the muse apprentice guild
--expanding the canon into the 21st century




12 WORKS
BY BRUCE SEVERY

BOOMERANG BOY

When his dot.com job disappeared

He jumped at the chance

To go back to school

So now he lives here

In his younger brotherís old room

And no one cares about his MBA

Though he has gotten

A few substitute crossing guard hours


Iím paying off his student loans

He intended to get a portfolio together

Head-shots mainly

Try to get some catalog work

He made some friends

At the amateur drama club

Evenings at the recreation center


Oh, we set some house rules

And he always does his chores

Once a month he borrowed our computer

To e-mail us his updated ďplanĒ

And various progress reports

Heís always been good at documentation


We know we shouldíve set a firm departure date

But more often than not we discussed

Postponing our retirement

Then Carl had his heart attack

And our son stepped up

Round-the-clock care

As soon as Carl came home

It isnít easy doing everything

For a grown man

Who lies there day after day

So badly damaged


Now the insurance company

Is moving him to one of those places

And me, Iím selling this old barn

I imagine myself in a condo

One bedroom, microwave kitchen

A counter and two barstools

Hispanics working in the yard


And I wonder, too, if I can bring myself

To tell him

The door is always open.

================

COST MANAGEMENT

Four strong guys in khaki workpants

Talk fast Spanish but move slow together

Roll a big Toro down the ramps

Push it over here

Ramps again

Then converge like a NASCAR crew

Gas, tires, motor

And make the windows rattle

Sixteen seconds over my

Ten by twenty-two foot patch of grass


My old Sears-Roebuck push mower

Stays in the garage these days

Unemployed as I am

The Homeowner Association says

It would cost them more

For me to do my yardwork

Even if I worked for free.

================

CHRISTMAS 2002

Turkey wants the bones of St. Nicholas back

Old Saint Nick

The Italians have him secured

In blocks of reinforced concrete


After all, Santa was a Turk

Born in Demre, on the Mediterranean

Served as the bishop

And was buried there, 400 AD


Pirates took the remains

Back to Italy with them

In 1087

And there they rest today

At the St. Nicholas Basilica in Bari


Part of his leg bones are still in Turkey

Splinters, actually

The Turks say Italians

Are only interested in tourism

While Italians claim that Turks

Do not properly venerate the saints


I wonder about the stalemate

While I wait for a store in the mall

To process my credit card approval

Our networkís overloaded, the saleslady tells me


To pass the time I drift over

In front of a bank of big-screen TVs

Where the news channel shows F-14s

Catapulting off a carrierís deck

On their way to Baghdad


Waiting becomes too much

For my school-age kids

And they begin to fight

My son launches a roundhouse punch

That misses my daughter

Yet catches me full in the nuts

And I go down

Temporarily unable to breathe

Darkness spinning around meó

It is, after all, that time of the year.

================

LENAPAH
(FOR JANET)

So named by Mrs Elizabeth Kinney in 1889

Herself part-Indian

JH Shufeldt organized the township

And petitioned the government for it


At one time Lenapah had

Five grocery stores

Two livery stables

A movie, a jewelry

Two hardwares and an undertaker


Shufeldt was shot dead

By Cherokee Bill

When he stuck his head out a window

To see what a ruckus

Was all about


He lies next to Mrs Kinney

Our oldest inhabitant

In the Lenapah Cemetery


Lenapah has been on the decline

As long as anyone here can remember

Though some folks say

It was the highway bypass

That cinched it


We put up signs at city limits

On people who left Lenapah

And did good, only somewhere else

Fred Lowry, Shoat Webster

Buck Rutherford and them

Rodeo cowboys, mostly


People leave and donít come back

No matter what they say


I miss them all

And continue slowly becoming my father

People call me Mr now

For no good reason

When I get up to pee at night

I see an old man with gray hair

Shuffling in the bathroom mirror

And my sister, well

Finding solace

Such as our grandmother did

In her embroidery and Lawrence Welk

(Any night of the week via satellite dish)

I can see her just this minute

Across the street

Looking through her venetian blinds

Counting how many houses left

Before the mailman gets to us.

================

QUIGLEY IN HIS TREE

Last time I called 911

The LAPD put me on hold fifty minutes

Before I hung up

Yet the Special Enforcement Bureau

Can send thirty-five deputies

Plus the Calif Highway Patrol

Hook and ladder trucks

Paramedic vans

And construction workers in orange vests

Who unload beeping yellow backhoes

And put up a chain-link fence

To keep people away

From Quigley in his tree


The oak is over seventy feet

And has been there since Spanish missionaries

Exterminated the native population

In the service of God


Over a hundred private security guards

Also ring the tree

To keep at safe distance

The family-oriented protesters

With their picnics and strollers

Unplugged folk singers

Indians from Oklahoma

And hot-dog vendors

Who keep running out of grilled jalapenos


The tree obstructs

A four-lane highway

Developers must build

Between an eight-lane freeway

And their new twenty-thousand unit

Housing project Ė Phase I


So Quigley has been living in that tree

Ten weeks now and counting

Chained to a limb

Straining to hear old voices in the wind

Wondering where the stars

Have gone at night


The developers offered

To dig up the oak

And move it to a tree preserve

Where busloads of school kids

Could visit on field trips


But Quigley is still up there


Tonight the cops moved in

To clear a wide perimeter

While maintenance men

Swept up the torn posters, brown flowers

And empty brand-name water bottles


So itís just Quigley in his tree


Here come the chain saws.

================

SCARED SHITLESS

Iím scared to lose my job

And scared shitless Iíll never find another


Iím on my way to Costco

To stock up on bottled water

Peanut butter, and canned tuna

I need duct tape and plastic wrap

In the bulk packs

But Iím afraid upscale yuppies

In their hybrid Hummers have beat me to it

Iím afraid thereís no more

Cipro, potassium iodide, or smallpox vaccine either

Now that DHS has gone to Orange Alert

Iím afraid of Saddam Hussein, Al Qaeda, and Dick Cheney


I should go back home

And order gas masks and a biohazard suit online

Or maybe some atropine injector pens

Iím afraid my creditís overextended

I need to re-finance

But Iím worried a dirty bomb

Would contaminate the escrow for years


Iím afraid we donít have

A pre-set family meeting location either

Or an out-of-town contact

My kidsí school sent home their emergency plan

But Iím afraid I havenít read it

Actually, I donít want to

I worry the students and teachers alike

Will just panic anywayó

So much for fruity or bitter smells

Low-lying clouds, piles of dead fish and birds

Iím afraid every time I get a cold

Itís anthrax, plague, or radiation

Should I bag my clothes?

Wash with chlorine bleach?

Find an available doctor ASAP?

Iím afraid I just make soup

And go to bed

I worry the government isnít

Doing much to helpóthat FEMA website

Scares my kids shitless too

They get back in bed with me

Complain about their stomach aches

And refuse to leave the house on weekends

When I invite them out for a walk

Or run around our neighborhood park


Iím afraid to turn the TV on

And my kids are afraid to turn it off


Oh, weíre constantly alert these days

But what I worry over is what to doó

Iím afraid of our helplessness, basically

What are any of us really going to do?


Iím just sitting nowódo I look relaxed?

I am actually hypervigilant

My heart pounds with adrenaline

Iím breathing fast and shallow

My body is cranked up like a crossbow

Iíve got headaches, back pain, neck pain, insomnia

I lie awake all night with twitching eyes

But I canít think anything through


My neighbor took his retirement early

And moved to Vegas

Show girls and slot machines, he said when he left

Donít wait up, Iím not coming back

The EAP finally sent me to a shrink

Who said itís like one part of my brain

Hijacking the other, his choice of words

We become conditioned

By things that scare us, he explained

We canít erase these fears

But we can try to replace them

Thereís even a name for itó

Itís called extinction.

================

Deer

A friend wrote today

Describing a three-legged deer

That cut across the trail

He was running

Far off in the Appalachias


And made me think

For a moment of the deer

I killed in North Dakota

A few minutes after

The season commenced

A lucky shot snapped off

While we stood around the truck

Drinking coffee


That six-point buck

Had a length of barbed-wire

Around his neck so deep

It had long since healed over

There were long strands

Trailing like catfish whiskers

Along his flanks


Iíve long since given up

Wondering how that had come to be

Lost the antlers eventually

When I left Fort Yates

So many years ago


Deer, the word now

Mainly brings a picture

Of my daughter down on her knees

Caught in the headlights

Of her boyfriendís eyes

Begging his forgiveness.

================

HOT AND SOUR SOUP
(FOR DIANE)

I have too much time to myself, you say

As we walk arm in arm across Culver City

And you admit you work far too many hours


We reach Thai Thai BBQ just as the

Threatening storm finally lets forth

We dry our faces with napkins in a booth


The owner offers a hot-and-sour soup

To soothe my laryngitis

And boost our immunities against the wet weather


It arrives still simmering, a potion

Of coconut milk, Thai peppers, and cinnamon

You take the best bite, the first

While as usual I save the best for last


Iím sad, I whisper, that my time off is coming to an end

Iíll find another job

Hard times, but weíll keep the house, I promise


The rain has stopped, soup consumed

Time for us to head back across town

Carrying a paper bag of luck and leftovers

Counting our blessings and adding to them

The tangy, tart aftertaste we find inside each other.

================

LIMO

What are you

A CEO, movie star, rapper

Doesnít matter as long as

You know the difference

Between the best we can do and bulletproof

None of that James Bond stuff

No rocket launchers, gun ports, or oil slicks

Weíll use the ram bumpers

Only if we have to

Let them make the first move

Weíre wrapped in steel, ceramics, and Kevlar

See thatósix layers of ballistic glass

Two inches thick

Each door weighs as much as I do

See the bullet trap doorframing

Weíve got dual vulcanized, self-sealing gas tanks

And can run on flat tires

I will just drive us away from the bad guys

So sit back, relax

Weíre hermetically sealed inside

With enough germ-free oxygen

To last the night

Damn quiet, too

All that armor makes it eerie

Like youíre in a coffin

But safer.

================

MEMORIAL SERVICE

I sit in the very clear light of a church on Malaga Cove

And watch endless waves roll through the kelp beds below

The sliding glass doors have been closed by an usher

But I can still smell the salt on the breeze

And I can see so many sailboats making progress

I sit in a pew in the rear

I donít know any of the people filing in

But listen to many of them talk about the deceased

I never knew her either though I wish I had

I wish Iíd had the time to know her.

================

PEARL HARBOR

By the time my mother and her sister

Made their way from Portland to San Francisco

They had one pair of shoes left between them

To share for job interviews

Or day work when they found it

They walked barefoot everywhere else

In the Great Depression

Waiting for an opportunity which

When it presented itself

Took them into the US Coast Guard

SPARs in new blue uniforms

Regular meals and footlockers full of shoes

Then off they sailed

To the womenís barracks at Hickam Field

Honolulu, Hawaii

In the midst of the Army Air Corps

During the balmy tropical winter of 1941

And it was they agreed

Walking back to their quarters

Night after night arm in arm

A paradise on earth


There were several of them buried alive

After the bomb exploded nearby

And the wooden barracks collapsed

Alice and Katharine could only wonder

At the war now being fought around them

The roar of planes going over

Heavy machine guns shaking the air

Heavier detonations further away


What else could they do but wait

For the rescuers to dig them out

The men inside the capsized Oklahoma

Waited too for rescue and the news

For another wave of Jap attackers who never came


They all waited for my motherís secret husband

Whoíd managed to save his plane

And fly off after the withdrawing Japanese

But he never came back either


Our family waited years

For my brother to come back from Vietnam


I waited decades for my father to stop drinking

My son waits for me to play checkers with him


My sister wonders about the two babies

Our mother couldnít wait long enough to have

Stillborn, one after a car wreck

Janet wonders if sheíll meet them in Heaven

And will she know or recognize them


They are waiting for her.

================

VISITOR WIND

The wind has traveled far

And blows so hard

While we are making love

That it whistles at the windows

And causes the candles to flicker


Later all is calm, dark, quiet


The stars have come out again

Across your eyes.