Steve Meador is the author of Throwing Percy from the Cherry Tree, a poetry book that was an entrant for a National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. He is widely published in online and print journals. He has been a real estate broker since the early 1980s and currently lives and practices in the Tampa, FL, area.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Old Goat

There is a goat living near our plant shed. I see it every morning during my walk to check on things. That may seem obsessive, but in Florida there are insects and animals and diseases that can destroy your growing efforts in only a few days, so they must be recognized and reckoned with quickly. This smallish goat appears old and he loiters near the basil, never eating, never tipping the pots, never disturbing anything. He seems vigilant, but silent. I think he is simply weathering time, watching over things, maybe worrying about things he can do nothing about, but feeling that his presence makes everything safe. I have come to believe there is truth in that.

Friday, August 19, 2011

March, 1967

I don’t know much about the physiological intricacies of adolescence, the growth and flow of hormones that thrum and strum inside the bodies of pre-teen or early teen boys and girls. I’m deeply familiar only with the rhythms that pounded within the boundaries of my own skin in those years and remember well the emotions, actions/reactions and resulting memories, like those of a day in late March, 1967. Though it has been many decades, there are two triggers that always play the events back, a song and a childhood rhyme.

We had moved from Rising Sun, OH, to New Haven, WV in early March. The strangest thing in my mind, regarding the move, at the time, was that I was going from one school with an Indian sounding name, Lakota Jr. High, to another, Wahama Jr. High. Disappointment fell upon me quickly, like a whack from a tomahawk. Wahama had nothing to do with Indians, but was named for three school districts that had merged, Waggener, Hartford and Mason. I never bothered to be disappointed further by checking into the history of Lakota, because it was past history, where I was concerned. It snowed the week we moved, last snow of the season. There would be no dogwood winter. Flowers, trees and plants would sprout, bloom and remain, as each adhered to its normal cycle. The whole relocating ordeal was dreary and sad (words like depressed, depressing, depression were used rarely in those days) but the weather quickly changed, as did my twelve year old body and emotions.

There was a girl in the new neighborhood, an eighth grader named Cathy. She was a year older. Up to that time girls were simply friends or enemies, mostly enemies, but she was akin to Miss America. In my eyes she could be on a stage, crying tears and saying she wished for world peace, her arms loaded with roses. I had never seen such smooth skin or perfectly shaped facial features, at least my hormones had never recognized any such things.

One Saturday morning I was sunning on our deck, in the boiling sixty degree weather, listening to the radio. For whatever reason—maybe because I had moved beyond the Monkee euphoria—the Buckingham’s Kind of a Drag is the one song that stuck to me that morning. I hummed and sang it over and over all afternoon. I don’t have much recollection about the rest of the day, until the events at dusk.  Several kids gathered in the cul-de-sac, loitering, chatting, bored, when someone pitched the idea of playing a game of tag. There was, however, a small curve added. Whenever a boy tagged a girl, or vice versa, the person tagged had to kiss the person who tagged them. After much eye rolling, giggling and anti-spin-the-bottle argument it was decided the boys would run first, after a count to ten the girls would chase.

Before we started I looked up, saw a star, and said to myself:  Starlight, star bright, first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might, have my wish come true tonight. It was more of a prayer than a hope, but I wished for Cathy to catch me, as farfetched as it seemed. Within a minute she did, after my feet grew roots into the flower bed at the corner of our house. She stood there and waited for the kiss, which I planted on her cheek. Her fingers moved slowly and touched my hand for a few seconds, before she smiled and ran back into the cul-de-sac. The game ended after the first chase. Perhaps everyone had caught the kiss they wanted, or maybe others received kiss leftovers and were disgusted. In any event, I saw Cathy on the bus ride to and from school, but we never talked about it. Then one day, a few weeks later, I came home to find packed boxes throughout the house. My mother told me we would be moving, again, by the end of the week.

My life has turned out just as I could have dreamed, so this is not story of regret or what-if. It is about being transported back to a point on the continuum of my life whenever I hear that Buckingham’s song or the silly rhyme. I have been blessed, or cursed, with accurate recall, prompted by a smell, sight or sound. I can feel the internal heat and the heartbeat of that early spring evening. I still tingle a bit when I remember the kiss on a soft cheek that carried me into the days of waving goodbye to boyhood. In many ways leaving those days was wonderful, in some, it was kind of a drag.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

And, so, with our youngest now delivered to a dorm room, this house is quiet, but not the quiet we have known for thirty years. There will be no quiet interrupted by crying, no one coming in, at this late hour, to say goodnight. No one to say goodnight to, in return. It is a different kind of quiet, one without expectation of motion or sound or voice. A quiet without knowing for certain that all you have lived for is safe and watched over, from a few rooms away. It is now the quiet of parents resting and rusting together in a growing field of fallow. After a while, it will be the quiet of a deeper sleep, because there will be no coughs or cries or small voices that require light sleep. It will be a quiet that is broken by only two voices which, as the last words of the day, say, "Goodnight. Love you."

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Mammy, Summer 1959


For a short time we had a maid. Her mornings
were spent in front of the Philco exercising
with Jack Lalanne and throwing low-spoken bids
at The Price is Right. Meanwhile, laundry collected
sharp wrinkles and dust bred families of its own.

We called her Mammy. Maybe not even twenty,
she could have been the model for the Aunt Jemima
bottle.  Her favorite snack was the fluffy ice scraped
from inside the freezer, formed into a snowball
and topped with a ragged piece of raw bacon.

I rode with my father to take her home, bouncing
over an unpaved lane to a long row of clapboard
shacks held together by the heavy stink of marsh.
All needed painted, all had rockers on the porch,
the steps of one loaded with beer-drinking men.

She came to the Studebaker’s back window
and patted my head. As the red powder and grit flipped
from the heels of her sandals I thought of the men,
and how the clink of bottles and bursts of sound
were not unlike the busy porch at our little white house.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Spring Ride in the NE 1/4 of Section 6

A recent freeze left flaxen stacks
of waste and scrub. Our pasto verde
now a musky tan with limp stems
mushy under hoof. To the west
the Rockies and sky clash
 like Civil War armies,
retire daily under a bleeding sun.
To the east a white line,
picket fencing of the suburbanites.
They have no taste for untamed,
detest ranchland bland yet worship
the sameness of rough stucco boxes.
None know a bay from a palomino
or a pinto from an appaloosa,
but they brag how their wild horses
graze on gas and melt rubber hooves.
Few could find the North Star,
keep a fire burning all night
or find pleasure sleeping with rain.
To them I am the Marlboro man,
a stale smoke dangling from my lips
and a tip of a dusty hat. Once, their land
was mine. To me, they’re a roundup
of well-placed zeros on bank accounts.

First published in Tryst, October 2010
some cowboy poetry flavor

Monday, August 8, 2011

Photos often take us to surprising places. Whether those places are where we have been, where we would like to go, or  exist only in our mind, is a matter of personal interpretation, which can vary day to day.   For me,  photographs are an opportunity to tell a new story.

It was the last of the day’s sunlight, a Tuesday dusk on Longboat Key, a husk of land along the Gulf coast. Evening sprouts there the same way nearly every day, but this sunset seemed different, longer, as though the sun were propped up on pylons somewhere along the Mexico shoreline. The shadows lingered on the curcuma and plumbago before spreading at the speed of a root and finally blacking into night. That same night we gazed up, from making sand angels, and saw the moon about to touch the ruby heart of Scorpio. The tide was low. For whatever reason, the whole of it made sense.

I was on a path which curved along the line of the New River. It was late day. The final sword of sunlight thrust through the canopy and struck something on the ground. A small key glistened. I collected it, wiped off a smudge of mud.  A treasure lost from a necklace or bracelet or, more likely, part of a charm. Yes, perhaps a key to someone’s heart, and here I found it in the dirt. I hope its loss has done no harm, this key, this find, this golden charm.

I was 35 when I last saw my father. He died two years later, broken, broken down, down and out. The sum of his life in one of those long cardboard boxes, maybe five or six inches deep, that you put sweaters and winter clothing in and slide under the bed. The contents included unopened invitations and letters, a few military papers, some cards and letters that were opened, divorce papers from 1965, photographs, a cigarette lighter, a dime in a slot on a card (refund from a pay phone, dated 1967), a doodle of a wagon wheel on a section of envelope and other odds and ends of a broken, broken down, down and out man.

For the third day in a row I have noticed, through the kitchen window and dense coffee steam, a leaf. Suspended. I thought it was stuck on a spider web. For three mornings this yellow has been a gentle pendulum against the dark greens of summer foliage. The strength of color and seduction of  movement invited me; I could no longer keep distance between us. I walked across the fresh wetness on the grass, then lightly along the top of the rough stone border and found the leaf held aloft by the magical, nearly negligible, pinprick tip of an iris blade. The breeze remained perfect. In my garden, a jeweled Scheherazade leaf swayed to the silence of a morning tune, hypnotizing a newly arrived prince.

If you see me talking while I take photographs, don’t think I am crazy, having a meaningless conversation with myself. I am directing the crew. Step closer and you will hear me, “Okay, sun, move a touch lower, show me about one quarter of you above that line of oaks. A little more. Great! Now pitch me a touch of amber tinted with a drop of blood. That’s it. Yes. That’s it. Cumulus to the north, float a little to your right. Slowly. Keep coming. And…stop! Wonderful! Breeze, a bit lower, like a bird’s breath, if you please. PERFECT! Hold it, hold it (click) let me get a couple more, Ms. Canna may I say that you look fabulous (click, click). Alright everyone, that is a wrap. Excellent work, everybody! What do you say we call it a day? Tomorrow there may be a small shoot down by the river, just south of Alafia Spings. I’ll be in touch.”