Teaching Raymond Carver’s poem to girls
September. Scent of maple keys.
In an unfamiliar kitchen, in his father’s unlooked-at face,
Carl’s gone bad, weeps for the pretender king,
territory Ford-cornered, romantic
fish posture and cock-eyed hat.
Ray, we too are fatherless.
We black out this gaslight bar, this flaccid cigarette.
Summers he drove away – a 1955 Studebaker.
Left in my mother’s tortured grip,
I learned every pathology
that may be found between the pages of a book.
Stake flags upon scullery theaters as you must, darlings,
speed dating at the gun & bait shop.
Seed the empty throne with oyster hulls,
spawn alight within them, shalom.
For poets at Thinking Man, gone missing
Here outside someone’s old
a kudzu Eden curls close,
hesitating, slow to draw her summer cap
bare crown under a star-stacked sky
for the green for the green
ever the same
who would know now,
To hell with Kansas.
Already.Let corn dry on the stalks
dead as salesman. Laugh
drink blanc over ice
like medieval peasants with Frigidaire
half over your shoes
tell the one about your fatherorwasityouruncl
piece of furniture with its own small story
which is egg-zackly! how tiresome
and nearly always
dust rising from the upholstery
or braids rapt round and round
like a queen’s singing
baked birds because
you won’t do that
not one word
unless you have to.
The Last Night
Candelabra slant sidewise, an affliction they inherit, balance problem spread through the gene pool at the candlestick factory, where qualities of light mix. Wax drips one way and not the other in every set. The center flame is the first to wink out (find Hebrew word).
All year you work your legs, alone in a crib, high fevers and freezing feet, the taste of sieved pears and liver paste, the pinch of plastic pants, wet red rings crosshatched when she lifts you, upside-down land, stars. Wax collects southeast, past Baltimore. You can pick it off dead with a fingernail or melt it away over a flame but marks fuse with the brass, never fade completely.
She opens a line of Ransom poem for you to finish with a word. She keeps the windows open at night, summer and winter. You suck your toes, warm them with your breath.
Then sometime in your fourth year it becomes clear she is not a reliable witness, your mother, neither to events nor to rights and wrongs. She tells about the girl with a poli-oh’d leg who got all the attention, whose gait she aped, or her sister who socked a nun, matters inherently off-kilter-Irish you must figure out for yourself. The problem is you lack confidence in your figures.
At math you are not so good, they tell you when you start competing for fractions and decimals with some little momzer in your class at public school. Such mishegass runs in the family. Your feet sting, dipped in fires of loss.
No one smacks you for reading, though, not even when you hide the novel in your math book, nor pushes you off the chair for it, nor stands you in the hall for raising your hand with the answer. The other girls and boys march alphabetically to the cafeteria. Their mothers do not work as Dictaphone typists at the university hospital morgue.
Here is the insight that burns off, intolerant of sugar, trails away with the first bite of chocolate. You believe it is language acquisition, the fact that you remember, even though you habitually use the second person accusative case. You believe thought forms around words, bias for the mind to cling to, preserving memories.
People might think musically if such practice had survived iambic selection. Music makes good light for remembering. In fact people do think musically, but not sufficiently.
This last is flickering gratitude for every way you grieve. For your scramble-wit mother, for growing up the only working-class kid who goes to harpsichord concerts and summers in the Poconos she pays for with the layers of Band-Aids at your heels. Skewed and disaffected, privileged and beleaguered, kvetching Irish-Jewish-American-style, that’s your Hanukkah.