The Last Four Undergrad Poems

Black Tresses Still

Reflections off bedsheets
On white bodies spill.
   Her long fingers curling,
      Strong, lost eyes there burning . . .
Black tresses still.

Lips quiver their redness
To swallow at thrill.
Neck pulsates, throat gestures,
In vibrating drill.
   Her whole body gasping,
      Arms constantly moving . . .
Black tresses still.

Years later I found her
As death sent its chill
Her pallid eyes open
Revealing no will.
Now here she lies rotting
'Neath this very hill.
   Lips of no redness
      Eyes merely hollows
         No breath at all . . .
Black tresses still.
Carrollton, GA, 1980

Epistle to Dr Mathews

(from an American Lit student)

Dear Sir, I have a strange complaint
You do not often hear.
It's just me, really, not your fault.
I've been this way for years.

I have an ailment: I'm fertile ground
And words in me plant seed.
Thus, whether, then, for good or ill,
I must act on what I read.

Last year I read some pastorals,
And had to rent a farm.
And once, while steeped in Beowulf
I near tore off my roommate's arm.

In pretty pots I sought the truth
And all else I need to learn
For two weeks after I had read
"Ode On a Grecian Urn."

I'm awfully glad that these effects
Are not forever fixed,
Else 'tween Rod McKuen and Jean Genet,
I'd be a soul most oddly mixed.

Well, now I'm living in a shack.
I rise each day at dawn.
I have no heat, 'Twas cold last night,
But I'll be no one's pawn.

For the past 10 days I've been transcending
And I've communed with the woods.
And, of course, I think for my own self
As I'd never thought I could.

But I'll be glad when this is done:
To in my car once more go.
So when will we at last be through
With Emerson and Thoreau?
Carrollton, GA, 1980

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Desk

Waiting to be come to, looked at, worked with,
     turned on, moved from, changed by...

A yellow residue of ice cream
     in yesterday's bowl
Sticking a poor spoon to the bottom.
An impossibly balanced stack of books up to the clouds,
     to the right, there,
     precariously looming over bowl and prisoner
          (is there no brave platter to
          rescue this utensil in distress?)

Papers scattered all across:
          ditto purple,
          typewriter black,
          handwritten blue.
Renegade books like boulders on this steppe.
A ceramic, shade-less lamp, brown glue displaying
          base's cracks
     to the left, there,
     a monument light-house rising beyond the clouds.
     A cracker.
          Unnumbered hidden pens,
          hypodermics for an inky soul.

Waiting to be come to, looked at, worked with,
     turned on, moved from, changed by...

Or, as in the case of yesterday's ice cream bowl,
     Simply washed.
1980 Jan

Terminal Illness

That year I turned 20
I had a lover, a friend, and a class to teach.
Penny was the lover, April the friend, "10th Grade Indep Studies" the class.

Aug 17
Went to see April at her apartment this evening.
We were silly and giggled for an hour or more.
Then we got all morose and despairing for even longer.
This is a pattern we've followed before.
Last time, by the time I got back to my apartment, I felt better.
This time the rottenness coagulated and stuck.

Sep 2
Penny says all I talk about is my students.
April says all I talk about is Penny.
My students say they don't know what I'm talking about.

Sep 24
Penny and I celebrated the one-year anniversary of our first date.
We drove into Atlanta, which Penny has never liked, to see the specialist, which I don't like.
We sat in the doctor's posh plush office.
He was exceedingly polite.
He said the test results would be in in a week.
Penny and I didn't see a movie.
Both of us had head-aches.
Night bright lights, the smell of the car.
The pressing of the gas, then brakes.
We ate at a Holiday Inn, then went home.

Sep 29
When I'm older will I be wiser?
Or will I simply find I've settled?

Oct 3
I'm having less and less to say to my class. I've talked about how to research, what to footnote and how. And they're doing it. I answer questions.
Penny moved in.

Oct 7
'Terminal,' echoes over and over in my brain.
Terminal, terminal, terminalterminalterminaltermin altermin
Altermin altermin, al.
Concentrate: give the odd sounds meaning.
As in 'bus terminal.'

Oct 26
My students stopped asking questions. They come in and go straight into their books and scribbling notes.
I submitted my resignation to the principal.

Nov 10
My skin is electric with worry and fear for Penny, and I haven't seen April for more than a month.

Nov 24
Penny, pretend that I am alive.
Pretend that I am eating saltines and you are visiting me.
It's that old gray house in Hoboken
And my clothes are fine.
A light bulb hangs by a long wire from the ceiling
And the barren wood floor is noisy under hard heels.
You whistle at me, but I can't whistle back
Because of the saltines.
Pretend that I am alive.
1979, 2014

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