The Poet Spiel

Link to home pageLink to current issueLink to back issuesLink to information about the magazineLink to submission guidelinesSend email to

odd remnants

a pair of sepia photos laminated and spattered with bacon grease
linger limp against the recipe cupboard atop a groaning Norge, each of
them a pale portrait from the roaring 20s when these two old men’s
mothers were lean and capable.

now the men are fixtures with oversize flesh-colored cotton panties over
their heads, pulled down to cover their ears and topped off by orange and
green party hats from that rousing in 1944 on army leave in Paris where
they were so thrilled to reveal each other. and today their rascal cat Billy
Boy is nearly strangling pale Rodney’s gaunt neck with his bushy tail.
they cannot remember when nor why the panties and hats were so
hilarious that long-ago night when Elizabeth showed up, just that the
panties keep their ears warm and that’s enough. crocheting doilies keeps
dear Edward’s hands nimble and when Rodney is able to keep Billy Boy
from tangling his yarn he can knit a mile’s worth of the cutest snug
afghans for all those virile young boys in Iraq.

their threadbare tapestried chairs are angled so their feet meet as they
piddle their days, a way of keeping track of each other since each of
them is half deaf and cannot hear the other breathe. yet the record player
is seldom silent: right now playing I get no kick from cocaine. but it’s not
the lyric that lulls their hearts, it’s the familiarity of those old tunes and
how they hug-danced in this lard-laden kitchen with the brittle plastic
Woolworth's curtains pulled tight against a world that might not
understand how two such battle-weary soldiers could find their peace
alone together—these few odd remnants of their late mothers—those
tired photos and Billy Boy, the last of the offspring of Rodney's mother’s
long line of Billy cats. and a lifetime of Edward’s mother’s soft panties
stuffed in tidy Sears Roebuck hatboxes.

old thoughts of ever going back home again, long abandoned in their root
cellar, gathering fungus and mouse turds—but the two of them still
believe noises occasionally rise from there—like the sharp cracklings of
their battalion on the front lines of The Big War.

the homecoming

book 1.
how she can windex the glass at the start of each day
how she can toothpaste silver rosettes on the onyx frame 
but she cannot create a more perfect picture

how her mouth is stretched wide
the heat of his finger pressing into her tongue
his knuckle gobbed with yellow frosting
nearly jamming her nostrils
her impulse to gag then giggle
on sugar and joy
the ecstasy of capture contained

book 2.
how her little ones are spit images
of the man with his finger down her throat
how she teases with them to get her breasts sticky
with all the kool-aid and mud they can paint on her
how she whips yellow frosting in the night
when they wake screaming why can’t he stick with them
each time he gets to come home

how she traces her face in the bedroom mirror
with orange lipstick he said he liked in high school
then she fills in the mouth with the taste of his finger
but the mouth is not gracious
and she hears only her self as she weeps

book 3.
how the troops return
minus one sometimes two or more somehow they return
each tour of duty he’s come back
respiring through his tongue

he gets smacked with wet cheers and balloons
but he cannot recall those who greet him
and he does not trust hands that grope him
and the blare of the band spooks him
how he has eyes in the back of his head
that weigh each twitch in the ruckus
but he doesn’t know which way is home

how his triggerbrain is cocked
by the least likely shock of sugary goo 
smeared on a doorknob or a kid’s tricycle tire
limping low on air 

book 4.
how coming home would seem forever
how could anyone know how anxious they are
how her mother will tend the children for the night
how she had her nails done orange same orange as her lips
had her legs waxed glassy
had her hair streaked sexy then cleansed herself

how she lures his triggerfinger down there
but he’s so clumsy
his finger frigid and estranged
how she sees her self as a cubist still life
framed in that same goddamn mirror

book 5.
how they come to terms
meet in a public place
where security guards will safe-watch them
the wal-mart lunchroom
how they will talk it out right now
while he’s on homeground

how she’s frosted her bruises with a silky compact
how the kiddies tag along to protect her
each gets one hotdog one small coke and a dollar toy
but the kids stick to his thighs like icing on cake
how they beg him
to sleep inside their sleeping bags
on top of them
so the bad guys from where he goes
won’t blow their heads off like on tv

but it’s like he doesn’t know them
he does not know her
how he says they have nothing to say
now that they all are here
and his job is over there
how he’s never been trained
to be a lover or daddy

how what he’s been trained to do best
is what he does best

how his triggerbrain is cocked

how his fingers become coarse and rigid

as they approach her throat

how management counts the children
then trashes the junkfood
before news cameras arrive