Poetry Reading – Laurence Musgrove

Dear AEPLers,

Here are the poems I read Friday night.

Laurence

All Wrong for Each Other

She’s all ears.
He’s all thumbs.

Captive Audience

As the curtain closes,
the ushers untie us.

Elevated

I’m tall.
Not that that’s
always useful to me.
But I find I can be
helpful to others for
reaching this and that
up in the cupboard
or that book up
there on the shelf.
Better than having
a step stool around.

I’ve been tall ever
since I noticed
most others are smaller.
And these shorter
folks notice it too
and feel I ought to
be reminded because
they often say to me,
“Hey, you sure are tall.”
And I say, “Yes, thanks.”
Like it’s a reward
for noticing me
up here who’s been
here all along.

But I’m not as tall
as some I know,
like basketballers
and Midwest Swedes.
And there’s those girls
“Tall Drinks of Water,”
they say or “Hey, Stretch,
How’s the weather up there?”
But I think how
lucky she is
to reach her own stuff.

I like folks who are
tall too or just a bit
taller because they
make me stand straighter
to look in their eyes.
But smaller folks
make me want to
slouch down near
toward where they are.
I spread my feet a bit
and kind of lean over.
Maybe I’m just hard
of hearing way up here
in the wind and clouds,
jet airplanes flying by.

I’m a long tall Texan.
I ride a big white horse.

There’s an aunt of mine
I don’t see too often,
but when I do
she always asks,
“Are you still growing?”
Here I am with gray hairs
myself and you’d think
she’d know better,
her being an old
school teacher and all,
but she still chuckles
and says every time,
“You’re so tall!
What have you been eating?”
I laugh, but maybe
I did eat something
or stand out in the sun
too long some Texas afternoon
where there’s a bit
more room to grow,
like a weed they say.
Or like those lightening bit
pine trees that coonskin­
capped Davy Crockett
must have rode through
on the way to his Alamo
headline and glory.

I tried golf once,
but when I looked
at the ball on the tee
it seemed so far away
down there I figured
I’d never get all of me
going in the same direction
at the same time
to make much sense
of all the effort needed.

I also hit my head on stuff.
Pipes overhead
in the basement,
tops of stairwells
in old houses.
Folks tell me to duck
before I see it corning.
But tall folks get used
to knots on their noggins.

Showers are another problem.
The water hits me in the chest
so I get good at stooping
when it comes to the hygiene
of my upper dimensions.
Tubs of course are impossible.
And mirrors? Forget about it.
All too often I’ve a headless
reflection so I never know
if my hair is in place or not.

And when I ride in other
folks’ cars they make
me ride in the front
because I’m so long.
“You sit up here in front.”
But when I get in the back,
they think they have to yank
their chins right up
against the dashboard.
“Got enough room.
back there for your legs?”
Like I’m some special case
with extra fragile kneecaps.
“You tall people over there!
You know, with those legs.
Be careful where you put them!”

I’m a long tall Texan.
I wear a ten gallon hat.

Once I went to a movie
and sat on the aisle.
I crossed my legs
during the hullabaloo
and at the ending credits,
I stood up and fell over
onto the carpet right
in front of the crowd
racing out for the lobby.
My leg went to sleep
and numb and failed me.
So I had to pull myself up
and do a little shake-a-leg stomp
I seen country folks
do on the hardboards
at an old timey dance hall
in the Hill Country.

Yes, tall folks are
generally handicapped
circulatorally.
It’s a long steep road for
blood to travel up and
around and down again.
My wife won’t let me
touch her in the winter
because I’ve got icicles
hanging off my
fingers and toes.

I’m a long tall Texan.
I enforce justice for the law.

When I put you up on
my shoulders when you
were just learning
to stand tall yourself,
what was the world
you saw from up there?
I’d duck down a bit
and lift you up
for a soft diaper landing
there in your overalls
with snaps up the legs
and those little flat shoes.
You’d grab my hair
and ears to hold on.
What was it you saw
from being suddenly
that tall above me?
I hope you spied places
I never saw because
that’s where I hoped
you go to tell us all.

Did I say I was tall?

So if you’re tall, too,
it’s not too much of a reach
to say you’ve a friend in me,
raised like we were
and sharing like we do
the long inseam,
the head above the crowd,
our collective
heightened consciousness.

Go Fish

Sunlight on her hands, back to the kitchen,
Mamaw sat across from me, shuffling cards.
Aunt Ruth and her polio-thin leg
Clunked down the hallway in hard brown shoes.

Cards for two is about symmetry and balance,
Patty-cake with aces high,
Matching and mirroring and taking turns,
Like Sunday dinner and passing the rolls.

Mustard greens by the clapboard garage,
The tall magnolia climbing with cousins,
I’m sitting on the front porch in my clip-on tie
Waiting for the next family snapshot.

Cards with my daughters? I played to lose.
To sit and win were gifts we exchanged.
I know a trick I learned from my dad
Your card disappears until it’s the only one left.

My girlfriend and I are away this weekend,
A small cabin in the Wabash woods.
I brought some cards, opened the deck.
I deal left-handed, Mamaw dealt with her right.

Outside

There are words that probably should be kept outside the ropes of poetry. And there are clumsy ideas too eager to join in. That’s what I’m thinking because I’m thinking about clothes hangers, the thin white ones I send to the end of my closet and the one I saw yester­day afternoon in the large hands of that man in the parking lot at the grocery store. Untwisting the wire from itself, he pulled apart the neck, and straightened out the shoulder turns. He fed one end between the window and the door and sent it down toward the lock. I wished him luck. I’ve made mistakes myself. I’ve forgotten my house key and once I broke a window to get in. Last weekend I had to open a clothes hanger, too. Birds fly into our exhaust fan vents. Lifting up the hinged louvers, they hop inside and nest themselves at home. Once a bird wandered into the ductwork and had to be released into our kitchen. A bird isn’t like a dog. You just can’t open the door and tell it to go out. Like I was saying, I climbed up the ladder, took off the vent covers, reached inside with the long hooked finger of the hanger, and pulled out the grass and feathered bowl. You know how it feels to want in. You know what it’s like to be locked out.

Dear Dad, please stop sending me emails about Islam’s anger

Jacob has an FBI internship this summer in DC.
He writes well, sat in the front row, and has a twin brother.
He drives his father’s used Cadillac and is always prepared.
He knocked on my office door for a recommendation,
and I was happy to do it. The FBI wanted an interview,
so I met a field agent in a tight gray suit in the library.
Jacob wants go to law school and speak justice in Arabic.

Zeinab flew all the way from her apartment building in Cairo
to teach American college kids about genital mutilation,
women in the Arab world, and her love of pancakes.
Afraid of each other, Irish Catholics, White Sox Blacks,
Pilsen Latinos, and hijab-draped girls leaned on their desks.
She told them stories about her husband, the professor,
who brought his young bride to Ames, Iowa, and Aunt Jemima.

Khaled teaches computer science, and in the stairwell
he tapes up posters about next week’s InterFaith Expo.
The Orland Park mosque has completed its first phase,
but he said the parking lot will have to be expanded again.
Every summer, he flies to see his parents in Jordan.
When I see him on campus, I say his name in my throat.
His father is dying in a country that is not Palestine.

Adnan lives on a hill in Beirut with his wife and sons.
Tonight the neighborhood generators have fuel,
and the rains are blowing in from the sea and far away.
In his study, he grips his brown pipe in his teeth,
lights the fragrant bowl, and the orange ashes glow.
Tomorrow he will board a bus to the University,
and the books in his bag will be as light as a pillow.

Deliberation

Climbing up the wooden stairs
From the damp and low hung
Basement into the curious eyes

Of the worried couple, she reported
That she had indeed spoken
With the crowd assembled below,

Presented the choices as instructed,
That is, leave or the exterminator
Would be called straight away—

Not the choice the wife preferred
(She who had searched online for
Child-proof options to traps and poison)

Better they choose another home
Or the nearby farm of easy corn.
So when huddled for her report,

The husband doubtful of silent talk,
The animal communicator smiled
And nodded, an ear even then to

The high debate pressing on below,
Confident a resolution still possible
Given the rats remained divided.


Butterfly Chair

Where the heck
did my sleeping bag go?

Elementary

Remember when she
said to read silently
and not move your lips,
how the music stopped
and you went blind
every time you saw
stanzas reaching up
again from the page?

The Rhetorician on His Knees

Here beneath the May oaks
kneeling on the bluegrass,
he wonders about audience.

Where the mower would not cut,
he crawls around each trunk
and snips the bladed crown.

In the shadowed afternoon,
the metal shears lisp
and the seed heads topple over.

Soft cicadas root under sod.
Next week, they’ll muster,
rise winged and cycle through.

His knees puddle on the lawn,
and cotton gloves comfort
his scissoring grip.

The disciplined grass
and the edged sidewalk
praise the cloudless sky.

On all fours in a blessing,
he pinches up a weedling
and tosses it across the yard.

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