Three by

Stuck Inside of Mobile
with the Memphis Blues Again

No sleep for three nights. A man camped
outside my window droning spirituals,
stamps his feet, recovers himself in the alley.
We shall not be moved from this flophouse,

the souls condemned to roll kegs to the tavern
underground, the officers who tap reveille
on his skull, his mottled bean bag chair.
His boozy baritone drowns out my Mozart,

and there's no misery he seems to mind.
Just a wall between us that roaches skitter
and door mice wriggle beneath, though no green
mold cracks the crevasses, of my skin.

I march down steps, cross my eyes
into his fissured face, the beatific
gaze which swims against lice and cause
and meaning. Even when I throw up my hands

and shout, What the hell do you think
you're doing?
he only blinks, raises
a party favor to his lips and blows it,
honking out at me, a long paper tongue.


Gloomy Sunday

If the instrument of your beloved's suicide
is within your reach,
get rid of it.
--- Traditional
This was the time of year, this gloomy Sunday
in October when I descended
our basement steps to the bottom of hell
and found my wife hanging
as if the lord mayor
had lured her to the other side.

Don't let me forget that Lansing place,
and wonder who lives there now
and what they make of our cracked foundation.
Let it be clear, but small, through a lens,
my wife's cropped hair, the chairs
so torn with fabric stripped from their arms.

She had promised she'd stay in this poor little world
and redeem the diamond ring,
but the ulcers in her colon did not stop
bleeding and the facelift seared her scalp
to the stitches and the manic depression
coiled her throat like a necklace,

burning pearl by pearl. But she could not
avenge the first husband's fist, or the CMT
at Fort Myers who left her in restraints,
hospital gown on backwards.
Or the snapshot pose with her father
on prom night, the secret bristling

between them. Now the dolorous wind
swings branches sharp-edged and shadowed
with clouds. Now the radio wakes me
from a bathroom floor in Pittsburgh, the clamor
on every station a summons
through evening's wormy pomp —

acid guitar, sarabande whirling
under electric globes, the voice of an angel
blown to dust-as if from my wife's
dying breath the germ I've caught
will self-inflict. Ridiculous thought,
but I'm throwing my extension cords away.


The Other Side

for my transvestite friend

I'm thinking tonight of the morning
Carla phoned from his farm in Michigan

to say he was wearing the lipstick and wig
and sitting alone on the plastic red chair

I gave him as mementos after my then-wife
had hanged herself. I doubt anyone wants to hear

his poem in praise of the slipknot,
or would see the sound of gunfire

outside my window in Fairmount Park
as a sign to read it. But here is a man

who even dolls himself up to teach literacy
to ex-cons, whose news that day was the glass pipe

he'd quit. And though it hurts to think of Dianne's
silk scarf caressing his unshaven cheeks,

a cornhusking impersonator
modeling my wife's Parisian splendor,

I have to admire the man for washing
her white chenille and hanging it out to dry,

the robe my dear one wore down each steep step toward a basement beam on the other side.

--- from Roman Fever
Contemporary Classics
Poetry Series
%Independent Publishers
814 N Franklin
Chicago IL 60610

Go Home     Subscribe to RALPH     Go Up