...the chubby penny 

the green door

the breath of angels

some say the music still plays
in the empty doorway, dark with time
past ten thousand  yesterdays
and melodic songs with words that rhyme

only in silence can you hope to hear
the forgotten songs that used to play
while harshly made noises of a distant year
chase the haunting songs away

in the midst of badly peeling paint
and faded red bricks crumbling into dust
and a tarnished statue of a captive saint
whose flowing robe has turned to rust

i felt a song begging for time
to be released into the waiting air
back into the heavens on a spiral climb
whispering to angels everywhere

in time all singers have surely died
all songs returned to their pillow clouds
with the purest music buried deep inside
where vagrant noise is never allowed

'til now the lonely cry of music's death
rests upon six waiting guitar strings
while the song has taken it's final breath
and in heaven, a host of angels sing

white umbrella

she watched from her shaded window
for the man who seldom brought flowers,
though she knew he would, if he could.

they wanted precious little
—some called their world make believe—
having only sweet vanilla candles, roses,
and a white umbrella for those infrequent rainy days.

she offered exotic chocolates—wrapped—
and he touched red wine to her lips
while time swiftly passed them by.

he shared photographs and poetry
while her fingers danced,
lifting music from her magical violin.

who can say where the time goes
except that suddenly one day it ceases—
the breath of life is silenced—
and in the rain
the white umbrella is opened.

too late to cry

scattered memories were misplaced until today
when they reminded me of your going away
and that somehow i knew you would not look back

how was i to know that life honors no promises
and holds no secrets until tomorrow’s sunrise?
…you taught me that without ever knowing it

twisted barbed wire now surrounds the burrowed field
where once you walked amidst the swaying daisies
golden in the afternoon

dried roses, brown from neglect and the cold of winter
easily crumble at the touch of my lips
as i place them against the weathered cold marble slab

i never knew you except in my dreams
and memories of your soft touch were born in
wishes that i could have seen your eyes just once

did you cry when you walked away to another place
where the yesterdays of your life
were sure never to meet the tomorrows of mine?

i found you here all alone
when the snow melted and birds reappeared
...and when the farmer showed me the way

blue room

the blaring timbre of confusion
—from a yellow taxi parked beneath his window—
crammed the air, bursting through an open window,
into the blue room.

in the center,
a tetragon table stood quietly alone
except for four wooden chairs, silent,
as if waiting for the music of the street to end
before dancing.

spilled paint, sinister blue,
reached its boundary
before fading in various shades of dry
—like the stretched out fingers of an old man—
parched in the desert.

a soft afternoon breeze kissed opened paint cans
—suffocating the colors and strangling the liquids—
until they became a pasty tint of translucent blue,
the color of a man’s lips when life has left him.

the sentry, an unobtrusive green door,
watched over the room
—separating noise from sound and quiet from silent stale air—
while only the piercing explosion of a lone horn
from a waiting yellow taxi cried.

he would never open the green door…
never leave the comfort of the blue room.
the meter was running.


life's journey

while traveling alone down life’s desolate road
i met several strangers who lightened my load

there was the wasted singer without a tune
who was hopelessly lost and facing his doom

as he strummed his guitar it strained with his song
about the rights of workers and wars that are wrong

the poet with flowers never left his room
like an infant still curled in the warmth of the womb

his words were like colors, pastels in the day
‘til the colors all faded into pale shades of gray

the merchant with money peddled his pride
then sold his own soul for the price of a bride

his wares were imported and sold in the night
to kids on street corners in bags of pure white

there was the sailor left stranded while holding his beer
in the midst of wine masters serving bottles of fear

all the soldiers had died but i met with their names
on white tombstones proclaiming their loss as our gain

heroes became presidents strung out on a wall
they had forgotten young warriors who died at their call

i met with the lawyers who kneeled in the court
holding lives in the balance like a sickening sport

that gavel still pounds somewhere in my mind
while i try hard to forget that justice is blind

i met with a prophet armed only with words
cloaked with a sign saying ‘do not disturb’

and i listened intently as he poured out the blame
then blessed all his sayings in god’s holy name

every preacher was certain only his was the way
to life everlasting come the last judgment day

gravediggers dug deeply when burying their souls
then left it for pirates still searching for gold

i met a young maiden who had always been pure
yet she took me to places i had not been before

she cried as i left her alone on her bed
curled up in a promise and a dream for her head

i went to the farmers to learn how to grow
but found we can reap only that which we sow

i watched a skilled tradesman so good in his craft
a carpenter who built where the jester had laughed

in my sojourn i saw beauty when i returned home
in the face of a child who had no need to roam

for children are pure and free from this strife
until one day they travel this journey called life

the last blackbird

even now, i’m not sure

why i walked to the end of the avenue

before sitting on the curb.


signs on one burping city bus after another boasted

that channel two news is best…

until channel seven at six arrived with the next bus.


at the end of the avenue

blackbirds waited, watching near-empty sidewalks

from a drooping wire.


it was then i decided i would not

leave the end of the avenue

until the last blackbird had flown away.


only one remained as darkness approached

until finally it shuddered

and fell to the ground, dead.


i had never seen a bird die

but i believe that’s why i walked to the end of the avenue

before sitting on the curb…


unsure about what to do with a dead blackbird,

i waited for the channel two news team to arrive

on the side of a city bus.


turns out that when it comes to the little things

—things that matter—

none of the news teams cared much about blackbirds…


or about an old man contemplating death

while sitting on the curb

at the end of the avenue
staring at the last blackbird.


Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen  Performed by Alexandra Burke

the missing key

there's a green door down at the harbor
i'm told it won't open anymore
the harbor master held the key
when one day he went off to war

folks used to gather at the green door
waiting for the harbor master's return
but one by one they left, dejected
you'd think even one would eventually learn

and then, one sunny sunday morning
a little boy just happened along
he twisted the knob as far as he could
and suddenly feared he'd done something wrong

seems all along the door could open
the harbor master had left the key
with a simple note he had written:
if you don't open the door—don't blame me.

I remember when...

A blanket of snow had fallen overnight and everything looked so pure and virginal.

I started out on my paper route at 4 am in order to finish
in time for school.

Still saving for a bicycle, I walked the route, a route that was in the 'colored section' of town. I realized I couldn’t ride my bike in the snow anyway, but there was something sad about leaving my footprints on such a wondrous morning canvas, untouched except for my shoe prints and the occasional cavity formed in the snow when I dropped my heavy canvas paper bag for a moment of rest.

Thomasville was separated by railroad tracks. Mills Home, where I lived was on one side of the tracks and Church Street, aka the 'colored section' was on the other.

This is when I learned about the two sides and that really there was no benefit to being on the 'other side of the tracks.'

Here we were, the orphans of the world on one side (and Baptist to boot!) and the 'colored folks' on the other side.

The train tracks, I learned, had nothing to do with it; but I discovered the secret—the rich folks didn't live anywhere near the tracks—they only realized the tracks existed when a slow moving freight train held them up in traffic.

The same train that took me out of town every chance I got...and the same train that finally got me fired from my paper route. Seemed I couldn't make it to work on time when I was out of town…and boxcars had no telephones.



 the key

i used to know a very old man
who had the key to open a very old lock
but one day he could remember nothing more
than where he had misplaced his bolted door

so it did no good to have a key
'cause the lock was on the door, you see

i once knew a very old man
who happened to knock on  a very old door
but no one answered the very old door
'cause nobody lived in the house anymore

so the old man happened to know an old man
who had a key to a very old door
he sought out the man who had a key
but he said he had  tossed it into the sea

days and nights passed as they so often do
and a third old man visited the two
he asked them why the door was sealed
when there was nothing of value inside to steal

so the men collectively scratched their heads
and agreed with flushed faces that turned quite red
they determined that together they could slip inside
if they found a loose window and together they pried

it took three old men tumbling onto their heads
to startle an old woman who slept on her bed
the old woman had lived there all of her life
where she had been a loving mother as well as a wife

she demanded an answer from the embarrassed old men
and laughed when she heard about the places they'd been
and while she graciously offered biscuits and tea
she picked up the phone to inquire of the three

of course they had no lock, they had no key
they had just tumbled in pretty as you please
so the men in white coats were gentle and kind
the nicest young men you could ever find

and as the bus drove away the men frantically waved
embarrassed at how they had so rudely behaved
tumbling through a window because they had no key
busting in on an old woman who was gracious to the three

it all ended well, no one was harmed
luckily the old woman was not sufficiently armed
and the bus ride back home was pleasant and short
and  the farm was not funny, according to the report

~the end~


there were oatmeal cookies on the counter.
only three left
of the dozen she made just before the pot on the stove moaned,
that her coffee was done.

dark and bitter, sugarless
and of course no cream
to embezzle the deep black that made her coffee as mysterious
as it was steaming hot.

chatter from the tv set was more hazy
than the stale air it cut through;
crawling from the living room,
past the sleeping cat,
onto the counter
beside the once soft, now brittle cookies.

only the canned laughter from an over-played sitcom
was distinguishable
—and quite inappropriate—
for a solemn mid-week day, wednesday
in april
half-way between the start of passover
and celebration of easter.

rarely did she wear a bow in her hair—
especially her favorite, orange with yellow stripes—
her dress was soft green
a nice color for spring, she thought.
she sat properly on a dark brown metal folding chair
closer to the partially opened front door than to the aging cookies
on her kitchen counter.

she wore a metal clip
that made her feel comfortable;
assured it would not slip from her hair
even if she sneezed.

the sound of the clock on the wall
seemed to drown out the chatter of the evening news
as each passing minute brought her closer
—then took her farther away—
from the appointed time he was to arrive.

paper napkins
and half-burnt candles were in place
on top of the small round table
covered with a blue fabric that was once a sheet
but with age had become a tablecloth.
no one wondered if the stains were from the bedroom
or the kitchen.

the moon was full
as it should be
on a wednesday half-way between passover and easter;
like a shiny, polished mirror hanging on a single nail
displayed as a trophy in a case filled with gems.

‘supper at five.’
she had said and ‘supper at five’, he agreed.
that was before he changed his shirt
and couldn’t find a green one.
finally, he gave up and quit looking, thinking,
‘now i suppose she knows i’m not coming.’

there were oatmeal cookies on the counter,
only two left of the dozen she made.
the coffee was dark
and bitter,
and of course no cream to embezzle the deep black.

she removed the bow from her hair
and sneezed
—for some reason she always sneezed
when she removed her bow—
then she looked at the stain on the sheet and remembered the night
when her smile had made her as mysterious
as the coffee.

the workbench

"tomorrow we will study the map
and look for new places to explore,
but today is friday, time to organize,
to put everything in its place."

he said those words to me
then shuffled to straighten the picture frame
as he tilted his head further than his heart

he looked content somehow
pleased that the lid of  that,
how can i say it~ god-awful red box~
still fit snugly if he pressed hard enough

spilled black ink had long since dried
and now i look thursday square in the face
and wish for friday
and every tomorrow that chases it

now, i see that he didn't care to organize
he knew a secret i was soon to learn
life will align itself if you leave it alone

he left it, indeed he left it alone





more poetry by tolbert: http://www.kephale06.wordpress.com


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