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The Undertaker's Daughter
She was the undertaker's daughter and she slept
above the room in which he kept
the corpses of the late departed folk.
No one in her house ever spoke
as if her daddy's job was, well, you know -
a bit grotesque, or ever mentioned the uninvited guests.
But of course she knew the kids at High School
has a joke they didn't try to hide
about her long incisor teeth
and something about the smell of formaldehyde.
Always the pretty, solitary girl
affecting aversion for the social swirl,
she had her music, embroidery, books
and, now a senior, thought she liked the looks
of poetry as a decoration for herself.
She'd light her scented candles on the shelf
beside her samplers, grasp her pen
and begin to write. But only when
her father was working in the room below
she noticed, could her lines begin to flow.
The night four members of the football team
were pried loose from the crushed Mustang she'd seen
so often cruising 'round the town and wanted
then, always, to join the group that taunted
her for rooming with the dead; that night,
she watched the ambulance disgorge the white
stretchers stained with still-bright red. God, she thought
of Jimmy, Ralph, Angelo and Fred. But taught
sympathy from childhood, she called each
of their girl friends with the sad news. What a peach!
The folk later spoke of it as spite;
but in her heart she knew that it was right
to telephone Lucille, Anne, Angela
and Kathleen. They shrieked and started a
campaign of gossip that they didn't need.
For by and by the town folk paid no heed
to tales of simple, girlish jealousy.
The town was more than compensated for the fee
the undertaker charged for taking care
of four young corpses. In fact it seemed quite fair.
Yes, after father had closed up the shop
(she'd waited all night for the noise to stop),
she slipped downstairs to the embalming room
which now was a quadruple teenage tomb
and saw her four classmates, or what was left
of them. Daddy had tried to mend the cleft
in Jimmy's skull. Fred had lost his right arm.
And as for Ralph, a lot of windshield harm
had changed his face to raw hamburger meat.
But Angelo, the swarthy boy, so sweet
in life was still so cute. She moved the sheet
down, down, down his body 'til he was bare,
then rubbed her trembling fingers through his hair.
This Sovereign Remedy
In Malta, where the knights,
if we are to believe them,
would die if snow did not arrive from Naples,
their illnesses apparently requiring
"this sovereign remedy," snow
was the height of luxury.
Many of them yearning for the icy slopes
above their childhood homes,
could hold off only a day
before demanding snow water
and wax-sealed leather bags
packed with ice to slow throbbing temples.
Steaming taverns in Valetta
harboring outcasts from the Empire
served outlandish iced concoctions.
One concoction in particular:
cream and fruit and sugared syrup
swirled in chilled porcelain buckets
gained surprising popularity.
Wanting to be Twins
We have seen them strolling home
from school or hanging out
by the drug store, scuffling snow
from matching earth shoes.
Another sits together at Mass.
At lacrosse practice they confuse
the visiting referees and practice
the twin expression: a blank stare
of doubleness, four eyes set in only two
or two in four: an anticipation that
you'll make a mistake. You do.
Who is that talking to you?
This or that? And imagine the
cradle confrontations when
in the mirror on the nursery wall
they see itself tangled in a
duplicity of limbs confounding
the optics and the babysitter.
Once, when I taught school I had
a class of four - you've got it,
two sets of them grinning and
smooking a delight of familiarity.
I made them write up their dreams.
They balked and were very twelve
and smelled like bay rum.
One set, from the South, referred
to Coca-Cola as "dope" - very southern,
I'm told. They'd say "We bought
some dope." and I'd think - God knows!
The other set were inclined to
advantages of confusion and tears.
I saw the four of them at the gym
naked under the shower spouts
frisking, soaping, jabbering
like two sets of twins reflecting
on each other. Why do I think of them?
sleeping, eating and including
each other in their compromise?
What happens when they split again?
What egg will shatter as mirror glass
and prisms reflect about which
one will be which?
Weekends in New York
My own Saturday afternoon gridiron:
Manhattan, hardly a substitute for sport,
but rather the primal playfield,
shapes up for my arrival, I suppose,
Because I always think big in the City.
I think big, and drink big, and look at
all the biggest diamonds, buildings,
limousines, tits and asses. And I
feel the ten C-notes in my shoe
with each stride I take down the Avenue.
I spend my cash and myself
Big bucks can talk for themselves.
ZAP! The TV Hums
ZAP! The TV hums a counterpoint of ohms;
a glow appears, flickers and comes to rest
on Fenway Park and Red Sox warming up.
An old poet turns the volume off,
adjusts the color of the diamond to
an emerald green. A sip of beer, a magazine.
A rest-home afternoon in St. Augustine.
Goodbye to chilly springs on Buzzards Bay;
farewell to winter and the fall. Summer
has taken Florida by storm. It's nice,
he thinks, to have New Bedford in his past.
Since old folks, even poets, all migrate
to Florida for dotage and dying
he's not surprised to find himself ensconced
in "Fairlawn" with his books, paper and pen,
his "toiletries," a bed and bureau, chairs,
some drugs (and that reminds him -- is it time
for diuretics or a digoxin?).
No matter! A cheerful nurse will soon appear
(she does); he wants to pinch her puffy rear.
"Lorenzo, you can't take these with beer,
and look, you haven't got the volume up."
The room erupts with cheering. Yastrzemski
gets a hit. He thought he wanted silence,
some time to read an article on brains,
to locate neurologically the source
of recent twitches in his face. Of course,
it makes no difference; few things do. The sound
of baseball is a form of quietude
without debilitating turpitude
like that supplied by two Quaalude
(Dosage: one morning, one evening; with food).
It's now the seventh inning stretch. Organ
music. Turn it down! It's time to bargain
with the brain's capacity for thought.
Rapacity for naught? Getting a lot?
Something seems amiss -- a slip, a slippage,
a tiny stroke, grand mal -- lessons in hell?
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