Learning to Say Goodbye

By Alan Horvath

Kirpan Press, 2006


the remains

in a moment of weakness,
I forget all about this
spiritual enlightenment our
souls are supposed to possess.

I feel the touch of death
caressing my being,
seducing the heart
with lies & false promises.

I never want to sleep again


someone who watches over me

my guardian angel
stays not-too-close
or too far away.

his actions & understanding
help to guide me through
uncharted waters.

when disease took my vision,
he stood as a bright light
illuminating what
I couldn't always see:
    I am stronger
    than this temporary

I do not know how
we formed this relationship
or what I have to offer.

I know I need
my friend now
as pure darkness
is taking control of my world
& I must learn to say goodbye.


a public display

they chose the steel bridge.

the man & the woman
walked halfway across
& attached the ropes
to one of the trusses.
the nooses had already
been tied,

& then they jumped. . .

when the amtrak train passed
on the bridge's lower level,
the authorities told the passengers
to close their shades
so that no one would see
the two bodies dangling
from above.

the homicide investigators
allowed the corpses to sway over
the willamette river for hours
while they took their measurements
& collected the facts.

the cops thought they
knew why he committed suicide.
in his backpack
they found scribbled notebooks
detailing years of drug abuse
& how the system sucked him dry.

her only reason
was that she loved him.


the neighborhood

as a teenager,
he always wore
a green baseball cap
& a raincoat.
I would see him through
our picture window
to the corner bus stop.

my mother made jokes
to my sister about marrying
this loner who
lived up the hill.

a few years later
he murdered his mother
in the middle of the afternoon.
he left her near the back door
on the kitchen floor.

when the youngest brother
came home from school,
the door was locked.

it was at the back steps
where the father found
his small son crying.

soon the police came,
the street was shut down
& then it was night.

as the cops
entered the house,
there was a thunderstorm
of bullets.

the reports were
filed on the late news.
the newspapers the next day
had photos of the windows
where tear gas canisters
tore open-mouthed sores.

the rumor spread
that it had been an accident
while he was cleaning
his rifle, but nobody knew
& soon, nobody cared.

that sunday we played
our normal pick-up game
of tackle football,
missing our usual
wide receiver


any particular one

someone bought it
at the bell hotel
on the nightshift

the red lights on
the ambulance were
spinning crazy like
a coke bottle in a
loser's game of love
& jesus, I swear
to you: there was
only one star in
the thick sky
all this happened
when I left work to
wait for a train to
take me from
but the trains
aren't moving well
through -10° below
zero & to catch one
tonight before you
are frozen stiff,
you have as much
of a chance as
winning big in the
ohio lottery
someone bought it
& paid full price
everyone else is
still making payments


two for one

he said that he was going
to blow up the bonneville dam.
it would take $11,000 in ransom
to stop him from blasting
all those tons of concrete
into the columbia river.

the local sheriffs knew
the guy was harmless,
mildly retarded &
living in a tent on his
ancestral fishing grounds.

the government viewed him
as a terrorist & sent
the FBI.

anybody with half a brain
could reason
that it would be almost
impossible for this crazy indian
to destroy such a massive

as the deadline approached,
everyone took their
positions & waited.

underneath a darkening sky,
the confused young man
raised a cellular telephone which
the sharpshooters mistook as
a detonator.

with one shot,
they killed him.

his body laid on the grass
between the doors
to powerhouse no. 2 & the fish ladder.
it was as motionless as the silent firs
on the surrounding mountains.

the blood drained into the ground
which, until that moment,
had been the exact spot
where I would go whenever
I wanted to escape
my world.


the relationship

she takes my hand
sending 10,000 volts
throughout my body.

we are melted together
as she leads me
to view her son
in his coffin.

from that moment:
    we are bonded,
    filling the missing spaces
    in each other's life.

                until this moment:
    when there is an infinite chasm
    without any side touching.

my silent lover . . .


someone I knew

she always hears music.
the sound surrounds her.

I meet her at the
panhandle of golden gate park.
we drive south on 19th avenue
through the morning commute
to our temporary assignments
on the peninsula.

we discuss herb caen's
chronicle column
& events of the day.

now I have an additional
focus to my daily routine:
I read the newspaper
& listen to the radio
in anticipation
of my carpool rider.

other than these topics,
we have nothing in common.

she lives in the decay
of the haight district
& views it as this mystical place
which it was many layers
of decomposition ago.

moving to san francisco
from someplace in the east,
she knows that the haight
is the center of any universe
which she would want to inhabit.

at work we rarely speak,
but at 5 o'clock we are
in my car & traveling north
into the traffic jam on highway 101.

today she is talking about
her boyfriend whom she calls "ton." I wonder it tony's nickname
represents a stereo's pitch controls —
like "bass" & "treble."
no, she replies: it's more like
"wow" & "flutter."

the music means the most.
everything is music
& the haight has the best.

when her assignment
reaches its conclusion,
she is terminated.
no longer do I circle
the panhandle waiting
for her to appear.

I find myself alone
in rush hour congestion.

a few months later,
I return to my regular job
in the city.
a friend tells me
that tony killed nancy.
he beat her over the head
with a telephone & twisted the chord
around her neck until she was dead.

he wrapped her body in a rug
& planned to throw her
from the building's roof.

when the landlord
spotted him in the stairwell,
tony dropped the rug
& disappeared into the rot
on the street.

I never heard how many people
attended her funeral
:     some people pass through
    & are blown away like dust.

in her life,
nancy could hear screaming
guitars emanating from somewhere
down the hall
& had to follow.


the passage

wanda's mother died
on a thursday.
a stroke eventually led
to the pneumonia
which took betty down.

the doctors couldn't
do anything for her.
betty's lungs would fill
with fluid as fast
as they drained them.

near the end,
betty lifted her body
from the hospital sheets
& raised her arms.
"oh my god."
betty's eyes were wide
with wonder;
seeing her husband
who had passed years ago,
maybe surprised to discover
her beloved dog which
wanda put to sleep.

wanda & the ladies from church
stood around the bed
& sang betty into heaven:
    "I shall not be
    I shall not be moved. . ."

dear lord,
please have mercy on us.
even at our very best,
we are all so weak & fragile.


d.a. levy's revenge

on the internet,
they have plastered
pictures of your
childhood houses
& random apartments.
It's as if the clapboards
& brick walls are meant
to define who you were.

these buildings only
provided a setting
for the creativity
which was done
in your brain.
anything anyone
wants to know about you
can be found in your words
or in your destruction of words.

fuck the putzes
who want to turn
you into an emblem
on a baseball cap
or an icon
on a coffee mug.

since you cannot
defend yourself,
let me fuck them
for you.


the dog soldier

when the situation required subversion
    he undermined the system
when it needed kindness
    he offered a place to sleep

as the 1960s scene broke apart
    he tried to hold it together
until the jagged pieces of friends
    cut like rusted beer cans

while everyone became lost in themselves
he found a place where no one could find him

instead of filling a city with words
he filled the soil with seeds then drove
all over town to distribute the crops because:
"people have to eat, right?"

if there was time, he would burn
aluminum stencils in the sun & print books
in his cellar:
        voices who should be heard
        voices who had been silenced

then the world began attacking
from angles he hadn't planned on:
a shit pond & high tension power lines
took the energy out of the garden

the forces made him plant a wall around
his house to keep out the vultures:
a barrier which was only as threatening
as a scarecrow to frighten little-brained creatures

& inside this enclosure he continues
to live the dream which so many people
gave away because it was easier
for them to pretend that
somebody else killed it.


poem for kent taylor

a death every decade
pushes you into
an unwelcomed position

some bodies are buried,
others become ash
to be spread
onto the river

as the survivor
you are assigned
the slowest of deaths;
to be the eyewitness
who measures
each loss


a place for rabbits

like an all-knowing god,
he allows EVERYTHING
to grow in his garden:


only the sunflowers
appear to have
any authority.


for the love of books

even as he was dying,
jim lowell typed
a few pages
for the next
asphodel book shop


crumbs for later

you were the artist
& I was a poser

I muted all your colors
& showed you
the meaning of grey,
you abandoned
your path
to follow mine

there is nothing else
that a person can
ask from a friend

we pushed
each other to the limit,
breaking into
sharp points of light
as bright as stars


letting a friend slip away
        without anger

neither of us seemed
to easily adhere to friendship.
when our bond formed,
it was fused by trust
& sealed with our
perception of the truth.

everything connected the dots:
music to conversation
to beers & driving down
dark roads
looking for the light.

during the icy patches,
I do not remember
yelling at each other.
instead we imploded,
let the dust settle
& then swept the shit
under the rug.

I am thinking that
this mutual silence
might be different.
we have acquired
a thick layer of rust
& any future positioning
might be more problematic
than we would care to admit.

my friend, I release all my remaining
hours of riding the night streets
with the radio dialed to the best songs.

you will need them more than me.


not everything is poetry

the woman sitting
two rows in front
of him
dancing her fingers
through her auburn hair

the late afternoon sun
shining its rays
on the tallest buildings
in the city

the second his life
changed forever

the pyramid of empty
beer cans poised
on the kitchen table

visiting his
brother's grave
for the first time
in thirty years

some events
should not be defined
by words

& no matter
how important it may
seem to him,
poetry is not everything


getting even

when my sister & I
were young, my parents
would threaten to take us
to the orphanage if we didn't behave.

on the occasions
when we really crossed the line,
they would make us pack
our clothes into suitcases.
the family car would be parked
in front of parmadale until we pleaded
never to do anything bad again.

things like this
put the fear into a deep
dark vault & you learn
to forgive but not forget.

someday soon
they will face the decision
to sell their house because
they can't take care of it anymore.
most of their possessions
will be sold at a garage sale.

they will pack their belongings
into a couple of suitcases
for their new lives in a retirement home
& will need someone to drive them.


new car

my father tells me
that he is going to
buy a new car this fall.

maybe a ford,
maybe a toyota.

he asks me to search
the internet for the bottom line
so that he will know when
to quit threatening & actually
walk out the showroom door.

then he adds to our conversation
that this will be his last new car.
at age 77, he is already
thinking about the day when
he is no longer able to drive.

this thought catches me unprepared
& crashes me into an emotionally
unseen guardrail.

I find myself numb.
the smells of coffee
& my father's aftershave
overtake me.


on my mother's side

I never met my grandfather,
long since buried
before I was born.
I remember visiting
my grandmother
for special occasions
at her house among the rusting steel
mills on cleveland's near east side.

my grandmother
never seemed happy.
she always wore a scowl
as if she had been cheated
by someone who she considered
to be a friend.

she had 12 children,
most of whom have passed away:
Julius died when he was four
riding the bumper on an ice truck,
clara had 3 daughters
who died from cystic fibrosis,
fred married an ex-nun
& no one knew what ferdinand
did except drink & play the ponies.

the kindest lady I know,
married an alcoholic.
uncle carl & she always treated us
like the kids they never had.

because my mother worked
since she was a teenager,
because she was born into nothing
& never had a lucky break,
for most of the time
that I lived in her house,
my mother had
an anger with the world
which clouded her existence.

in her retirement,
she is insulated from the
outside by my father.
he deals with the public,
takes care of the house
& even washes the dishes
every night by hand.

sometimes, like a runaway,
my mother breaks free &
walks the neighborhood to view
the new houses being built
among the monterey pines.

I can see my thin-textured hair
& emotional instability
when I look into her eyes.

she sits isolated
in her living room,
no longer talking
in complete thoughts.

only my father knows
how the sentences
are supposed to end.


the window

in presideo heights,
my bedroom window
faces the outline of the
san francisco city hall.

beneath the window
is the red-tiled roof
of the mayor's house.

those are two features
which attract various females
into my bedroom.

one woman will tear my life apart.
another woman will marry me
& do it later.


prior baggage

we were both
damaged goods
when we met.

what we had
in common
was the hope
that we each had
one more chance.


the apartment

her apartment is always so cold.
it's a long narrow flat
in north beach
built in the days
when san francisco
was warmer with
no need for further insulation.

because the only wall heater is
in the rear near the kitchen,
we move her double bed from
the front room into the dining room.

from this new location
we are forced to listen
to the incessant dripping
of a cracked downspout.

still. . .
the apartment is always so cold,
except when we make love
beneath frozen sheets.


the encore

the moment
she comes,
she bursts
a waterfall
around me.

to whisper
& she comes


waiting for instructions

your green eyes

a map

tell me where to go
& how long should I stay


the wedding

two nights before the wedding
we nearly cancelled everything.
kathy went as far as dialing
the telephone to tell her parents
not to take the flight to
san francisco.

a few months of planning
& the consolidation of two
apartments into a rental house
took us this far.
a broken trunk key
in the car's ignition
almost wiped it away.

the next night
everyone gathered at the house.
kathy played hostess
& took the relatives to yet wah
for a massing of the tribes.
I remained behind
not completely convinced.

the day of the wedding
was perfect for a usually
cold & foggy spring.
we posted signs reading:
"this is where the road leads"
down the driveway to stern grove,
hoping that the road actually went farther
into the future than the moment at hand.

we gathered under
the ring of tall redwoods
& said our prayers.


my wife

she whispers to me
all her hopes & fears

those I do not hear
become her secrets


mary s. young state park — 6:45 a.m.

the path remains
by human footsteps.

a light dusting
of pine needles
& fall leaves
blanket the ground.

our presence disturbs
the birds which are
playing musical chairs
with the shedding maples.

the walk along this path
produces rustling noises
as we make our mark,
the first people
to see this day awakening
from the night before.

the forest is only slightly
changed from yesterday while
it is preparing itself for tomorrow.

then our footsteps will be covered
by more forest decomposition
as if to say
we were never here.


another world

encapsulated by the night,
we are cradled in our bed
surrounded by the sounds
of a fan across the room.

you are curled
as small as possible
with the comforters
tightly tucked
against your neck.

in this dim light
I can barely see
the details of your face:
tiny black lashes
doing the dance of sleep,
furrowed brows
trying to see deeper
into a dream.

I am merely inches
away from your face
in another world
listening to you breathe.

your body releases
a wave of warmth.
it is this heat
that addicts my life.
not that I need
the temperature,
my craving is for the body
that conveys it.

I wrap my left arm around
you to hold onto this life-force,
to protect you from
your demons
as well as all my own.


in the vault

the pictures
of our children
are not kept on
the piano or
on the mantle
in the family

the grainy frames
are stored in
a box
where no light
can touch;
a vault
to prevent
further deterioration
like a memory
when you
close your eyes
so tight
that stars
from blackness.

there is the little head;
here are the hands,
two eyes.

my children
do not have heartbeats
as someday soon
neither will I.

then we will
join hands
for the first time
& hold each other
until our arms
can hold
no longer.



laying awake in bed
like most previous nights,
my wife is beside me
drawing slow, deep
everything is not
well in my world.
this sanctuary
which held
a certain peace,
no longer
the cure.

there was a time
when only
the touch
from my wife's
left hand
would send me
into the whiteness
of sleep.

these nights
I am consumed
by the unseen terror,
a ship
caught on jagged rocks
& only one way
to escape.


almost time

the perfect opportunity:
my wife, away for the weekend,
leaves me alone
with the walls
to resolve any
unfinished business:

        I am forced to face
        all the guilt of whom
        I've let myself become.

it is time to stop thinking
about the future &
time to take whatever
means necessary
to leave this world
for the next.

the accusations are endless
& it becomes monday.

now I walk
the house with a secret.
I picture myself
surrounded by blood;
— in the living room,
— in the bedroom,
— every room in this house.

my wife, already
back from one funeral,
can see the desperation
in my eyes, but hasn't a clue
how close
the color


cheating fate

kathy brings me a piece
of my birthday cake
with a lit candle

I need as much
help as possible,
she gives me another slice
with three more wishes


the chalk outline

my life is escaping me.

a series of still photographs
depicting every event
has been accelerated
into a seamless dream of motion.

all aspects of me are breaking
free from this condemned body,
trying not to be the last
part remaining
at the scene
of the crime.


on the beach

the wave hits
the shore
ocean water
the coolness
laps my ankles
drives me
this moment
& places
me into


one final request

now that I'm dead
I want you to forget
about me

don't think about:
    my birthday
    the day I died
    or how I died
it won't help you

every minute
which we shared
is projected
as wonderful white
clouds filling a
brilliant summer sky

   but after this moment,
   it is time for you to move on. . . .


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