Poetry by Chuck Kramer

High School Graduation


You bounce across the stage with a proud, tasseled

grin, sure the adult world will greet you with a

smile on the other side of your diploma.


Little do you know or care that the days stretch

with seamless precision to a pockmarked future of

jobs and lost loves and cold meals where

hands wring with confusion, fenders

dent with disappointment and sheets are

stained with tears and terror.


Today, dreams sparkle on the

TV screen of your imagination as you

parade in spot-lit triumph to the cheers of peers, the

delight of your parents and the promise of tomorrow


when you will cut your teeth

on the knife blade of reality which

lurks so quietly, so deceptively

in the back pocket of your youth.




                                       for Betsy


she always                                                           beatings

needed a ride                                                       got bad                                                                

long blond                                                           but nothing

hair and a                                                             could quench

big open smile                                                     the wanderlust

always had                                                           always had

her thumb                                                             some place

out looking                                                           to go someone

for a lift                                                                she had to

but the weed                                                         see but the

was the                                                                 last time

only thing                                                             she hitched

that ever                                                                a ride the

picked her                                                             speeding driver

up never                                                                brought her 

went far                                                                 home with

dropped out                                                           stiff marble

of school                                                                lips and a 

couldn’t hold a                                                      toothless

job for long                                                           vodka smile

ran away from                                                       her blond

home went                                                             hair snarled

around the                                                              by the wild

corner smoked                                                       wind that

with the                                                                  whipped her 

girls drank                                                              lonely heart 

beer with the                                                          and blinded

guys until her                                                         her cold, 

money ran                                                              highway

out or the                                                                hungry eyes



Subway through Time


I walk down Argyle Street and climb the stairs

to the Red Line train. Skyscrapers along

the southern horizon,Vietnam bustling

on the street below.


I step aboard and ride to the Loop

through the prism of time.

The train roars past St. Bernard’s where I was

born and transports me to high school on

Roosevelt Road.


Across the aisle, behind

the misted chimera of memory,

my grandmother has my hand, leading

me off at Washington for lunch at Field’s

and then an hour with my uncle in his

office on Jackson.


We fly past DePaul, where

I fell in love with Maya in grad school,

and tunnel underground at North

and Clybourn, where I transferred with

my loving wife when we were dating,

her home out west in Humboldt Park.


Riders come and go in the Loop stations—

Lake Street, Monroe, Jackson—

turning points that saw me grab a Blue Line

train to family life and three sons who roared

away, lost now in the dark tube which swallows

time. A woman cackles on her phone, heads

bob to ear-bud music, a mother checks

her watch, anxious lap full of groceries.


Time and the train move on as I ride through

the west side, the lights flashing past, luring,

exciting, preposterous flares in a dark urban maze.


I stare out the window and wonder

if anyone will meet me at the

end of the line to guide me home.

Or will I simply merge with the night,

a faded memory, exiled to the train

with the other ghosts who grab the poles

and lurch along through the

dim haze of fading years?


The doors open and it’s down the stairs

to Lisa’s warm smile on Cermak and the walk

to her small, fragrant kitchen where time stops.

I lean over a steaming bowl of soup

and tell her about my day and my

inextinguishable, phospherent

dreams for tomorrow.