Issue 14

Poetry: John Repp

Everything Not Quite

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

                    billable-hours, be-home-late-sorry,

          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.