P o e m s
J e f f† ≠† K n o r r
The drunk down the street
wore taps on his black boots,
and each afternoon tapped
a rhythmic slide and click step
cool like he was Gene Kelly.
Aviator glasses, pressed blue jeans,
VFW cap creased at the crown
the bill curved with the horizonís
slight arc, like at the bay of Dínang
where he must have hoped
a hundred times to head home.
How many ghosts did he put away
each day down at Poor Joeís?
How many missions did he fly
into the haze of gin?
Rumor had it he was a door gunner
and we boys all made cracks,
doorbell ditched his house
leaping bushes, scattering invisible
when he barked like a stray dog.
Mostly we were scared of him,
his mumbling at us as he stumbled along
the sidewalk while we played
two-hand touch, our glory still ahead of us,
in the air alive as rain.
But the day the silver morticianís van
parked in his driveway, we all hoped
it was his wife.† Finally, when the sheeted body
was gurnied out, the van left us
huddled in the street in silence
as if church had just finished.
We stood, all of us making plans,
listening to her wailing, the cries
drifting into the street, then yelling,
then plates smashing until it was dark
and a jet passed over us.
Dark except for a streetlight,
and quiet except for my brother
tacking flattened bottle caps to the toes of his Keds.
The young man, mid-depth in the seats
of my lit class has his head down
listening somewhere far off,
not to Wordsworth but the grunts of language
that sound like basketballs hitting the gym floor.
He will start tonight against Butte College.
He scratches a sketch in his playerís notebook,
his fingers wrap the pencil
the way I imagine they wrap
the threads of net when he ties it to a rim,
or pulls tight the laces of his shoes.
His cheeks are still taut and soft
against the bone of his face, angelic,
the long wrist and slender hands
with those fingers that dribble and pass
and wrap the pencil again so lightly.
He will not go pro.† Heíll finish
with 52.6 from the field and 68
from the line, no record in assists.
But I imagine him wrapping those fingers
carefully around the tube of a stethoscope
one afternoon, the bright light of his office,
lab coat and loafers; he drums his fingers
against the bird back of a small boy, listening
to the balls of air thumping inside the lungs.
The boy cradles a pullet against his red
shirt, while he sits on a hay bail.
The small round arms, those young
limbs a nest of space in the air.
His father watches wondering if the calm
bird can feel his sonís heart, that maybe
it feels close to the henís own beat.
His boy looks up, brown eyes
searching his father recognizing
this love before the chicken clucks
and the boy begins to stroke the mottled
brown and black neck, the tips of his
fingers combing the chicken the way
the man has felt his sonís hair in the night.
The last time he felt a birdís neck the shotgun
blast had broken the gooseís wing and pellets
had punctured the breast and side.
The bird flopped in the shallows until
the man held him by his sleek black neck;
dark eyes, like gems, glassed with fear.
He should not have looked in them.
It would have been easier
with a clean shot.† So he rested
the Remington on the soft earthen
bank of the pond and held the goose,
two hands wringing the way he wrung wet
towels over the gray, stone laundry sink.
The goose made a gargling sound, a snap.
He could taste the scotch in his mouth,
the round cold metal of the flask on his lips
back in the blind, afternoon light fading.
He wants it again. He feels the distance
death brings, straw and mud, the gold
leaves of fall at the feet of his son.
The young hen chortles in the small arms.
He glances skyward to the light and wind.
She feels safe with you, he says.