from Issue #44
Supervisor Turns Into Fish
Department of Public Assistance, Eastern District
You have to do the interview:
my supervisor, Mrs. Topolski, says—
in her sea-grean spangled dress,
her hair dyed black, stiff with spray.
Me, the caseworker/
But she’s dying,
she’s in the hospital.
Mrs. T moves her mouth in strange ways
looking at the forms.
So that I can keep on talking, so that
I can stay in my body,
I decide to make her a fish.
Squirming in her invisible river, she says,
The redetermination interview is due.
Gleaming and wiggly,
she’s a common carp. No longer
the short steps in her pencil hem—
now her golden scales shimmering
as she rolls right to left,
her protruding mouth leading her
down the shadowed hall.
Would she really cut off my client?
In the night of moaning and nameless dreams,
who would be hooked,
who would be eaten?
Tuesday I call the hospital:
They want a redetermination interview.
My client crying, no wall of rock to stop
her sadness, no current but pain.
My daughter, she says, my daughter
will outlive me—
it’s not supposed to happen
I’m so sorry, I say.
We’re not doing an interview.
I’ll fill out the forms and sign
We’ll both go to jail, she laughs,
thank you, oh thank you.
And in the swallowing river,
she died a week later,
fell through the bright sadness—
Jan Beatty’s fourth book, The Switching/Yard, was named by Library Journal as one of "...30 New Books That Will Help You Rediscover Poetry." Her books include Red Sugar, Boneshaker, and Mad River, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. She directs the Madwomen in the Attic writing program at Carlow University.
Kids from the high school band were demonstrating instruments in our
fourth grade classroom.
I liked the trumpet best, but I became a drummer because “drum” was the only instrument
I was sure I could spell.
Mr. Cribelli, our band director, taught me the double stroke roll. I still remember the thrill
when my dat dat / dat dat / dat dat / dat dat became drrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!
I remember my first snare drum—a Ludwig Blue Sparkle that I played in my basement
along with the records of Pete Fountain and Al Hirt.
When The Beatles arrived my parents bought me a cheap orange spackled Japanese drum kit
with cymbals that sounded like tin cans.
No matter: Greg Wall, Joe Risha, and I formed a rock band and were hired by the Cheyenne
Country Club to play our first and last gig.
We only had three songs: “Louie Louie,” “Blue Moon,” and “Wipeout!” We played
them for four hours.
Someone would make a request: “Can you play ‘Twist and Shout’ by The Beatles?”
Sure, we’d say, and play “Wipeout!”
Another would ask, “Can you play ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand?’” Of course,
we’d smile, and play “Louie Louie.”
When I was 16 I played drums in a Soul Band: The Kansas City Soul Association,
although we were all based in Cheyenne. We were
four black singers and four white musicians who shared cigarettes and drank
out of each other’s Coke cans, broke all those racist rules.
We made tremendous amounts of money. I bought a Ludwig Oyster Pearl
drum set with Zildjian cymbals, the exact kit that Ringo played.
I had it paid for two months before it arrived at Cross Music in Cheyenne—
$880 in 1966!
Two years later we came in second at the KIMN Battle of the Bands in Denver
(they weren’t about to let a band with black singers get first place).
On stage that night, Flip, our lead singer, fell to his knees, “Please Please Please,”
he sang—James Brown style.
I thought I heard the tinny whine of amplifier feedback, but it was the screams
of girls and women who had pressed themselves up against the stage.
Policemen escorted us off the stage that day, our day of fame.
Years later, my wife and I were leaving Denver for a new life in Pittsburgh,
she as a psychiatrist, I as a graduate student in psychology.
I thought I’d sell my drums, too sophisticated now for my musical past.
The night I advertised my Ludwig Oyster Pearl for sale in the paper,
I dreamt that I was serving a requiem mass at St. Mary’s in Cheyenne. The black-
caped priest and I led the casket up the aisle to the communion rail
where I opened the casket to look at the deceased and found my drums
lying there, ready to face eternity.
Now my drums preside over my music room on the third floor of our home. At 65
I play them—they still Please Please Please.
Charles W. Brice's first poetry collection, Flashcuts Out of Chaos, was published by WordTech Editions in 2016. His poetry has appeared in The Atlanta Review, Avalon Literary Journal, The Paterson Literary Review, Spitball, Barbaric Yawp, and elsewhere. He is an International Merit Award winner in the Atlanta Review’s Poetry 2015 International Poetry Competition.
I listen to a young poet from Maine at the Mass
Poetry Festival. She reads a poem about sentences,
appropriate language, quoting grammar rules and
Wikipedia. She’s smart and it’s clever
and she reads it with big flip cards that she says
can be used in any order. But it’s long
and after seven flip cards I can’t fight
that feeling in my gut that has me wishing
for a tree limb and a rope. I know I’m own brand
of poetry snob and the little voice in my head
tells me I’m no better than Vonnegut (his insistence
on rhyme) - no fair tennis without a net.
But actually it’s not rhyme I’m missing, it's story.
And just then I look out the window next
to the young poet from Maine and I see what could be
a mother and a daughter arguing, a baby in a stroller
between them. The mother is smoking a cigarette
and she looks like life has gotten the best of her,
and the daughter, a chip off the old block yells
something back and they ping pong insults,
until they both turn away and get quiet
like all’s been said that needs to be said,
then they each grab a piece of the stroller and walk out
of the frame and I roll focus to the Maine poet
still flipping her cards and part of me wants to stand up
and confess my snobbery, while the rest of me wishes
she would read something human, something dangerous,
forget the net I want to yell swing for the fence.
Kevin Carey teaches at Salem State University. He has published two books –"The Beach People," from Red Bird Chapbooks and The One Fifteen to Penn Station, from Cavankerry Press, N.J. A new collection of poems, Jesus Was a Homeboy (Cavankerry) is due out in the fall of 2016.
Once, on the Sabbath,
she slipped as we walked along the frozen lake
behind her house. Lifting her up, I bent forward, shyly,
to kiss her on the cheek—
the hesitant peck of a bird.
Don’t get upset if I sit with him in science class,
the brown haired, brown eyed girl,
who was supposed to be my girlfriend, later said,
standing beneath the exit sign
at the back of the Jewish day school,
the small hairs
above her upper lip illuminated
by sunlight shining through glass doors.
But how could I not
when, from across the lab, I heard
their laughter commingling
throughout Mrs. Z’s review sheet
on the sexuality of flowers?
And at lunch, how could I not
when she played two-person tag
on the baseball field
with a boy from the grade below us?
Naturally, the mansion on the sandy island
we had imagined together each night, over the phone phone--
only a block and two backyards
stretching between us --
floated up and disintegrated into the air
of that Minnesota suburb.
Whether she understood or was hurt by
the series of jokes I then made in class
concerning the trace of hair
above her upper lip—
mock ads for bleach and wax,
weather reports forecasting follicle growth—
I wasn’t really sure.
I did not look into her face. Perhaps, once or twice,
we passed each other awkwardly
in the hallway—
until, one evening, I glanced up
from my homework to see my mother and father
standing at my bedroom door,
just returned from a meeting
with the school board.
Her mother said
she had been crying in her room after school,
refusing to go each morning—
the reason finally revealed
at the therapist they’d forced her to see.
As part of their concession
not to enlist a lawyer
her parents demanded I apologize
in front of the class without mentioning her name.
That summer, I learned we were moving across the country,
where my father had gotten a new job.
When I think of her, I remember the lines
I rehearsed in my bedroom:
A person can hurt another person
very deeply without realizing it
or intending to do so.
I suppose this is what it means to be insensitive.
I remember standing in front
of my math class,
feeling very young and very old,
saying these words,
looking briefly into her familiar eyes.
Yehoshua November is the author of God’s Optimism, a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize in Poetry. His work has appeared in The Sun, Virginia Quarterly Review, Prairie Schooner, and on The Writer’s Almanac. He teaches at Rutgers University and Touro College.
for my father
I am the archaeologist. I sift the shards of you: cufflinks, passport photos,
a button from the March on Washington with a black hand shaking
a white hand, letters in Spanish, your birth certificate from a town high
in the mountains. I cup your silence, and the silence melts like ice in a cup.
I search for you in two yellow Kodak boxes marked Puerto Rico,
Noche Buena, Diciembre 1968. In the 8-millimeter silence the Espadas
gather, elders born before the Spanish American War, my grandfather
on crutches after fracturing his fossil hip, his blind brother on a cane.
You greet the elders and they call you Tato, the name they call you there.
Uncles and cousins sing in a chorus of tongues without sound, vibration
of guitar strings stilled by an unseen hand, maracas shaking empty
of seeds. The camera wobbles from the singers to the television
and the astronauts sending pictures of the moon back to earth.
Down by the river, women still pound laundry on the rocks.
I am eleven again, a boy from the faraway city of ice that felled
my grandfather, startled after the blind man with the cane stroked
my face with his hand dry as straw, crying out Bendito. At the table,
I hear only the silence that rises like the river in my big ears.
You sit next to me, clowning for the camera, tugging the lapels
on your jacket, slicking back your black hair, brown skin darker
from days in the sun. You slide your arm around my shoulder,
your good right arm, your pitching arm, and my moon face radiates,
and the mountain song of my uncles and cousins plays in my head.
Watching you now, my face stings as it stung when my blind great-uncle
brushed my cheekbones, searching for his own face. When you died,
Tato, I took a razor to the movie looping in my head, cutting the scenes
where you curled an arm around my shoulder, all the times you would
squeeze the silence out of me so I could hear the cries and songs again.
When you died, I heard only the silences between us, the shouts belling
the air before the phone went dead, all the words melting like ice in a cup.
That way I could set my jaw and take my mother’s hand at the mortuary,
greet the elders in my suit and tie at the memorial, say all the right words.
Yet my face stings at last. I rewind and watch your arm drape across
my shoulder, over and over. A year ago, you pressed a Kodak slide
of my grandfather into my hand and said: Next time, stay longer.
Now, in the silence that is never silent, I push the chair away
from the table and say to you: Sit down. Tell me everything. Haunt me.
Martín Espada has published more than fifteen books as a poet, editor, essayist and translator. His new collection of poems is called Vivas to Those Who Have Failed (Norton, 2016). His honors include the Shelley Memorial Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Espada is a professor of English at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.