buddies :: richard schiffman

I called you after you died to hear again your ducky voice
on the answering machine. For weeks you continued:
“This is Will at Bathrooms Restored, please leave a message
after the beep.” But I never did. What was there to say?
Even before– what was there to say? You used to call
first thing in the morning, “Hey Richard, it’s Will,”
and I’d say, “Hey Will, what’s up?” We’d chew the bull, maybe
plan to meet that evening. “Will, there’s a concert tonight,
I can get free tickets.” And you would trudge over wasted
after a day of laying tiles, then nod off during the Beethoven.
Who else could sleep through the “Ode to Joy”?
Later we’d go to an all-night cafe and you would yatter
about your nonexistent love life, and I would tell you mine.
Guy talk, unrepeatable mostly. And then, go figure,
you were dying, and I sat there with the gaunt shell of you
too stunned to speak, and you too sick to speak
(although we both knew that there was nothing left to say.)
I could only hold you, but that didn’t feel right either:
two awkward and dry-eyed male animals clutching.
Give me a break! Later, of course, the tears did come,
for me at least, when you moved upstate. I’m guessing
that you had already gone beyond the veil where tears
make sense. On my last visit, your eyes, not exactly vacant,
but impenetrable wells, so purged of wanting
and of needing that they were no longer entirely human.
Was this the enlightenment that we both pursued to India
and beyond? Or maybe just pain, which also clears the deck
magnificently. Or death. That will do it too. I’d like to ask.
But it has been years since your answering machine
stopped answering. And talk was never your thing,
Will, nor mine, when I was with you. We understood
each other without it in those days before male bonding,
when no one said the word “love,” or needed to.

horned toads :: richard schiffman

If they were about a thousand times bigger,
no one would think them cute anymore;
their unswerving reptilian stare might appear
life-threatening rather than goofy and endearing.
As it is, their antediluvian rock-like posture,
leathery dorsal spines, ashen-scaled underbelly,
general lack of elan vital, not to mention ambition,
good looks and animal magnetism, disqualify them
from the World Wildlife Fund’s list of charismatic species.
Still, they soldier on with all the squat charm of armored
vehicles hunched between a bayonet yucca and a mountain sage
awaiting lunch, or to become some raptor’s lunch–
whatever the next roll of the Darwinian dice ordains.
Poster children of the food chain, they never complain,
just do their lizard pushups, swivel turret heads– then wait.
The toughest muscle in their body is the heat-seeking missile
of the tongue. If you mess with horned toads, they’ll spit blood
in your eyes. With two pinholes for ears, they can hear an ant
scurry from a foot away. Dust-colored, cold-blooded, gumby boy
pterodactyls from the bottom of nature’s cracker jack box
hugging their square inch in the sun.