Sample Poems by John Van Dreal
He thinks about this:
He does OK.
Puts 92 in his car-a Lexus. Listens to KMHD,
89.1 FM. All jazz, all the time. It's public radio,
so he pays his annual fees, even doubles them,
because he can. Because he should. His people.
His music. No satellite.
Day dreams of being a musician, if he
had the flair.
Buys local, gives to the shelter, doesn't hate.
Is incensed at those who do, especially when
they scorn the gays. He's not gay. But wouldn't
care if he was. His wife might.
Imagines himself as an activist, if he had
Works as a public service administrator. His
performance is exemplary. His salary covers
creature comfort, sense pleasure, and even a
sliver of excess.
Has mused about becoming an artist, if he
had the stomach for rejection.
Safety and quality are important. That's why
the Lexus and the 92. . . . Premium. House,
furniture, clothing, kitchen utensils, technology.
His life-quality, safe.
Still, he yearns to walk away. Wishes he
could at least consider walking away.
Live less safely, with less quality. Just 87.
Less stationary. More dynamic-indulge
in playing jazz, making art. A drinking
binge . . . maybe some drugs.
A bar fight. (Had one fight-in high
school-sitting with a black friend.
Another kid shouted a racist remark.
Goddammit, that pissed him off. . . .
He hit that kid so hard! Still got his ass
kicked, though. Oddly, it felt good.)
Maybe he'd spend a weekend in jail.
Even a week in jail. A little time in
No, that would be too far, too much.
Just live day to day. Week to week. No
promise, less safety. A different kind
of quality. Living big, dreaming small.
That's what he thinks about.
He'd never last.
That Lexus needs 92.
the little man
below him is an eternity
of cobalt blue.
he swims on. always
watching for rocks.
above him is a vastness
of inky black.
he reaches up. always
feeling for structure.
ahead of him is a nothingness
of brilliant white.
he walks forward. always
searching for something. anything.
behind him is a forgottenness
of spectral gray.
he thinks back. always
pining for connection.
around him is an entirety
of vivid hue.
he finds god. always
looking for the trap door.
He smells like dirt, leather, sweat, and old tires.
Skin blackened by the sun, teeth naturally bright.
His eyes wrinkle into a smile that projects the
wisdom of age mixed with the innocence of youth
in anticipation of a holiday gift.
An accidental minimalist, he is too distracted by
his day to care about tangible possessions.
Has only a few trappings-aged leather bands and
tarnished silver at his wrists, shells assembled into
twine hanging from his neck, two ten-gauge wooden
plugs in his earlobes, a few items of distressed
clothing, and a sketchbook, filled with ink drawings,
poems, and essays.
Unattached, he focuses his emotional energy on friends-
The Greek term, he says, is philia, but he strives for
Still, within this simplicity, he's conflicted. At times,
as uncomfortable in the open desert as he is inside a
home, he searches for permanence but struggles with
the expectations it brings. He cloaks his angst with
a vivid presence and a deep interest in others.
People meeting him for the first time say, I swear,
I've known him for ages.
Standing a few feet from the edge of the counter, I watch the
barista, cautiously eyeing his style and tattoos. I don't want
him to be aware of my study, but I'm intrigued by his clothing
choices, given his endomorphic build-baggy, gray denim
trousers and generic white deck shoes, emphasizing his short
legs; tightly fitting orange T-shirt with short sleeves that gather
at his thick, yet barely defined deltoid muscles.
From under the cotton material cinched at his shoulder, flows
an inked image of a brilliantly colored hummingbird suspended
upside down below a golden-red sunflower. A yellowish-gray
spiderweb projects from beneath the bird, runs down his biceps,
and transitions into an olive-green snake coiled around his
elbow. Below the snake, just above his inner wrist, is an image
of a mouse, rendered in cerulean blue and surrounded by a
larger, faintly outlined ghostly image of a mongoose.
I study the image for a few seconds. I think, The mongoose
appears unfinished. The barista appears unfinished, or some
might think so, yet he projects a confidence and comfort with
his own physical traits-traits that others might consider
flaws. Perhaps the mouse becomes the mongoose. Perhaps
the mongoose protects the mouse.
I feel myself smile as I eye him from head to toe. I spent the
early years of my adult life learning about what others thought
of as imperfect-now I celebrate the idea of eliminating the
distinction from my mind.
He notices my attention and nods, then hands me a ceramic cup
filled with coffee and a dusting of cinnamon, tipping his arm
outward to expose the ink and his purplish-blue arteries, visibly