A student sitting in my office
Is privy to a conversation
I have with my publisher.
Through a strange quirk of fate
Harley-Davidson offers, possibly,
To ante up bucks for my new book ---
Something about improving their image
By taking the literary high road.
"How cool," the young woman coos.
"That's so unbelievably awesome.
Will they put a picture of you
On the back of a bike?"
I tell her quite frankly
This remains to be seen.
We have no sign of money yet ---
Only the word of an underling
Who wants a manuscript
Sent to his office,
Somewhere in Illinois,
By this time next week.
"Where the hell is Illinois?"
The inquisitive student wonders.
I think a geography course
With the dynamic Professor Leaver
May do her more good
Than the current poetry class
She visits rather infrequently.
Soon she is on her way,
All filled up by alliteration
And a dash of caesura --- for good measure.
I'm left with a curious image of me,
Straddling some red metallic hog,
Dressed from head to toe in black leather,
A rather disconcerting thought.
But, then again,
Things could fare far worse;
I could be perfectly posed
Behind the wheel of my father's Oldsmobile,
Driving the sleek General Motors dream,
Deep into the new millennium.
You open the freezer one morning
In search of an onion bagel
To suppress last night's hunger
And find an old photograph
Hidden among the frozen foods.
You don't question how it got there ---
Stranger things have happened;
Rather, you take it in stride
And begin the thawing process.
About an hour or two later
It all comes into focus:
The year is circa 1960,
Your family carefully posed
Around the backyard swimming pool
Which will one day swallow
Your younger brother, Herbert,
Who will lie, motionless,
At the bottom of the deep end,
Before he is discovered by you.
But in the photograph, of course,
There is no sign of this tragedy ---
Just you two holding hands,
While your parents sit, lovingly,
On the edge of the diving board.
And that makes you wonder:
Who took this particular picture?
Any clue you hoped to find written
On the back of the snapshot
Has disappeared across the wet surface
And become, more or less, illegible.
This bothers you for a brief moment
Until you wash a week's worth of dishes
And place the photograph in the freezer, again.
--- From The Gentle Man
(Red Hen Press)