Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Smug SOB

It's what I wanted to be,
or said I did, as a half joke
to a friend awhile back.
At the time, I'd meant it as a full joke--
on the surface, while knowing
we both knew, at least philosophically,
jokes are built on truth.

I've grown considerably since then,
in understanding, and, I should like to think,
in savvy, as well.

Smugness, as I’ve always known,
is that sense of comfort and pride
we get at times when in part
through effort or mere fortune
we prevail where others fail.
What I've learned over time
is to own the sensation

but keep it secret
from all but those who get a wink.
It's akin to the joy good Christians hide
when they learn the elected sociopath’s lungs
are hosting the lethal bug he’d denied.

I'll bet even Christ felt schadenfreude
seeing the moneychangers’ rage
when his disruption at the temple
took the edge off
a profitable day.

                                                                                                                         m.d. paust


What is the frequency, Kenneth?
Yes, he knew they were coming,
Dan Rather did,
these loopy, social-distance days.

Last night, for instance, or in the early morning,
I thought at first a dream, except
the voice seemed too real, so
I rolled out of bed to be sure--

oh, the hell it was,
it was to go pee, and when I got back to bed
I’d forgotten the voice, as
I seem to remember.

Next time I woke I looked at the clock,
its neon red digital numerals warning me
it was 4 something, 4:47, possibly,
when my walking buddy texted me,

and while my pupils adjusted in the dark
to read her message, I heard the voice outside
still talking as I’d remembered it
at least an hour before.

I’d thought at first it was the skateboarders,
three or four hardy youngsters
who hang out in the Post Office parking lot
out my bedroom window, which offers

a clear vista for me in the daytime,
but only highlights at night from moonbeams
and a couple of utility poles
and from the mail dock across the way.

I did not bother to open the blinds,
thinking the kids would be in shadows.
taking a break—come to think of it,
I had not heard the scrape and roll

of their boards as they practice to become
the next Tony Hawk. Come to think of it,
the voice was singular—no giggles, no
rise and fall of youth’s usual verbal drama.

The voice was young, or female,
an alto, its tone calmly conversational,
on a cellphone, I assumed,
on a cellphone in the dark, alone.

The cadence was familiar,
a soft and friendly sound, Latino, it seemed,
a casual tone revealing a very long story,
with words in which I caught no meaning.

But later, after coffee, I thought of Lupé,
from the Army very long ago. I never
knew why we called him that—
a friendly, casual guy.

                                                                                                                   m.d. paust

Monday, March 30, 2020

Hot Water

The only place I feel safe these days
is in the shower.

But unlike James Parker,
the bracing, wakening surprise of icy water
has no appeal for me.

I like it hot, need it hot
hot as Hades
to give the little bastards a taste of hell,

any, that is, that might be clinging to me,
intending to feast and breed,
that they will flee and tell their compatriots,

Leave that son of a devil bitch alone,
and leave his friends and loved ones alone!
Don't go near them, hear??

                                                                                                                     m.d. paust

Sunday, March 29, 2020

That Someone

Those of you who understand
how to calculate probability
have an advantage over me,
a right-brained (or is it left?) type
who can lose his way and sometimes fall asleep

when numbers and symbols are involved,
each one laying claim
to a particular undeniable authority
which, when joined with the others,
can lead the way to, say, curing cancer,

or putting Armstrong on the Moon,
and now they have proven that every one of us--
let me say that again—every. one. of. us.
will lose someone we know
to this virus ravaging the globe.

In a way, I like the way this is being put.
Saying every one of us will lose someone we know
is a clever way of leaving to our imagination
that because everyone will lose someone they know
we have more than a few chances to be that someone.

It's at times like this I realize
my imagination is not my best friend.

                                                                                                                m.d. paust

Saturday, March 28, 2020

A Corona Evening

The blanket that protected me
from the midday sun bouncing off the white wall
that faces my apartment now dangles from a nail
beside the window in the door.

It's after 7, and the sun has drifted west
away from its favorite high noon bank shot
bouncing its glare at the window
where the blanket protected my eyes.

Off duty now, its dark colors in draping folds
which in the dark you can mistake for a giant bat
it's a comforting sight from where I sit
my time-worn recliner facing the door

where now the staccato passage of motorists
flicks across the narrow gap between the window edge
and the white wall's corner
zipping by from somewhere to somewhere.

A sobering sight from where I sit
without a clue as to who the people are
or if they are happy or anxious or sad or what--
or with which ones unseen killers are riding along.
                                                                                                                        m.d. paust


I did not sleep in this morning
as I had told myself I would
before turning in last night.

For one thing I am too old
to sleep in anymore, anyway, and
I roll out early no matter what,

and, no matter what, I take a nap about midday
everyday ordinarily for about half an hour
enjoying the cheap luxury of not giving a hoot.

At night, you might ask, are you in bed ordinarily by around
nine and I would answer yes. pretty much, as I have no TV
and you might wish to ask if my days are always this dull.

Oh, they've been this way pretty much for several years now...
before the politicians cramped our daily styles, trying their best
to keep a crashing economy from crushing their benefactors--

--and to save lives, of course! Oh my, nearly forgot...oh,
I did not. Trying to be cute here, as I have no TV to
confuse and accuse and amuse and enthuse and infuse

me with sponsored consensus, which I would accept only
if it agreed with my circumstances of comfort or aspirations, and
avoided agitating my irritations, or a particular one of my friends

which wouldn’t bother me particularly unless I heard it
more than once an hour, or, upon reflection, every few days.

Where were we...oh, yeah, I was thinking to explain why
I’d decided to sleep in this morning, and why, upon reflection,
I am feeling somewhat remiss for not walking as usual

with my walking buddy, who’s stuck in her home teaching
university classes via the World Wide Web while
I’m stuck in my apartment trying to write what looks like poems.

Weather experts last night forecast a 14% chance of rain for
this morning, and although I knew the chance of this was
as good as my recollection now of the 14%, the odds were close

enough to affirm my body’s desire to start the day out a little
differently than the usual up, Facebook, out, walk walk walk
Facebook, breakfast, vitamins, legal pharmaceuticals, shower

Facebook, curse Zuckerberg, thank Zuckerberg, etc. etc.--
why does it seem necessary always to do two etceteras
when, as per the outhouse sign, my mother told me, one will do?

Rolling out this morning an hour earlier than the usual five, and
shuffling into what the British call the water closet to pee
I noticed it was so dark out I could not see if the promised

raindrops were pockety pocketying on the usual puddle outside
the northwest window which, if they were, I could sleep in
without remorse, and start my day without the walk walk walk.

At this point I became annoyed, with the weather experts
and with the rain god or gods for forcing me to step outside
to see for myself there were no raindrops or even puddles.

Really pissed now that I had based my anticipated sleep-in
on unreliable scientific prognostication, albeit knowing
the inherent unpredictability of atmospheric gamboling

I hissed to myself, to hell with it, and climbed back under
the covers for that extra hour of what should have been
blissful sleep, except my irritation interfered, and here I am.
                                                                                                                                   m.d. paust

Friday, March 27, 2020

Sunny Day

The Boomer hears the Harleys and the punk cars on the road
in visible proximity through the windows of his front door.

He doesn't see them now because of the Navajo blanket
over the windows upon which the sun beats, bounding
from the white wall of his landlady's office
between the road and his front door.

It is early afternoon, and the bikers and punks are celebrating
perhaps their forced vacation from job or school, or they're
enjoying their youth or exercising their rage, or using
the roar of engines to mask their discomfort of
instinctive anticipation this viral scourge
will advance their own generation.

Or maybe, the Boomer accedes, it’s only the sunny day,
denying the gloom of abysmal news and its rules,
lifting all moods, including his own behind
the Navajo blanket blocking the sun and
muffling the boisterous sounds
of the exercised engines
through his front door.

The Boomer also wonders if his elation is not more attuned to
the fragility of his position on the spectrum of susceptibility,
the heightened clarity, appreciation, and the gratitude
for one more day--sunny, rainy, windy, or gray--as
the poets are wont to say of those condemned. 
                                                                                m.d. paust

Wee Beastie

I communed last night with one of the killer viruses
as I was about to open a bottle of Beaujolais.

The wine sat next to the apple cider vinegar bottle
with the clouded mother on the bottom,
the two of them behind the crockpot on my kitchen counter.

Limited to telepathy because of decibel incompatibility
I was unable to record the conversation, but I took notes.

After a perfunctory exchange of greetings, I asked if it was alone.

Wouldn’t you like to know, came the answer in my head in my voice,
and I said yes, and it said its answer had been rhetorical,
and, realizing now I was dealing with no simple germ, I asked if it could kill me all by itself, and it laughed, a slow, deliberate, condescending laugh, and, suddenly enraged, I lifted the spray bottle of 91% isopropyl alcohol I carry everywhere and waved it across the counter, and my adversary revealed its name and rank as Major Tom and said how do you know my legion isn’t positioned in camps all over your apartment awaiting my signal to attack, and, knowing this was no rhetorical question, I said I’ve been taking 1200 milligrams of liposomal vitamin C twice a day, and Major Tom said oh, and ended the communication.

And I opened the Beaujolais and poured a ceremonial glass, and it was good.

                                                                                                                   m.d. paust

Wednesday, March 25, 2020


It's Benadryl season,
so there's no dearth of healthy phlegm,
allowing a hold on panic--
advisable with others near enough
to hear the second.

I've not yet found the need
to try a third
for the reassurance
of a gurgle
and something to spit,
even alone and fairly certain
it will do the trick.

For I have others, tricks,
such as dialing down
to relax the sense of urgency in a
itself more a product, we all know,
of habit, reflex, tic--
unneeded to alarm us any more
than the situation requires.

                                                                                                         m.d. paust

Danger Zone

My mood fluttered when I saw
the something impeding traffic
was someone with long grey hair
hunched over a cart,
of everyone around.

I started to veer
but nearly crashed
with another
pressing behind us,
with another yet behind, and others
all in a hurrying column,
one shrieking its need for oil.

Breaking free at last
I stole a glance
as I pushed past the stalled cart
and saw the wrinkled hand
with the complimentary antiseptic wipe
scrubbing the cart handle
with meticulous care,
thinking he, then wondering, she?

                                                                                                      m.d. paust

Monday, March 23, 2020


A friend informed me this morning
he'd been found
for presence of the virus
that could paralyze his lungs
and take his life.

We'd lunched together
only a week ago,
our spirits then
less airy
than customarily,
considering our similar positions
on the timeline of chance.

Yet, each healthy it seemed,
each fancying himself
a bon vivant
we'd braved
a quip or two
about our proximity,
even placing a little haha wager...

                                                                             m.d. paust

[I should note that this poem is imaginary, altho we know similar scenarios are occurring worldwide every day now and are likely to become more frequent so long as people ignore the recommended precautions and consider themselves immune to something that happens only to "someone else."]

Thursday, March 19, 2020


One good thing about these damned killer microbes
has been their impact on my sensibility,
a seismic blessing I am humbled to see
as I'd been having trouble
subduing my irritation at the morning noise on the road
outside my apartment door.

The failure I recognized I was feeling
straining for sympathy for the “poor souls”
exercising their momentary autonomy with a vengeance
on the internal combustion engines carrying them to jobs
I gathered from the sound of raging acceleration
they powerfully resent, I know now
was the jealousy of a solitary retiree.

Now I hear the rages
as of mortally wounded beasts,
mechanized extensions
of the puny, frightened, denying hominids within
defying social distancing
and flying into the invisible lethal storm
for another paycheck
to feed and clothe their frightened families.

                                                                                  m.d. paust

Sunday, March 1, 2020


The intimation of horror came without a blink of warning. I can’t trace it back logically to a genesis in something I’d read or heard or seen. Or dreamed--I was segueing into consciousness from the usual whimsically random, indifferent choreography of faces, silent voices, ghosts, and vague stresses. The stab of horror came an instant after the question arrived banishing lingering remnants before I could mount one and ride it back to the subconsequential imbroglio that would have granted me another hour or two of care-mending sleep. It was a cruel question, coming on breath that stank of the grave. 

The grave. The closer we come the more reluctantly we adapt, perspectives evolving behind fantasy shields against the mysterious inevitable’s starkening face. Shadow wisdom—the knees go first, maybe it’s Alzheimer’s…--sheds its abstraction as we edge toward proximity. That last is what punched through to a sanctuary I’d never found truly comforting, sensing a fragile accord with chance and denial. Unable to deny the incremental physical deterioration advancing years are bringing me I’ve held onto hope my mind can resist until the very end, for I cannot abide the thought of losing my ego. And so, coinciding with the palpable diminishing of physical options my attention has migrated toward adventures of the frontal lobe, where I’ve acquired the conviction that mind can indeed prevail over matter. Two examples are irrefutable—Stephen Hawking’s brilliance reaching into the Cosmos from a paralyzed body, and Thich Quang Duc’s absolute mastery over every fiber of his being during self-immolation to awaken a world inured to persecution of his fellow Buddhists.

Aware the mind is ordinarily last to know it’s fooling itself, and fearful of blissful ignorance, I constantly peek behind curtains where wizards are apt to dwell. But this can get tedious and demoralizing, and at some point probably risks neurosis. Staying balanced with age, to paraphrase Bette Davis, is not for sissies. Nor is awakening from a troubled sleep to the horror of a possible mental catastrophe, in my case that I’d unwittingly recycled the identical beginning of my review of another book by the same author. Had I not already sent it to the editor I could sigh heavily and blame it on...oh, I don’t know, some external distraction? National politics! Anything but the sort of memory loss that could signal the beginning of a terrible end. As a younger man I’d have laughed off such a gaffe as a brain fart. This morning there’s no laughter.