Red Wheelbarrow Poets
Poem of the Week 12/13/2016
I went driving this afternoon in the short light,
The short fading light a week short of the equinox.
I came back after twenty years away
To the town where I grew up,
Tied in knots after leaving my spouse.
It was soothing to me, familiar,
Down to the ghosts that walk the streets
And the unchanged bricks of my high school,
Rocks that once were igneous, now sedimentary.
There’s a looseness to the late light, a clarity.
And I have lived long enough to remember dangerous things.
There are the homes they built on top of an old chemical plant,
The basements ready to burst with acid poltergeists.
And the building where I worked on the local paper,
Where a doctor now cracks bones.
Back then we worked in the basement and could clearly hear
The heavy footsteps from the ghost upstairs where nobody was.
And I was in love with a girl I worked with,
Stupid love, tormenting, worse than colitis.
When she married someone else I took a vow,
Scarlett O’Hara to the barren fields,
That I’d never be jealous again.
And the neglected arts center
Where my poets now meet in the kindergarten room
For the babies of the resident spiritualists.
In the old days it was a movie theater with a chandelier
Whose fat crossbeams were shrugged in cheesecloth,
Haunted by a ghost that turned out to be a cat
Wandered in to the unused back rooms to get out of the cold.
I have a memory of butter melting for the popcorn,
No heat necessary but the hormones of the candy girl
Who thrust her soft belly against my pants to feel what I had.
One night after work she did a striptease
On the old stage above the orchestra pit,
Ended wearing only an usher’s suit jacket and white panties.
That’s the way to do it. Keep them wanting more.
Keep us wanting to hear the orchestra that played the vaudeville bits,
The Marx Brothers there and gone in a flash, too quick to see.
They played there, I’m told, in 1922.
“They called the place the Ravioli,” said Groucho,
“But all I wanted was a decent knish.”
The poet the place is named after would have liked the striptease.
He was still alive when my family moved here. A few days before he died,
He walked the half a block to the library to return his books.
My mother knew him, asked how he was feeling.
“Not very well,” he said.
A tidy life is when you remember to return your library books.
I knew his Catholic bells, I went to school right under them.
But the nuns wouldn’t teach his heathenish stuff.
I worked in the other library, at the university.
If my student came in, I’d let her run for the magazines,
Sit with my feet up, reading the New York Review and Paris Match.
They sold the college to the nuns, who told us
We could believe we were descended from monkeys if we wanted to.
My library is now called an Education Commons.
I doubt they have magazines there now,
No thrilling starlets with their vibrant French tits.
I used to sit in the park by the river, waiting for a body to float by.
One time someone cut up his wife and dropped the bits in the river,
But I never saw anything more than a few icebergs of old tires.
One time my best friend jumped into the river at night,
The police searching for him and his insane buddy,
With the light from their flashlights unspooling on the water.
Good thing we’re below the falls.
Keep wanting more, and maybe you’ll see, as I saw,
A kid dressed up as Gandhi, down to the miniature walking stick.
That was at the Presbyterian church,
At the intersection of Main Street and a postcard from New England.
The father, the son and the mahatma, a good mix.
I used to think this place was a leafy locked room.
Now in the falling light, I listen
For the honk of the firetruck.
I want to hear the coming of the fireman Santa
Who throws candy canes to the equinox.
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