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SHJ Issue 7
Fall 2013


by Jack Grapes

I guess when you get old
you tally the deaths, the ones
who went before you:
Martin Shapiro when I was twelve,
Leon Zilberman’s father when I was sixteen,
Elton Cigali when I was eighteen,
the rich kid with the sports car
who died in a head-on collision.
It was the big drama in high school that year,
the golden boy, star quarterback,
fleet-footed track star,
doomed like Achilles.
Then Dad, when I was nineteen,
then Mom,
a few years later.
Then Jerry Pinero, from 5th grade,
whose father owned a fruit stand
on Carrollton Avenue.
I wrote about him in another poem.
There were others, some I remember,
some I forget.
Clifford Janoff about ten years ago,
of a heart attack.
I have a picture of the four of us,
Cliff, Allan, Paul and me,
high in the Sierras, in a bank of snow,
We thought it would be funny.
With our scraggly beards,
we looked like mountain men
impervious to the cold.
It took us ten seconds to take the picture,
but we froze our butts off.
“Twenty years from now,” we said,
“this’ll be funny.”
Twenty years later, Clifford found the photo
and sent me a copy as a reminder.
I laughed. It was funny.
And of course the L.A. poets,
those I knew and read with
when we were all young and ambitious:
Leland Hickman, Linda Backlund,
John Thomas, Philomene Long,
Bob Flanagan, to name a few.
And yesterday, just yesterday,
I got an email from Paul
that Evelyn Klein had died
after a long bout with cancer.
Evelyn was a tall, beautiful brunette
with dark, deep set eyes,
whose father had been a Commie back in the 30s,
and I spent hours talking to him,
a frail old man
holed up in his house in Lakeview,
hounded by the FBI agents
parked on the street.
Evelyn would never have given me
the time of day, except that she was smart
and had no time for football players
or the blond Adonis with the tennis racket.
She liked her men smart.
I can’t explain it, but there are people
who fit into categories.
Evelyn fit into none of them.
And in my mind,
though I haven’t seen her in fifty years,
she’s still twenty, dazzling, smart,
talking to smart men,
talking to me.
Now she’s gone, too.

Mostly though, I’ve been celebrating
those still alive,
not just friends,
but plants, animals, things.
It’s a check-list I keep in my head,
going through it several times a day:
the road’s still here—check;
the washing machine, still here;
the dog next door, still here;
Peter behind bullet-proof glass
at J-Market, still here;
this pair of scissors: check;
my old calculator: check;
this pen: check.
There’s so much that is still alive,
it seems wrong not to notice it,
celebrate it.
That’s the problem.
Who has time to celebrate the living?
And if you’re really alive and living,
who has time for the dead?
So I’ve made some time,
here in this poem,
and then, when I’m done,
I’ll go back to the daily routine,
filling up my car with gas,
getting food at Ralph’s,
going to the bank and the post office.
Making my list.
The little Japanese fountain in my front yard: check.
The metal gate with the broken handle: check.
The cigar that I smoked halfway,
still in the ashtray in the back yard: check.
I sit down on the bench by the firepit.
That damned Chinese elm
that fills the yard with debris,
tiny leaves and orange dust,
I thought I hated it,
yet I check it off: still here.
And the belly I never could get rid of,
my corns,
my aching hips
and that muscle in my calf
that refuses to heal: check,
check, check,


SHJ Issue 7
Spring 2013

Jack Grapes

is an award-winning poet, actor, playwright, editor/publisher, and teacher. He recently appeared in a revival of his play Circle of Will, which won several drama critic awards for Best Comedy and Best Performance. His most recent book of poetry is The Naked Eye: New & Selected Poems, 1987-2012. Due for publication later this year is Method Writing: The Craft Of The Invisible Form, and he teaches workshops in Los Angeles based on his Method.

Jack is editor and publisher of ONTHEBUS, a literary journal. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife Lori and his son Joshua.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury