Poetry: John Repp
Zwieback fumbled in the fist,
one end sucked on, sodden,
carbon-tinge on the still-new tongue,
cut-tooth throb in the gum, drool swiped
away then, pain so forgotten
it never came, no pain ever
in any back-then, pain’s recollection
the pain suffered, puzzled over, suffered harder,
thrilled to, forgiven, though how
to be sure? What do I mean?
Milk from a half-pint carton,
slivers of milk-ice numbing the tongue.
Click of chalk on slate, wet-wool aroma
from the cloak room, rhythm sticks
in a Coca-Cola crate. Linda’s blue
pigtail bows, Chuck’s seal-bark cough, Mrs. Voglin’s
crooked eyetooth, crackly voice. Everything never
yet written or said, or not quite,
or not quite gotten right—Roy Wilson
glimpsed on Broadway ten years after chanting
Mao’s poems & bellowing Soweto! outside a diner
in Littleton, New Hampshire.
Remember? It’s all I have
of Roy besides the pea-gravel his constant Salem
shoveled down his throat, the porkpie hat,
the four-sugar coffee, the plays
dyslexic & grim, the rage
that lit me up when white was all I was to him,
despite the boarding school his white mother’s
ahead-of-her-time life bought.
A block later, thinking Go back! thinking Roy Wilson!
I said That was Roy Wilson to my then-wife,
who pulled me north
to Hunan Balcony, where two junkies
would soon jog in & snatch the satchel a doctor
had just set down so he could bend to kiss
his wife while yanking
his gloves off as we lifted
cold sesame noodles to our mouths till the junkies
ran out, three waiters hard after them, the satchel
back home soon enough
& us, too, bearing now the tale
of waiters tackling junkies into the night
we couldn’t know would go so deep. Remember?
seems all there is,
which means nothing but meatball subs
huffed down in a blue Subaru whose grille
sports blackened spots of pitch-pine sap,
firefly goo, June bug wings.
Joni huffs hers in the passenger’s seat,
her milky, freckled thighs still chilled (I just checked)
from the morning’s addition & subtraction at Kerr Glass.
Or was it Judy? Why did she
agree to come? Though she’s already
(in just six days, whoever she is) allowed me to muff
my way under the blue tube top, the black tank
& the maroon peasant blouse
whose creosote aroma still baffles me,
I have no idea not what she “sees in me,” but what
our languid exertions—feeding each other fries
between each bite of sub,
for example—not only mean, but if they,
well, if they exist. Even in mid-touch I doubt touch
& have since my first bite of the Hershey’s Almond Bar
that soothed the sight
of my father & cousin Freddy
trundling the brown couch down the back stairs
of the one home I’d known. No foundation
but the bittersweet, almond-shard
stuff my still-new body
knew what to do with. Fifty years later, I touched
Bill’s hand as it cooled. His left ear. His forehead.
No one was ever more there
than Bill that day, but by dusk, we—
the ones who couldn’t be more beloved—
may as well have been wading the Ganges,
breathing anonymous ash, nothing
but ash ourselves, ash & nothing,
no matter how fierce the love, how much
we matter & mean.
Do I mean that?
It became my job
the winter I turned eight to fetch
the milk each morning, to scrub
the milk box each Saturday,
to drop a kitchen match
in the oil drum & watch the trash burn.
Smell the smoke? Hear the snow-melt hiss?
The collie yaps at a bundled boy
making sure everything burns down
to shivery red, then gray, then weightless white.