Richard Gartee     Award Winning Novelist

Poems by Richard Gartee
Published in Ann Arbor Review

Ann Arbor Review: International Journal of Poetry (AAR) was founded in 1967 and has earned a stellar reputation. In 2013 it shifted from print media to an online magazine or “ezine.”

I have been a regular contributor for years. This page contains all of my poems published in AAR after 2013, but they are arranged to pair poems of similar length instead of grouping them by the Issue in which they appeared.

I also encourage you to visit the official Ann Arbor Review website where you can read works by many additional fine poets.

Please note all poems are copyrighted. If you wish to reuse one in print or online, please contact me for permission first.

photo of Richard Gartee

Soda Fountain Days

One hand slapping time

on the green Formica countertop

to Ricky Nelson on the juke box

–Well, hello Mary Lou…

the other hand absently spinning

an empty stool, round and round.

Ricky fades, gears whir, platters change

–You can’t sit down…

A poodle skirt brushes against his hand, “I can’t?”

His eyes jerk up,

the brunette with a shoulder-length page boy

from geometry.

Oh, God, was he subconsciously singing aloud?

Fire races up his cheeks.

He yanks his hand off the stool

which continues to whirl.

She halts it with her bare knee.

He notices the knee,

stocking stopping just below it,

hemline hovering just above it

In one fluid movement,

she drops her books on the counter,

sweeps her forearm under her skirt, and sits.

He studiously focuses on the gray pate

of tightly permed curls reflected

in the mirrored wall behind the counter,

on the woman bent deep in the frost rimmed freezer

scooping hard packed ice cream into fluted glass dishes

and chrome milk shake cups

while cold vapor escapes around her short arms.

His blushing visage is in the reflection, too,

and next to that, a girl wearing

a pink Orlon sweater, a size too small.

Or intentionally bought like that?

Either way doesn’t matter; it’s the same effect.

The old lady turns from the freezer case

and asks what she wants

“Vanilla Coke.”

“Large or small?”

…a quick glance his way, “Large, please.”

She gives her best cheerleader smile.

The waitress doesn’t care, it’s been twenty years

since she’d been the girl on the stool.

Her motions are routine,

shovel ice in the Coke glass,

pump the syrup plunger with her palm,

put the glass under the chrome spigot,

pull on its black Bakelite handle.

Soda water rushes out in a noisy torrent, washing

the thick syrup off the ice cubes in brown eddies.

From under the counter materializes a bottle of vanilla,

a couple of shakes, a few drops fall,

then a quick stir with a long silver spoon.

She sets the glass on a paper lace doily

and lays a straw next to it, “15 cents.”

Carbonation bubbles effervesce above the rim.

The girl fiddles with the gold clasp on her change purse.

He swivels a quarter turn in her direction and eyes the Coke

wishing for all the world he knew the magic to change it

into a malt with two straws.

AAR Issue XIII – 2014

Purty Yellow Daisies

Mother abhorred dandelions.

A verdant croquet-court lawn

was her dream,

speckles of yellow-headed weeds

her dread.

> Her health wasn’t good,

but on summer days when

she felt up to it,

she’d be out in the yard

with a hoe or a spade

digging up dandelions.

If the kids were around,

she’d make them help.

Kids held the opposite opinion

regarding dandelions,

considering them to be

a resource of endless pleasure.

A kid could rub a blossom

under his sister’s chin,

and turn her skin yellow.

Hollow dandelion stems,

easily slipped,

one end into the other,

to make bracelets and

long green necklaces.

Stems split lengthwise,

formed tight curls.

Best of all, came the days

when dandelions turned

hoary-headed.

Delightful to blow on,

watching a hundred seeds

take flight

like white-winged fairies.

The hardware store sold

a special garden tool

called a dandelion puller.

It had a long handle like a hoe

with a fork-shaped end

that slipped under the base

of the plant and pulled it up

by the roots.

It’s hard know what became

of that dandelion puller.

It never kept up with the

proliferation of seeds.

One year, when her cause

was clearly lost, and

her yard polka-dotted yellow,

a door-to-door salesman rang.

Thinking to ingratiate himself to

the lady of the house with a compliment,

he said, “My, your yard is just filled

with purty yellow daisies.”

As much as Mother abhorred dandelions,

in that moment

she detested that salesman more.

Without a word of explanation,

she slammed the door in his face.

He left the porch and walked

across the lawn to the next house.

Along the way, he stooped down,

picked a pretty yellow blossom,

and wondered what he’d said wrong.

AAR Issue XXIV – 2020

Flying in Eights

When you jump out of an airplane,

falling feels almost like flying,

until the chute doesn’t open.

Flap your arms and cry out, knowing

you won’t end the plummet intact.

Slammed, like a hurling shot-put,

the dirt doesn’t taste like it did,

that time you ate it as a kid.

AAR Issue XVIII – 2017

Stillpoint

He sits still,

perfectly at rest,

while everything else

is in motion

Bosons and leptons

and quarks move,

but He does not

move in mysterious ways,

or in any way

Eternally conscious stillness

watching the big bang unfold.

AAR Issue XVI – 2016

Arboretum Daze

 

The good citizens of A-squared,

lie quietly tucked in their dreams,

while we race down the snowy hills

of the arboretum

on cardboard toboggans

made from discarded boxes

scavenged from the loading dock

of an appliance store.

 

Drunk on Meister Brau

bought for fifty-cents a quart

and laughing our asses off

we climb back up the hill

and do it again, and again

until the dawn paints the snow

with pink and orange tinges.

 

As we abandon our cardboard

and drift home, our shoes crunching

the freshly fallen layer of snow

workers on the morning shift

follow a snowplow down Washtenaw Avenue.

 

Stripping off our icy socks and frozen pants

we bury our toes under cheap quilts

bought at St. Vincent de Paul’s or Salvation Army

and soon snore away last night’s folly.

 

Waking, having missed our morning classes,

we head to the student union.

Over hot coffee and donuts

try to remember where we put our assignments

and decide if we should go to our afternoon class

or back to bed.

AAR Issue XXIII – 2020

January Moon

 

In a blue sky

on a cold January day,

the afternoon moon hangs

gauzy as a Florentine cookie,

its bottom edge ragged

as though nibbled on

by winter starved squirrels.

 

The trail of a jet cuts the sky,

as if propelling the jet toward

the January moon.

But its plume is not the thrust,

only vapor left behind,

momentary marks where

the plane once was.

And soon enough

they too will fade.

 

I remember, before solstice,

when winter lost the light

like a candle on a leaf

set afloat on icy water,

drifting until the cold

trapped it in skim ice

and a northern wind

snuffed the flame.

 

Gray light filled the ensuing days

until skies grew so cold

that clouds could no longer form

to hide the January moon.

AAR Issue XXIII – 2020

To Wish Again Upon A Star

We arrive at our first kiss

with scars that weigh against

our longings.

Lovers past, some forgotten,

raised welts on our hearts

leaving invisible marks.

Memories of past failures

pale in the bright spark

that leaps the gap

as lips approach,

before they touch.

Electric anticipation

cauterizes bygone wounds.

Hope becomes all.

Reason, logic, are swept absent

as pulse hastens

and blood surges.

New love hovers

a breath away,

the air between us

tingling.

A shooting star

suspended in space

waits to fall.

AAR Issue XIX – 2017

Spring Into Summer

Despite the proclamations

on Game of Thrones

Winter is not coming,

it has flown

on the wings of robins

flying north

hitchhiking on the flutter

of monarch butterflies

leaving Mexico.

The patter of gentle April rains

sprinkles the assurance

of silken milkweed parachutes

presently only just sprouted

but promised to summer solstice

all the same.

And when that sunny season

delivers on spring’s pact

I shall walk the lawns

of my childhood,

pluck the hoary dandelions,

and blow their seeds into the wind

to land where they will

and sleep until another spring.

AAR Issue XXII – 2019

Ever New Morning

Wake up in the fuchsia light

of morning without anything

from the previous day

hanging over.

Wake up without

a preconceived way

today should unfold.

Wake up with appreciation

of the unfolding experiences

that appear as your eyes open.

Wake up and live fully

what the day will be

then sleep without anticipation

the next new morning.

AAR Issue XIV – 2014

Stay Seated

The sun does not leave

its seat in heaven

yet daylight comes in morning

and departs at night

The river does not flow

inland from the ocean

but empties into the sea

The world moves

the mind creates thoughts

consciousness does not

have to go to them

to notice them float by

like bubbles on a passing stream

AAR Issue XIX – 2017

Tea in Goa

I order coffee

and the boy brings a silver pot.

“May I pour?” he says.

Something weak and pale

streams from the spout.

I add milk

& the color wanes to moonlight.

I sip.

It’s tea.

He returns and I tell him,

“I ordered coffee.”

“You want powder?” he replies.

“No. Thanks. I’ll drink the tea.”

I return to my room and change for the pool.

When I come out a cyclone of bees

swirls out from the base of a tree and upward.

I sidestep them and go looking for the lobby

but find the library instead.

I peruse their books and choose a likely candidate.

When I return the bees are gone.

At the pool

a cat the color of yellow Portuguese houses

saunters by

perambulating his domain.

He apparently is the proprietor.

The pool is languid.

I rest my head on the edge

& let my feet float weightless.

My mainspring unwinds

and time stops.

A man with a British accent

sits at a table in the shade.

It’s just the two of us until

a pretty French mother brings her young son.

She has refined cheeks and a petite nose.

The boy is naked, but the French don’t mind.

She smiles at me with azure eyes

 and even white teeth.

Lounging on a deck chair

I read,

glancing at her occasionally.

The afternoon light

reflecting off ripples

in the pool water produces

an aurora borealis effect

on the trees overhead.

Two women come, then two more.

Four men follow.

Suddenly the pool is no longer our own.

No more aurora borealis.

No more French fantasy.

A jumble of foreign syllables

spin around me

but I can’t sort out the country of origin.

One of the women says “Hello,”

but that is the extent of her English.

She looks Israeli.

One of the men has a soccer ball.

The eight newcomers form a circle in the water

men on one half, women on the other.

Tossing the ball,

chasing each other,

finding excuses to duck the guys,

or nudge the girls,

like an adult version of spin-the-bottle.

Soon the separation between opposite sexes

dissolves like suntan lotion in chlorine water.

In no time they are paired off

and repair from the pool, like

they’d known each other a lifetime.

Ahh the magic of Goa.

The waiter brings drinks to the men

and a silver pot with cup and saucer to the Israeli woman.

It makes me think of coffee,

yet I feel certain it is tea,

though we lack the lingua franca to discuss it,

her and I.

A crow lands on her table and

begins sipping her milk.

I point this out to her,

but she doesn’t understand me.

Finally her girlfriend notices

and they laugh.

The tabby returns

sips water from the pool edge

eyeing the strangers.

He doesn’t mind.

He’s seen all this before

and neither approves nor disapproves,

but simply wanders on his intended way.

Strolling to my room,

the gods have strewn

flowers at my feet.

Delicate white blossoms

with pale yellow centers

have fallen over the pathway.

Their mild, milky color

reminds me of morning tea in Goa.

AAR Issue XVI – 2016

Bananas for Baba

The old man in an Indian dhoti

dodders the dusty Madurai street

leaning on a walking stick

nearly as tall as he is.

As we approach

he lurches toward me

pointing to his mouth

saying “buh, buh.”

I shake my head no

and keep walking.

Another day I almost trip

as he stabs his gnarled staff

into the tan sand at my feet

to hold himself erect.

Where it strikes the earth

clouds of dust spring up

and hover around my ankles.

Again, he begs, “buh, buh.”

One morning, I think of him

and bring a banana from breakfast.

I walk up behind him

and say, “Baba,”

(respected elder).

He turns.

I offer the banana.

He seizes it.

Next day I take him another banana

but can’t find him.

I think, Well, I’ve missed him.

Then, at the last minute he is

before me.

“ Baba,” I call to him,

hand him the banana,

and decide,

in the future I shall

always bring a banana.

A day comes that he isn’t there.

Has something happened?

Did the old man collapse somewhere

never to cross my path again?

Should I give his banana

to some other worthy soul

who hungers in the morning light?

What could I do?

I save his banana.

Three days I carry that banana.

Its skin too dark

for me to take home

and put back in the fruit bowl.

I recall a Zen story

called Eating The Blame,

and wonder if I’m going to have to

eat the banana myself.

Then, I spy Baba

standing in the road.

His eyes lock mine.

I shout and run to him,

black banana in hand.

It is soft and warm,

almost banana pudding inside its peel.

A large bus hurls toward us

honking furiously,

missing us by millimeters,

miring us in clouds of dust.

I lay the black wonder in his palm

and hurry off without

looking back to see

what he thought of it.

AAR Issue XVIII – 2017

Found Naked Lunch

Enlighten me

with your brilliant mind.

Carry on alone

singing softly.

Pretend to be a body

healthy with brains.

Health in absentia.

AAR Issue XXI – 2018

Old Order

Reading aloud about convent life

she left decades earlier,

a former nun stands at the podium.

Gray hair cascades over her shoulders

like an old style habit.

Her clothing, black and white,

serves as a subconscious remainder

of clothes she’d worn fifteen years or longer.

She asks our permission to read more.

Given the nod, she continues

with descriptive passages about

women’s voices ringing in the sacred space

of a marble choir loft,

and concludes with: “women are givers of life,

arms encircling a well reflecting stars and moon,

 symbols of the universe.”

AAR Issue XX – 2018

Fingering The Jam

Anna Marie and Nancy fingering the jam

dancing over the frets between G and D.

Brushing a curl from her eye Anna Marie sings, while

Nancy, bending the strings, sets the stage afire

triple timing every measure

fingers flying so fast notes are dropping on the floor.

The bass player’s driving.

The drummer’s breaking sticks.

Swiveling her volume knob down,

Nancy lets the guitar fall off

so we can hear Anna Marie,

who grabs the microphone

flicks her tongue across her lips,

opens her mouth, and lets rip.

The crowd jumps to its feet.

She grins at Nancy, and Nancy grins back.

Two goddesses of rock & roll,

brown-eyed as Van Morrison’s girl

in the stadium lights

with their amplifiers jacked.

AAR Issue XV – 2015

Last Dance of the Year

The band,

play list exhausted,

are starting to repeat themselves,

but they can’t quit now,

it’s only minutes ’til midnight.

So they sing a song of Mary Jane;

not exactly Auld Lang Syne,

but they never knew what those lyrics

meant anyway.

On this night the girls,

in their tightest dresses,

made their boyfriends make an effort;

“Put on a nice shirt, dear.”

One more song as everyone holds on.

Then seconds to count

10, 9, 8...

and the old one’s gone.

Lovers, strangers,

and estranged lovers

kiss.

The planet commences another

waltz around the sun.

AAR Issue XVII – 2016

He and She

She was like ice at the point of melting,

ephemeral, impossible to pick up.

He was like negative space in art,

unseen, though it surrounded her

and defined her edges.

Rubin’s illusion

Two faces or a single vase,

that described their relationship,

in black and white.

They met on a cold spring day

that should have been hot.

Flowers that had opened early

in the warm Southern light

shivered and shriveled

at the unseasonable change.

She, who could bring

an unconscious room

to life by entering it,

was like troubled waters.

He, with no desire to be newly fashioned,

found himself to be fresh dirt in the hands

of an eager landscaper.

Life together promised to be a lush valley

between high mountains,

but every raindrop and snowflake

sooner or later slides downward;

and rough waters are not quieted

by flash floods and avalanches.

AAR Issue XIV – 2014

Brave Voice

The poet’s dark chocolate eyes

stare out her apartment window,

through a hard tropical rain, watching

the canal behind her building overflow.

The canal where sometimes alligators lie

when they find their way from the Everglades

into someone’s backyard;

where they wait for a small tasty dog

or a girl poet on her way to a poetry slam.

Not her of course -she’s a woman, not a girl.

She ain’t afraid of no gator

(even if channel 7 keeps running those stories)

And she’s not going to stand here,

peering through rain streaked glass,

imagining one out there.

In a room of friends and strangers,

she prepares to throw forth words

peeled from her naked heart

one night in the dark.

Pausing to worry, what’s this weather done to her hair?

She slips her tongue

between plush lips,

clears her throat,

and begins to read a poem

she wrote when she was fifteen,

before she ever met a gator.

AAR Issue XV – 2015

Lost and Found Shoes

The closest parking space is a couple of blocks away.

There never is any parking downtown.

I get out and opened the car door for her.

She does a quarter turn in her seat

and slides her slim ankles out the door.

Black straps no wider than fettuccini

hold her latest fashion acquisition on narrow feet.

My date has a thing for shoes; a plethora of which clog her closets.

Whenever we go out, she obsessively notices

what shoes other women are wearing.

We are walking toward the theater district when we come upon

a woman’s high-heel shoe on the sidewalk.

Its companion lies in the grass a few feet away.

She stops. I sense her reluctance to pass the orphaned footwear.

She picks up the shoe from the concrete and looks it over.

It’s very dressy.

A subtle sadness comes over her. To her mind,

Shakespeare couldn’t have devised a more lamentable tragedy

than this beautiful pair of shoes should be lost or abandoned.

She speculates that the woman may have been taken-plucked right out of her shoes.

That seems unlikely to me, and I say so.

Abducted by whom-aliens in flying saucers?

She pushes me away, annoyed.

I pick up the second shoe and postulate a more reasonable scenario:

the woman had worn walking shoes and carried her high heels

in her bag like New Yorkers do. Perhaps they’d fallen out.

My date isn’t convinced. She wants us to take the shoes to...

I don’t know where,

some lost and found for sidewalks?

some random nightclub in the city?

I pry the first shoe from her hand and place it and its mate on the walk,

reasoning that if the person who lost them comes back,

we should leave them where they can be easily found.

Some say a man is a creature of reason, and woman an emotional soul,

never has that been more evident than when

I make her leave a pair of lost shoes behind.

AAR Issue XX – 2018

Un-Platonic Solids

The roof changed pitch sixteen times,

a wild experiment,

a builder stretching himself,

extending his skills,

but knowing nothing about Feng Shui.

Shape twisted energy at such odd angles

that no one could live

in that space for long.

And no one did.

Constructed of cedar beams

that wouldn’t rot,

the building hung around

and hung around.

Forty years later,

it sagged at angles

even stranger than its architect imagined.

Finally, men who built it

had to pull it down.

The oddity dismantled

the lot scraped clean,

traces of it erased.

But when the forest returns,

what if mans’ triangles

left space at the site bent?

New trees might grow at crazy angles,

reminding us

where the oddity once stood.

AAR Issue XXI – 2018

Blinds and Shutters

At school, the wife had learned

the ancient Roman saying,

“The eyes are windows to the soul.”

Taking it for truth

she’d since made of her eyelids

Venetian blinds

canting them like angled slats

to block would be voyeurs

from espying her immortal Self.

By the time she married

she wore mascara layered so thick that

peering out through half-closed eyes

was like looking

through prison bars

of her own making.

The husband waited

while she put on her makeup

for their anniversary dinner.

Her mascara brush reminded him

of a rat tail dragged through a tar pit

as she loaded it with black goo

and trawled through her lashes.

She caught the judgment in his eye,

leaned her head against his,

and said into his ear,

“Will yourself not to speak.”

A tear slithered

from the edge of her

Venetian blinds

and slid like a spider

down a cord

but her face was too close to his

for him to see the teardrop

that felt like dew,

dampening his cheek.

Through her prison bar perception

she noticed hair growing in his ears;

not soft, pale, peach fuzz,

but wild, unruly, cactus spikes

that sprang in every direction

and required no mascara

to make them thick and black.

She straightened the slats

of her Venetian eyes

to confirm her perception

wasn’t a deception

of her own makeup.

No, there were definitely tufts

jutting from his ear canals,

thickets that begged to be cut,

by her, if he would let her.

She wondered

why men of a certain age

suddenly grew hirsute fields

in ears otherwise pink as conch shells.

Perhaps the shag in his ears

acted as aural shutters

sheltering him against criticisms

he’d tired of hearing.

His finger brushed the ear

where her whisper had tickled.

She pulled her face even with his eyes

and let him have a look through her open blinds;

the first time in forty years.

He, finally permitted to see into her eyes,

didn’t see her soul

or her notions about ear stubble,

only his own worrisome thoughts

about being late to the restaurant.

She blotted her lipstick and nodded.

He draped her shawl over her shoulders

and they walked outside.

He started to lock the door,

but she stayed his hand,

and stepped back inside,

to close the blinds.

AAR Issue XVII – 2016

Madwife

I put my key into the lock

and turned the door knob

ever so gently

it swung open soundlessly,

the hinges did not squeak

I took off my shoes and

stepped into the foyer

thorns stuck in my feet

anniversary flowers strewn

everywhere on the floor

The roses were yellow

but her face was red

the vase laid in shatters

crystal shards splayed

down the hall

there I stood

with a thorn in my foot

and a bottle of wine

in my hand

daggers flying from

her eyes

Three dead soldiers

in the trash

and a glass half empty

in her hand

I’ve no idea what

I’ve done, but

I must have done

it again

If I had the brains

of an armadillo

I’d turn right around.

Instead I step into the abuse

because you know fools

come in twos

Celebration must have

started early and without me

but something turned sour

in her mind between

the second and third bottle

while I was still at work

now she’s pissed

in all meanings of the word.

A colander of cold spaghetti

looks like brains in the sink

Sauce in a blue enameled pot

congealed

A pan of garlic rolls

sits next to it, half baked

an accusation waiting

to happen.

AAR Issue XV – 2015

Nothing Out of Something

There’s too much stuff in my office,

especially on my desk.

A jar of pens collected at conferences

years ago

three-quarters of which probably

dried up, are useless.

But how to tell? Try each one?

That could take all day.

I start with the burgundy plastic

in/out basket of papers

which continue to come in

and fail to go out

becoming an archeological site,

layered geological strata

like rock formations in Utah.

“Tell me when you sent that

and I’ll know how deep

in the pile to look.”

I move on to the file cabinet

its overstuffed drawers

protruding papers

that keep them from closing fully.

Edging the bottom drawer open

wide enough for my hand to fit

I mash the mess down and

slam the drawer shut before the files

leap out in rebellion.

I refill my coffee cup,

return to my office,

and ponder my situation.

Plainly, I have too many papers.

The needed solution:

How to make nothing

out of too much something?

Fahrenheit 451 comes to mind.

But then my eye fall on a page

containing a few lines of verse

I think, This bit of nothing could become something.

So, I add it to a future pile and postpone cleaning

my office for another day.

AAR Issue XXII – 2019

The Deva

Fairy winds give flight

and a petite creature

with peacock-colored dragonfly wings

ascends on thermal currents

to its aerie on distant mountaintop

where morning frost sugars its nest

in air so thin the sun has no filter

and ultraviolet rays can pink bare flesh

with a moments exposure.

Below, calving ice

cracks like thunder

and avalanches white darkness

over the lower meadows

causing tiny bluebells to

wear snowflake hats and shiver.

The world turns one degree

and fingers of sunlight

extend across the valley floor.

Frozen crystals become puddles

mirroring the fuchsia sunrise

and Teton peaks.

A fawn noses aside a clump of snow

to nibble the spring grasses

flattened by the unexpected

slide of the powdery blanket.

The doe stands nearby

eying the vale

alert for shadowy movement

sniffing the cool air for predators

Above the timberline

the deva leans out

surveys the scene below

and slides from her nest

gliding on diaphanous wings

descends in lazy circles

Landing amidst a patch of baby’s breath

she inclines against a willowy stem.

Startled, the doe gives a soft call

bringing the fawn to her side.

The sun blooms full

making the field luminous.

A hummingbird arrives

and the deva flits away.

AAR Issue XVII – 2016

On a Shady Lane

On a shady lane, a little boy

picks dandelions, and

leaves them in sweaty bouquets

at the other end of the culvert

for the neighbor girl

who is contagious

and can't come near him

or so their mothers say

His heart wants to tear from

his chest and rush toward her

but they stand

separated by thirty feet of gravel

while the blossoms wither

and their stems curl

AAR Issue XXIV – 2020