By Kenneth Purscell
Ball Field and Stream
For just a moment Pause and smell the popcorn, Chocolates, gum, chips, The hot dogs in their coats Of bread and chili and cheese. The last remaining breaths Of winter hang in the shadow Of the wall. The first Promises of spring fruit Are only wisps in the air, Overpowered by the Summer-like riot of commotion right at hand. Ears, now raised, Focus on the chatter Past the fence. Infield is noisy, Outfield not as much. But the flavor and the noise, The pull and push, Are bunched together Near those further walls. A muffled ping and then The clamor rises all around, A multitude of voices High and low, A rumbling growl But not of threat. Not yet. Encouragement, perhaps? Some smaller feet Seem to patter slowly round That fenced enclosure. The murmur fades. Not yet. When the sun dips down Below the further mountain, When the not-sun finally Goes out, when the larger ones Collect their cubs and leave, Then the pull will have No barrier. Then the nose will emerge From the hidden cove. The ground will yield Forgotten bounty. The barrels will contain A banquet to assuage Spring's hunger. The river Just beyond will be cool On paws and tongue. It is not safe It never will be safe To live so close To such neighbors. They are so pathetically slow But so cruelly violent. Still, hunger and waste Are so balanced here That their silly game becomes Part of a larger, more serious Stratagem of stealing, Deception, risk, striking out, And when this season ends at last, Running home.
Elsewhere You're forced to share the passage With grumbling motors And creaking metal canisters. The Euclidean plane of concrete Drives on to certain Predetermined ends. You are granted leave to pass, But you are minimized, Merely pedestrian. The river? It vanishes. Unseen, unheard, It may pass beneath, but then again It may not. It doesn't matter, As you don't matter. But here, In steel, in wooden planks, The footpath jumps from bank to bank, From park to parking, From nowhere to nowhere. The curve suggests the arc Of a line drive, or a squirrel's leap From branch to branch. Trees shade the path And gentle breezes add their voice To the ripple and the flow Down below. You can watch The water bug dance her way Across a surface tension bridge That only she can see. And in the middle you can pause And realize again the miracle Of bridges. For you have been raised In the air as well as to the rank Of human walker. You may share A moment with a passing bike, But neither car nor truck will ever Pass this way. They are forced To go around, to meander. Your path, though arching, Is the straight one. For this path Is truly yours. Even if you have A destination, this path itself is destiny enough. To walk it Is to stroll through healing And to mend in part the broken shards Of driven life.
Post Office, Outside
In an age of presidential scandal The name on the cornerstone Stops me. Stamps! It seems so quaint now. He provided special issues To the Collector in Chief, The Big Man himself In his (hidden) wheelchair, For the Big Man's very own Collection. Hobbyists were Appalled, and who can blame them? How could they compete When emoluments like this Were given to The privileged few? They complained, and thereby proved That sometimes philately Will get you somewhere. He was forced to print for many What he'd made For just the few. Make no mistake: It was a time of privilege. But it also speaks of innocence That the outrage could be heard And a compromise reached. I know his name. It appears In my own album, On a special issue Mounted with such care, Evidence of both the fall and a measure of grace. The sins of our time, our own injustices, Seem less tractable. Maybe they are not. Maybe we only lack redemptive imagination. Or maybe we have lost A determined will for healing, Give a low priority to grace. But maybe too the worst is true: That we see our flaws as features, hear jeremiads as praise. His name is here, On this cornerstone, underneath another. That one names the man Who saw beneath the shine and order To the ugliness of the Reich: murder and chaos, A system that said a few were special, And the rest less than human. Why could a Treasurer see What a Postmaster General could not? Here, etched in stone In a corner of the mountains, Is a small monument To both a clear moral vision and its absence.
Post Office, Inside
If nothing else, This marble filled temple To the postal arts Is a testimony of a faded age And an even more faded belief: That everyone should share The service station Of communication. Some, like minor railroad barons, Could afford the faster airmail. But all people, even miners, Were entitled to first class service. Inefficient? Probably. Corrupt? Possibly. But still the envelopes Of the powerful Crossed paths, shared space, With the postcards Of the poor. Standing in the line At the window was an exercise Of E pluribus unum writ large; The few could not jump the queue. The pluribus were not easily Avoided. And in an age of desperation, The unum was so desperately needed. The unemployed and starving, If totally neglected, Would never have become The fit and fighting force They soon became. They stormed the beaches, Built the bombers Mined the coal (lest we forget!) Precisely to defend This sacred space, this line Of commonality, this subtle limit To the cult of privilege. The union was not perfect, no. And there were still Pernicious barriers Of race and clan. But underneath it all There lingered the ideals That we now miss. No federal style facade Adorns the private delivery service. No marble floor Becomes communal space For email or for tweets. Amazon eschews the queue, Primes the pump of revenue By serving only those who can afford A little more. In the name of speed, In defense of privilege And a different spirit of corruption, We have sold our birthright. We will weep when we discover That we cannot get its blessing back. I cross the marble floor Laid in an age Of generous poverty. I mail the bills through the slot That even now says "Airmail." I open up the ancient box Once rented by a corporation That apparently hasn't paid its tax For several years now. I take out The ads, the next month's bills, The movie next in queue. I sort these on a table used By generations great and small And which still provides A space for inkwells. The finely crafted details Can yet amaze me. I gather up my pile, Make my way to leave, And hold the door open For an older gentleman. We smile and nod. He enters, goes about His solitary business. I stand a moment, listening To the echo of his steps, And back beyond to many other Echoes. The silence here Is deafening.
Kenneth Purscell is a retired pastor, adjunct professor, customer service agent, and retail cashier. Some of his poems have been published in New Verse News, Fleas on the Dog, MDLVLMAG, inScribe Journal, and Grand Little Things. He and his wife now live in the suburbs of Chicago.