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Monday, December 21, 2015

Featuring J.W. Gardner

GETTING RICH (a dog's story)

“One these days I’m gonna get rich
from playing the lottery
But for now
I’m counting up my money
One penny
after another
Put them all together
now I got three dollar
enough for 40oz amber
of pleasure
and maybe
a cheap cigar”
he would holler
chest stuck out
full of Johnny Courage
and grand ideas

It’s the simple things she misses the most
two draws left
on the shared cigarette
last night’s spaghetti
back in the oven tonight
served up again for dinner
today and tomorrow
And she tells her child
son I don’t know what we are gonna do
the child support didn’t come in again
and the stamps are running low
turn the lantern down some son
gotta save the oil
winter still has a long way to go
and we haven’t even reached the snow

It was the middle of the night
You and the kid were asleep tight

He made his way out real quiet
guilty sneak thief
like I don’t know
like I can’t smell the bourbon and cowardice
and the stench of that other woman
all over his soul

I followed along in the shadows
tracking him
insuring he didn’t
change his mind
lose his nerve
his staggering swagger
and turn back
to where you and the boy were fast sleeping

unaware of the blessing
like roses blooming
in the dark morning

He reaches into the coffee can labeled
Takes the twenty out
and drops his house key
back in return

He creeps
almost as quietly as me
making his way out of the house
so very carefully

He don’t want any confrontation
don’t want to explain
to the boy
that he aint his responsibility

So instead
he looks down onto me
and says:

“I’m sorry Dog
don’t know what to say
The child support
didn’t come again today
And there aint enough here
for me to stay”

Out the door he walks
Head up with blind eyes
Into the light and darkness and noise and filth

I walk quietly back
To where
The boy and his mother sleep
Lay down in front of the door
Head on paws
Ears alert
Guarding the greatest treasure ever

No intruders
allowed here
Not even
the stranger
that just 
left here


Where you see
Wore out busted up cars
And overgrown yards
Filled with weather faded toys
And shopping carts on the cracked sidewalks
Apartment complexes and empty lots
Run down rental homes

I see
Third hand chariots of hope
Green worlds for children’s imaginations
Dogs and playthings still well loved
Signs that someone got dinner
The paths to remind you always about your momma
And a whole bunch of little homes making the best of life

I see
An old man loving that twenty year old little Toyota
That keeps him from having to walk to work
Mothers and fathers just happy
That they’re able to have a yard for the kids
And the dog and the toys
Kids running around happy and not hungry
Laughing out the warning “Step on a crack break your momma’s back
Families grateful to be in a house
Young couples just starting in their first apartment
And a few open spaces for the cats to hunt


I don’t talk about you
Much to anyone
It’s not shame
More like fear.

I’m fearful to lose you.
I’m fearful I’ll fail you.
I’m fearful that my god is just cruel enough to take you.
I’m fearful that I’m just dumb enough to lose you.

And the thing about fear
Is it’s real
Just as real as a fist to the mouth
It’s powerful
It’s primal
It’s Faith

It’s the raw source of everything
It’s the raw ending of everything

You see

Fear is also Hope
Fear is also Humility
Fear is also Courage

And Fear is just a tool

If you use it right
If you wield it
And not be led by it

Otherwise it overcomes you
You become so saturated
With fear
That there’s nothing left
To fear.

That’s a bad place to be
When you don’t fear anything
Then you can’t value anything
Not even yourself

I’ve been fearful of this
Of you
My entire dirty life
You’re my greatest test
Of Fear and Faith
You’re the first
Child born of my bloodline
I’m the last
Child born of my bloodline

The doctor is amazed at how active you are
Your mother showed me the sonograms
You’re moving all over the place
Always ducking and covering
Kicking your little feet pumping your fists
You’re a Gardner
The blue collar is your birthright
I guess you’re just
Getting ready early
For what life has to give

I work these 10 and 12 hour days
In the hopes that you never have to
I walked all the hard miles
Hoping that you never
Have to wear them shoes

They always told me
That it would make sense
When I had a child of mine own

All I know for sure
Is that nothing is for sure

And I never know anymore
All these deep buried emotions
Breaking the dams and let loose like a cold flow
I catch myself out on the road
Chasing dollars and losing sense
And then all of a sudden
I’m laughing and crying at the same damn time

Tatt’d out red bearded white boy covered in scars
I look like a fucking mighty Oak Tree
That’s been struck by lightning twice
In a rain storm
Tears cutting riverbeds
Through the dirt on my face

and nothing in this life of mine
has ever prepared me for you
other than everything in my life
has led me to this path to you


The Towers
Even now twenty years later
I find my head wanders
Back to the Towers

You never walked anywhere
At Jump School
You ran everywhere
Like a man with purpose
And somewhere to be
Constantly vigilant
You never knew when the call would come out
And then you would immediately take form
Fall directly to the ground
Making contact
With all 5 points
Boots calf thigh ass push-up muscle
Back up shouting
Running in formation
Singing handed down
Battle songs in cadence
A soldier’s choir praising terrible gods
Every last one of us scared
But more scared of failure

Some of us prayed
Some crossed themselves
And some of us forked fingers and spat
But we all believed
Like the first drunk monkey
Watching a Morning Star fall to the earth
We were searching the skies for FAITH
Watching those Towers
Rise from the Georgia morning fog
Red lights like Evil Eye
Winking menace
Swaying and moaning mournfully in the wind
A promise of something
Terrible to happen to us
At the first sacrifice
At the altar of the Airborne


I remember
We used to mess with him about his teeth
His name dances at the edge of remorse
At the loose sides of memory
Flapping like an untucked bed sheet

He was 2nd Platoon
And the story went
He joined the Army to get his teeth fixed
Found out after the fact
Uncle Sam don’t pay for straight teeth
It goes like that in the Army sometimes

He had a couple kids
And a wife
I don’t recall their names either

I think he may have hung himself
She had split with the kids
It goes like that in the Army sometimes

At his funeral
Our Captain called him a coward
Our First Sargent politely called the Captain an asshole

Afterwards at the barracks
We all got very quietly drunk
We all got very loudly confused

Most of us didn’t understand
That the 21 salute
Was not a symphony for the suicide
It was sympathy for the remainders
The final conclusion of the last parade
Left to sort it out

20 years later
Here I am thinking about a dead solider
Whose name I can’t remember
And just now understanding
That there wasn’t anything to understand
Then or now

©, 2014

Joe Gardner is an Army Airborne Veteran and a 2nd Generation American drifter and writer who calls East Lakewood, Ca home. More nights than not he can be found at home, enjoying the comfort of his family and his dog. Joe is the Founder and hired gun for Working Class Production, as well as creator and co-producer of The Last Sunday, An Evening of Poetry and Art.

He is also the 2013 Joe Hill Labor Poetry Award recipient and his work has appeared in The Modern Drunkard Magazine, The San Gabriele Valley Poetry Quarterly, Cadence Collective, Spilt Ink Poetry and AMASS Magazine. He has also been published in the following anthologies: Gutters & Alleyways: Perspectives on Poverty and Struggle, The Men’s Heartache Anthology,Lummox Anthologies, 1 thru 3, Edgar Allan Poet 3.