Category Archive

The following is a list of all entries from the "poems" category.

Two Salesmen

(from Taking Down the Angel)

(Sunday Night, fall 1961)

“Work hard,” my uncle Harold says
“and you’ll get somewhere, boy”
and my father nods his head
of black curly hair.
With drinks cradled in their hands
they sit side by side
on two throne-shaped swivel
chairs, staring at the small black
screen set in the tan console,
carved wood doors
pinned back against blond wood.

Harold sips the scotch
slowly, but my father drinks it down
then rattles the ice in his glass.
I sit on the carpet in front of them
playing solitaire Vegas-style
while they repeat the same stories,
how Galvani made a fortune
in Houston, how Klein’s went
under because of bad management,
how Challoff declared bankruptcy
but not before he put away
“a pretty penny” for himself.

“I lost a 25,000-piece order,”
my father says, “because Henry
couldn’t ship it on time.”
“That’s crazy.” Harold’s clipped
thick mustache tickles his
long hawkish nose
whenever he smiles or laughs.
He can make a quarter disappear
from his hands and pull it out
from behind my ear. He can shuffle
a deck in one hand
and turn over an ace of spades
anytime he wants to. I tell him
I’ve gone out twice in a row.
“Amazing,” he says,
but my father looks down at me
with his sad tired eyes.
“Quit cheating—play it right.”

Outside the wind tears at the trees
and fading red and gold,
the leaves tumble in a shower of leaves
and one more fall passes.
The wasps curl in their white
paper house shaped
like a large beautiful shell.

And the cedar bushes bunch
together like broccoli. In fall
my father died in a car accident
practically penniless
and my uncle went to sleep
forever in a hotel room
hundreds of miles from home,
staring at a picture of the sea
and three white gulls frozen on the shore.

“Work hard,” Harold says
and my father nods his assent
cracking the ice between his teeth
while I cheat at solitaire
pulling a card from the bottom
of the deck when I need it
to keep my run going.
The swivel chairs squeak
and groan as my father and uncle
lean together and whisper
their plans to make it big.
Then they toast each other and touch
the empty glasses to their lips.


On the Banks of the Mascoma

(from Taking Down the Angel)

The water pitched and plunged,
a foamy white swirling to
a froth on the dark rocks
drubbed smooth. You pulled
your hand from mine and went
to sit on a grassy ledge.
Let’s not talk, you said
and put your slender fingers to your lips.

I watched a crow burst into flight
and drank bourbon from the bottle
I carried in a paper bag.
The blue of the sky slurred
and a burning gold light
slashed the roiling river.

I wanted to press my ear
to your womb to understand what emptiness
kicked inside you. It was not
for us to hold a child in our arms
or to make the world our little room.

I lay down in the grass for only a moment
but when I woke, shivering, you were gone—
gone from the grass and the purple
wildflowers that dotted the bank,
gone from the slow-moving air,
gone from my hands and arms,
from the touch of my body. From the ledge

I saw the red sign of Kleen Dry Clean
and the cars swerving on 120
toward Longacres and Dulac’s Hardware.
I tried to remember all that we had
wanted to become when we imagined a future
as painless as sleep. Over and over
the river splashed against the rocks.
The longer I stared at them,
the smoother they became
and soon even they disappeared.


Miss Strong and I

(from Taking Down the Angel)

When Miss Strong caught me
during our forty-five minute naptime
reading a Superboy comic
she took it from me and tore
it apart without hesitation
the way a tall skinny man
I had seen on Ed Sullivan
ripped in half a Southern Bell
White pages with his hands
and then held out both halves to the audience.

My classmates raised their heads
and looked at me with pity or contempt
except Steve Brown who had turned
his left eyelid inside out
exposing the pink insides of his eye.
Miss Strong grabbed my arm
and pulled me to the front of the class
where I was expected to stand
for the next twenty minutes
and recite the names of the first
ten presidents and tell the story
of George Washington.
Instead I predicted the spring rain

would come and wash the windows
clean (except for our thumb and noseprints)
and drench the wildflowers
and that it would splash against
the tarred blacktop until it shone
like glass. And I predicted that Miss Strong’s
class would one day get better
because it couldn’t get any worse.
That’s enough she said and rose
again to her full height on black pumps,
her cheeks brushed with rouge
and her lips a bright red, almost
the color of her crimson blazer.

But I hadn’t finished yet.
I said that in ninety days
it would be summer and we would get
out of there for good, and then I
predicted no one in his right
mind would ever marry her.
While the sun slanted through the windows
and the lights flickered
and the radiators gurgled and spit
I smelled her warm breath
and the thick scent of her perfume.

As she gripped my forearm
I predicted that she would break
all her fingernails if she didn’t
stop digging them into my skin
and before too long I heard them snap
and laughed out loud until I could see
a tear squeeze from the corner
of her eye, shining as it ran down
the rutted trail of her cheek
and then I started to cry.