Joseph Coulson




I Saw a Man

At first
I

thought he was
resting,

waiting
outside

the bank,
then

his hand
missed

the wall and
he careened

forward
until his head

bounced,
sun-baked marble

suddenly wet
with blood.

His body whirled—
arthritic

pirouette—and
he fell

back
until his head

bounced again,
and I saw

his face flowing
red, his hands

slapping, feet
twitching—

old Bojangle’s
ghost.

I watched
in the rear-

view mirror,
and then

the light
turned green.

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Margaret Josephine Oldani

1.

My grandmother was a tough cuss.
Italian and Catholic from peasant stock,
she bore thirteen children, outlived

her husband by twenty-eight years.
I have my grandfather’s name,
which made me a favorite son

in her mind’s eye. She seemed tall
at just under five feet, and her hands
were steady and determined. She cut

gold foil with mom’s pinking shears
for my kindergarten project, let me
turn the heavy dough for coffee cake.

Much later, when she clung desperately
to her shoe box filled with pills
and refused to wear her hearing aid,

I often found her saying, as if
to a room filled with ghosts, “Joseph,
you left me here too long.”

2.

Working afternoons at St. John Hospital,
I brought her bowls of pureed spinach
she barely touched. The orderlies never

said much, picking up bedpans—doctors
stopped looking at her chart. At the last,
three or four of her children waited

in the room. Margaret was half
her weight, struggling against sheets
and rubber tubes. She gripped my arm,

her eyes alive with fear, shrieking
profanities—the most beautiful, truck driving
goddamns and shits and fucks

I’d ever heard. She would not give it up.
Someone said, “Remember her as the lovely
woman she was, before the indignities

of death.” But there is dignity in passion,
unspeakable courage in telling the world,
as you leave it, to go to hell.

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Chance

After a warm day,
the sunlight fading, fog
flows over the ridge,
bathing the red flowers
of the bougainvillea.
He tries not to think,
tries to choke it off,
but the contrast—
a deep splash of color
on a gray field—
reminds him of Detroit,
dreading the hour
when his father returned
from work, the smell
of beer cans and spilled
whiskey still in the air.

He remembers driving,
spending his boyhood
behind a wheel, speeding
downriver, I-75 rising
over smokestacks and slag,
passing Ford’s factory
at River Rouge, a curtain
of sulfur in the air and
the roiling Detroit River
redder than blood. Afraid
of wrong turns, he took them
anyway, beating up drunks
on Gratiot Avenue, running
with hoods, making fun
of the homeless, the insane,
stealing from friends.

He remembers the police car
pulling into the drive—
a wild hope that Jesus
would step out
and give him a chance,
with all the other boys,
to say forgive us our sins,
forgive us our lives.

Now, with each day
that arrives, he gives thanks
to his teachers,
their climbs
through envy and violence
into worlds he barely
imagined. He isn’t sure,
gazing across headlands
to the sea,
what brought him here
or how he became
this middle-aged man.
The guys back in Detroit
would call it dumb luck—
and they’d be right.
After all, what were the odds?

Given where he came from,
how could he
have pictured this place,
the long seasons of green,
cool air even in summer?
How could he have guessed
there would be a woman,
tougher and smarter than most,
who bakes blueberry scones
for Sunday breakfast,
who wants for him only
those things he believes
will make him happy? How
could he have known
there would be
this second life?

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