The River Where His Lover Lies

The river where his lover lies
is not too wide from bank to bank.
The water eddies here and there
as it flows down into the sea.

The ferry carries cars across
from Chester on one shore to Lyme.
The surface of the water’s calm,
there’s not a lot they have to say.

He took the boat so they could see
the swans that swim along in pairs.
They mate for life, he’d said; the plank
was lowered, so were her eyes.

Something was amiss that day,
some inner peace, some needed balm.
He calculated there was time
to stem the tide, avert the loss.

The water made her paleness stark
against her hair, as she sank down;
and now he has to damn or thank
the river where his lover lies.

 

One Poet-in-Residence Overstays His Welcome

The Last Beach Heather

At the end of each summer they would cross
Uncle Tim’s Bridge in Wellfleet and clip some
beach heather—sea lavender, some people
call it. Soft, pink-purple flowers, that
she would dry upside down and then put
in a pitcher or a vase, to give some color
to the apartment over a grey Boston
winter, as a remembrance of summer.

One winter it wasn’t enough, and he moved out.
There were periodic attempts to reconcile
but he had settled down, and she still
wanted to be wild in her ways, to prolong
their bohemian days. Never one to save,
she’d spend her paycheck on a harpsichord
concert, or violin lessons for herself, still
a beginner at twenty-five.

He laughed at that behind her back,
but she laughed too, at the dinners
they had to go to now, where the laughs
were poured out in miserly fashion like
the more-expensive wine they drank now;
Instead of manic tears flowing down their
cheeks, each little titter was weighed and
savored; good God, she said one night,

I hope we don’t grow old like that!
But he saw nothing wrong with the men
who’d given him a job that paid the rent
at the lovely little terrace apartment
she said was what she’d dreamed of
for so many years in the woods of
Connecticut. He reminded her of
that one night; love isn’t logical, though,

and that was the end of that. She moved
to a garrett on the back side of Beacon Hill
where the sun seemed never to shine, while
he moved to the sunny side of the street in
the Back Bay. Eventually he met and wooed
and won a woman more like the man he’d become
and they went to Wellfleet, where he wanted to
show her where the beach heather grew.

They crossed the bridge, and he was bending over
to clip a sprig at the end of the summer, just as
he had before, when a voice called out to him:
“This is the National Seashore—you’re not
supposed to cut any plants,” a woman said.
He stood up and turned around, and yelled out
“But I’ve been doing this for years.”
“Well, you never should have, so stop now.”

Not one to break the law now, he put the clippers
back in his pocket. They crossed the bridge,
got in their car and drove home. On the way
they bought some beach heather—
and much more–at a cute gift shop that
his wife had spied. Things, he thought,
that were free before, were now bought
at a high price, and came wrapped in bags.

A Night Ride With the Conservative Poetry Enforcers

          There are maybe five conservative American poets, not one of whom can safely show his face at a writing conference for fear of being angrily doused with herbal tea.

                     David Orr, Beautiful & Pointless

It’s Wednesday night and the sky is cloudless and moonless. I’m cruising the streets of White River Junction, Vermont, with my posse; T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, e.e. cummings and Wallace Stevens. We’ve got our gang colors on–tweed sport coats–because we’re out for retribution. Eliot was making a posthumous appearance at the Bread Stone Writer’s Conference the night before, hovering like a brooding omnipresence over a panel discussion on De-Privileging the Dead White Male, when the head of the low-residency poetry program at the University of Vermont-Quechee campus tossed some green tea and honey on his ghostly apparition. Forget what you’ve heard about the incorporeality of the afterlife; T-Dawg, as he is known fondly among us, has first degree burns on his hands to show for the gross incivility he was subjected to.


“You pointin’ that green tea at me, maggot?”

 

“Can we stop at Dairy Queen?” Stevens says from the seat beside me–typical for the Emperor of Ice Cream.

“Yes if you’re going to get something to drink,” I say. “No if you want a sundae. You know they give you the runs.”

“how come stevens always gets to ride shotgun?” cummings asks from the back seat.

“Because his reputation is the highest at this point,” I reply, trying to broker a peace. “It’s not my call–talk to the critics.”


Stevens: “I could really go for a Heath Bar Blizzard sundae right now.”

 

cummings rolls down his window and flips his cigarette out–a minor act of rebellion against the excesses of the environmental movement.

“You jerk,” Frost says. “Just because you’re a registered Republican doesn’t mean you can be a pig.”

“I live in Cambridge, Mass.,” Cummings says, momentarily drawing himself up from his normal lower-case orthographic state. “Littering is an inalienable right when you live in the city.”


e.e. cummings: “excuse me for smoking.”

 

I pull my car over to the side of the road outside the Writer’s Center, and we sit in silence as we wait for the poet who will be our random victim to walk out.

“Did everyone bring a beverage to toss?” I ask. Great poets tend to be world-class wool-gatherers, forgetting even the most important details of a night time terror ride.

“I brought a bottle of cider that I made myself,” Frost says. Good old Bob–marginalized as a conservative during his life, famously saying a liberal is someone so broad-minded he won’t take his own side in a quarrel.  He soldiered on until he got his day in the sun at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy, that tax-cutting imperialist who accused Richard Nixon of being weak on defense!

“I brought my martini shaker,” Eliot says. “Can I have a sip?”

“It’s up to you,” I say. “I’d think you’d want to keep your martini dry until you saw the whites of a liberal poet’s eyes.”

“You didn’t stop at Dairy Queen,” Stevens says with a dream-like voice. “No root beer float.”

“Give him a Gatorade, would you?” I say to the guys in the back, and Frost reaches into my red and white Coleman cooler, the one I’ve been using since I was introduced to Schlitz Malt Liquor on the night shift at an ice plant when I was fifteen.

Frost hands one forward to his poetic rival, and Stevens jumps a bit when the chilled plastic bottle is placed in his hands. “A frosty cold one from Frost,” he says with a thin little smile after he’s recovered. I note that he doesn’t say thank you; that’s Stevens for you, an imperial sense of entitlement.

We had argued over when and how we would retaliate for the indignity that Eliot suffered at the hands of his poetic inferior. We debated whether we should respond in kind with a searing hot beverage, but decided we would take the high road. Liberal poets may scar their competitors with coffee and tea, but we would repay them with an olive branch; cold drinks at worst, lukewarm liquids preferred. We don’t have to throw stuff to make a point; we use our words, as our mothers told us to long ago.

cummings–as he is wont to do–is the only one to push the envelope. he’s brought along two four-packs of single serving wine bottles, one white and one red, and from the malevolent look on his face my guess is he’s going to twist the cap on the cabernet first in order to inflict the maximum amount of damage to some poor poetaster’s affected Mexican peasant shirt.

“Why do they hate us?” Stevens asks no one in particular.

“Because you’re better than them,” I say, “and because you undermine their belief that a poem must conform to a rigid view of the way the world ought to be, instead of the way it is.”

“Jonathan Livingston Seagull crap,” Stevens says, again as if he’s talking in his sleep.

“On the nosey,” I say.

cummings shushes me as he sees a man in a Greek fisherman’s cap stumble down the stairs and then out onto the lawn. Frost clears his throat, and I can feel a poem coming on.

He’s in his cups as he descends
the stairs that lead to the conference
where within I have no friends
and that has made all the difference.

The three poets in the back slip quietly out the street-side door and take their places underneath some overgrown rhododendrons, the kind Virginia Woolf compared to overfed suburban stockbrokers.


Woolf: “I loaned my Black & Decker hedgetrimmer to Marianne Moore, and now she won’t give it back.”

 

The poet is humming to himself as he comes down the drive; I believe I detect the strains of Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water,” which would make him just about my age if he’s recalling the monster guitar hits of his youth–SOTW is ranked #12 on Q magazine’s list of 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks.

“Smoke–on the wa-ter/Fire in the skies,” the guy sings, and not too well. I see Frost, Cummings and Eliot exchange glances, then pounce on him.


Fuckin’ poetry, man.

 

“What the . . .” I hear the guy say before Eliot succeeds in stuffing some Lilly Pulitzer cocktail napkins in his mouth.


Tres festive!

 

The trio of nefarious verse-slingers drags the guy to the car where they stuff him in the back seat between Frost and Eliot–the “bitch” seat. Cummings starts to get in the front, but Stevens stops him.

“I have not relinquished my shotgun rights!” he says in a prissy tone.

“come on, wally!” cummings exclaims. We’re all getting a bit exasperated at the old man’s hyper-formalism.

Stevens ignores him, gets out and waits for cummings to “ride the stick.” Thankfully, my car has an automatic tranny on the column, so it’s not so bad.

“Where are you taking me?” the poet–and I used the word advisedly, since I recognize him–asks. It is Bendall Plourde, a refugee from a Master of Fine Arts program who claimed “printer’s error” when his amateurish attempt at a sonnet in a student newspaper drew derisive letters to the editor. Since I was the outside union typesetter for the paper I threatened to take out a full-page advertisement showing his original copy, with its mistakes of grammar, spelling, usage, syntax, mixed metaphors and pathetic fallacies–not to pile on or anything. I was prevailed upon not to place the ad for a sum in the high three figures–counting the decimal point, of course. Printer’s error my ass.

We drive for awhile and once we’re out in the country again Eliot removes the napkins from Plourde’s mouth and, without missing a beat, throws a martini in his face.

“What’d you do that for?”

“I might ask you and your bien pensant colleagues the same thing, since I was doused with hot green tea at last night’s session.”

“Well you deserved it, you who said that liberalism was ‘a worm eating itself into the traditions of our society.’”

“You dispute that?”

“Sure. All good poets are liberals–right?”

It’s cummings’ turn to chime in. “good lord, man–wherever did you get that idea?”

“From David Orr.”

“who’s that?”

“Just the poetry critic of the New York Times.”

“He doesn’t know his ass from his elbow,” Frost says dismissively as he looks out the window at a field lying fallow, trying to wring a poem out of it. The guy never stops working!

“Orr is to Lionel Trilling as a snow cone is to the Matterhorn,” Stevens intones with a voice of authority.

“Who’s Lionel Trilling?” Plourde asks, genuinely mystified.

“The ur-liberal literary critic of the twentieth century,” I say. “Author of The Liberal Imagination, who famously said ‘liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition’ of our time.”

“So–that just supports what I said,” Plourde says. “Ouch,” he cries as Frost administers “Indian sunburn” to his right arm.


“Oh no–not Indian sunburn!”

 

“Au contraire,” Eliot says. “Over and over again Trilling found that the poets he admired the most, the writers he thought would endure, including Proust, Joyce, Lawrence, Eliot, Yeats . . .”

“Yeats?” Plourde says with a note of betrayal in his voice–you can tell that one stung.

“Yes, Yeats,” Eliot continues, “Mann, Kafka, Rilke, Gide, Hemingway, Coleridge, Kipling, Faulkner and my esteemed colleagues in this car–to all of them ‘liberal ideology has been at best a matter of indifference,’ if they weren’t suspicious or even overtly hostile to it.”

We didn’t need any napkins to shut the guy up after that Honor Roll of Scribblers.

“Say it . . . say it ain’t so!” he says finally, tears welling up in his eyes.

“I’d like to–for your sake–but I can’t,” Eliot continues. “Trilling thought you needed to be a part of the traditions of the west in order to effectively perceive and express the social distinctions we lump together under the rubric . . .”

“What’s a rubric?”


1978 AMC Rubric

 

“A subcompact manufactured by American Motors in the sixties,” Frost says. I’m pretty sure he’s kidding.

” . . . of class,” Eliot says. He gives Plourde a Cheshire-cat smile, and at this point everybody chucks their drinks at the guy. Justice prevails.

“Still,” Plourde says as he tries to wipe the cheap cabernet off his favorite shirt, “Orr’s right about one thing.”

“What?” Frost asks.

“He said there weren’t five conservative poets, and there’s only four of you.”

“How about our driver?” Eliot asks. I am so flattered!

“Him?” Plourde asks, snorting with contempt to think that the former printer’s devil who took him down so many years ago in Worcester, Mass. would ever rise so high.

“Are you saying he’s not a conservative?” Frost asks.

“He voted against Reagan–twice,” Plourde says with scorn, making a great show of his umbrage. “And he’s also a lousy poet.”

 

Available in print and Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “poetry is kind of important.”

The Penance of Jane Shore

There is a state between lady and whore
called “courtesan.” In the reign of Edward IV
there were three such,
of whom he said
they were merry, wily and holy,
one we know by the name Jane Shore.

Jane

Daughter of the merchant class,
a grocer’s daughter, a lovely lass,
she mirrored the manners
of gentle ladies
who patronized her father’s store
and before her youth had passed

Jane1

the die had been cast;
she’d discovered what a man was for.

Jane2

And so she climbed by her looks and charms
from the lowly to a place in the arms
of men, mighty and great.
“The Rose of London” she
was called, noted for her wit as well.
A series of lovers would keep her from harm:

jane3

The first was William Shore, fifteen years older
than her; wealthy merchant, but to her colder
than desired. The marriage was annulled
at her request for impotence, three bishops
deciding at the request of Pope Sixtus.
Free to love again, Edward the king did hold her,

jane4

then his stepson, Thomas Grey, a married man,
then the Baron of Hastings. Her plan
was to serve as go-between,
to conspire against the rule of
Richard III, but she was charged
with promiscuity, and so with taper in hand

she was made to walk the streets of London
dressed only in her kirtle, exposed to men’s eyes.

Jane5

From this you may surmise:
When a conspicuous woman is brought to heel
where before she was the favorite of all
there is probably something more to tell
than merely the story of her fall.

A Session With My Poetry Coach

It was the form letter that sent me over the edge.  “Thank you for submitting your poem to plangent voices,” it began.  “Please excuse the form letter, but due to the volume of god-awful submissions that we receive, we do not have the time to crush the spirit of each writer personally.”


elena gotchko:  Had her capital letters surgically removed in 2009.

 

Signed–elena gotchko, editor-in-chief, the lower-case poetess who I’d help to catch on with the little rag in the first place!  I thought to myself, if I couldn’t call in a personal favor from someone like elena, who I knew back when she was cutting her own hair to show the world how disaffected she was, I might as well hang it up as a poet.


Self-haircut:  “Which side do you like better–the short or the long?”

 

But that would mean giving up on the art form that I’ve been enamored of ever since I noticed, as a mere lad of twelve, the couplet so beloved by young boys on the wall of a bathroom stall.  You know the one:  

Here I sit all broken-hearted
Paid a nickel to shit and only farted.

The fierce beauty of those lines, their startling honesty, the possibilities they opened up to me–how could I forsake that epiphany!  Dammit–I wasn’t going to give up that easily!  My kid has a hitting coach, my wife has a fitness coach–I was going to get myself a poetry coach!

I opened up the Yellow Pages and flipped to the “p’s”.  Poetry, Anthologies.  Poetry, Brokers.  Ah, here we go–Poetry, Coaches.  There were three, but only one in my area code.  Buy local, I figured, and gave the guy a call.

“You have reached the office of Elliot Wurzel, Poetry Coach, turning poetasters into masters for over a decade.  If you have a question regarding assonance or consonance, press 1.  For issues regarding meter, press 2.  For problems with your account, press 3.  For all other matters, please stay on the line or press zero.”


Valerii Yakovlevich Briusov, Neo-Acmeist poet and housecleaning fanatic

 

I held while Valerii Yakovlevich Briusov, Russian Neo-Acmeist and the only poet with four i’s in his name, read from his justifiably-obscure oeuvre.  Finally, a sonorous voice came on the line and introduced himself in blunt fashion–”Wurzel here.”


“You call yourself a poet?  Drop down and give me ten Alcaic stanzas–NOW!”

 

“Uh, Mr. Wurzel, I’m looking for a poetry coach.”

“Umm.  What seems to be the problem?”

“Well, I can’t seem to get out of the slush pile.  Can’t even win Second Runner-Up in those contests with prizes in the high two figures.”

“Poetry is like maypole dancing,” he said cryptically.

“How so?”

“It’s one of those art forms that has far more practitioners than spectators.  You’re up against very long odds.”

“I know–that’s why I’m calling you.”

“And it is well that you did,” he said.

“Don’t you mean ‘good’?” I asked.


John Milton, Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of Blank Verse

 

“Never use a nickel word when a dime word will do,” he counseled me.  “That’s the last free advice you’re getting, by the way.”

We haggled a bit over rates–I didn’t want to sign up for a long-term membership like at a health club and then have him commit suicide, the occupational hazard–if not the occupation–of versifiers.

“Okay,” he said.  “Let’s get started.  Read me the first poem you ever wrote.”

I cleared my throat and launched into “Thoughts on Waking After Spending the Night at a Kosher Vegetarian Commune”:

This is kosher, this is trayfe–
One unclean, the other safe.
All day long we work and slayfe
Keeping kosher from the trayfe.


Actual Kosher vegetarian commune

 

“Hmm,” he hmmed, as he considered my complex a-a-a-a rhyme scheme.  “Not altogether bad–but you need to accessorize.”


Heidi Klum, accessorizing.

 

“Isn’t that what women do when they want to complete and complement an otherwise humdrum, pedestrian outfit?”

“You seem to know a lot about fashion,” he said.

“My dad was in women’s clothing.  Don’t duck the question–what’s that got to do with poetry?”

“Think of your poem as it hits an editor’s desk.  It’s like a woman standing in line outside an exclusive night club.  It’s got a lot of competition.  You’ve got to tart it up a little if you want to get past the doorman.”


“Sorry sweetheart.  Come back when you’ve fixed that godawful spondee in the third verse.”

 

I was starting to appreciate my coach’s wealth of experience.  “Like how?”

“First of all–dedicate it to someone.”

“Like who?”

“It helps if it’s a foreign name, somebody obscure, somebody the reader will be ashamed to admit he doesn’t know.”

“Gimme a for instance.”

“That’s an add-on,” he said,  “Five bucks for access to my exclusive database of hitherto-un-dedicated-to names.”


Zsa Zsa Gabor, with Porfirio Rubirosa

 

I grudgingly agreed–what choice did I have?–and listened as he flipped through some papers.  “I’ve got just the thing,” he said with satisfaction.  “Porfirio Rubirosa!”

“Who’s he?” I asked.

“See–proved my point.  Sounds foreign and romantic, but you can’t quite put your finger on him, can you?”

“Shortstop for the Minnesota Twins?”

“You’re thinking of Zoilo Versalles, who’s also good–don’t get me wrong.  He’s just not right for your poem.”

I felt gratified that I was getting personalized attention.  “So who’s Porfiri–”

“Rubirosa was an international playboy, polo player and race car driver, legendary for his prowess with women.”


Kowa-bunga!

 

“Okay–sounds good.”

“During his heyday, large pepper grinders were sometimes referred to as ‘rubirosas’ among the fast-living international set.”

He’d lost me.  “Because?”

“Because of the voluptuous shape of the grinder, the sensuous . . .”

“Okay, I got your point.  So what else needs fixing?”

“You need to strike a more outraged political tone.”

“But–it’s a little comic poem, just a pun that I . . .”

“Listen–do you want my help or not?” he fairly shouted at me.

“Well, I guess you are the coach.  But what if I’m . . . not outraged.”

“If you’re not outraged–what are you?”

“More like–amused.  The Human Comedy.  As Mencken said when asked why he lived in America if he found so much unworthy of reverence here, ‘Why do men go to zoos?’”


H.L. Mencken

 

“That’s not going to help your career,” he said.

“What if I take a bi-partisan approach–criticize both sides?”

He considered this for a moment.  “Might work–what did you have in mind?”

“Well, I’d go after both Dick Cheney and Joe Biden–Democratic and Republican vice presidents–in one stanza.”

“Okay,” he said with a skeptical sigh of impatience.  “Hit me.”

Here comes the fat man, emerged from hiding place–
“Gee, I’m awful sorry if I shot you in the face!”

“That’s a start,” he said grudgingly.  “Now wrap it up.”

Old Joe Biden, squeaks like a door hinge,
Schooled at Syracuse, whose mascot’s an orange.

There was a silence at his end of the line.  “Un-freaking–believable.”

“Thanks,” I said, a bit surprised that I’d broken through his reserve.

“This is a major upheaval in poetry!” he exclaimed.

“What–what’d I do?”

“You’ve solved a problem that has bedeviled poets for centuries.  You’ve discovered a rhyme for ‘orange’!”

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “poetry is kind of important.”

The Poetry Fixer

 

A self-published poet who focused on homelessness in her work has resigned after only a week on the job as North Carolina’s poet laureate following criticism of the governor’s appointment process.

                                                              Associated Press 

poetry

As I sat staring out the window, wondering how to jump-start my career as a poet, I automatically, involuntarily lapsed into verse:

I think that I’d feel more secure
If I could get me a cozy political sinecure.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m doing . . . okay.  Since my first poem–Thoughts on Waking After Spending the Night in a Kosher Vegetarian Commune–was published by plangent voices, I’ve been anthologized twice.  It’s not as painful as it sounds, really, you just get jammed between the covers of a book with a bunch of other poets, sort of like the Green Line at rush hour.

But there seems–and I don’t want to come off as paranoid–like there’s a conspiracy against me, led by my high-profile poetess and ex-girlfriend elena gotchko.  She and I parted amicably enough–she dumped my stuff out on the sidewalk, I graciously carried it away–but I’ve been troubled by a pattern of commenters with suspiciously anagramatical names lighting into me with vituperation on-line and in print.  NeLa K. Chetogo, Klanee Gootch, Cheona Kloget–the natural wit that continually creates the world anew was always missing from elena’s poetic makeup.  That’s why she’s become more of a poetry professional than a professional poet.  Editing little journals, pontificating about the importance of poetry, charging high three-figure sums to schmoes who think, if they take a course from somebody who spells her name without initial caps, they’ll magically be transformed into poets.

state house

No, if I was going to get anywhere, I needed juice.  There’s an old saying–it’s not what you know, it’s who you know–and that applies in spades in Boston, a town where, as a slightly newer saying goes, the three major industries are politics, sports and revenge.  So I dropped in on my state rep and asked him if he could get me on as Massachusetts poet laureate.

“I got a long list of people who wanna be poet laureate,” he said, looking at his watch after we’d been together for ten seconds.  “Tell me why it should be you.”

“Well, I’ve self-published a book of poetry, and I’ve written a book about poetry.”

“That meta-stuff don’t cut it.  You can’t write that kinda junk until you’re at the top of the poetry heap.”

I jabbered on about the one poem I’d actually sold, to The Christian Science Monitor–just like Sylvia Plath!  I told him how I’d won a poetry prize, only to see the publication that awarded it go under before they ran my poem.  I started to tell him how I’d won honorable mention in the Somerville Press poetry contest.  “Somerville!” I exclaimed.  “You can’t throw a brick without hitting a poet over there!”

He looked at me as if I was a pack of cold cuts that had passed its freshness date.  “You’re goin’ about this all wrong,” he said with a glint of cynicism in his eyes.

poetryslam
Actual un-PhotoShopped picture of poetry slammer.

 

“But you’re my elected representative,” I said.  “Aren’t you supposed to . . . you know . . . pull strings for people in your district.  In the name of ‘constituent services.’”

He shook his head slowly from side to side, apparently amused at my naivete.  “You’re in the big city now,” he said, then he reached in his desk drawer, pulled out a business card and handed it to me.  “You need to call this guy.”

I looked at the card.  Francis X. Shaughnessy.  “Who’s he?” I asked.

“A registered lobbyist.”

“What does a lobbyist do?”

“He comes to talk to me about good things I could do for people like you.”

“But . . . I’m here trying to talk to you about good things you could do for people like me.”

“It ain’t the same.”

“Why not?”

“If you give me money, it’s a bribe.  If you give him money, it’s compensation.  If he throws a ‘time’ for me, that’s everybody’s free speech petitioning government.  You give to his PAC, he gives it to me.  It’s in the First Amendment–you could look it up.”

Irish
“Is everybody here Irish?”

 

“So–I have to pay money to get somebody else to say things to you I can say myself for nothing.”

“On the nosey.”

“Why’s that?”

“He’s ‘well-connected.’  It’s in the papers.  Every time they write his name they say ‘The well-connected Francis X. Shaughnessy.’”

“And me?”

“You’re just an ordinary voting schlub.”

Dawn broke on Marblehead, as we say here in Massachusetts.  “Nice talkin’ to ya,” I said, with a trace of bitterness.

“Nice talkin’ to you!” my rep said.

“Where can I find this Shaughnessy guy?”

Piersall
Jimmy Piersall:  Certifiable.

 

“Down the hall, out the State House door, cross the street.  His office is right above Guertin’s Bar and Grille.”

“How . . . convenient.”

“Ain’t it though?”

We shook hands and I took my leave, which I’d left by the door.  I was across the street and walking up a flight of stairs to Politico Strategies LLC in less time than it would take you to recite the Miranda Warning.

“Is Mr. Shaughnessy in?” I asked the receptionist, who was holding her hands out at arm’s length to let her nail polish dry.

“Whom shall I say”–she began.  Apparently she went to Katie Gibbs Secretarial School on Marlborough Street.

“Mr. Chapman,” I said, interrupting her.

katherine gibbs
Graduation Day at Katie Gibbs!

 

“Who’s he?” she asked.

“Me.”

“Not you,” she said, clucking her tongue.  “Whom shall I say sent you?”

I was losing my innocence with every tick of the clock.  “That would be Representative O’Kiley,” I said.

She smiled for the first time and said “Have a seat.”

The reading materials available in the reception area consisted of a big picture book of Boston, so that those in the Athens of America who don’t like to read would have something to look at; the two daily newspapers; and a selection of recent magazines.  Newsweek seems to think Howard Dean has the Democratic nomination sewed up, but Time likes John Kerry.

Shaughnessy emerged from his office, his hand apparently attached to the back of someone whose deserving cry for help was next in line in front of me.

“So I think if we came up with a Nuts of the Red Sox series, with one each devoted to Bernie Carbo, Jim Piersall, Bill Lee, Gene Conley and Pumpsie Green, it could be a real winner.”

“I’ll talk to my colleagues on the Joint Committee on Vanity and Commemorative License Plates and we’ll see what we can do.”

Pumpsie
Pumpsie Green rookie card:  I used to have one!

 

“Thanks, thanks an awful lot,” the guy said.  He looked hopeful, so I figured he wrote a big check.

“What do I have next,” the guy asked the receptionist.

“This man here–O’Kiley sent him.”

“Well in that case, come on in Mr. . . .”

Again, I felt humbled by my lack of importance.  After introductions, I was shown into the inner sanctum, where I was offered a chair and initial cup of coffee, gratis.

“So,” Shaughnessy began.  “What can I do for youse?”

“I’m looking for a job,” I said.

“As are so many of my constituents in this dreadful economy brought about by greedy Wall Street bankers and mean old Republicans.  What kind of work were you lookin’ for?” he asked, but before I could answer he finished the sentence for me.  “Indoor work and no heavy liftin’ I presume?”

“I guess you could say that.  I want to be the state’s poet laureate.”

“Jeez Louise–that’s a tough one.  The pay is lousy but the hours are good.”

“It’s an important position.  Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”

“That’s a great line,” he said as he gazed wistfully out the window.  “Who said it?”

“Yogi Berra.”

“I thought so.  So what’s your angle?”

“My . . . angle?”  I had passed through 19 years of schooling without ever being told I needed an “angle” to be a poet.

“Sure.  Are you . . .”–he picked up a laminated sheet that listed the currently favored racial/sexual/ethnic/gender categories of the Commonwealth and began to tick them off starting with “Aleutian Islander.”

“No, can’t say that I am.”

“But O’Kiley sent ya, huh?  Okay, well, let’s think about it.  Can you give a bunch o’ money to my friend Mr. O’Kiley?”

“Not since my wife found out political contributions aren’t tax deductible.”

“Okay–can you raise a bunch?”

“Don’t think so.  My friends tend to be apolitical.”

“Okay, well it’s gonna cost you then.”

“How much?”

“A $2,000 a month retainer, and a $10,000 success fee . . .”

“I thought that was illegal.”

“Excuse me.  I meant if you get the job, you hire me as a consultant to the State Office of Poetry for $10,000.”

I glared at him with eyes that I narrowed to grim, little slits.  “You don’t look like a poet.”

“You’d be surprised,” he said.  “Tell me a little bit about your verse,” he said as he leaned back in his chair and made a little church-and-steeple with his fingers.

“Well, I’ve self-published one book of light verse about women–The Girl With the Cullender on Her Head.

“Is that like ‘chick lit’,” he said without contempt, just an air of honest appraisal.

“Not really–it’s more like anti-chick lit.  It’s dedicated to my wife and it’s a bunch of poems about the women I dated before I met her, and how they compare unfavorably to her.”

“Smart husband, dumb poet.”

“Why do you say that?”

“You gotta have a sympathetic political theme, like that poet laureate who got hired in North Carolina the other day.”

“What was her–angle?”

“Homelessness.  Very sensitive.  That’s the beauty of political art.  You pick the right topic, anybody who criticizes you looks like jerk.  Some critic pans you, you get your friends to write angry letters to the editor sayin’ ‘Oh, so your hotsy-totsy poetry editor don’t like that chapbook, eh?  I guess the cruel son-of-a-bitch don’t like homeless people, neither.’  Pretty soon the guy’s busted down to writing about the spring performance of Lion King at Miss Cynthia’s School of Tap and Ballet.”

baby seal
“These poems have got to be good–they’re about baby seals!”

 

It was as if the clouds had parted and rays of light shot down to give me inspiration.  “Okay, I’m gonna write the most poignant, sensitive, morally unassailable collection of poetry the world’s ever seen.”

“Whatta ya gonna call it?”

“The Don’t Club Baby Seals to Death Poems.”

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