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William Matthews

Alcide

Walking with Jesus the slow,
behind the beat. Mr. Resistance.
Mr. Ohm, Mr. Exactly Lame.

By some reluctance, some
restraint, if it be a restraint,
by some undertow and stutter,

the halt and lame can strut.
You can hear it yourself. Buy
a few records and think how big

a bass is to a small boy,
his fingers bleeding to grow deft.
Bandages are for amateurs

and they blur the tone, that habit
a bassist and his bass conspire,
the way a couple learns a stride
though the man's taller by a foot.

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Bedtime

Usually I stay up late, my time
alone. Tonight at 9o I can tell
I'm only awake long enough
to put my sons to bed.
When I start to turn off lights
the boys are puzzled. They're used
to entering sleep by ceding to me
their hum and fizz, the way they give me
50ยข to hold so they can play
without money. I'm their night-light.
I'm the bread baked while they sleep.
And I can scarcely stand up, dry
in the mouth and dizzied
by fatigue. From our rooms
we call back and forth the worn
magic of our passwords and let one
another go. In the morning Sebastian
asks who was the last to fall
asleep and none of us cares or knows.

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A Life Of Crime

Frail friends, I love you all!
Maybe that's the trouble,
storm in the eye of a storm.
Everyone wants too much.
Instead we gratefully accept
some stylized despair:

suitcoats left hanging
on folding chairs, snow falling
inside a phonebooth, cows
scouring some sad pasture.
You know the sort of landscape,
all sensibility and no trees.

Nothing but space, a little
distance between friends.
As if loneliness didn't make us
responsible, and want accomplices.
Better to drink at home
than to fall down in bars.

[...] Read more

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Eyes

the only parts of the body the same
size at birth as they'll always be.
'That's why all babies are beautiful,'
Thurber used to say as he grew
blind -- not dark, he'd go on
to explain, but floating in a pale
light always, a kind of candlelit
murk from a sourceless light.
He needed dark to see:
for a while he drew on black
paper with white pastel chalk
but it grew worse. Light bored
into his eyes but where did it go?
Into a sea of phosphenes,
along the wet fuse of some dead
nerve, it hid everywhere and couldn't
be found. I've used up
three guesses, all of them
right. It's like scuba diving, going down
into the black cone-tip that dives

[...] Read more

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No Return

I like divorce. I love to compose
letters of resignation; now and then
I send one in and leave in a lemon-
hued Huff or a Snit with four on the floor.
Do you like the scent of a hollyhock?
To each his own. I love a burning bridge.

I like to watch the small boat go over
the falls -- it swirls in a circle
like a dog coiling for sleep, and its frail bow
pokes blindly out over the falls' lip
a little and a little more and then
too much, and then the boat's nose dives and butt

flips up so that the boat points doomily
down and the screams of the soon-to-be-dead
last longer by echo than the screamers do.
Let's go to the videotape, the news-
caster intones, and the control room does,
and the boat explodes again and again.

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Poem (The lump of coal my parents teased)

The lump of coal my parents teased
I'd find in my Christmas stocking
turned out each year to be an orange,
for I was their sunshine.

Now I have one C. gave me,
a dense node of sleeping fire.
I keep it where I read and write.
"You're on chummy terms with dread,"

it reminds me. "You kiss ambivalence
on both cheeks. But if you close your
heart to me ever I'll wreathe you in flames
and convert you to energy."

I don't know what C. meant me to mind
by her gift, but the sun returns
unbidden. Books get read and written.
My mother comes to visit. My father's

[...] Read more

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Job Interview

Think you, if Laura had been Petrarch's wife
He would have written sonnets all his life?
DON JUAN, III, 63-4

"Where do you see yourself five years from now?"
the eldest male member (or is "male member"
a redundancy?) of the committee
asked me. "Not here," I thought. A good thing I
speak fluent Fog. I craved that job like some
unappeasable, taunting woman.
What did Byron's friend Hobhouse say after
the wedding? "I felt as if I had buried
a friend." Each day I had that job I felt
the slack leash at my throat and thought what was
its other trick. Better to scorn the job than ask
what I had ever seen in it or think
what pious muck I'd ladled over
the committee. If they believed me, they
deserved me. As luck would have it, the job
lasted me almost but not quite five years.

[...] Read more

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A Roadside Near Ithaca

Here we picked wild strawberries,
though in my memory we're neither here
nor missing. Or I'd scuff out
by myself at dusk, proud
to be lonely. Now everything's
in bloom along the road at once:
tansy mustard, sow thistle,
fescue, burdock, soapwort,
the mailbox-high day lilies,
splurges of chicory with thin,
ragged, sky-blue flowers.
Or they're one blue the sky
can be, and always, not
varium et mutabile semper,
restless forever. In memory,
though memory eats its banks
like any river, you can carry
by constant revision
some loved thing: a stalk of mullein
shaped like a what's-the-word-for

[...] Read more

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Mingus At The Showplace

I was miserable, of course, for I was seventeen
and so I swung into action and wrote a poem

and it was miserable, for that was how I thought
poetry worked: you digested experience shat

literature. It was 1960 at The Showplace, long since
defunct, on West 4th st., and I sat at the bar,

casting beer money from a reel of ones,
the kid in the city, big ears like a puppy.

And I knew Mingus was a genius. I knew two
other things, but as it happens they were wrong.

So I made him look at this poem.
"There's a lot of that going around," he said,

and Sweet Baby Jesus he was right. He glowered
at me but didn't look as if he thought

[...] Read more

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A Small Room In Aspen

Stains on the casements,
dustmotes, spiderless webs.
No chairs, and a man waking up,
or he's falling asleep

Many first novels begin
with the hero waking up,
which saves their authors
from writing well about sleep.

His life is the only novel
about him. Mornings
he walks past the park:
Tai Ch'i students practicing

like slow lorises.
A room on the second floor.
He'd dreamed of a ground floor
room, an insistent cat

[...] Read more

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