"Love You, Man"

After closing time at The Alley Cat Tap,
two Vets, blood buddies from the same platoon,
struggle up the hard-top reservoir
above our block to swap war stories,
or forget. The harsh cement gleams
its toughness under the April moon
but for them, refuge is so sweet. 
They take their bottles from paper bags,
tremble them to their lips to drink,
whiskey steadies their hands.

They drink deep
then throw their empties hard
with a shout, hard so the glass shatters,
each piece wild with their power.
Slap each other’s leather jackets
a sharp whack, a manly echo
that slips into silence. 

Then they hug,
a fierce surprise-attack hug
“I really love you, Man!”

“I love you, too, Man!”

then a gentle punch,
they wrestle out of their embrace,
happily stagger back down together
in dawn’s amnesia. 

Morning comes on, freeing up
its gold like Rapunzel’s hair
while a melancholy fog
sneaks up from the restless river
abandoning shadowy robes
to naked delight.

Yes, Spring’s faithful light returns
inspiring hopes
that perished
in winter’s hard attitude

And you, how about you?

As earth loosens,
fresh green shoots press
through good dirt
does your gospel heart
reach for the high note?

Or is it too soon?

Are there sorrows that still need the shelter
of long nights, too soon for screen doors
or the breeze, your underground self
not quite ready to bloom?

True.  You can’t trust Spring to come
right on time for everyone.

Even the winter streets slept
with one eye open. 
Today kids wake them up,
toss the ball back and forth
 “Hey, Delmar, it’s you and me
against Jose and Charlie. . . .”
Back and forth they play over the heads
of their lugbolt uncles and Pops
fixing Chevies and pick-ups,
over the buggies full of bundled babies.
Bareheaded girls step to their boom
boxes’ latest tunes while little kids vanish
around corners into the brick-rough
cigarette-butt alleys where you better
slide your car easy
and ride your brakes.

Soon the first iris will sway their loose bodies
like floozies to the bells of St. Casimirs,
our houses squeeze close
in the yielding mud,
we’re tight as brussel sprouts.

Winter is pacing the fenced up reservoir,
a burnt-out boxer who longs to go
one more hard round, afraid to let tulips
blossom from his toughened heart.
Early daffodils raise their brave
open faces toward Winter’s last punch
until the Old Fighter relents
and saunters down.
                        He takes Spring
into his rough wintry hands
and whispers,
“I love you, Man.”
They hug, a hug so shy, so new
that April blushes
and our whole neighborhood
bursts tenderly into bloom.

—Louisa Loveridge Gallas, Milwaukee, WI