The Ballad of Frankie

I can tell you what I know and what I don’t know.
I couldn’t see inside his head
so nothing going on in there
was ever going to be accessible to me.
I had to go by the tracks down his arms.
And the way he shook like my uncle,
the one with Parkinson’s,
though Frankie had no such thing.

His conversation sometimes showed me
a way into who he was
but mostly it parried me away,
fought off my sympathy,
turned all of my advice into a verbal dead end.
“He didn’t come home last night,” his mother told me.
She meant the home she made for him.
What Frankie saw as home, I have no idea.

I do know that when we were growing up
he was no different from any other kid.
He went along with what his peers were doing.
Nothing ever gripped him hard, held him back.
Frankie slipped easily into every new year
with no concern for the one left behind.
So why, at twenty years of age,
did time for him shrink to the point of a needle,
plunge into his flesh instead of moving forward?

I can tell you there were stuff going around
that stopped with some guys
but passed others by.
The worst of it was like some political back room honcho
looking for a likely candidate.
Why the powder chose Frankie
is a dead set mystery to me.
“Shit happens,” Frankie used to say.
But that was no excuse to give it a helping hand.

Frankie is still alive
though how much of a comfort that is
depends on his long it’s been since I’ve seen him
standing in a doorway in the rain
waiting for his dealer to come by.
His life’s a death wish, no doubt about it.
But when the end will come,
I can only guess.
And I prefer not to indulge in those kinds of guessing games.

Frankie once said to me,
“Man, you can’t believe the high.”
That must be my problem.
There’s a high out there
and I’m immune to it.
Maybe it’s a god
and I’m just too much of an atheist.

Frankie added,
“I’m gonna kick this habit,
you wait and see.”
I do wait.
But I don’t know enough
to tell you what I’m seeing.


Such a relief to hear my language spoken
in the dust and grime of a Tunisian bazaar.
Above the chicken din, softer than the
astringent Tounsi, words and phrases
find middle ground, draw in my ear.
An overheard conversation is like a charter
flight home. It’s lusher scenery. Different
scents. Wooden houses. Rivers and streams.
I don’t butt in. I’m here to be a tourist.
Besides I’m a stranger to this couple
even if we live under the same flag. And they
could be squabbling. Or not wishing to be
seen together. They have their own story,
no doubt as alien to me as Tunisia is to America.
So I take my shot of English and head back
into the mob, the merchants. Strings of beads,
carved chest sets, rugs of many colors, oranges,
tangerines, fish, herbs, chickpeas, capers—
any of these could easily be mine. But, for an
hour of more, only the experience is. Then
I head back to the hotel where my wife awaits.
More words to satisfy my English withdrawal.
Plus the meaning that I get from those I know.


There’s a nose
for everything,
even the dead.

That’s why the vultures
are nibbling on that deer carcass.
No sense of smell
but nostrils enough
to feel the rotting flesh
on their breath.

I see those
flying jackals
from the hillside—
nature in cleanup mode,
the quiet simplicity
of gross things.

A Morning in June

Sunrise, yellow, red,
but gentle, soft as pillow,
creamy as sheets.

Fields acquire a fresh skin.
Fence glows like the last throes of a lamp.
Roses, created out of sentiment,
now breathe on their own.

Eyes open, less reluctantly
with each new vision.
Glaze subsides.
Clarity takes its place.

Air’s just warm enough
like it’s keyed to my preferences.

If the day is a door,
no wonder I beg to be let in.