Mom approached the hotel desk
and asked for Grandpa’s Atkins’ room number.
The manager was sorry, but
Mr. and Mrs. Atkins had checked
out an hour ago. The problem:
Grandma Atkins was back in Omaha,
blind, obese, and drunk. She’d stopped
traveling with grandpa years ago.
My mother probably didn’t notice
the intricate carving on the mahogany
desk, or smell the mix of deodorizer
and furniture polish, nor did she
appreciate the plush carpet
with the peacock design,
or the cracked leather chairs that,
no doubt, grandpa had sat in while
waiting for the faux “missis” to arrive
under the crystal chandelier
in the grand lobby. No, I’m sure
my mother recalled the day
she returned home from fifth grade
to discover her father had sold
her pet pig, whom she loved
so much she could never
tell me its name.
After losing the big game,
I’d like to hear a star athlete say,
You know why we lost? We lost
because Bruno’s doing coach’s wife
and Jesus is not just smiting him,
He’s smiting our entire team;
or some centenarian attribute his longevity
to ardent atheism—my long life
was possible because guilt never sat
on my eyelids like the coins of the dead.
I never worried that I’d burn in
a metaphysical furnace run by a dork
with a pitchfork; never fretted about
sitting on an old bearded guy’s right
or left hand, or, god forbid, one
of his knees. The downside? I can’t hope
to see again those I so dearly loved
in this life. We’ll never talk
about what we missed. I’ll never hold
my wife again, stroke her silky hair, or feel
her breath upon my cheek. Still, we die
wrapped in the loves we were lucky enough
to garner in this life. Whatever those last minutes
I’ll be grateful for my time on this green orb.
I’d gladly do it again and again. Maybe
Nietzsche got that part right.
Float down De Nile down
the psychoanalytic Lethe
Dial back the shame
Dial up the shaman
of a drowned polysemy
the den that ails
Who but the inventor of denial could claim that
a patient with several feet of gauze left in her
nose was hysterically bleeding
Or blow smoke rings of no consequences
from twenty cigars a day
Freud’s psyche was an ameba
encircled the world
There was no other
erect and shiny
Press on the pleasure
Stoke the Freudian fire
It was supposed to be about liberation
but turned out to be about
how unfree freedom is
Early on Freud pressed
the foreheads of his patients
forcing down what they’d exposed
stood by themselves at night
like a fireman’s uniform
Freud slid down the panic pole
to rescue us from
what we didn’t know
His pants stood alone
like those awful elephant legs
turned into garbage cans
and proved once again
what was erect
And those cigars
A caesura in the preconscious
A vagina dentata that analytic floss
can’t repair or prevent
Only an opera of operations
A prosthetic jaw that made
the professor whistle when he spoke
So he rarely uttered a sound
which caused his American sycophants to ape
a gaping analytic silence
What they thought was psychoanalytic technique
was actually the old man’s vanity
The porter with his tiny xylophone
calling passengers to breakfast or dinner,
waiters in the dining car, white coats,
careful articulation of the breakfast
fare, shiny, sterling silverware--
rhythmic clatter of cups and saucers,
boxcar acrobats balancing huge trays
as the train sways and heaves.
That first taste of marmalade
scooped from a serving boat
with a tiny silver spoon.
Those fine black men making
a fuss over my toast and tea.
How did they regard
we three fat pink people
who boarded in Cheyenne
and headed to Omaha in 1954?
They made us feel like the queen,
king, and crown prince of breakfast,
helped us forget that none of them
could travel the train as passengers,
or stay in any hotel along our route.
Centuries of indignities skittered
across the tracks, our offal ravaged
in the train’s turbulent wake.
Something about the gap between that first step
into the Pullman car and the track
came after me at night for years.
Poem for David Adès
He dazzled us, this Aussie poet,
learned our seasons and taught us his.
He wrote here monuments to his grace
and graced us with the air he breathed.
Our air became his air became our air again.
We were dazzled by his words,
his smile, his eyebrows lifted,
curious, filled with wonder
at our efforts, our fragments
along the great frozen breath
of poetic time. He opened
for us a poetic season that honors
spring, warms winter, praises
summer, embraces fall. His dazzle,
now our lament, cushioned by the breeze
of his words, the swell of his oeuvre.
So long, chum. Come back soon.
[David Adès is an Australian poet who has returned to his native land after a period of time living in Pittsburgh, where he was a deeply appreciated by the poets there. David is a VerseWrights poet and you can read his work here.]
~In Memory of Frankie Curran
We all eat our dead, if
we loved them, that is. They die
and we carry them on our backs
like flour sacks we take home, flour
to knead into bread. Our kneading
is physical, violent. We throw
the dough onto the countertop,
and pound it with our fists, a plaint
with each punch, “Why did you
leave me here?” We mold the dough
into a metal baking casket, cover it
with a cloth shroud, and sit down
to worry it through. Will it rise?
If it does, we wrench it from its
resting place and punch and pound it
again. “How dare you abandon me
like this?” Our tears moisten the mixture
while we heat the oven and wait for a temperature
that will bake our memories and shattered hopes
in the sweltering womb-bosom oven.
The last time I saw Frankie he was Army bound.
I was a conscientious objector in Denver—1969.
I tried to dissuade him from joining the service.
We sang Christmas carols in July.
When the loaf arrives from the oven, the house
breathes the fragrance of friendship, the kind
that would lend a bed in winter, pay a lapsed heating
bill, help a pal sing Jingle Bells in summer.
He was a small man
and very old,
old even at birth.
He had many wise sayings,
but he never cautioned
to look both ways before crossing,
or to not trust everyone
you meet, or believe
everything you read.
He never taught a child
to keep his hands off a flaming burner,
or not to stare at someone
who was crying,
or not to ask a waitress
to bring a glass of water,
after she brought the juice you ordered,
after she brought the side
of blue cheese
for your wings,
after she took back
the ranch dressing that came
with the wings,
after you changed your order to
wings from stuffed mushrooms,
after you cancelled the surf and turf
to order the Dover sole without capers
in the white wine sauce.
And he never said,
“Baseball wrong: Man
with four balls cannot walk.”
But he did say,
“Wherever you go,
go with all your heart.”
Robin Williams, as Armand,
told his gay lover Albert
(Nathan Lane) in the Birdcage
that he’d have to buy a grave plot
next to Albert’s so
he’d never miss the laughs.
That was Armand’s way
of talking Albert out of
I wonder where Robin Williams
Confucius said, “The funniest people
are the saddest once.”
Remember when you beat on his chest,
called him a drunken sot, pushed him
back into his old green chair,
drunk, overstuffed, his eyes crossed,
body limp and breathless?
Ward, you screamed, and
called an ambulance. Afterward
you pulled me into bed,
your hamarm vicegrip
held me against monster breasts.
Later your hamhands palmup
witnessed to the bedroom ceiling:
Please God forgive me!
I’ll never say another nasty word
to him, Lord. I promise.
I was ten years old
and squirmed for release,
but you grabbed my face.
Your father almost died tonight,
you screamed, as if it was I who had
slammed his cross-eyed maybecorpse
into that chair.
Inside your carpmouth lipstick deathsmile,
your swirling bedroom purling toiletflush
melting dresser dissolving ChanelNo.5stink
deliquescing turquoise jewelry chrysallised
chemicalpink cheerylava cough medicine
vertiginous vortex of bedroom sucked
into liquefying family crapper soultrap--
not enough of me left in your hamlock,
not even enough of me left to puke.
Two days before he died,
you wished him dead.
Had the Lord heard your witness?
Had He felt your hammy palms
cup His ether? Did He
read your deathline there--
how, at ninety-six, you’d take
two days to die, husbandforgot,
sonforgot, and ask, in your deathchild
voice, where has my mommy got to?
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