V  P  R

Contemporary Poetry and Poetics





So what if my son, his fingers clenched
around the Mogul pencil, refuses
to follow a numerical path.  Iíve been adding
two plus two to get four all my life and what 
does it do but make one an emotional miser.
Just yesterday, I spent the afternoon
writing a list of the wrongs done to me.
I can follow this ledger back to the kid 
in first grade who stuffed the toilets 
and sent them flushing and swirling
into the hallways and classrooms, and me
standing at the urinal when Mrs. Whitaker rushed in,
dragged me down the hall,
and dropped me in Principal Millsí office
where I spent the morning deciphering
the arithmetic of the wrongfully accused.
To this day my friends shake their heads at the way
Iíve lived my life so Iím never in a situation
that might land me falsely convicted in the middle 
of the county jail where Iíll add up days 
by carving notches on the wall and waste my life 
savings on a lawyer whoíll prove my innocence 
if only Iíll show a little restraint.
But try as weíd like, we wonít always ignore risk.
Like the young professor in his first class and how
this beautiful 18 year old came up after the lecture,
and how later that night they ended up at his place,
then how he never saw her again, never thought of her
until the end of the term when her name appeared
on a grade list, and there he was exposed to chance.
Apocryphal perhaps, but Iíve clung to this tale.
Often, I think of friends whoíve risked love
in the face of failure, illness, divorce, whoíve banked 
their hopes in cattle futures, or Malaysian stocks, 
then ended up in trailer parks.  While all my life 
Iíve applauded myself for stability.  Except lately,
Iíve noticed even my furniture is arranged at right angles.
So when my sonís penciled line leaps from five to nine, 
and the start of the shape we expected to draw
takes the alien form of deep sea tube worms, 
I donít discourage him.  Instead I begin to imagine 
Iíve always desired a secret recklessness,
that one morning Iíll put on my pants both legs at a time, 
eat raw eggs for breakfast, ignore the warning on the fast-food cup
and drink my coffee so boiling hot my tongue
begins to blister and cry out and curse and enjoy 
how each hard syllable accentuates the pain.  Iíll rise early,
go to bed late, and wait for the dark circles of a man
drunk with the possibilities of disaster to rise and swell
around my eyes until one night while the whole house sleeps, 
the neighborhood quiet, each mid-sized sedan idle 
in its sanitized garage, Iíll steal my sonís pens
and paints stored neatly in their chest,
and on every wall and window, every train car
and iron bridge, every subway and plane,
Iíll reveal treasonous secrets, all the lies
Iíve ever uttered, and all the lies of lovers
afraid to love, and Iíll write my name
and the names of the jealous and the bitter,
of the victim and the victor, and Iíll draw
the passionate face of the adulterer, 
and the pinched face of the celibate,
the innocent faces of thieves and terrorists
and the guilty faces of saints, safe
in their dubious heaven, and many more,
Iíll scrawl in great whirling gusts,
forming patterns only I can see,
only I can risk believing in.

© by Rick Mulkey


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