Wednesday, January 14, 2004


This is a bad place to be:
yes, I mean here, between the petroleum plant
and the geranium.

Grandfather died two weeks ago
in a sterile bed; all he left behind
was a water pistol which
mother uses to water her lillies.

There was melted snow on the ground
this morning and I parted my hair
on the left side 'cause the mirror was broken.
The weeds I pulled out of the garden
were purple with yellow streaks about the petals —
how pretty they seemed!
Grandfather owned a pipe which
he'd smoke in the late afternoon
when the sun was water-painting the sky;
he let wisps of smoke burn his eyes
and thought he was displaying real emotion.

I'll smoke an occasional cigarette
when I can light it with the midnight star
and sometimes I think about love sleeping
beneath a woman's skin.

He walked into an open door.
His fists were bleeding.

Mother cried when her father died.
I was there to caress her head
as it lay on my shoulder;
not Jesus nor Judas would have kissed her then.
Not Jesus, not Moses, not I,
would have stepped on that grave
where Grandfather, hiding in a broken body,
lay kissing some theoretically possible eternity.

He could sing in perfect imitation of himself;
and often, as Calvary was being prepared,
he would kiss his own cheek.

This is a hard place to be imprisoned:
yes, I mean this sterile room
where I am all that is happening.

He walked into the white room
and saw the blood smears on his arms,
on the walls, and the broken glass:

'Ah, Mephistophilis!'
Written circa early 1977. The poems on either side of this one in my "common-place" book are dated February — March, 1977. I do remember the "occasion" of the poem:

This was my sophomore year of college. I was living in Worchester House, which was torn down about 4-5 years later. R– lived across the hall from me, and one door down. We became friends early in the school year. Some weeks after his grandfather's death, R– attempted suicide — thus the blood in the penultimate stanza. Around the same time, R– had painted his dorm room all white, which we see reflected in the "sterile room" stanza and that penultimate stanza. I suspect this reflects my state, and my imaging of R–'s state, as much as anything. Don't know if I ever showed the poem to R– and explained to him his part in inspiring it.

In re-typing this, I have made some minor changes: the fifth line of the third stanza originally was some nonsense about the flower. The following line originally ended "How pretty ...", which now seems just too much.

At one point, I felt this was one of my stronger poems. Not sure it stands the test of time. One last foot-note: the final line is a quote from Marlowe's Doctor Faustus; it's the good Doctor's last words before he's dragged off to hell.

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