Then and Now (five Poems by Ken McKeon)

Strolling With Happenstance

Happenstance Marmalade, the name
Of my 9th grade would be sweetheart,
She wore a poodle skirt,
She had bangs,
She did the stroll

Down the hallways of my world,
She showed up at the school canteen
Like a slow motion dream,
She did the stroll,
Past the rows of lockers,
Made a slow curvy turn
At the decorated trash barrel,
And leaned her sweatered self
Up against the counter,

I worked that counter each day at snack,
I said to her,
Hi Happy, what will it be?
Red Licorice, one stick,
But only if it’s tender, easy to chew,
Ripe and ready, pleasing to the mouth,

You got anything that fresh?

Well sure, yes, let’s see, maybe here?

I extended the jar.

She looked the licorice over.

This one will do.

And she opened her little plastic hot pink purse,
She fished around for a coin.

Never mind, it’s on me, on the house, for you.

She smiled, bit, chewed, turned,
And strolled away as the first bell rang,
Leaving me alone, shaking, barely able
To close the small stand down.

The Moon Penny

There’s a penny in the center
Of a vast crater on the moon,
It is the one copper dot
Almost visible from Earth,

It is a stand in for an unrealized eternity,
It is as partial as the single raindrop
Of an otherwise dry cloud.

There really ought to be
A thundering down of many such coins,

A major jackpot heaping up under the richest of skies,
The clattering itself
Would awaken the distant dead
Though they be distant as dust is
From the spotless windowsills of America,

Of a well-tended prairie farmhouse windowsill
A farmhouse seen through
The heavy eyes of a housewife
Praying uselessly for rain
All through the dry summers of her life,

She is ready for it,
She has seeds to plant,
Tears to unleash,
Visions of water splashing up as thoroughly
As the rhapsodizing urgencies of her youth,

She has yearbooks full of imagined rain, of tears
Falling from her two doomed eyes,
They suffer as they witness her sad thwarted life,

She wants pennies from heaven,
A storm load of them,
But all she has ever found has been the copper glint of a single coin
Half buried in the chalky dust of a moon,
That, she imagines as being herself,
Her own purchase on her own dear life,
As distant, as vacant as cloudless air,
Barren but for the faintest presence
Of an ever present, partially buried copper coin.

Sea Change

Like as not, the sun will be
Out sometime today,

But that sometime is not right now,
Right now is a marine layer,
Low and grey,
Misty and cold,

Even time is not passing,

Hours stretch to years,
There’s not much difference
Between waking up and staying asleep ,

I need fresher air,
Brighter eyes, a clearer mind,

I start simple,
Make my bunk,
Dress, breakfast,
Clear the morning table,
Then make my way on up
The cold steel ladder.

A sensation opened freely,
A touch attended to,
A heavy forehead begins to break apart,

It mounds like a wind stirred morning sea,
Everything starts becoming clarified,

The fog lifts,

Upside, downside, rags of grey
Flipping over into blue,

The just seen hills breathe through stands of pine,
The newly clanging bells of buoys
Mark the river’s mouth

The big loafing swells all push that way,

The air is beyond my grasp,

I hold the rail, I take a breath,

I’ll stand my watch now,
I’ll even take the wheel.


Talisman trued time, a well rung runic bell,
Chime your wishes down
The mossy tube until
The day does a fade
And the wind slows
As if light would never show again,

Or if it does, it might be a strange glow,
Phosphor green,
A moist scent of light alone
Done down to its core,

A flickering sort of darkness realized
As a slowly opening door,
Not a coffin creak,
Nothing like that,

No way, more ease than that,
This is a resting point,
No walls, no floor,

All sense of any grinding presence moving forward ceases,

Edgy, isn’t it?

Wait there until the pervasive dullness starts to brighten up,
Maybe this is where the moving waters are,
Where retirement ends,

Everything is hard to say,
So why say at all?

Listen in,

That’s a sound move.

Why am I smiling?


I am the wish of toast,
The whole grain pop up,
The lift, the rise,
Of morning time,
As core as the sun,
The yield of each day’s light.

Splendor boy then,
Stumbling old man walking now,
My shadow still falls away at dusk,
I see it, but I do not believe,
I walk through each night towards dawn,
And, thanks to Earth spin, I make it there.

I need do nothing for that,

Not even rise from my rumpled bed,
Step towards the nearby sink,
Brush my fragile teeth,
Comb through what’s left of my hair,
Sit within a mantra for a speck of time,
Guide my body towards the bedroom door,
Grasp a rail, and head on down the stairs,

But I do all this and more,

I make my coffee black and strong.
I tackle the mini crossword,
I don’t cheat all that much,
I skip most of the news,

I wait within my mind,
I am a burr
Caught in a sock
As the whole wide world strides on.

I seem to be along for the ride,
May there be one more bird song sung
Before I finally fall away.

–by Ken McKeon

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