It is while changing the laundry
One late night in May
That I think of you this time.
Feeling the weight
Of each piece of clothing
As I turn it in my hands,
From one machine to another.
I am back in the city
We were in, then,
In the same state,
And it seems as if I never left.
These towels have stains
That bleach cannot remove.

I still have that odd pair
Of boxer shorts
You wore, with the two flags
Of our countries allying
Around your hips.
What a union that was.
These towels are wet,
And I recall how we used
To do the laundry together
As we talked and leaned
Against the washer, gushing over
The merits of the spin cycle.

We saw eye to eye on that
And many other minor joys.
How we shook, that summer,
Wondering if California
Really would fall into the ocean.

First appeared in Blind Man’s Rainbow 2002

Mother’s Mother Died Today, Or Maybe Yesterday. . .

Uncle John is skating in the parking lot,
Spinning circles on a skateboard
With his fifth of canned ash in one hand.
Our family, a group of modern pagans—
Fourteen in all—have taken over
The Santa Monica pier. My brother
Is not here. Only three of my mother’s siblings
Have brought their tins, but all of them
Sit on towels, on the tiered steps
At the end of the pier. A piercing
Shriek of helium fills balloons.
Each aunt has brought handfuls of flowers,
More jokes about the canisters,
The separated bones and ash.
What will the seagulls think today?

We can see signs on the railing
So my family members will have to fling
The ashes underhand. Another
Sign warns that mussels and clams
Found here are not fit for human
Consumption, but there are no admonitions
Against tossing your mother over
The edge of the retainer.

Rey and his son Trevor
Have been at the far side
Of the pier, leaning.
(Rey will take his fifth
To Alaska, I guess.)
When he returns
To the group, he softly
Recommends selling
The balloons for a dollar each—
Make a wish and let it go,
He says. At some point
Aunt Becky flashes her panties
To the gawking passersby,
Tie Dye, she shouts while
Aunt Bonnie continues
Filling balloons, performing
Her silent task. Her husband, Dan,
Watches through the video camera.
We are waiting until sunset to begin.

As the sun goes, we let go
Of the balloons. Becky, a bit confused
About what she is supposed to do,
Throws all the flowers into the ocean,
Along with her tin of bagged ash.
She doesn’t remove the ashes first
(Perhaps she’s afraid to touch them).
The can floats for a few minutes
And the rest of us run to the edge,
Laughing, but soon it takes on
Water. Bonnie removes the bag
From her tin and tosses her portion
Over the side of the pier; a thin,
Gray line of ash floats out to sea.
John throws his into the wind,
And some of the remains
Blow back onto the boards.
The children running through
Them leave little powder
Shoeprints on the splintered wood.

First appeared in First Class 2003

Joining the Guild

We were looking for a parking space
Near the Troubadour, down one of those dark
Side streets, when I saw that guy from Slacker.

We parked and crossed the street to the side
Where he was ambling toward us.
I stopped him, saying, Aren’t you
The "true call" guy from Slacker?

Charles Gunning, he said, in that slight drawl
I remembered so well from the film.
I just came from this party
Where the girls had legs
Up to here, and skirts this short,

He continued, marking the spots
On his torso with emphatic chops
Of his flattened palms.

Then he went on about the other roles
He’d played in Miller’s Crossing
And Murder, She Wrote. This was some time
Before The Haunting and The Newton Boys.

I haven’t seen those, I said,
What are you doing now?

I have an audition tomorrow
For a television commercial—
Kentucky Fried Chicken—
25,000—For that kind of money
The Colonel can fuck me in the ass,
he said.
And we all chuckled, nodding our heads
As we wished him luck on our way to the club.

From The Bitter Suite by Robert Roden

Poems © 2003 by Robert Roden

Robert Roden received his M.F.A. from CSULB in June of 2001, then promptly moved to northern California to join the new gold rush near Sacramento. He teaches at American River College and Sierra College and co-edits The Silt Reader, a pocket poetry magazine. His poetry has appeared in over 70 small press journals. Some of Robert's books and cd's include: Soundbites from Over the Counterculture CD, Slogans Run, The Scopophiliac, Between Genesis and 666, The Nebulizer, and The Bitter Suite.