The Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College announced a call for poems to celebrate the work of regional Poets Under 40. Poets whose work was accepted were asked to read their poem at an event at the historic Hamilton Club Building in downtown Paterson, New Jersey. in November 2014.
Poets 18 to 39 years of age who live in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania were able to submit one or two unpublished poems for consideration.
Selected poems were published in issue #43 of the Paterson Literary Review. Here are 4 poems from the published selections.
THE COFFEE TABLE
If I could wake up anywhere I choose
it would be under the glass coffee table
smudged with crushed Viagra and baby aspirin.
My neck wrapped in my brother’s black t-shirt.
There would be a cat named Mr. Peepers licking cocaine
off of my chapped lips and my brother rummaging
through a pile of dirty clothes. The clouds on the coffee table
would be our last pile of heartbreak.
And the blue fibers from the carpet
are falling out of my ears fifteen years later
as I pass the ringing payphone on 91st street
and West End Avenue and step in wet pavement
where kids carve their mothers’ names.
I’m searching for you on the way to pick up my clothes
at the Laundromat, in the wrong city,
on the wrong day of the week.
Maybe if it were a Sunday
we’d both show up on our mother’s front steps.
There would be chicken and mashed potatoes
and our mother, wearing all black, gripping a rosary
in one hand and nothing in the other.
BEFORE THE MOVE
The day we moved into 17 S. Landon,
your mom spotted a plastic Saint Francis
perched on the kitchen windowsill.
She clenched the figurine and said,
See, see, this is a sign.
I told you this place was right.
Weeks before the move, before we inked form after form,
before we knew the history or read the deed,
I thought about the Smurl House two townships over,
the haunting that made national headlines,
the father’s claim of a dead rat stink within walls,
how a chandelier crashed on the dining table,
inches from his daughter’s head,
how the TV blared static like those scenes in Poltergeist,
how the wife levitated late at night and Stephen King
staked out the spookhouse for weeks, hoping
for a glimpse of the paranormal,
something for his next novel.
Weeks before we packed boxes, I thought of how little
we knew about the house, guessing its year
by the 1885 stamped on the claw foot bathtub.
We didn’t know who lived there
before the last owners, or for how long,
if anyone died, if the walls creaked,
if the basement had a stink,
if anyone ever reported a haunting.
We got used to late night sounds,
the whoosh of heat blowing through vents,
the rumbling of pipes, icicles loosening,
smashing onto sidewalk, and in time, you said,
I knew this place had good vibes,
good energy. Months later, Saint Francis
still watches us from the windowsill.
THE PROCESS OF FORGETTING
My grandmother didn’t know she was forgetting,
didn’t understand why her words would not come out,
why what she wanted to say danced just beyond her reach,
only knew something was wrong, not what it was.
“Your grandmother doesn’t know,” my grandfather said,
talking quietly on the phone in the basement
after that first time that she stammered and stuttered
through a phone call with me on a dark Friday evening.
I spent too much time looking for the beginning that had escaped me—
when had Alzheimer’s first started to creep into her mind
and eat away at the edges of first time lines, then people, then a history?
Was it after my mother died, when she told me she still waited
for a call every morning, when they would have normally talked?
Was it when she had to stop watching her soap operas
because something about them had become so sad
that she would spend her afternoons in tears in front of All My Children
or the marital rifts and lost children of Guiding Light?
Or was that just the collateral damage of so much loss—
her children, one by one wiped from the face of the planet
by the hearts she and my grandfather had given them,
the stress of not knowing how two people with so much love
could create children born to die?
One by one, we watched things peel away from her
that she would not recover—walking up and down stairs,
driving to the grocery store on her own,
cooking in their sun filled kitchen.
That first Christmas after she went into the nursing home,
when she was still able to come home for visits on the holidays and weekends,
she clutched the new clothes my grandfather had given to her,
smiled wide at me and said, “Today is my wedding day, you know.”
But soon she forgot his face, didn’t recognize him when he came into the room,
thanked him when he brought me along, as though he were a stranger
who had done her the tremendous favor of finding her grandson,
snatching her hand away from him, saying “Always trying to cop a feel.”
By then, she had no idea she was forgetting,
but my grandfather knew all too clearly
he had been forgotten.
CARLTON D. FISHER
In May, the bluebirds scuffle from branches
and a lone black crow on the tall oak eats
a carrion sparrow whole like a host
an elderly communicant swallows.
There’s a lawn to mow out front and a popped
tire to mend on the bicycle hanging
from the wall in the garage. The sun beats
time on asphalt. The breeze provokes the blades
of grass that have grown too high near the curb.
The grass has grown over my father’s grave
and all of my old complaints against him
have gone underground the way that the rain
dissipates into the water table.
I will not argue with his coughing ghost.
I am a small boy no older than five.
My father drives as if fleeing from God,
or some unknown tributary of rage,
flowing with the winding dirt roads we ride.
The scenery quarrels in the rearview.
There, the afterlife of a snow angel drifts
in a spot on the slope of yard where arms
broke fresh powder into wings and legs burst
flakes into a dress’s crinoline bell,
but no hint of halo stays to tell me
what heaven has written upon the thaw.
Now, I genuflect to sunlight coming
through the far door and I mourn my father.
There is an electric bill to pay yet
on the coffee table, hedges to clip,
and the sound of somebody jumping rope
comes in through the window like braided smoke.
I’d like for once to tear down the twitter
of a scarlet tanager in midflight,
to make that burry repetitive trill
my own, to render my chest a barrel
over falls the rocks break to smithereens.