The Voodoo of Doll Shoes
When she came home crying, I knew
you were dead.
at the market,
I would pick up pot roasts,
chickens, a bag of onions—
and try to judge what 4 pounds
9 ounces felt like.
I closed my eyes
constructing your fingers
from cabbage leaves
first one leaf, then another...
I looked for a long time at
Your feet could have
So I steal them,
take them home,
and hide them
in a shoe box that looks
like a coffin.
no one will speak
of you again.
In the kitchen of the blacksmith
there are only wooden spoons.
His hand pauses to examine the sky
tumbles from the clouds
and rains across the cindered floor.
Beyond this room
the world remains
flat or not...
He questions physics
the ability of butterflies
to consume entire forests
free of remorse
their wings forming like red clay pots.
a ballad he hears
beside the patient shores,
the slow laborious flight of a crane
lifting from muddy stumps
this too he carries to his hearth
sheltered in a basket
silken as the breast of a goose
whose body he will consume
roasted with tubers
and tasting like a prayer.
The Best Night of Your Life
I know that look,
it is always the same.
It was the same glance you gave
to a cop in San Diego when he asked you for your ID
outside the Toucan Bar,
where, between the bars,
precious birds dressed like girls
danced in a metal cage as
Iron Butterfly blasted Inagaddadavidda on the stereo.
Yeah, I remember it.
Maybe this was the best night of your life—
right here, staring at the lights over San Diego Bay,
it could be, you never know.
In the hotel room,
there was a board that ran across the alley to another room next door,
and at three in the morning when the pounding came on the door,
you made a break for the window,
but were stopped short,
because that asshole Jimmy could never keep his dick in his pants,
and had really pissed somebody off now, namely,
some big son of a bitch,
who came bursting in waving a 38 in a torn t-shirt and greasy jeans,
soaked in sweat and smelling
like stale beer and fifty cent cigars.
It all could have been that real you thought,
and maybe never even remembered
but you finally convinced him that Jimmy wasn’t there,
so he left cursing Jimmy’s name,
and yours too,
and you spent the rest of the night just lying there
in bed with an empty wine bottle in your hands for protection,
because you knew the son of a bitch had to come back,
everyone knew that,
The Price Is Right
I am in the kitchen cooking
my wife is watching the "Price is Right"
on TV. I try not to listen, but find myself drawn in.
The contest has come down to
David is a retired aerospace engineer
he owns a house in Phoenix
and drove to L.A. in his Winnebago
with his wife to celebrate
their fiftieth anniversary.
Bobby is younger, maybe 22, 23
he works at Walmart
some nights he goes to class
at the junior college
to learn electronics repair
he lives in Fontana
with his pregnant wife in an apartment.
On the stage is a sailboat
a beautiful boat
polished and glistening
you can smell the fresh paint
and machine oil of the windless
right through the screen.
The boat is called a Hunter 23
both men like the name
it suggests the nature of their competition
the fight for survival.
David has already decided if he wins the boat
he will name it "Gray Wolf"
and dreams of long hours at Lake Havaseau
observing young women in thong bikinis
and drinking beer on the dock.
Bobby has named the boat also.
He has named it "Elsie"
after his grandmother
because he remembered
how happy she was
when she saw the ocean
for the first time at 73.
The men square off
but of course
it is David who wins the boat
and Bobby who leaves
with a case of Diet Pepsi.
And it shouldn't bother me really
because I know fate never plays fairly
and I know the kid will be o.k.
even without the sailboat
but still I am sad.
Later at the supermarket
I park next to a Winnebago
and opening my car door
accidentally bang its chrome trim
again, and again, and again.
I like the sound it makes
it reminds me of the way a boat sounds
tapping against a pier.
I was standing in line at Kinko’s
waiting to pay for copies
when I noticed this woman with these beautiful art boards
covering the counter like confetti.
Wow, what beautiful work, I say.
Thanks, they are illustrations for a children's book,
getting ready to send them off to a publisher, the woman replies.
She reaches out and pulls the work closer
like guarding an infant
fearful I will lash out
like some psychopath you read about in the papers
applying a mustache to the Mona Lisa with spray paint
or tapping on the knee of Michaelangelo’s David
with a rock hammer for souvenirs.
Cool, I am a writer also. I say.
Really, what do you write?
Poetry, I reply...
but it is too late
there is nothing I can do
as soon as the syllables drift from my lips
I realize the magnitude of my sin.
The woman moves closer, and places her hand on my shoulder.
Have you talked to anyone about this? You know some people can be cured of it. They have drugs now, counseling, I had a girlfriend that was a poet, for years that’s all she would do. Sent her to a clinic finally, now all she writes is a gardening column for the local paper, and let me tell you, she was bad too!
The woman jotted down a phone number on a Kinko’s sticky pad and shoved it into my hand.
Call this man, he is a friend, I know he could help you.
Thanks, I’ll do that I reply.
Outside, I take out my magic marker
and there across the windshield of her car , proclaim
“Poetry isn’t dead, just in need of resurrection, call me, I will save you.”
And I write her phone number
Sometimes, even a poet gets pissed off -
so I unzip my pants and pee on her tires.
A Dream of Rabbits
She calls me up
from somewhere in Texas
and talks to me about
her husband who she likes
but can’t live with,
a job that she hates
but can’t leave,
and her son who is perfect really
but not at home.
I am not a student
so she explains
is sixty miles north of Galveston
and the waters of the Gulf.
In the Gulf,
there are hurricanes
that blow for days -
that swirl and churn,
no warning is sufficient,
for what arrives,
I know what it is like
to be lost in storms,
tossed like a leaf on a pond
and praying for salvation.
is all that allows
I consider this now,
my dog sleeping warm
at my feet,
cats maybe, I think,
a dream of rabbits.
Recalling the Death of a Child
All that winter
we hardly spoke at all
It was as if a great Nor Easter
had blown in
and stolen all the sound
from our lives
until all that remained
was that one dark pine
against the tired house
John Gurney: Traveling West
Part of the PoetryCircle Showcase series.