New York City skyline at night

Poetry



Spring 2013

 

 


Robert Cording


Conflagration

When an older friend slipped me in the side door
of a once grand pre-World War theater,
the first thing I saw were breasts, roundly dangling,
held out for me to admire by a blonde
on the screen who knew how to juggle her assets:
coming attractions. A voiceover narrator cooed,
what a sumptuous mass of pulchritude,
and my eyes worked to memorize what I was sure
would be taken away all too soon. And was,
as if by the impatient shouts of some older guys
who'd seen enough and urged on the main feature.

Nothing was ever enough for them.
If there was kissing and touching, they shouted,
we didn't pay for this; if a woman took off her bra,
they yelled, show us your pussy. Then, give it to her
harder, take her from the rear—as if they needed
the people on the screen to obey their orders.
Slowly, I began to see the women's faces—
how, bent over, tongues licking lips, their eyes
held no emotion, their cries of Oh, God!
Oh, God! Sweet Jesus, Yes!
as rote as the sermons
I was forced to listen to each Sunday.

And those bodies going through the motions
were positioned, even to a virgin like me,
all wrong, too high or low. None of it was real.
Only those men, who hooted and whistled,
who I imagined at their day jobs, cursed out
for not working fast enough or being smart enough.
I knew how they brought their smallness home.
Once, our backdoor neighbor screamed at his wife,
"You'll fuck me when I tell you to," as he hurled
every one of her new dishes into the driveway.

And then I was back on the streets that were home
to loan sharks and small-time mafia,
where my family shopped for can goods
in someone's stocked garage, so much back then
falling off of trucks for us. In my head,
amid the babble of mixed messages, I was finding
words for the thrill of those breasts, each word
a match among cans of gasoline, my conflagration
burning down the going-out-of-business stores,
then the high school where I was always afraid,
where one-eyed Joey Zagaro stood up in class
and cursed out our teacher for calling on him;

but when my firestorm blazed down Main Street,
rushing toward the theater with its galaxy
of mythic gods circling the tattered ceiling,
I remembered the mortals below—men
whom I'd sat among and who knew too well
who they were and were not, motes of dust
shaking in the light of the screen, each of us
summed up in an equation for need and control,
nothing more commanding than those breasts,
super-sized, out of reach, sumptuous.

 

Local Court

Something's not right
with the woman next to me
rehearsing her "empty nest" defense—
"all my children are gone, and I was distraught;
and, besides, the speed I was said
to be going (and I can't believe for
one minute I was going that fast)
appears on my ticket as 'estimated,
85 mph.' Estimated, your Honor."
For a moment, the pure zaniness
of her conviction transforms her
into an innocent. Self-confidence
is a local punk's only defense.
His ropey arms mapped with tattoos,
he boasts he'll go to jail
before he'll pay the debt he owes.
His girlfriend's here for offense:
four inch spike high heels,
what seems like her body weight
in chains and piercings, and a tube top
that declares FUCK YOU
across her preeminent breasts.
We're here this Monday morning—
weekend DUI's, pot busts,
a husband/wife brawl neither
remembers who started, or why—
and, summoned in at nine,
one by one, we rise and approach
the judge like penitents
(if only for the right affect).
And then the sad burlesque begins,
our elaborate stories stripped
to their barest essentials
all too quickly, each small
dignified attempt at dignity
sputtering out, each of us caught
alike in the folly of our natures
as we stand before the judge,
hoping only for mercy.

 

 

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