Joe Cottonwood | All we didn’t say in words

Grocery Checkout

Wow those are nice earrings there’s
something playful about them you know
what I mean they remind me of a
charm bracelet the crossbar with the
little doodads dangling down those beads
are such a pretty shade of blue
or is it turquoise
I’m sorry
I really wasn’t hitting on you
but I can understand it’s uncomfortable
to have a stranger give such attention
to your earlobe
I brought my own bag
Yes I’d like the receipt
Thank you


The Best Handshake Ever

No palm-slapping.
None of that fancy dance with hip-hopping fingers.
Strictly old school,
first time Don shakes my hand.
Grip firm.
Not crushing.
Flesh like rough-sawn lumber.

Each finger a roller on a conveyor
belt of warmth
passing top to bottom,
index to pinkie with a special
squeeze of thumb. Wow.

A wary smile of evaluation
as we lock eyes
and hold one second, two.
From that instant onward
we are true.


I Find Myself

As grandchildren run between my legs
chasing their old dog Gonzo
who I love like another grandchild
I find myself wincing at Gonzo’s stiff-legged limp.
I find myself explaining to my daughter
my new-found empathy for the pain of elderly dogs,
their dysplasia, their arthritis like my own
as I approach human-year seventy
while Gonzo approaches dog-year ninety-eight.
I find myself saying that in the future
I would put a geriatric dog to sleep
earlier than I have in the past
given my new feeling of their suffering
though of course, I hasten to add,
Gonzo is far from that.

Sometimes a conversation
is not the one
you think you’re having.
Here is where my daughter frowns at me
with deep, downright psychiatric concern.
I find myself hearing “Before you reach
that point, Dad, will you please call me?”


Universal Language

The man tells me in Chinese
with gestures
how the water drips from upstairs
into his kitchen.
I understand.
I tell the man in English
with gestures
how I repaired the tub.
He understands.
The water doesn’t speak
or understand.
We hear it, though,
still dripping.


Naked Angel, Old Girlfriend

The heirloom glass angel
from storage is dusty,
a mouse-dropping for a mustache,
still boldly naked but greasy in her crevices.
We joke that cleaning by hand would be rude.
She’s ridiculous, you say. Take her. A gift.

Idly you glance down at your sweater
with my gaze following
and we both notice your nipples firming up,
prominent now, a sudden blossoming
where I had not been aware.

Now looking straight into your eyes I say

Thanks, I’ll take the angel. As trade

         I’ll bring a load of firewood,

         split and stacked. To keep you warm.

Which translated means

I am trying not to think about

         how pretty you would be

         if posed like the angel.

You, looking straight into my eyes, say

         Yes, to keep me

         and my husband warm,

which means

I know exactly

         what you are not thinking

         and it is all your fault,

         you beast.

See you later, I say, and we hug because
we are friends. Old friends. That’s all.

Joe Cottonwood is a frequent contributor to The MOON. A builder by day and a poet by night, he lives with his high school sweetheart in La Honda, California.

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