Sandy Loxton
Living the Dream
by James Ross Kelly

I entered a fast-food restaurant,
My brand, where they will serve
Breakfast 24-7 & where I’ve never
Been sick afterwards, & this knowledge
Is valuable much like entering
An area in remote Indonesia & figuring out the
Friendly tribes & how to avoid the cannibals,
I & my wife walk up to the counter,
an affable Chicano dude
Takes my order, while giving others in the
Kitchen orders & I ask him how he is doing?
“Living the dream,” he says,
“Living the dream,” he repeats,
& I’ve been around the block & know
This is jail speak for doing the best you can, after you get out
“And you sir?” he asks.
“Wonderful!” I reply, “Wonderful!” I repeat.
I’ve been sitting in my backyard
Remembering this and taking in my
Flowering light lavender purple crepe myrtle,
with finches eating
Thistle seed from the hanging socks,
my wife has tied there,
In this twenty-foot tree the finches are hanging
Upside down on the sock like little yellow monkeys &
Loud red and orange Canna Lilies
in the corner of the yard and now bright
New Red Crepe myrtle, is coming in
beside the compost box, at breast height
Flowering for the first time deep purple red,
I am making small talk with my wife &
We are on a back deck under an umbrella
at 10 am drinking good coffee
& it will be 104 degrees today, but now it is so pleasant &
I am remembering this breakfast two weeks ago &
Thinking about “living the dream,” this gentleman
Had tattoos, and deep scars on his face
& forearms—clearly some of his dreams had been
Nightmares, & there was a humorous good-natured tone of
Sarcasm in his reply, yet
I am living the dream, while the poems
& stories come out & scream out sometimes
or sometimes softly, but I am finally living the dream
& with a small pension and social security
Becoming like a Guggenheim
I never applied for, nor even wanted to apply for,
& this notion of the artist’s life having to have
the day job, & wait,
I did both, I waited, did the bidding of others
for decades now I’m writing
& now I get to fish when I want
Drive this word processor all day
Or fifteen minutes if I want
& I am taking all this in and paying
Attention dutifully to what my wife is saying,
& then she leaves & more
Finches come, a beautiful small red
& blue grosbeak comes to the
Bird feeder & peeks around the foliage,
leaves, comes back leaves again
& comes back and feeds, then I notice robins
in the grape vines on the white picket
Fence & realize they are eating
our grapes that have just ripened, I yell
At them, my wife has come to find out what is going on &
I tell her about the grapes & we both go to inspect, &
Well, they have hammered all fifty or
sixty bunches of table grapes
That we were waiting to pick tomorrow,
my wife is mad
& I’m out on the other side
of the fence laughing at the birds & they picked
Clean clumps that were just yesterday
pumping up their white green
Sugary goodness & are now skeletons
beneath the yellowing leaves
I am living the dream & I too have scars to prove it,
I have escaped death by cancer, car wreck, & war
& like the sweet gone grapes
It is particularly good now this given life
& its mortal expanse &
Last year the neighbors picked the grapes
while we were on holiday—& I laughed about that too

PHOTO: Green bird with green grapes by Sandy Loxton.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem spilled out quite fast, then needed tending like grapes.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: James Ross Kelly lives in Northern California, next to the Sacramento River. UnCollected Press published his first book of poetry, Black Ice & Fire. in 2021—a collection that includes “Living the Dream.” He has been a journalist for Gannet, a travel book editor, and has had a score of labor jobs—the in-between jobs you get from being an English major. While in college on the GI Bill, he started writing poetry and short stories in college, and during the 1980s gave occasional readings in the Pacific Northwest. He worked as an environmental writer for the US Forest Service in Oregon and Southeast Alaska, where he retired in 2012. Born in Kansas, he was a long-time resident of Southern Oregon where he grew up. Recent publications include Silver Birch Press (Los Angeles, California), Cargo Literary (Prince Edward Island, Canada), The Galway Review (Ireland), Rock and Sling (Spokane, Washington), Edify (Helena, Alabama), Flash Fiction (San Francisco), Rue Scribe (New Mexico), True Chili (New Mexico), The RawArt Review (Ellicott City, Maryland). and The Purpled Nail (New Mexico). And the Fires We Talked About, published by Uncollected Press in 2020, was his first book of fiction.