by Beth Ann Fennelly
JB, I read your poetry and sigh.
The tale of how he slipped his thumb in my
young mouth alongside host
(Christ, the body of) that florid priest, nocent I
in my white dress you would enjoy, if you alive
hadn't done at last
It. Elastic you had none,
ajumping from that bridge…To your winsome
Irish grin & your last wit,
we'd raise a finger's worth in Mississip—
Somewhere it's five o'clock. Just eight months
we overlapped, '71.
Of suicide I rarely think. I have yoga, along
with drink, which into his throat my father gunned.
You would know, JB,
that bottle rolling beneath his driver's seat
weren't no goddamn Listerine.
Wasn't I, Mr. Bones, a pretty baby?
Regarding fatuations, we don't choose.
You haunted your Anne Bradstreet, I haunt you.
You lovéd her fain—All this bald
abstract didactic rhyme I read appalled.
Why must you winch, roast so? Backwards
& high-heeled, with her eight kids.
Man, I love you men. But you "perplex."
Regarding the fairer sex. The need into the peach
of your praise to slip
the blade. Or the need to pack the cannon
full of balls—
Of Emily Dickinson, even Charming Billy
Collins writes of taking off her dress…
For foreplay, JB, I'll
read your juvenilia. & of bald rhymes:
my students who love you not at all
for a depilatory could wish.
Again I meet you on that wintry bridge. Hey ho.
Midwestern wind: When wilt thou blow?
Consolation, some: the blade
you brought, should courage lack, was found,
sheathed. You stepped out to meet your fate.
Witnesses say you waved.
One last bed. One last cool sheet
to pull over your head. Boats
there must have been—
did they see amazing, a boy falling
from the sky, calm did on they sail? My thoughts
turn to your son Paul:
you'd apologized for This bad fall, his birth.
(Reading that I'd fret I was too happy
to write verse.) Hey, out there,
anyone know Paul Berryman? I'd guess, if at all,
things aren't well. My father's ice cubes I still hear
rattling down the hall.
I too have a son. There we're alike.
I find the world sufferable. There we are not.
Leg-hugging my hip,
fifteen days past one, he rides me round the lawn.
Bush, bird, sky: nature's commons
we glaze and glorify.
To name. To feed. My son was a rodeo cowboy
when feasting on my milk, he'd flap his free arm
in the air. Lip-smacking
no longer metaphor. Like Uma Thurman
in Pulp Fiction snorting coke, Goddamn, goddamn.
You'd have liked that film,
you who force your readers to their knees
to gather & restring the beads that from a height
in the air oh awkward but at last—
Look what we made!—dynamite, your sentences
circling our throats.
Fall'd find you mooding, brooding on turkeys' fate.
Then winter worst. If you wrote not of snow hate
it's because you wrote not.
Then spring your pen. March a lion. Out put.
A ball of dough, punched down, will rise,
double in size—
After birthing Homage, you took Wife One to Paris.
Some street fest raged, you manicked, goated, gone—
she found you at dawn
before uncomprehending bakers & floury stars
(the only ones awake) reciting your poem—
took you to the hospital, home.
Such was your phoenix act, mouth proud of ash,
feathers slicked back. Could you not calm?
Not find a kiss like the one
on the bridge bestowed on padlocked Houdini?
His wife made it look like passion:
tonguing him the key.
Free will is the question, to me & most.
How much can we fault our bad dead dads?
If I'd allow, the AA book
would say "disease," of rage unpurple me. Confess,
JB: willed you to be a night-mayor
of the flesh?
Can I lay blame—"'42: Marries Eileen . . . '47: First infidelity . . . "
And if I can't, how praise my stallion solely
rutting apple-munching me?
Stabled. (Sugar-cube teeth beyond the fence
have I desired? Natch. But no touch-touch.)
"Free Willie" is the question, a U.S. flick
about a whale I saw previewed in London,
where "willie" is slang for "dick."
Free Willie. Like whales the giggles breached.
Is accountability just that, some cosmic
Of your strict stanzas only nuns should speak,
& of your crumpled syntax only imbeciles
& armadillos, mystics,
children, & those who dream
of Calder mobiles piloted through wind tunnels
by angels on LSD.
In roadside Mexico a man macheted pineapple,
sprinkled it with salt & lime & hellborn chili dust.
It cost less than a buck.
Don't eat it, a fellow tourist warned, coming off the bus.
I ate it. So with your words
my lips sweetburn.
I get (ish) it. I pumped my swing at six
so hard my sneakers toed the sky. You
know, don't you,
what happened next—after the swing set's stiff legs
rocked thrice—but before I hit the ground—
Do last decisions have more weight?
Raymond Carver, dying, forsookéd prose—
But you forsookéd Hungry Henry
for our childhoods' church.
Weren't we confirmed?
(At girlhood slumber parties, to be the last—
with darks and creaks—awake would terrifize. O wilt
thou abandon me thus?)
Would I like to be redeemed? Yes but
your postconversion poems lack the juice.
"Under new management: Thine,"
you tell the Lord—like a cornball church marquee
wrote by no pal of mine. Makes me
miss old wild bad Pussy-Cat.
Though it seems he resurrected, that mope. Does Rome
goddamn a suicide? Duh. Does the pope
wear a funny hat?
Not to make light of you, flawed &
majestic. Why not wager on God, as Pascal
suggested. If right,
you win enduring life with thems you like,
Luke, St. Stephen, etc. & if
you lose lose what?
You did make light (enduring life) in some,
you lodged a song where others never. I read you
getting my tonenails done
then rest you in my lap. You're wel-
come. You could report to thems that wonder
whether I'm a natural red.
I bet, sure. But before infinity's door
I hedge, I haw. Kind Sot, answer my daughter, five,
who spies from the car
the funeral tent in the cemetery:
Mommy, look—[she taps the glass],
is it a slumber party?
You were silly like Yeats, young-wifed, like him,
hungry for honor, a recorder of dreams.
In Dream Song 215
you two had tea. Beneath his honey breath
your accent Famebridge (Faux + Cambridge) flamed.
You lit his smoke. He coughed, near death.
A hundred & three years ago, Yeats visited my college.
Wrote home to Lady Gregory: I've been delighted by
the big merry priests of Notre Dame,
all Irish. Of Yeats, Father O'Donnell summarized:
A somewhat snobbish and esoteric freak.
Out of step, unhanded: the poet's fate.
My great prof there, Matthias, called your birth scene
in Bradstreet the best he knew. Huffed I,
Now I, twice bairned, admit he's right.
When gentle Matthias crosses over, help him
from the boat.
I sing a song of Henry: poor me, poor me,
pour me a drink. Henry sorried hisself,
free, white, & fifty-three.
One should not as he confessed,
Too many galleys and page proofs to read,
& ID with the oppressed, Anne Frank, Bessie Smith—
—Them deads & sicks & horribles, he suffer each one personal.
& each time seem like forever to Mr. Bones. He was copeless.
—Oh-ho, so you are here at last?
—You're really him?
—I the Jiminy Cricket who seen the ass's ears pop out his head.
—I've always wanted a sidekick.
—Yous better as a backup girl.
—Won't you keep me company?
—You don't need a conscience to keep you from yo' dreams.
—Call me Henrietta.
—Gots to go.
—The Island o' Lost Boys.
—Tell him I love him berry much.
—He be a real boy. For real.
No sing, no sing to shay. Naughty Henry's
gone away and if I live a peckel
he won't be-O.
Let's wáke him. I'll call the Davids wicked, Kevin, Karl,
& Jack Pendarvis (I'll be the only lass),
It's time to raise, pome fiends, the pelt
that right off its nail has shrunk.
Mothballed, but Functionill, can jig, can still
imaginate & coochie coochie coo.
Will haiku for a cigarette.
Rest for the rest of them dead poets who
selectified their own society—for you,
no peace till we have voices that—
electrified, raising hell, Arooooooooo—
a drop of Irish, & you come to.
Fired, Jailed, Divorced Henry wrote fabuloustist
& discovered thus his trick, the reverse pike
to concrete. I'd like
to "Mother" his own worst enemy. Also, each 8:16,
Skeletongirl who joggers by my place.
Her I'd morass with Krispy Kreme.
Daytime drama is Henry's theater báse.
Popcorn-munching fans, of whom I'm Ass. Manager
(schooled by a father
who fell for his audience gorgeous & debased)
asseverate, Through literature we're educated
by the experiences of others;
after witnessing the irresponsibility of Berryman,
etc. We like when planes fly into him, forsooth,
& all fall down.
We get to put the high moral point on it
after voyeuring his entry to the confession booth
(where he dons his cape) the sonnet.
I think bad thoughts. I dream bad dreams. Too much time
we're spending together. Demon-lover you put 385 songs over-
killing, so why'm
I going on fourteen? What if I try to shuck
the Henry-hose & find it stuck? What if we mine
the you in me? Obscene
the news of war tonight your specs would mist.
Convince some fool did not me at the rose nursery
to purchase a "Barbara Bush"
bush—hacks it to bits, mon plaisir. Does
my husband know we watch TV, JB,
& plot our violence?
I'd better dump you soon, though I'm entranced
with your smart-bomb which budgets its defense
(though it's "idle to reply to critics"):
Well, some dreams aren't méant to make sense.
Not to Henry-like one must vigilante.
Nor can of syntax inverting to force rhyme
you be accused—it's all inversion,
all the time. Headstands,
says my yogi, aid circulation.
Henry, you's a clown, both anti- & pro-noun.
You grand permission.
Yet I leave you, lone. In the next room,
a woman, paid, is playing with my son.
My curred obsession
of a fortnight nears its close.
He laughs. I choose to hear him,
& I rise.
For Dylan Thomas dying in St. Vincent's
you, Mercy, rose; & for shunned Pound.
See, some of Henry's guts
wasn't rot. It helps
you wait in the dark, in the ground.
Save my spot.