Bio Note: My Poetic License column this month refers to using other poets’ poems as prompts, in particular the Mekeel McBride poem which is the subject of this month’s essay. So my own poems in this issue, one new and two older, are ones that were prompted by others. One takes as model the McBride poem, one was inspired by W. S. Merwin’s translation of Jean Follain’s “Entre Chien et Loup,” and one spins off a line in John Donne. For those who don’t already know me, I’m a retired college teacher and unretired poet and amateur photographer. More detail on my doings in poetry and photography available on my website: www.davidgrahampoet.com
I Want To Be A Parking Lot
—after Mekeel McBride, "I Want to be a Ferris Wheel" Six a.m., seven, the light sweeps over me and my two holdout cars lodged at the farthest corner— one, with a rotten flat, has been here since September; the other, with battery run down last night during someone's bachelor party— still, I am mostly tabula rasa this morning, ready for the squeal of brakes, flutter of starlings lifting away from yesterday's clump of spilled fries. A work day, yes, and I want to be too cramped for everyone to find a slot—you'll see them circulating up and down the rows, right up to eight o'clock and even after, when all hope is gone, office coffee urns are already half empty, copy machines well warmed and humming. I want to be full of sun glinting so hard off chrome, mirror, and just-washed windshield that you'll shut your eyes, as if God had suddenly parked here, probably in a forty foot SUV with solid black windows and engine thrumming exactly in time to the monster beat of the sweetest system in town, woofers the size of heifers, tweeters sharp enough to crack an angel's tooth— and you know in your bones it'll be nothing coming from those speakers but Aretha, Otis, Marvin, and Ray until kingdom come . . . . Yeah, it's a real hosanna party around here for a frantic hour or so, and then silent as mid-ocean by mid-morning. So quiet you can hear the sparrows gossiping, the scritch of a McDonalds cup blowing across the pavement, the measly prayer of wind teasing spiderwebs already grown between windshield and aerial.
It is the hour between dog and wolf and the hour of liver spots enlarging on the soft forearms of my grandmother. At such times the cinderblocks shrink into the vacant lot rubble. It is the hour when the retired consider part time jobs. At meals everywhere conversation lags, the hour between mortar and brick, between ice cube and tumbler. In the backyards ropes hang still from the stripped crotches of trees. A bad time to encounter mirrors or ease down into a scalding tub. When my past comes to inhabit me it is now the hour of sand, climbing the stairs step by step even as I sleep. Hour of severed phones ringing and my father who calls me before him in his night chair.
Originally published in Magic Shows Cleveland State University, 1986.
The Mind's Eye
We call the moon the moon —Donne We call this night the night, for sleep is always itself, and dream, and by the light of habit our habits are illuminated. Like light thrown back on itself until it grows single-minded, the mind cuts glass, etches steel, and burns with pure attention. We call a solo diner a party of one. The mind's party is always on, especially when it's late, it's lonely, and it's crowded with dark. For fields are different every hour: light changes more than rain, snow, the withering harvest. We walk them expecting to be changed, as we are. Work, we call whatever it is we do often or well. We talk, give thanks, think of reasons for postponement. We work like hell. We call despair despair, and a shiver nothing but. The moon is cold, we say, frigid ourselves, and searching a cold beauty. We call the end the beginning. It is the end.
Originally published in Second Wind, Texas Tech University Press, 1990.
©2021 David Graham
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