SCREAMS ON THE OTHER SIDE
It was like walking the gauntlet
when I was a child, that long avenue
that eventually led into Anacostia.
For three, maybe four, blocks the red
brick walls on the left were several feet
lower than the high wall on the right.
Thousands of mentally ill people were
housed on the left, hundreds or maybe
thousands of criminally insane on the right.
The screams on the right side seemed
louder than the intermittent ones on the left,
and they made me break into a fast run.
I covered my ears until reaching the tip of town,
knowing that pretty soon I'd have to go back
the other way to a chorus of screams again.
When I turned eighteen, I'd drive into the side
where brother Maxie was kept, mentally
disturbed, and was astonished by the quiet.
Even the birds seemed to sing in a whisper,
the breeze ruffling the leaves so silently
I found myself unsettled, wanting to scream.
LET ME KNOW IF YOU'RE DEAD
The last of five messages on the phone
is a real beaut, a classic.
I play it a second, then a third time.
"Robbie, I heard you died.
I hope not but you never know at our age.
Call me if you're really dead, okay?"
I play it a fourth time,
then decide to call my old friend
whom I haven't spoken to for months.
No answer, then his message
thingamajig kicks in:
"Make it brief - I'm getting too impatient."
"Norris, hi," I say. "You heard right.
I died when I heard your voice.
Please send flowers but don't call back."
FALLING THROUGH SPACE
Howard seems more anxious than usual
to see me this morning -
him waiting for his wife to finish exercising,
me having just showered
after water aerobics.
In greeting, he tells me he had
the craziest dream last night -
he was falling through space
and landed on his head,
which he rubs vigorously.
Again, he reminds me he's had
Parkinson's for fifteen years and
he's originally from California
where the Silicon Valley now is,
from a large family of farmers.
I ask him to tell me more about
his dream, and he asks, What dream?
I tell him I had a crazy dream last night too -
I was chasing naked girls and
couldn't catch them.
He looks at me, either bewildered
or fascinated, and asks,
rubbing his sore bald spot,
serious as I've ever seen him,
Did you fall on your head too?
Bill Roberts wonders how his Oklahoma
grandmother produced 22 children, while he and his wife have had
none, only dogs. He finds the world ever-changing and no longer
tries to keep up, having finally purchased a television set. His
poetry has appeared in about a hundred and fifty online and
small-press magazines over the past thirteen years. He hangs out
near the edge of Broomfield, Colorado. Contact him at email@example.com.