Mauretania

Have you ever watched the sandpipers at Marina Del Rey?
Their little bird heads bob back and forth. The thinnest
bird legs you’ve ever seen move them quickly across the
sand.

All kinds of boats paraded by making their way slowly
up the channel, seemingly unnoticed by the sandpipers.
It was the mysterious Mauretania that really caught my
eye. It was from another time.

I pictured Bogie and Bacall at the piano bar below.
I can see Tracy and Hepburn looking out over the stern.
Fred and Ginger dancing and singling their way around
her romantic deck. I can hear Norma Shearer’s laugh
echoing from the quarter deck.

I could see my dad on the Mauretania. Wearing a soft
white skipper’s cap with a shiny black brim. Sharp
white trousers and deck shoes. He was a snappy dresser.
In my mind’s eye, he looked the same as he did in the
pictures I remembered of him on his family boat going
up and down the Hudson.

Dad during the Depression cleaning the twin engines.
Skippering the boat for party rentals. He, grandpa and
family out on the boat. He seemed happier then.
I never knew him that way. My memories of him were
better in pictures.

After making its way past me through the channel, the
stately Mauretania turned out to sea. I watched her
until she was no longer in sight. I sighed, paused, and
reflected. So many mixed memories.

When my dad had nothing left ahead of him, he moved
to Nyack where he could see the Hudson from his
apartment. I think he was trying to recapture the joy of
life that somehow evaded him. He died there.

I turned and started to walk back to the car. But
movement on the sand caught my eye. Those little
sandpipers were still at it! I smiled at them. Nothing would
alter their quick pace or keep them from their destiny.

Nor would anything keep me from mine.

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

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)”

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)”

Shadows in Life

all things are forgotten
by humankind
by time
by design

except for the memories
of war
of abuse
of pain
of suffering

for they are our own
they made us who we are
maybe not who we thought
we wanted to be

and what of the other memories
of joy
of love
of peace
et cetera

they cast light on the shadows
in life with hope for the life
to come

just like the knowledge of God
cannot be listed as a memory

To Reading

I scratched my beard while I reached
for a book high on a shelf. My thoughts
drifted to the bookcase in my room
when I was a young boy.

It was two shelves high made out of
thin plywood, painted a glossy gray.
The shelves were filled with Tom
Swift Jr. and the Hardy Boys. And a
lot of other important stuff, too.

New books have that special smell.
National Geographic smells great, too.
To fan the pages of a new book is
titillating to be sure.

In those pages, time and time again,
I have loved and been loved. Be gentle
with that book!

A torn page is like a broken heart; you
can patch it up, but it is never the same
again. Books give and give. They’re
not like people.

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