all you ever needed
Halfway through November, morning dew
froze. Fog floated over Indian Lake like
wayward ghosts returning home. Around
noon, the sun thawed the earth. Fallen
leaves, now wet, glistened like night-stars.
Upon closer look, you noticed small beads
of water reflecting white clouds and blue
sky. You saw your face aged and aging.
You saw your tired eyes still tired. And you
watched daylight burn and birth the night.
When total darkness hit, you drove your car,
first west, then east, toward the dark parts of
town. Some hours later you returned home.
Crickets welcomed you, but you felt lost,
as if the highway was still calling your name.
Inside your home you paced hard wood floors.
Distracted by the quiet, preoccupied by the cold.
But then, by some miracle, she arrived, the woman
you love, with her warm smile and open arms.
And you forgot about the highway and crickets.
You forgot about the quiet and the cold. None
of it mattered. Because you were together, alive
in this room. With each other. With laughter
and whispered words. And that’s all you needed.
That’s all you ever needed.
autumn is dead
Outside flicking burning matches
onto silent streets, the dying smoke
rises skyward toward vacant dusk,
the starless sky. Keeping company
with the dead is easy, having said
what they’ve already said, they
never talk back, they just listen.
When words are forced and used
for the sake of using, all meaning
is forever lost and becomes useless.
Circumstantial ramblings such as
these provide a fogged window into
a mind plagued by terror, sorrow,
and a complicated but happy life.
Walking along these streets there
is a quiet that only exists on the
cold concrete of hometowns, or
so you convince yourself because
it’s easier to believe you have
something special when you refuse
the possibilities of anything better.
The lone streetlight, struggling to
come alive, flickers on and off.
And like a wounded season that
had no chance—autumn is dead.
the edge of the cemetery
You drive down a desolate county road,
past the abandoned train station where
they filmed that movie you watched all
summer long, past lake communities and
empty buildings, past all-night diners and
hotels with vacancies.
Before going home, you park the car behind
the cemetery, get out, and walk past graves
with unknown names, past funeral flowers,
past memories you’d rather not remember.
You see an old man sitting alone on a rock
near the river, watching the leaves fall from
trees into water. He is dressed like a junkyard
monk, wearing a beggar’s hat, a red flannel,
and brown slacks. You suppose the old man
could be your grandfather or your uncle.
And you even consider the possibility
that perhaps, in thirty years,
he could be you.
From the edge of the cemetery,
you contemplate the fallen leaves,
how each one is a life you’ve forgotten,
how each one once had a name.
And despite the separation between
you and the old man, you are both
together, sharing this moment,
watching the river flow,
watching leaves float,
watching life go by.
BIO: Tohm Bakelas is a social worker in a psychiatric hospital. He was born in New Jersey, resides there, and will die there. His poems have been printed widely in journals, zines, and online publications all over the world. He is the author of twenty-five chapbooks and several collections of poetry, including Cleaning the Gutters of Hell (Zeitgeist Press, 2023). He is the editor of Between Shadows Press.