The Reading Fountain

In the park, there’s a fountain with a bronze bird.
The bench where he sits doesn’t have his name on it,
but it should. This is where he comes on the clear
days. He always sits there by the reading fountain.

I never walked through the park before he’d arrive
or after he’d left. Definitely his bench! He always
wore a plaid cap with a snap in front, cocked way
back on his head. And the same sweater.

If I get to be that old, will I wear sweaters in June?
The heat doesn’t faze him a bit. He reads as though
New York City wasn’t there. He reads now as he
wished he could have done years ago.

Copyright © 2013 Alan L. Slaff, selected from
“The Boy in the Mirror (2nd Edition)”

Answers

I sat out back while I burned
a pile of wood debris that has
been wet since February.

This week of sun was my only
chance before the next big
tropical storm rolls in on Friday.

I sat there with an Oliva Master
3 Blend, 5 x 54, in my hand. It
is the third of four in a gift set

from Father’s Day last year.
Obviously, when I stopped
smoking cigars and pipes in

1976, I did not know I was going
to get this gift. Since I was alone
in the back, I thought it was a

good time to talk to God about
the questions on my heart. He
didn’t seem to mind the cigar.

He is a good listener as I did
most of the talking. Well, all of
the talking actually.

I got up a few times to check the
fire and killed two ant hills along
the edge of the patio.

God was still listening. I know
what you want to ask. Did I get
any answers. Not today. Soon.

In God’s time, I will. I asked big
questions; so I expect big answers.
If you ask, you will get an answer.

Not to worry. Long after the last
cigar is gone, God will hear me
and give me answers.

To Shreds

At first I blamed the Army mail, because
I hadn’t heard from you since I left for
Vietnam. I wrote to you every day.

I kept your picture long after I received
your “Dear John” telling me you were
getting married.

Years later, in my own way, I had to let
Vietnam go. When I finally cried and
agonized over Vietnam, I let you go, too.

It was time to forgive all the way around.
I lost you, and lost the war.
I loved Vietnam and her beautiful people.

I loved speaking the language, the smells
of the busy marketplace, and especially,
the laughter of the children.

And, I loved you.

I loved teaching English in Hue at that stately
old high school by the Song Huong river.
And, yes, I even loved why I was there.

And, I thought I loved you.

But, in a moment of exasperation, I finally
did it. I tore your picture to shreds. And
then I wished I hadn’t.

It hurt when I lost you, but I cried harder
at the loss of Vietnam.

Copyright © 2013 Alan L. Slaff, selected from
“The Boy in the Mirror (2nd Edition)”

Over Coffee

How about some coffee?
I slept well last night,
didn’t you?

What else will not be
said, how many more
questions will never get
asked or answered?
How many more
discussions will we not
have over morning
coffee?

How could she have
slept so soundly! For I
didn’t sleep well at all,
again.

I walked into the kitchen,
opened the cupboard, and
saw that we were out of
coffee.

My tears were mixed with
laughter, the mad laughter
of one who was tired of
years of empty talk. We
were on empty.

So, I left over coffee.

Copyright © 2013 Alan L. Slaff, selected from
“The Boy in the Mirror (2nd Edition)”

Norfolk Island Pine

We searched and searched through
that greenhouse jungle, until we
came upon a tiny Norfolk Island pine.

We weren’t going to buy anything.
Knew that going in.

We were trying to spend more time
together and less time where we had
to go back to.

Let me know you as long as it takes
that pine to grow at least as tall as I.

Copyright © 2013 Alan L. Slaff, selected from
“The Boy in the Mirror (2nd Edition)”

Ancient History

I put the suitcase I borrowed from
my mother in the trunk and got in
the car.

My father drove and smoked. And
smoked some more. He is usually
lecturing nonstop by now. I cracked

the window open to get some air
then closed it again. His visible
nervousness made me even more

nervous. He started talking. After
each cigarette, he’d open the window
just enough to flick it outside then

close the window without interrupting
his monologue. He never wanted to
hear anything I had to say, so I

listened to his World War II Army
stories again about his basic training
in Burlington. No post there now.

Ancient history.

I think he was trying to give me advice.
He pulled up to the front of the AFEES
building in Newark. As I got the small

vinyl suitcase out of the trunk he asked
me to please write. We sort of hugged.
I started up the steps as he drove off.

Seems like just the other day. That trip
to Newark ended with a late-night bus
ride to Ft. Dix for basic training.

It was fifty-five years ago yesterday that
I enlisted in the Army. Thank you, my God,
for your protection and care. You are my

refuge and strength. You alone are God.
The rest is ancient history.

Separate Pain

I awakened on a small sounding train
that clanked its way out of the northeast plain.

It brought dawn into Bangkok as night was fleeting,
but the stifling morning heat was our only greeting.

I sent you a telegram only to say
that I missed you dearly and was on my way.

I should have never married her; how both of us have paid!
How was I to know the magnitude of the mistake I made!

And now forever apart, we live with our separate pain.

Copyright © 2013 Alan L. Slaff, selected from
“The Boy in the Mirror (2nd Edition)”