Timed Out

September 1, 2019

What was your mother’s maiden name?
To answer that, I’d need a keyboard
with a different alphabet.

What was the name of your elementary school?
Before or after I transferred?
(Probably not a good idea
to answer a security question
with a question.)

The name of your first pet?
Maybe Blue Boy, the parakeet,
quickly nuzzled aside in my affections
by Whitey, the stray dog who came to stay.
My dog died when I was 16. Bad timing.
Before Blue Boy, I remember
getting Newberry’s goldfish
and naming them Hansel and Gretel
only to find them floating the next day.
Perhaps I’ll remember the names of the turtles
also from the five-and-dime, always scrabbling
to escape from their plastic pond and palm tree.
I won’t be able to retrieve
my identity based on that question.

Who was your best friend in childhood?
That’s easy – Debby Green.
Anthropologists should study
our long-buried culture, so rich,
starting with ‘Abrahams’,
our first game, spinning pennies
to see whose would dance the longest.
Looking through her parents’ Horizon magazines,
scouring the lush historical battle illustrations
for horses and seeing which side,
black steeds or white, was victorious.
On days fit for playing outside,
we dug insect graveyards.
But she was careless in a game of Abrahams,
knocked over my Eames house of cards,
my most spectacular construction ever.
I couldn’t forgive her that day,

or years later,
when she went on a protest march
the day after she wrapped her car around a light pole
with me in the passenger seat,
and ended up in the arms of a boy
we both wanted.

Forty years later,
a high school classmate
electronically reunited our class.
Debby’s name appeared on the list of the dead.
If the computer asks me
the name of my best childhood friend,
can I be trusted to type ‘Debby’?
Should I include her last name?
Is it case-sensitive?

Where were you when you had your first kiss?
None of your business.
Anyway, it wasn’t very memorable.

Sheila Sondik

From the bus it’s enchanting.
The slum’s become a rich kid’s plaything,
a cardboard cutout mock-up
of someone else’s reality.

The ‘empty’ lots are a subtle
blending of weeds and garbage,
a resting place for one’s eyes,
if nothing else.

Bricked-up windows!
A visual pun,
at once a daring marriage of opposites
(like the freeway shoes
one sees on one’s travels
in California)
and a hard-hitting metaphor
for what can be reserved
for thinking about
on greyer days.

Shadows crisply slice triangles from flat walls,
creating the illusion of deep space.
Negative spaces in old church towers
punch out pieces of the sky –
blue cookies from an antique cutter.

Ghosts of messages
once painted on brick walls
seem to float
over rusted-out automobile husks.
Only that crazy artist, chance,
would dare combine
such colours, textures, patterns
and make it work.
That’s the wonder of it all –
it works!

Not for long.
Shadow edges fuzz, disappear.
The weaver of thin, durable,
enduring broadcloth takes over,
and the suburban connoisseur
turns back to his book,
on his way
to the end of the line.

Sheila Sondik