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Mark Leigh Gibbons


Commencement Night

Sunny Day

Picasso

Faculty Dining Room

The Day I Massacred Section 101-H: Introduction to Literary Studies

Rum Winter Sestina


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Commencement Night

After the reception,
even after all the
after parties still stretched the
aftermath of packing old stuff
and graduation presents
into my graduation present
(a blackhumped-back '47 Ford
only four years my junior.)

A few dazed new graduates
carried their accumulations
from the party-scarred fraternity...
eyes askance - "See you soon."
Good bye to Amherst.

I wanted to drive alone,
but had promised
a classmate a ride to Boston.
He talked: Peace Corps, religion,
social work. Philosophy books
shuffled cartons around the back seat.

Top speed of 50 masticated the miles
slowly. I spun in the air
like a polite table setting
after the stunt-man had flashed
from beneath me a soft comfortable tablecloth.

I let him off near a campus in Boston,
and aimed toward my mother's new house
on the Cape. I used to make promises then.
A lot came out that night.
I remember only the grey, felt interior
of my Ford, the white line on routes south,
and the black night so far gone
when I got home I couldn't decide
whether it was worth calling it a day.

Sunny Day

I have roped
three frosty Budweisers
to the mast
of my new sailfish

and am tacking
through whitecaps
wondering why
I like to sail alone.




Picasso

In Boston the day Picasso died
some of my friends cried,
or tried to, when the little Judy Garland
sang "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"
with gravity at just about six fifteen.

I'd been reading on the bongo board
so drove around town and hit five parties,
without ever once attending my own.
I listened to Chuck Berry sing "Almost Grown"
at a stop light in Brighton, while
a girl in the next lane tapped
the rhythm on her windshield
with a plastic spoon.

Faculty Dining Room

At lunch they argued again over issues:
literary ones this time; whether so-and-so
was really fair to such-and-such
about his new book. They never stopped eating.
Bites, chews and swallows punctuated their
feigned disinterestedness. Not at all this
that made them disagree, nothing that could
be said there, but something, something
they brought to the table with their
cottage cheese, chives, and scallops.
They pretend to care about what they
only only pretend to care about. Neither
the food nor the talk was good.
Oh, the lemon slice was as always - dependable;
the salt satisfying, the glass of milk robust.
But what had been prepared lacked character.
Cooling ice had watered the cottage cheese.
Warming cauldrons had dried the scallops,
the salad-leaves were wet: no dressing
could flavor its doughty, crisp predictability.

The Day I Massacred Section 101-H: Introduction to Literary Studies

We were talking, or, more properly,
I was talking about the Sonnets:
"They that have the power to hurt and will do none."
The response, as we say in the trade,
was disappointing, and I was much
more bored with myself than they were with me.
It was indeed a waste of shame:
girls with their legs together,
guys with their legs apart.
And so, I thought, perhaps by example
the power to hurt might a lesson make.
I reached for the Thompson submachine gun
in the lower drawer
(where I had placed it
at the beginning of the semester
knowing visual aids were the coming thing),
then I grabbed a freshly lit
cigarette from the beer-gutted punk
in the front row
and draped it on my lower lip
before his reflexes even began
to sense that the end was near.
"OK you louse-brained parasites,"
I screamed redundantly.
"Up against the blackboard!"
And suddenly they scrambled
and bas-reliefed themselves
along the wall with the chalk-tray
pressing cruelly into their backs.
"This here Thompson machine gun's got
600 rounds just waitin' for some travelin'
through your private parts, your Netherlands,
to use a common Elizabethan pun that will
go over your heads. With the student-teacher ratio
we've got here, that's twenty slugs apiece.

"Taste lead and die! Why should I
flunk you and let the Viet Cong
have all the fun? This is what
the power to hurt is all about.
Viva Shakespeare!"
I let 'em have it.
The bullets smashed their faces in
and Jackson Pollacked the blackboard
with brains, blood and hair.
But they didn't even notice.

Rum Winter Sestina

I spent my winter pretending to be ill;
I bought new pillows and soft comforters,
reading books in an overheated room
I sometimes watched the light from cords of wood
make patterns on the walls that fueled my thought
that I was dying. It was all a pose.
Oh, I ventured out for rum and fresh air

Now and then. Phone calls from my comforters
broke up the day with chatter and some ill-
will when they figured out my little pose:
harmless enough, I suppose. What harm would
come from it never even crossed my thought
confused with fire patterns in the dank air
there in the silence of my darkened room.

The book and log piles hardly gave me room
to entertain. But neighbor-comforters
came to sit by the fire and throw on wood,
sip rum toddys and feel that they should air
their diagnoses. The questions they'd pose
about neuroses and the mentally ill
were cooked up as my daily food for thought.

The consequence was that all I thought
about were variations of my pose.
Should I buy new robes and adopt an air
of nineteenth-century Paris in my room?
Then came the week of burning camphor wood
and shutting out the light with comforters.
The claustrophobic odor made me ill.

After that I started writing these ill-
deserved tirades to my few comforters
left who'd open mail from me. In them I'd pose
a few stiff questions of my own. The air
outside grew warmer, but inside my room
it stank of sweat and rum and too much thought
of rum bottles replacing stacks of wood.

When April came I needed no more wood,
and ordered a cord of rum. Comforters
sensing disaster or a party thought
to stop the load before it reached my room.
I'd planned disaster, but a festive pose
distracted me from melancholy air.
I'd spent my winter pretending to be ill.

We sipped rum-comforters in the spring air.
I thought of my ill-spent pose and cut wood
for winter. But they boarded up my room.

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