(Writing wretched verse so you don’t have to since 1995)
To the Men At Work Outside My Window
See here, fellows: It is me, your skinny-stemmed little daisy faggot boy
Yoo-hoo! Yes, me – the fellow you keep glaring at.
I have a few things to say, if I might.
Might I? Right, then: first off, let me accede to the discrepancies
between us. I did not just recently fall from the turnip truck,
or what have you. I can see, from the cut of the collective jib
out your way, the paintsplat and jeanrip, those ungodly scabs,
that we are not destined for tea,
okay? Understood. Capiched. Comprendo’ed.
There are divisions here deeper than language, or drill bits
Yes yes. We would tire of one another in a matter of minutes
You would bang and I would frill
And never the twain shall meet
But say: since you have knocked me awake and into this dew-clingy day
I find myself gilding a few questions
As in: all that banging and haraunging
is it all entirely necessary to the repairs you have been summoned here to enact
And: why are you all named Richie?
Is there some sort of law – the law of Richies?
And: why all the niggers and spics and chinks and so forth
Some of my best friends, you understand,
they are niggers and spics and chinks
and they know how to use sanders, some of them
And the cadences of your speech (which are rhythm type things)
How do you do that, each and every day,
murdering all those syllables?
Are you aware that the letter “r” is still in wide use?
And classic rock?
How many times the rising sun and the hotel in california and who, precisely, is wrapped up in that goddamned douche?
Don’t you ever feel just a bit numb?
Don’t you ever get tired of your tools?
Don’t you ever, in some secret sun, sit in wonder of the leaves?
or the women you undress around your offbrand cigarettes
Is it all just sawdust and Sheetrock?
Is there nothing between us besides cocks?
And what lies beneath all that sun-puckered skin?
Can your blood, ever, be had by something less than knuckles?
I’m not sure where to begin. This poem is like a very serious cancer, or perhaps several cancers at once. Or maybe it’s my way of announcing that I deserve cancer. It’s hard to say anything definitive amid so many bad judgments.
Why can’t Bad Poets just tell the truth? Why can’t they just tell the story? Why do they have to editorialize so incessantly?
Because they feel disregarded. They feel unheard. And deep down – or perhaps not so deep down in my case – they know they don’t deserve to be heard. This makes them desperate for profundity, as a mean to establishing their essential worthiness.
So then you get this: a narrative of cultural encounter in which the effete, lonely Bad Poet typecasts the working-class palookas in a manner that is at least as bigoted – more so, actually – than the targets of his princely consideration. Upon further review, this “poem” is not only self-aggrandizing and pretentious (hell, that’s just the color of my ink, folks) but demeaning and oddly homophobic. I’m just that good.
I do remember the episode that triggered this poem’s composition. I was lying in my bed in Somerville – a-bed, as I would have had it then – depressed, again, when a fleet of workers turned up to tear apart the backyard of the house I was renting. This was all being done at the behest of my landlord, a monumental American who blew through his mortgage loans with a dizzying and tender devotion to personal bankruptcy. Trucks he bought and canoes and boats and race cars whose monstrous flatulent engines he revved at all hours outside my bedroom, with its dark wainscoting and low beams.
The work crew was, in this sense, a sub-contractor.
Was there anything I might have said to these guys beyond the obvious? That I was lonely and inept, that I envied them their camaraderie, their masculine competence. That I viewed them as stand-ins for the brothers whom I had resented and pined for throughout my childhood. It was their fault (the brothers, the work men) that I felt weak and effeminate and unworthy of love. It was their fault we destroyed each other. It’s always someone else’s fault. That’s the lesson history teaches the aggrieved, over and over.
Is there nothing between us besides cocks? That’s an illicit wish posing as an indignant question. But the Bad Poet has no access to the mysteries of his internal life, so he settles for bad jokes about classic rock and fake lyricism. It might even be okay to pity him, if he didn’t so obnoxiously assert pity as his birthright.
But enough about my therapy, let’s here from some other Richie. Introducing Mr. Danny “Richie” Pelletier, from Harelip, Deleware. Richie tells me this poem received a rousing ovation from his college workshop when he read it aloud, and that he wept. That’s the Bad Poet cheer: Make ’em splash, brother!
You sit before the sea, hands like dying crabs
belly up upon your knees,
while the gulls caw caw caw
and pick at stiff eyeless fish, shriveled by the sea
Your arms are covered with scars scars scars
like rock walls chiseled by the sea,
and there are tributaries of red running
your pale legs into the sea
I kiss your wounds, taking them from you
as the waves begin to splash against our feet
splash splash splash against our feet our knees our cheeks
splash splash splash against our bodies in the sea
You cry as I sink into the sea
but my eyes are watery and
I can’t see you anymore
it’s hard to breathe
it’s hard to speak
it’s hard to listen
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