Wayne F. Burke
Do the Herky-Jerky
Lines chopped like veggies. Ready
to go into the pot. Or like a bad
driver's failure to anticipate. Quick
stops: brake's red hot. Like Bennington,
Vermont: a stop sign on every corner.
Like an unfinished thought. Like a
construction site. Be prepared for
delays. Proust would never go this
way. Nobody but a poet chopped. Or
reader dragged behind like a tow line.
From place to place. Like a corpse.
Driven about. A drunk at the wheel of
the hearse. The corpse says "let me out."
The car is stopped. Or not. The periods
accumulate. Like buckshot. An ellipsis
sneaks in...why not? Louise Gluck: the
less great early stuff. First book: Firstborn.
Chopped on a block. Celery and carrots.
Into the pot. A boiled plot. This poem has
come to it's start. I chop it off with a dot.
I spent years in a crib
in an upstairs room
of my grandparent's home
with dust motes in the shaft of
and heraldic patterns of the gray floor rug
and sheen of varnished woodwork
and my grandparents
who slept in the bed
my brother's crib and
I had a plastic mattress,
a smiling giraffe,
a purple hippo;
one night I heard my brother
and the overhead light
came on like a sun
and my grandmother's face
hung over the bars of
and the gold crucifix
she wore around her neck
swung like a pendulum.
Pseudo-Artists and Gigolos
I lived with Steinman and ArturoIn a house in
Boston. Steinman was a poet and
Arturo an artist, but neither made
much poetry or art, but did make
plenty of girls—girls with names
like “Bubbles” and “Sunflower”--
in and out the door.
I slept on a mattress on the floor
and did not make any girls because
the girls were not interested in me:
I got drunk and high and woke in the
mornings by myself and hung over
and pulled my unwashed janitor’s
uniform on and caught the number 10
bus into the city, stuffed like a toe in
a sock; another foot in the race, sweating
and feeling bad, ready to puke as I pushed
a vacuum cleaner, set up chairs, trashed…
I climbed stairs to the roof of the hotel to
Read or sleep. I was the only white guy until
Frank got hired: I liked the black guys better.
Frank had dead eyes, a broad planed face
and said he hated “niggers.” One of the blacks,
Cooney, hated “honkies,” especially me. He was
happy as shit on the day he said that the boss want-
ed to see me in the office. I knew what was coming,
so did Cooney. Being fired was no big deal: hell,
I was an artist not a janitor.
Mammals & Reptiles
You sit like a keg, a boulder
on the chair
twiddling your thumbs,
leather wing tip shoes on a strut
and Breel-Creamed hair shining in
the electric light’s hum.
Grandma apologizes again for waking us
an hour too soon.
I read my library book
THE AGE OF MAMMALS
and wait for the hour hand to turn
on the face of the moon-shaped wall clock.
Outside the sky is black as
the La Brea tar pits
where saber-toothed cats
went to feed but met death.
Swirling black and white clouds war
above the ridge line of the mountain.
Into the back seat I climb
when we reach Buddy’s house.
The light comes on as Buddy enters,
pumpkin-sized head in silhouette.
“Who’s that, Al?” he says, glancing back.
I ride in shadow
the engine sound
moving me to sleep.
The city is a cliff side above:
smell of cigarette smoke and
beer; I watch people walk in
drizzle as windshield wipers
Yankee Stadium is drenched and dark
a big man in the grandstand catches
a foul ball in his bare hand and
stands like the Statue of Liberty.
A line drive hit by Maris sails into the right field stands
like a bullet
and I wonder who caught it
and how badly it hurt.
I am scared, in the public urinal
to take my bibet out and pee,
after the game is rained out
I follow you, broad-shouldered
hippo in the crowd.
At the Bronx Zoo, while you
and Buddy watch a crocodile
eat a rabbit,
I hop to a glass cage
and watch a cobra rise
like a rope and
suddenly strike the glass
before my face…
On the ride home you and Buddy
laugh and smoke
while I sit, invisible
staring out the window
for the Dawn of Civilization.
(Note: The Sub-Mariner was a Marvell Comics
superhero, dating from 1939)
The Sub-Mariner, 60-plus years old
he's still got the little wings
and the Max Baer body
but he's not as quick
as he was
and he's gulping for air
though still powerful
but routinely late
to the scene,
who stop for doughnuts,
he gets there
in his own sweet time,
moving in like a manta ray
with arms out-stretched
like in a crucifixion
only more symbol now
than the real thing...
The seas grew too big
and he began to know
the shark, the barracuda, the electric eel
he used to drive away
no longer move at
and even the walrus,
and the wrinkled skin around the arm pits--
doesn't move for him--
everything has changed,
and The Sub-Mariner
does not know
if for the better.
after my grandmother
went into the hospital
my grandfather hired Lena,
big as a refrigerator
with silver hair parted in the
middle of her skull and
plastered to her head like a shower cap;
she took the nearly empty
catsup bottle and
run water from the faucet
and returned it to the table;
after dinner she encouraged
the four of us kids
to beat each other with pillows
that we were not allowed to touch,
and she roared with laughter
as we slipped and slid
across the linoleum,
the only time
the four of us
ever did something fun together
but the fun ended
when my grandfather
with a face grave as sin
and hawk-nose pointed at Lena
who laughed at him too:
levity trumping leviticus.
leaves run like little fools
the busy highway
dry leaves slither along the pavement
on their bellies--
my father in the war
pushes up daisies
in the garden
walking into the nursing home to work
last rays of sunshine
on my face
Words that burn holes in cigarettes
words that stand like buildings on
sugary words on snow
words on the run like 'tintinnabulation'
or on the rebound like 'ding-dong'
of sitting on their asses like 'plop' and 'glop'
words to sing about like 'serosanguineous'
words to write home about like 'lachrymose'
tarchycardic words to have a heart attack over,
sly words like 'estimable,' soft words like 'succor'
and 'demur,' nonunion words like 'whopper-doodle,'
dirty words like 'dipstick,' cute words like 'aver,'
words that should not be said in public like
'medulla oblongata,' words for a rainy day like.'lugubrious,'
suspect words like 'albeit,' Japanese words like 'hitherto,'
over-used words like 'cool,' power words like 'Om,'
words no one wants to hear any more like 'surreal,'
words that sound like loose change in your pocket, such as 'insufficient...'
Words and more words, up the ying-yang, down the hatch
as in the beginning, and forever.
A Man's Work
The clerk in the store said
“pickin’ oranges be a man’s work.”
We had to rip the little buggers from
the trees—like the state taking kids
from a home—and the branches
full of thorns, and the sweat pouring,
enough to water lawns, and the farmer,
a good ole boy racist atop his tractor,
watching us bleed and sweat.
Tied a noose onto a pole end to tug
the topmost oranges off, wore long-
sleeved shirts, laid a sheet to catch
the yellow balls that fell in staccato
bursts. A 3 by 5 foot bin 5 bucks worth.
The farmer began to talk-up his daughter
to us; Jamaicans in the next row out-
picked us though; almond eyes, coffee
skin, they did not chat.
The bins filled slower than a baseball game;
We got bored, ran out of talk, quit; had to
boss each other: say “get to work you son-
of-a-bitch!” Say “how about you, you ain’t
done shit!” Like that. Cooled off at the
swimming hole which was no Myrtle Beach
but cold enough and wet. Listened to them
bugs screech: WEEP! WEEP! WEEP! Regular
as breath. Pocketed our money and headed
for the coast and the Land of Milk and Honey,
only we never made it, and probably never will.