Once the mass burials were complete,
the green-shingled slab of door sealed
the grave, the hard dirt shoveled over
and numb he walked off. He was fine,
the animal kingdom was like Tarzan’s,
but he didn’t like the books, the movies
were better for his head, they looked real.
The cats were bigger in Africa, though.
I was thinking how I’d fucked up my life.
I remembered the girl reading "Daddy"
in the cab with O’Hara and his friends
Richard and Mary. I wished I had Crow
memorized. God, I was alive! The girl
took her book and went off from O’Days.
(That’s how I remembered the name now,
knowing it was O’Leary’s really.) She had
been there while Richard was giving hell
to a librarian on the phone asking him
to bring back the book he checked out
many months ago . . . He let loose hell’s
own smoldering anger building the fire
word by word, like gas poured on wood.
The girl said she loved no poet but Plath.
You had to read the savage Hughes if not
for the poetry, then for the sake of loss.
She snuffed herself in her oven, her kids
grew up hating their father, some said,
and he remarried and his wife suicided:
it was like a tale of Hansel and Gretel
snuffed out in the witch’s cast iron stove.
Only Hansel was free. The witch dead.
Gretel limp without life, so young to die.
Then Mary came in and said, Richard,
Stop! and he hung up, said Let’s go eat
and drink, it’s the weekend! They did
what they could to give Manhattan life
it did not need. At least he was free!
He didn’t have to drive the tractor,
milk the cow, prune and pick grapes,
but read books and write poems, teach
no one who didn’t want to know what
he knew and pace while he recited what
he had just read off the page: the words
addressed to the Western wind to blow
the small rain down can rain and he
with his love and in their bed again . . .
That was the night O’Hara kept him
from getting beat to death in the bar
where he met the London cancer nurse
and loved her a full three days the first time,
after that who knew what would happen?
New York City was always his familiar . . .
Amsterdam he loved, even the name . . .
Cathleen was being Irish up in Springfield,
he returned to Amherst in four days time.
He had the itch to write a poem and make
it playable, like his late teacher once said
to do, talking to himself in prose on a page
in a book, not unlike the animal he liked
to think he was and grew a beard to be
what he imagined was possible in the mind
never corralled anyplace on the actual farm.
(26 May 2011)
copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander