When Rich came back from Nam
he and Doug and I spent the nights
shooting craps. Squatting down
and tossing dice against the base
of a bare wall in his apartment.
Over there his construction battalion
had built roads through the jungle.
Beautiful blacktop roads straight
through the jungle, he explained
flatly. The next day our tanks rolled
through and chewed them all up
with their steel plate treads. Then
they built more roads and a few
days later the tanks rolled through
to the same effect. I did not quite
catch the scoring system those
first couple of nights what with
the Budweiser and Jack Daniel’s
and spliffs and all. Doug rolled
and I rolled and then Rich rolled.
Sometimes Rich slapped a couple
of bills on my stack and sometimes
he took a couple away. He was that
into it. Could not get enough of it.
Hours on end. It made no difference
who won or lost. Who was ahead.
It was, I guess, just that hard to let go.
An Old Man Now Waits
On the Election Returns
On Halloween Night 1956
a week before the Election
my mother draped me and
my older sister in old worn
out bedsheets with cardboard
signs that announced Linda
was Adlai’s Ghost and I
was Estes Kefauver’s
because my mom and dad
Liked Ike and had no notion
Tricky Dick Nixon would
someday split the nation
right down the vitals like
these unholy days and nights
with Covid-19 owning
an air haunted by Caspar
my childhood spirit-guide
doing GEICO commercials
and some 230,000 dead
on CNN and MSNBC
and me taking a knee
maskless and solitary
in front of my properly
socially distanced tv
with a beer and slab of cheese
Tuesday after Halloween
settling in on my settee
and only getting up to pee
You are thumbing through the pages of the family Bible
one Sunday before church and in the margin beside John 8:7
about not casting the first stone you run across this:
There is nothing like slinging a morning gobbet of salty
love butter down the throat of a woman you genuinely
love to set just the right tone for rest of a man’s day.
In grandfather’s legendarily crafted 19th century hand.
Grandfather the grave Presbyterian minister to the flock.
Of course the lusts of the clergy are proverbial – and
positively Chaucerian in their scampiness. But grampaw!
Who bounced you on his knee! And grammaw! She of
the baked gingerbreadmen and homemade medicinal teas!
Where, you wonder for a moment, did they hide their horns
and tails and goat feet all those years? Then quite suddenly
you turn the tables and decide he inserted these words
in the Holy Writ just to tempt you into a dark suspicion
of the purity of their union on a chill Sunday morning
like this before church. A test. Of course. A temptation.
Is there a Christian tactic older than that? But it’s too late.
You have already envisioned the scene. The nightstand table
and Fanny Hill opened to the naughtiest chapter, the creaking
headboard, the pillows with their warm depressions, the flung
bedclothes. The moans. The revolting gulping sound.
So, no, you conclude. Not a test. Just a demented old man’s
intrusion into your Sunday serenity in a pathetic stab
at Immortality. To be remembered. For a few paltry words,
if nothing else. Like the old fart was a poet at heart after all
but like the rest of us had to just settle for pornography.
Robert Perchan’s poetry chapbooks are Mythic Instinct Afternoon (2005 Poetry West Prize) and Overdressed to Kill (Backwaters Press 2005 Weldon Kees Award). His poetry collection Fluid in Darkness, Frozen in Light won the 1999 Pearl Poetry Prize. He has stuff in recent issues of Pedestal, The Ghost Story, Rat’s Ass Review, Raw Arts Review, Carbon Culture Review and elsewhere. He eats and drinks in Busan, South Korea. You can find him at robertperchan.com.