Ms. Strangle accuses you. Ray Cole vouches for you.”
“Ipso facto,” I said. 
“Bully for him,” I muttered.

When the marbles rolled, Ray, stood and pointed 
at Lucky Lucy Rabbitz, a known felon.  
Lucky Lucy sat two desks behind me. 
She had done hard time somewhere in Tukwila. 
She sharpened her pencils as if honing butcher knives.
The hair on my neck stood on end whenever she came near.

“Are you at all familiar with locus delicti?” Horace asked. 
“Of course,” I replied. 
“The scene of a crime. But no crime was committed.”
“I’ll be the judge of that,” he said, blowing cigar smoke in my face.

Mom smoked cigars of course, 
but I got carsick when she did, so I never took it up. 

I felt the familiar gagging deep in my throat.
The air was so thick I could barely make out Mr. Horace’s face.                        
I fumbled through my Latin note cards. 
“Nauseous here,” I said.  

“Not my problem,” he replied airily.
“Do you play marbles during recess?’ he asked, 
his voice piercing the thick cloud.
“Interdum,” I said. “When the mood strikes.”

“Did the mood strike this morning?” he asked. 
He moved the cigar’s glowing tip close to my face.
“No. I played tetherball with my colleagues to relieve the stress 
brought on by studying Latin 
under the clumsy guidance of Ms. Strangle.”  

“Odd,” he said. “She thinks otherwise.”

“She has been misinformed,” I said. 
“An obvious instance of ad absurdum by a consortium of tattlers.” 

I added a footnote. “Let’s face it, some people are not cut out 
to teach seventh grade.”
I paused for effect. “But she might make 
a jim dandy cafeteria supervisor.” 

Mr. Horace giggled. 
“I was thinking the exact same thing,” he said, 
stubbing out the cigar on his desktop. 
“Off with you now, kid. Stay out of trouble. Do no harm. 
Go to law school. 

You’ve a knack for cover-up.  
Et cetera.” 

. . . j
from the Childhood Remedy and Other Such collection

You’ve Been A Fun Crowd

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You've Been A Fun Crowd

Should i but read

my poetry

to neglected fields
and
sagging fence posts

i

might be assured

of

a polite and
attentive
audience

with soft murmurings
of approval

and spare grumbles 

of

complaint.

. . . j
from the Childhood Remedy and Other Such collection

In the Beginning

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In the Beginning

Before a piece of writing
is published,

it is raw rhubarb,
sour to the senses. 

Granted, editing
is much easier now

than during the
quill and inkwell days

when supplies were dear
and research
meant visiting a library.

But editing is still
more the chore than treat.

There will always be a better 
word to be found,

a more precise 
image to be described,

and sweeter 
sound of rhyme.

I suppose 
God 
wishes
our

useless appendix
was so easily remedied.

But then, that work 
took 
a mere seven days.


. . . j
from the Wonderments and Such collection

My Destiny

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My Destiny

The hall seethed.
Movement.
Noise.
Teenagers herded
between classes.

He stepped in front of me,
an adult out of place,
white shirt and tie.

Like me, he had two eyes,
but one,
rigid,
stared sightless
over my shoulder.

His good eye,
working for two,
eyed mine.

He minced no words.
“I hear you can write.”

He might as well
have accused
me of breathing.

We all had been taught
The ancient symbols of
the alphabet—

the letters,
their shape,
their sounds,
the possible combinations.

We’d learned together—

See Jane run.
See Spot jump.
See Bob climb.

Eleven years had passed
in the turning of a page—

one to go— 

Nouns. Verbs. Adjectives. 
Sentences. Paragraphs.

We all could write.

I’d told no one
I treasured the books.

Only Mother knew.

She’d confiscated
the flashlight
more than once.

“My name is O’Sammon,” he said.
“I teach journalism.
I’d like you to sign up.
I think you’ll be good at it.”

He’d singled me out of the herd.

Someone had ratted me out.

I did.
I was.

A one-eyed teacher made all the difference.

. . . j
from the Childhood Remedy and Other Such collection

Farmer’s Market

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Farmer's Market

Little baby bunting
Mother's gone a hunting
for broccoli
and garlic
and onions
and wine
and cheese
and bread
and eggplant
and ground beef
and pasta
and evoo.

Evoo, Mama?

Pay attention, Child.
Extra virgin olive oil.

. . . j
from the Wonderments and Such collection

Unanswered Prayer

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Unanswered Prayer

When I was a boy Mother insisted I attend Sunday School and Church 
each Sunday, though she never once stepped through the door. 

I occupied a pew beside my sisters, and thought about baseball, rocks, 
golf, fishing, and just about anything else but our Lord and Savior. 

One fine morn there was a special feature—a woman came from afar 
to play glorious music on her harp for all to hear. 

Wait a minute, i thought. Harp is a light Irish beer, and I'd much rather 
have a cold glass of it right now than her and that danged harp.

. . . j
from the Wonderments and Such collection

A Royal Flush

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A Royal Flush

Even when hidden, 
a pheasant is 

never

a peasant; 

rather, 

in color and plumage, 

he is always a royal,

regal and ready
to fly his throne

when betrayed, 

and the whirr 
of his flight 
will both 

startle 

and delight.

. . . j
from the Wonderments and Such collection

Red

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Red

Hummingbirds and men

are haunted by an irresistible attraction 
to the color 

Red,

but 

Women

have an uncanny,
almost instinctive,

ability

to sort out 

the two.

. . . j
from the Wonderments and Such collection

Unmerited Finery

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Unmerited Finery

She said, "Open wide."
I did.
She said, “Close down.”
I did.

Even though I'm barely
a commoner,

more so the 
peasant
or serf,

she treated me as

Royalty,

placing a crown on
an exhausted molar.

"Thank you," I said, 

and hurried home
toward

Buckinghorse Palace

lest

I be found out.

. . . j
from the Wonderments and Such collection