POETRY FORMAT, 24 Oct 2016
Sea gulls squawked and arched their wings
and dove for scraps above the terminal
where long grey busses in their slots
waited for their human cargo,
each with his own destination.
From the wharf I could hear sea lions
belch like foghorns, each to each,
like newborn pups and their mothers
on a rocky beach.
A pelican on a crowded pier
stands above his shadow.
The Oakland bus leaves from the Embarcadero.
They check messages and text.
No one reads on this wired bus
unlike those I took in the turbulent Age of Aquarius
when flowers filled the barrels of guns
and we sung “Here Comes the Sun.”
They are all young, except we two,
the old lady across the aisle and me.
I remember wearing Che on a black tee
with bell bottom jeans when I carried signs
across a college green;
glad and golden in my nubile youth,
full of hope, a stranger to disillusionment and despair.
We wondered why God was so unfair or if he existed.
The young men gazed straight ahead;
noticing nothing in particular.
Their curlicued tattoos bore names in red and blue
like Angel and Estelle (or something else celestial)
in a cupid’s sanguine heart with an arrow passing through.
The traffic on the bridge was light.
And to the right, a balmy bay reflects the sky;
now and then, tiny triangles of white
leaned back to fill their sails with wind.
Foam tipped waves rose and slapped against a tidal swell.
Sea snails slept on polished stones, starfish in the shallows.
A pelican on a pier stood above his shadow.
Small and lean, such tiny hands and feet,
more than sixty years at least.
A mass of wrinkles and withered skin pinched her cheeks.
Asian eyed, perhaps she spent her life planting rice
in unrelenting heat and harvesting the crop
before the monsoon came.
What was her name?
We passed the yellow daffodils around the lake,
snow white orchids, crocus and Queen Anne’s lace.
Cosmos and chrysanthemums rested in the shade of cherry trees.
Their nascent blooms scent a summer breeze.
We both got off at Laurel Street.
I watched her walk until she stopped to rest.
I wondered how long t’would be
before I, too, stopped for breath.
Was she remembering how her lover
lifted her silk ao dai,
across which mountain mists
floated above a golden temple and the lofty pines,
the memory of that kiss more sacred than the rest.
His lips were warm and wet inside her mouth
and tasted like cinnamon.
Her eyes caught in the net of his obsession,
ablaze with happiness.
It was an innocent and tender time
before the fertile earth burned black
from fires in the sky.
The cow stopped giving milk,
their udders scorched, the oxen blind.
Could our separate souls
speak in a language we both knew?
Or were we just marking time
before a sad and solitary death
enjoying all the simple pleasures
while they last?
Or was she thinking of that bloody February afternoon
when her beau, not yet nineteen, took a bullet to the brain
on that high and grassy mound.
She would say he was
the sweetest boy
she’d ever known.
Had we met, we might have had a cup of tea,
a slice of lemon pie.
Perhaps we would have walked
through her creaking garden gate
to see the tiny bridge over the small, but luminous pond.
Sparkling iridescent scales flashed in the sun.
A Buddha carved in polished jade laughs at water lilies.
Had I had a chance to speak, I might have said,
“I lost my true love too.”
He died on a high and grassy hill that February afternoon.”
He was the last of his platoon.
Now they are brothers in death and sisters in grief are we.
But as I guessed, we went our separate paths.
I went east. She went west
and never again they crossed.
Barbara Millar is a free lance writer and poet from northern California who was a young anti-war protester during the Vietnam War.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 24 Oct 2016.
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