Jan 29, 2013 As I Was Saying

Readers,

Here’s a poem by a guy I don’t know much about, who apparently teaches at Virginia Tech, and who apparently used to be a manufacturing executive. His name is Bob Hicok. I found this poem (from an old New Yorker) amongst a pile of crap most of which was getting thrown out during my most recent house move. I figured (or “figgered” for the Tammy Beamses in the audience) I’d kept it for some reason, and sure enough, the reason is I have nothing else to share today. I think what originally caught me in this poem was the conversational tone and the great non-sequiturs. He leaps from topic to memory to thought with nimble ease. Some of you might know what museum he’s talking about near the end. I was also tugged back into an old favorite, “Mercy on Broadway,” which we’ve read twice before. In that poem the speaker is 41 and is gazing at the turtles for sale on a Manhattan sidewalk. Here the speaker is 42 and tries to save turtles from getting squished. What can I say, I’m slowly becoming both of them. -ed.
AS I WAS SAYING

Long, thin clouds as if the sky were smoking.

I tell it to stop or share, it doesn’t stop or share,

this is what happens to my requests: they rise.

When I was a kid, a neighbor man

had a few and tied a cherry bomb to a pigeon,

it flew furiously until kaboom. Feathers

and bits of what made the pigeon go

landed on the Smitky twins playing hopscotch,

they looked up, I looked at them looking up,

two of everything the same, as if their parents

knew the odds of needing a spare. My wife

wants to fly in a hot-air balloon. I say to her,

I’ll wait here with the turtles. I try to save them

from getting squished when they cross the road.

They don’t know it’s a road or what a road

is for, getting away is what a road is for,

then coming back, then wondering why you came back

is what a road is for. My wife’s people

are Ukrainian, beets are important to them.

I tried to arm-wrestle her father once, he said,

Why would I do that: if I beat your arm,

the rest of you will want revenge.

I never looked at it that way. Forty-two years now

I’ve tried to look at it that way. The other day,

some kids knocked a ball through our window,

one of them asked for it back, I said, Sure,

if you give me the bat. He did, then asked

for the bat, I said, If you give me the ball,

he started to hand it over when I saw understanding

bloom in his face. That never happened for me:

understanding blooming in my face. Not the way

I wanted it to. So I’ll die and someone

will have to deal with what’s left, the body,

the shoes, the socks. The last person on Earth

will just be dead: not buried or mourned

or missed. As with kites, I cut the string

when they’re way up, because who’d want to come back.

So somewhere are all these kites, as somewhere

are all the picture frames from the camps,

and the bows from hair, and the hair itself

I saw once in a museum, some of it, in a room

all its own, as if one day the heads

would come back and think, That’s where I put you,

as I do with keys when I find them in my hand.

 

-2008

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