Two New Poems
Here are a couple of my recent poems I've been practicing for my "poetry act."
I was just a little boy
of three or four years old
that summer at the circus grounds
when I saw people walking round
with stems of pink, voluptuous food
like giant, puffy lollipops
they bit into and chewed.
My relatives had brought me there,
my mother, aunt, and cousins,
and based on my persistent pleadings,
they promised, when the show was through,
before the bus ride back to town,
that I could have some, too.
I remember hardly anything
of the performances that day—
of derring-do on the high trapeze
or the antics of the clowns at play
nor even the lumbering elephant
whose leg I hugged, they say—
some past-life memory bleeding through
before the trainer snatched me away.
But I remember vividly
my first bite of cotton candy.
“It will spoil his supper to have his own,”
my mother imperiously decided,
so my oldest cousin shared his cone,
tipping the pillar of pillowy pink
toward my junior jaws
no forceps could have opened wider,
as I, bewitched by the tempting gloss,
bit off the biggest wad of floss
I could close my lips around,
expecting such a surge of delight
as in my life I’d not yet found.
But there was nothing there!
The sticky cud collapsed beneath my palate
like a dream dissolved in the morning sun!
And all that remained of my desire
was a red-dye stain along my gum
and some grains of sugar on my tongue.
“Waaah!” I cried,
with fists and eyes shut tight.
My cousin laughed. That made me mad!
Couldn’t he feel how inconsolably sad
I was, to learn at so young an age
about the Grand Deception of materiality?
Pleasures don’t fulfill, they fade!
Yet enjoyment’s what we live for,
making us look, at best, ridiculous
for buying tickets to this circus.
It looks so dandy,
like a glistening cloud of angel’s hair
spun upon a paper cone.
But it’s not fair!
It’s just hot air,
empty as a head of foam.
The way I understood my Mom’s advice,
I should find a job I love to do.
But I love to do a lot of things
and could never pick just one or two
to spend every day doing the rest of my life,
so I could support two kids and a wife.
(Better to cut my throat with a knife.)
So I decided to become a writer,
and, since no one wanted to pay me for it,
I evolved a kind of long-range plan
without knowing myself I was doing it.
I’d write a few hours every day,
mornings were best, evenings okay,
and work a part-time job for pay.
Well, the years went by, as I actualized
a fat résumé of part-time occupations,
starting with writer, after all—
the premise of all my calculations—
journalist, poet, playwright, flack,
from one to the other, then circling back,
I practiced my art, or worked as a hack,
while recycling stints at my favorite pastimes,
honing my skills with each shift on the deck:—
as a mail-order reverend called to do weddings,
an actor in plays—from Neil Simon to Brecht;
a tree nursery gardener, a whole-foods chef,
an art school model—that paid the best;
drama-camp teacher to train kids for acting;
tarot-card readings, horoscope castings.
But to be a writer you have to think,
or your words will be empty as cotton candy,
and in the sublime solitude of janitorial work,
which anyone can do who’s the least bit handy,
I can easily ignore the deadly routine
or the concussive blow to my sweet self’s esteem
when my mind is free to flow like a stream.
So, enjoying all my jobs as I have,
it begins to dawn on my aging brain
that when my epitaph is carved in stone
my character will bear no stain
for featuring “part-time” next to my name.
Janitor, actor, gardener, chef,
model, teacher, fortune teller—
in each career I’ve had some success,
including as a part-time writer.
You could say I’m just a part-time person
out of step with a full-time world,
but I’m really only getting started,
haven’t quite made up my mind
what to be when I find more time.