"Bookshelves" by James Benger

Mom wanted new bookshelves 

for Christmas.


When we were kids,

all her dime store, third-hand

paperback Stephen Kings and

Clive Barkers and that

massive Poe collection that’s 

now on my bedside table, 

they were kept on a sheet of plywood

suspended by a couple stacks of

cinder blocks in the basement

right between the furnace and the coal chute.


Pretty sure the fire department

didn’t know about that.


So when she asked,

being somewhat aware of finances,

but mostly in need of being useful,

I offered:

“I can make you some bookshelves.

Dad and I can get the wood.”


Mom, who spent her early childhood

living in an abandoned school bus,


Mom, who at twelve years old

marveled at the concept of an

indoor commode,


Mom, who would tuck me in at night,

in that drafty, hole-ridden trailer,

with its homemade septic tank

before the house with the 

basement and coal cute,


she turned and said to me:

“I think I’ve had about enough of

homemade shit.

I think for once I’d like 

something from a store.”


On December 25, there were

two bright, shining, pressboard,

faux-wood paneled bookshelves

in the living room.


I’m not sure where they came from,

but I’m pretty confident

some assembly was required.


"Trucks" by James Benger

Grandma had this compulsion

to constantly buy random crap

for the grandkids.


Crammed in my mom’s old room,

lovingly redubbed “Grandma’s Bedroom,”

not because she slept there;

it was simply packed to the gills

with her useless shit,

you’d find healing crystals,

and Ghostbuster colorforms,

a knockoff version of Connect Four,

and that pocket knife 

she confiscated from me 

when I was eight.


A year or thereabouts

after she was in the ground,

after we finally accepted 

we couldn’t keep the place

like she wanted,

while cleaning it out

(some of the stuff in the 

dirt floor basement had been there

since the late 1800s),

we find an unopened value pack

of matchbox trucks.


Time moves on,

I forget about most of the stuff

we found in that crumbling shack

the city technically condemned 

after the coal mine explosion 

of 1930-something.

I did hang on to Mom’s old algebra notebook,

only ‘cause it’s in her hand,

and the cover is of the early Beatles,

and the doodles of teenage Mom

mooning over 1963 John.


One day my dad pulls out that

pack of trucks Grandma must’ve bought

sometime in the mid ‘80s.

Like it’s nothing, 

he pulls the transparent plastic

from the cardboard,

freeing the diecast treasures,

and hands them to my son.


Watching the boy run the trucks

across the carpet,

I can’t help but think

she knew.