Failure is a funny ghost I saw as a child

It lurked around corners at dusk

When the fields and courts darkened

The air got heavy and the world felt different

Like it was ending…

Then my mother’s voice sounded like an alarm

Telling me to get in

If I pretended not to hear, my father whistled

The original two-minute warning


There is trouble out there on the dark streets

In the blind spots between the arc lamps

Streetlights like willows locked in prayer

Yellow paint onto cracked pavement

Exposing hidden bolts and pieces of greased metal

Jewels accidentally thrown to the curb

Sewers with pink balls and other treasures

I would lie prone and peer between the grates

Then at dusk trouble stalked the corners

From around the block past brick stoops

A new element unearthed when the sun fell

It hid from the familiar

On the dark squares where the arc lamps blinked

I pretended not to hear my mother’s voice

A glimpse of failure knocking

That peculiar ghost that I remember

It gave a chill and would come back in a dream

The dream where I walked home at night

And the block was the same without my house being there

Then I felt the cold wet skin of failure

 The bottom

The teasing apart of what is irretrievable

From  what is the gift from the forced dream

And there was a lot of failure in it

Not like anything I felt before in everything I did

Until the bottom took everything with it

Like flypaper falling and careening back and forth

Against and onto the precious attachments in life

All of it went down the storm drain

What I protected and worked for stuck to it

It all went down in a tumult

Through an imperceptible crack in the pavement

As the body blows hit

And took me to my knees

All my creations

All my personal preservations

Dissolved in that clear amber liquid

As I pretended to stand tall

Silently while my insides cried for help

And the force that pushed me past people

Got weaker and started to feel tears

And limp while I tried to walk straight

My vantage point formed soft edges

The burnished corners of a sepia photograph

Harmless and torn

 Stained black from a secret flame inside

A brown-out takes the air back to memory

With the feeling I get from an old photo

The warmth of looking at childhood

With a lens that tells me forgotten stories

From a time when I existed only in photographs

Where I never know if that is really me

Unless you tell me I wasn’t someone else and yes

Wearing a medal on my grade school coat

When I didn’t know what life was throwing at me

There was only pure existence and keen perceptions

And time that slowed into frozen moments

Captured in the butterfly net of childhood reverie

A mantle of surprise

Like a wave splashing my eyes everyday

Faces and voices and hands in three dimensions

Disconnected from words

Those sounds only put into the air for needs

Like the shapes of cumbersome clouds above

And giant ants working in sidewalk crevices

All this felt real

While people forced me to witness their confusion

And it made me shy to the world

It was all an experiment

I didn’t ask questions

Attention to small things was full throttle

And failure had no name

Along with the greased bolts and pieces of broken machines

Cast into the street with the pink rubber balls

And treasures caught in the sewer’s grasp

Like my own memories

So much felt out of reach back then

Inside the unyielding childhood desires

And the want was so strong everyday like crushing waves

While failure wondered what I would call it

And nothing stuck to it yet

Because this was just a rehearsal and a trick

In front of the curtain

All day until the sun went down

Then the mood shifted at dusk

And something changed

Felt different

The air got heavier and caution crept in

Nervousness like cat’s whiskers

Discovered the instinct of failure inside

As darkness covered the basketball courts

Now it wasn’t obvious what to do

The force of testosterone’s headstrong surety stepped back

And scared a new way in

Trouble stalked the corners from around the block

A new element unearthed itself

It hid from the familiar

On the dark squares of the pavement

Where light from the arc lamps blinked

It was the reason your mother’s voice came out now

I pretended not to hear it

A glimpse of failure knocking

Masquerading as sudden intrigue

A cryptic shadow of excitement

In the forbidden mysterious landscape

And as I look back on those old photos

The black and white streets with brick stoops

All carved into my memory

Every chisel and hammer blow on the cave walls

Yet I’ve seen them in magazines and almanacs

As I dared myself to court failure

Meet the fleeting ghosts that had no heart

In all this I had it so good

The warm house with wood paneled study

Orange shag carpet

Sony Trinitron color TV

Comic books piled high

Storing my own vivid secrets from life

Into a part of myself who was very different

From my parents or other people

A slice of soul that didn’t match up

With anyone

From school or the streets

I couldn’t see the mindset

Doing, beating, winning and trouble

So I split myself in two

While I watched from afar

And the other part hesitated and analyzed

And pretended to be part of

Failure was having others notice the difference

Deep down inside the jokes, the lies and bragging

Into the future where the façade crumbles

And that boy in the pictures remembers the man later on

Who still watches from afar and sits squarely

In one seat, one arena, one station

An authentic friend not always permanent but

Present and accepting of failure as a teacher