...the chubby penny 


madrid in the springtime

i have never seen

madrid in the springtime.

i have never seen madrid at all.

on those rare city days when there is no fog,

does the sun rise differently in madrid

than in san francisco?

i have seen morning in san francisco,

where lovers stroll hand in hand

down meandering paths.


it reveals to me what madrid must be like

in the springtime.

sailboats hoist colorful triangles to the blue sky,

whipping around in circles

and going nowhere until the sun begins to set.

tiberon sits quietly like an oil painting

in the near distance.

colors blend and bleed, shading all boundaries.

sins of the quaint little town

lap into the pacific

baptized by rounded stones of gray and brown.

madrid would be seen through the lens of a camera

should i ever visit in the springtime

while remembering san francisco.

for now, i will look across the bay

and wonder if madrid in the springtime
is a place for lovers.

this is not madrid, i have never seen madrid...
oooooooooooooooooooooo in the springtime.

   tucson, arizona


salvation army

she wore purple because she liked it.

hanging stiffly on the store rack,
yellow goodwill tag with smudged blue ink,
was it a three or five?

she argued for three—willing to pay five—she did.

her breasts had followed the alphabet
from a to b to c to d
and settled back on c
after some of the air had escaped her life
and left her haggling over purple dresses.

somehow salvation was unreachable
and the army refused to go home,
but she had purple swatches to mend the holes
and fingertips that blended too well
with gunnysack purple and bruised memories.

she remembered life in yellows and oranges,
bright colors that complimented the sun.
but that was when she dreamed while still awake
and wished without a penny.

purple happens to life. and it did.

 hawthorne zep   

i remember he looked like a paperclip…
hunched over and limited in his usefulness.
and to think that several years ago, he rode a bicycle—
hawthorne zep it was called—1939 model.

i knew the bicycle better than i knew him.
“cleveland welding company.” he always said,
when i asked how things were going.
“cleveland welding company built it, 1939.”

he was only eight when the delivery truck came;
montgomery wards written on the side.

just as he had dreamed…dark blue with white trim,
tires blacker than night and sidewalls brighter than the moon
when it hung lethargically in full cycle.

but now, he could barely rise from his chair. 
i wondered if maybe that bicycle hadn’t kept him alive;
memories were reason to hope, even in the past.

it hurt to see his spine so crippled;
his back, an asymmetrical arc leading to nowhere,
bent like an old fiberglass fishing pole
overburdened with a seven pound bass with a will to live.

we had roles.
i spoke…he stared into the past.
“hawthorne zep it was called, 1939 model, white sidewall tires,
side jeweled reflectors, and a chrome-plated chain guard…
she was built by the cleveland welding company, 1939.”
was his answer to any question i asked.

i told him it was okay to tell me all about his bicycle,
so he taught me about life…
and everything i needed to know about the hawthorne zep.

seems he forgot all about 1939—and every year that followed—
but one saturday morning long ago, a bicycle was delivered
and he fell in love like most folks only wish they could.











Music of the Night

Courtyard: Capitola, California  2004


lost minutes

so many nights i watched the clock
the minute hand agonizing its way from one to two to three
until it stood straight up, splitting the one and two of twelve 
at the top of an otherwise empty dial

questions born in the daylight hours and aching bones

kept me awake while the second hand silently mocked me

on its journey from twelve to twelve 

each clockwise jump of the minute hand erased a hope

of what might have been if minutes could be saved and spent
like pennies in a chocolate store
in mid-april mendocino

it didn't matter...at 1:47 am time stopped

and darkness crawled onto roman numerals 
seeping between the cracks like a greedy politician



i asked for a pizza
and they served me my past
with unspent coins and unwound watches
unstruck matches and unsharpened pencils

pocket knives and erasers, car keys and tokens
pieces of life before it was broken

i would rather have the pizza.


mr. sycamore sat in his wooden chair,
feet flat on the hardwood floor,
not moving except to tap his finger
to the silence of a musical score.

he heard mrs. sycamore in her room;
very much aware of all that she did,
spilling pills on the oak plank floor
as she awkwardly removed the plastic lid.

the sound of glass is better, he thought,
than the sound of plastic.

he tapped his finger to a classical tune
when he heard a very loud bang...
the tapping stopped and he looked at her door
but forgot all about it when the telephone rang.

the sound of ringing is better, he thought,
than the sound of banging.

the ringing stopped and grew eerily silent,
finally - some quiet from his now deceased wife!
the crashing of her glass bottle on the hardwood floor
told him she’d succeeded in taking her life.

the sound of silence is better, he thought,
than the sound of crashing.

mr. sycamore stood from his wooden chair
(they had no remote in those early days.)
so he walked to the tube to turn on the news
curious about what the blonde anchor would say.

he turned the channel to the local station;
the clock on the wall struck six 'o one.
since each newsworthy story was forty seconds,
there was nothing said about what she had done.


broken silence

blank stares settled like fog on faces left over from midnight.

the smell of cheap wine, cigarettes and sweat jabbed
like a broken fighter
and nickels were passed around like street corner condoms
rubbed hard and spent but once.

men-boys walked in short semi-circles, weaving slowly,
not unlike a tattered flag,
while clutching the skinny necks of colored bottles
and spitting brown tar-laced saliva as if it owned their misery.

a new morning sun crawled over waiting buildings and shadows
crept like thieves into empty hallways

but silence filled the air.

then a single gunshot resonated like the first note
of a well-planned symphony

and everyone moved a step closer to becoming a conductor.

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