Clocking Out

by Alan Perry

The metal gray time-clock
seemed to monitor every movement.

Its glassy face never blinked
as it belled interruptions through the day.

It knew when I began to work
went home, ate lunch

visited the restroom.
I had to punch it–not really a punch

more like a nudge with a card
inked with my name and clock number–

until it snapped down on a precise day
hour, minute–bracketed pieces of shifts

book-ended by morning’s dark arrival
more darkness in evening departure.

I wondered who ran the timepiece–
pictured a little man in a back office

rationalizing the worth of each worker
as he collected employee records

on errors, outputs, goodbyes.
Or maybe nothing was behind the clock

except a wall plug and cord
keeping it alive with voltage–

doling out daily stamps for temporal work
until the electricity is cut

and hands no longer matter.


by Alan Perry

He looked troubled as the request
came over the intercom.
Blind and deaf, he didn’t hear
the flight attendant or see the girl
who pressed the call button
and said she could sign.
His long gray beard was uncut
his hair disheveled and his squinted stare
seemed to plead—water?

The girl cupped his curled fingers
around hers and began to spell
words he couldn’t speak.
Like many on the flight, strangers
unable to talk with each other
over chaired walls
through separating curtains
across divided aisles.

He didn’t want water, she said
only some company
in his muted space at 40,000 feet.
He grasped her every letter
each curve and clasp
stroke and symbol
that laced their fingers.
He couldn’t see it
but nodded at the smile
she left in his hands.

COVID Wing—Day 97

by Alan Perry

Lines on her face
trace the straps she curls
over her ears, tightening
the medicinal-smelling mask
around her nose, across her cheeks
under her chin. A face shield
tightly banded on her forehead
reflects what lies in front of her.
Hard to breathe, harder still
for her patients, their lines
in the hall grow longer each day.
More tubing to connect, intubations
to perform, rotation of the dead
with the near-dying–hallway
to room to hallway, and again.
Her voice is muffled as she holds
an iPad in front of the patient
encouraging his relatives to say
words she’s heard before.
No one can read her face
under the mask, the turning corners
of her mouth as breath fades
biting her lip when the patient
no longer inhales.
Droplets run past her nose
into the absorbent mask.
Her goggles fog up
from the heat, the heaviness
of what she must wear.


Poetry reading at Iron John’s Brewing Company, Tucson, AZ. Click on Exoplanet to view video.

 Astronomers discover a new star: Trappist-1 
and its seven planets--b through h
I’m relieved to know there’s hope for me,
that a Goldilocks character might inhabit
another world. Some water is likely there,
not frozen but free to slide down mountains
and glimmer off the starset, life as I
would want it--warm enough to be nurtured,
strong enough to survive meteor rain, asteroids--
while I wait for the right eon
to be invited to live there and love
a body called d, e or f--it’s hard to see on Earth,
40 light years away from Aquarius.
But I’m patient.
I’ll flip through the planets,
focus the telescope and hold my breath
for the fly-by of your light
to reach me.
(first published in Heron Tree, 2017)


Poetry reading at Iron John’s Brewing Company, Tucson, AZ. Click on Departing to view the video.

 The financial planner points to a chart,
says he expects me to die in 2040.
I don’t hold it against him—
he’s supposed to be actuarial.
Though I do take offense
when he denotes me as a period
on a downward sloping graph.
I let him know the inky dot
doesn’t look anything like me—
I’m taller and in much better shape.
As he abruptly closes his binder,
I take the opportunity to tell him
when he should plan to leave.
(first published in Right Hand Pointing, 2018)

A Bookmark in Her Bible

 The family photo Mother wanted.
My parents and five siblings
dress in ill-fitting suits,
plain black and plaid dresses
with little Edna in the smock she loved.
My older sisters stand in back,
Mother and Father sit stiffly
with twins Ella and me held in front.
Brother Albert is slumped in a chair
head down, leaning forward
in an oversized coat and knickers.
His hands balled-up clumps
on his lap, his face puffy
below a choppy bowl haircut.
Dark circles rim his eyes.
He can’t grin, though
sister Florence wears a smirk
with a big flower in her hair.
Augusta the eldest stands stoic and tall
with her watch on a necklace
to know when it’s time to leave.
No one smiles for the camera,
as we stand in front of our stucco house
with the stone foundation Father built.
Weedy patches dot the foreground
and behind us windows
reflect bare trees--
the last scene of us all.
Father carried that picture with him
overseas into the war--
we dutifully blessed his departure
but only the photo came home.
(first published in Clerk of the Dead by
Main Street Rag Publishing, 2020)

One Day in Dallas

 November 22, 1963
If it had been raining
that Friday
and a glass bubble
covered the convertible
or if Air Force One was delayed
by threatening weather.
If the school book depository
near Dealey Plaza
had been so tightly secured
no interloper could enter
no stairwell led upstairs
no window could be opened.
But how far back from the grassy knoll
could onlookers hope to see him?
As a young man with Addison’s disease?
When his PT boat was sunk in the Pacific?
If only the motorcade had driven faster
past that sixth floor perch.
Maybe then the roses on her lap
would have been brighter
than the blood staining
her dress.
(first published in Clerk of the Dead by
Main Street Rag Publishing, 2020)


 after Rene Magritte’s painting “Golconda”
What’s raining outside isn’t human.
Umbrella shards of sleet
arrow down the sides of buildings
like bony fingers pointing out
puddles and potholes.
Plumbing the depth of those holes,
a small man in galoshes
sinks deeper through the tarmac
past rock and rebar,
even lower below earthen crust
that tries to hold him up.
Where has he gone
I wonder as the excavation begins--
my words shadow window glass
and distort the sun who couldn’t find
the little man or his way home.
(first published in Clerk of the Dead by
Main Street Rag Publishing, 2020)