...the chubby penny 

...wooden nickels

she looked at me through the kindest eyes
that i had ever seen,
and said
"i am flat and i am broke
and tell me,
how've you been?”

then she said, “i took a wooden nickel
from the last man that i met,
but the indian died
on the heads-up side
and it's all that i could get."

"well, i'll tell you what
my lady friend,"
i said,
with tongue in cheek,

"there's a little bar just around th' bend
let’s go find us a seat.”

then i pulled a wooden nickel
with a buffalo on one side
and said,

"have one on me,

cause can't you see
the indian has already died.”

i said, "indian chiefs on wooden nickels
are something we no longer need

and that buffalo on the other side—

it’s long been a dying breed.

so don't take any wooden nickels

that's my advice to you,

other than that you're on your own

to do what you can do.”

she walked away

with tears in her eyes

the nickel tightly clutched in her fist

and said, “i’ll keep this nickel if you don’t mind

i’m sure it won’t be missed.”

so i gave her my last wooden nickel

and as she left i heard her say,

“shame on us that the indian died
on the heads-up side—
and the buffalo ran away."


            Wooden Nickels really exist and throughout the
            years they have been used as advertising tools
            for businesses, political campaigns and more.  

            Look around and you can find wooden nickels 
            bearing the likeness of George W. Bush, Barack 
            Obama and Joe Biden (to name a few).

           Politicians lend creedance to the  ages-old
           'Don't take any wooden nickels!'

in her garden

tomatoes grow round and naked,
brownish green showing no trace of red.
she walks between brittle rows of corn,
where stalks fall limply into the fallow bed.

she dreams she is rahab, barefoot in the soil,
with her shoulders covered by a soft scarlet gown.
a harlot in the garden, hiding spies in the night
praying to god they will never be found.

at the appointed time her vegetables wilt
slowly dying from the hot noonday sun,
while her mind is fixed on jericho’s walls
and on joshua and caleb, two spys on the run.

dejected, she slipped down, hard onto her knees,
as her dry bucket spilled onto jordan’s banks.

her faith was shaken, her heart was quiet
and with outstretched hands she offered thanks.

kings searched frantically for twelve smooth stones
and armies prepared to battle ‘til the end.
their armor was set, shields and arrows prepared
and on her thin scarlet thread they’d depend.

the soil beneath her feet was soft
and capable of ruining her virgin white socks,
so she carefully moved through the parched battleground
watchful to avoid the hard, jagged rocks.

rahab, the harlot, wept alone in her garden,
as from the heavens, a steady rain began to fall.
and she knew that salvation had come to the house
when in the distance she heard the trumpet’s call.

she dried her tears with her scarlet gown
thankful for her vegetables, although so few,
with supper on the table and hungry mouths to feed
she wondered what rahab, the harlot, would do.

play for me angel
Music by Janice Kelly.     Visit her website @


            i remember well the dark of midnight
            where old men hid behind whiskered faces

            the pain of hungry lived in my belly
            and made me flee to such lonely places

            trains rolled into those yawning cities
            slowing their pace while passing through

            boxcars were filled with dreams and wishes
            but dreams and wishes were never true



4:03 train in belmont 

i cup my hands and hold memories of you in the springtime
when tuesday was a season to be ridden
like a smiling horse on the seattle merry-go-round

you sat still while i sketched you with cotton candy
touching it here and there until you laughed out loud
while my fingertips found your pouting lips

you wore a white baseball cap with pink stripes
your hair escaped through the opening
and i snapped a mental photograph of how you stood
when the cool damp air tickled your chin

your eyes journeyed to another time, another place
while tuesday dropped like a mantle onto your shoulders
and the new season arrived on schedule
just like the 4:03 train in belmont



i learned that carousels still turn
when empty
i suppose life is much the same
everything is beautiful from a distance
with pleasant music and colorful smiles
painted on plastic ponies
yet you get off where you got on
and only the time has changed

             a little memory 

          "What’s that on the bottom of your shoe?”
            I was in the first grade and had heard the question 
            several times already but this  was the first time by 
            a teacher.


 “Fix it or you’ll trip.”
Even now I wonder if that look on his face was one of 
            smug satisfaction.

            I had worn a hole in the shoes that were much too tight 
            anyway.   No matter how many times I tried to fix it, the 
            cardboard 'patch' slid loose.


            In retrospect, I know that it was not merely the cardboard  
            covering the hole in my shoe that was showing... 

            Truth be known, it was the

            first time I  ever had to bare my sole. 

            I still don't know how to bare my soul.



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