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That Signature Phrase












Thinking in Invisible Ink

My pal Jim’s late father-in-law

told him there’d be no reason

to visit him at the cemetery …

Why should you visit my grave?

I’m not coming to yours.

Transactional, yes, maybe harsh,

kinda funny, but definitely


memorable and, more important

here, endlessly repeatable,

just like my father’s old standby,

Everything depends on

whose ox is being gored,

also harsh, also transactional,

something he repeated often,


well, probably just a few times,

followed by a smug pull

on his panatella, which is frankly

not the point of this poem,

the point being that 22 years

after my father uttered his last

utterance about oxen, I’m still


passing it around like a breath mint

to freshen up conversations, which

in turn brings me around the poetry

bend to say that in the moment

I heard that smirkable remark

about transactional grave visits,

I realized with a cartoonish gulp


that here I am at 77 (oof!)

and as far as I can tell, I don’t have

a signature phrase for my kids

to reprise from the nether world

after I’m nethered out, nothing

to gird their loins, set them straight,

haunt them, make a crowd laugh …


I imagine all seven of them slack-

jawed trying to keep up with a well-

oiled quip from somebody’s beloved

or hated paterfamilia, their uvulas

wobbling in the breathless breeze, waiting

for a few memorable words to stir

the stagnant air, but alas there’s nothing


there, a vast generational abyss

behind them—no bars, no service

in the Bermuda Triangle of my own

personal Bartlett’s, no homespun saying

showing up on this computerized

Magic 8 Ball, and like the old laugher

about not picking a friend’s nose,


it’s suddenly clear as I near the end

of this poem, that just as you can’t be

a saint if you want to be a saint, I can’t be

cherry picking my kids’ memories of me,

and despite the words two old men

might be remembered by, there are no

transactions from the dead zone


after a call gets dropped.


—SL, July 2023, New Paltz, NY



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2 Comments


marilyn.bardo
Aug 04, 2023

Speaking of memories, it was a brilliant idea to attach the picture of F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald's grave with the quote from the unforgettable Great Gatsby.

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write4hire
Aug 04, 2023
Replying to

Thank you, Marilyn. It's my go-to quote these days ...

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