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James Lineberger


James Lineberger is a retired screenwriter. His poetry has appeared in Boulevard; The Cortland Review; Texas Review; The Main Street Rag; UCity Review; Natural Bridge; Pembroke Magazine; Quarter After Eight; Free State Review; B O D Y; and New Ohio Review, where he won the 2017 Poetry Competition, judged by Rosanna Warren.

Father’s Day

Before she died
my mother-in-law had gotten
to thinking
my wife was her mother. “This
is my mother,” she would say
when visitors
dropped by, “have you met my
mother?” “It’s the Alzheimer’s,”
we would explain,
and our guests would give
knowing, sympathetic nods, as
if they too
had gone through similar changes
in the rhythm of their lives,
but how could that be, we thought,
how could any of them truly know?
Today, however, when my son came to visit,
I began to sense
the way it happens: not slowly,
but like fire-flies dancing,
coronas flaring up as rapidly as my son’s anger,
which flickers through the room
as I try to fathom what
he’s telling me about Linux,
a system I will never learn,
but one he’s bound and determined to teach me.
“Dammit,” he says, “you’re just
being stubborn. It’s not that hard if you really
apply yourself.”
He lights another cigarette and turns away,
stifling a ragged cough
and tapping his fingers on the desk.
I nod silently, hoping to avoid a ruckus,
but all of a sudden
I hear this rebellious little voice answering him,
and my God, it’s me:
“I’m trying,” it says, “I’m trying, dad, I’m
trying, can’t you see?”

Something Is Done With

although I’m not sure it has a name
unless it’s grief of a kind
I haven’t experienced
before but look if we knew
what a thing was to begin with why write about it at all
so there is that and then
tonight about eleven or so when i was taking
the dogs out for their final doings
and I had just got Dobie and Susie back inside and was
looking forward to a goodnight cocoa when the old guy Barney got loose
from me and ran off and I mean
which was really strange because
Barney is pretty badly crippled up
with arthritis and tends to fall over sometimes when his back legs give way
plus which he has to piss
about twenty times a day indoors or out doesn’t matter to him
and he no longer barks to signal anything so you
really have to stay on your toes around here and be alert to his
slightest movement and he’s also
hard of hearing and nearly blind but the worst thing lately is his mind
is going too
and he gets disoriented easily and forgets
where he was headed
which we are all familiar with right
but he doesn’t usually go further than the Judas tree
out near the mailbox
only this morning instead
of turning around and heading back inside
he took off
in the opposite direction up the driveway and out on the street
and really fast like someone half
his age so there
I was in pj’s and my floppy bedroom slippers trying
to call him back and chase him down
without raising my voice too much for fear
of waking the neighbors but at the intersection where our cul de sac
joins the avenue I lunged for him
and fell right over on my face and it really
shocked me that my body seemed
not to even anticipate what was happening
just one moment
I was on my feet and the next I was spreadeagled
with my cheekbone jammed against the pavement tasting that blacktop taste
like car tires and I’m thinking jesus when
did I get this bad
and barney kept going headed toward Church Street without
easing his pace at all so I managed to lift up
on all fours and finally
got to my feet again and it’s weird
the things you’re conscious of at a time
like that I mean the air was so clear
and quiet and from uptown
I could hear a firetruck pulling out of the station the way
it was when I had my second heart attack
and waited out on the porch
for the paras to get there and now I was thinking hey
I didn’t even call you yet haha
the barely-standing standup comic
and wheezing
from the fall but Barney was only a blur in the darkness
by then and I had just about
given up any hope of catching him when
he too lost his balance and sat down in the street

but listen

if you’re getting tired about now
try to think about somebody else for a change like consider
this: Barney weighs thirty thirty five
pounds but I decided I would have to carry him
if I was to get him back at all so there we went
these two old fucks
struggling back to the house
and when I reached the patio I put him down thinking
he would recognize his surroundings now and just follow
his usual route to the door but unbelievably
he took off again this time
down my neighbor’s drive
which is lined with
tiki torches that all they do is shine in the dark
and don’t light much of anything
and Barney just he just disappeared
tumbling over the edge of a steep hill along the drive where
the neighbor piles her leaves and grass
cuttings into a kind of long compost heap and by the time I got there
I couldn’t see any sign of him at all
so I ran back to the house for a flashlight and woke barbara up then to help me
but there was no time to explain anything just
get up goddamit Barney’s gone
and I can’t catch my breath and I’m thinking oh shit
I’m going to die but I grabbed the light and took off again to
see if I could find him and Barbara
is close behind me saying
what what where how in the world what’re you
until I finally could see him way down
the hill in a kind of depression between two old logs and lying very still
so I slid down the wet leaves and crap to where I could reach him
and he looked up at me then
and oh god when you think
somebody might be dead and there he is alive what can you say
except it’s okay old man okay now
and I picked him up but the hill was so steep and slick there was no way
I could climb the thing with Barney in my arms so I kind of
crawled up it on my elbows and knees
pushing him in front of me like a sled
until we could get to the top
to where Barbara could help us over the edge but
but here’s the thing once it was done once
I was back inside I just fell apart sobbing like a child couldn’t stop and it went
on like that for ten fifteen minutes but then
I took an aspirin and a couple celexas and after a while I calmed down enough to
check my bp which remarkably was quite normal
and I sent Barbara on back to bed and had my coffee finally
with Barney lying next to me
and everything grew quiet and still and I flicked on
the tv and there was Joel McCrae in Ride
the High Country telling Randolph Scott that all he wanted was to

enter his house justified

and that phrase kept circling
around in my mind until I guess
I dozed off myself but then the phone
rang and it was Barbara calling
on the emergency cell saying hello hello who is this
and when I said it was me she said
she heard a dog barking somewhere and maybe Barney
needed to go out and I said Barney
just got back don’t you remember and she said
did he he’s so sweet
and that’s when I finally knew
not just consciously but
in the depths of my very being in every fiber how frail and helpless
we’ve become and it scared me
all that’s left to be done and how incapable
we both are of handling things
her like she is and me
well you can see the way I’m headed can’t you
maybe tomorrow maybe next week but ready
any time now to follow Barney outside one morning
and light off with him up Brumley hill
over past the First Presbyterian and the Library and the big water tank and just keep
moving till there’s nothing out there but
vines and creepers everywhere and creatures swinging from
the branches and strange sounding birds
like in an old Tarzan movie
until we finally reach the edge and line up with the others waiting
for one more fall
straight down to the middle of it all
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