|j. patrick lewis|
1. The Death of Poetry
Poetry lay there in the still dark, bleeding
verbs and rapture.
She had been jogging before daybreak
in Central Park, bothering no one.
Men in blue chalked the body where it fell.
There were no witnesses, no leads.
Unnoticed, General Lassitude leaned into
the yellow tape, gloating.
Bereft of metaphor, the trees dropped leaflets
A detective cliche' read Poetry's ID bracelet-
an apartment in Chelsea, phone number,
next of kin. She lived with a sister named
He got the answering machine:
If I cannot stop for D-[garbled].
He'll kindly stop for me.
Dash it all. Leave a couplet.
The cliché shook his head. Mr. D., whoever
he was, would not be vigorously pursued
much less apprehended
Because the death of Poetry was nothing
more than a misdemeanor.
2. The Properties of Beryllium?
he asked me, pinching his nose
to keep from laughing. Or was it
to assure me he knew I was out
of my league in his postgraduate
seminar: minimum requirements:
two semesters of abject contrition
and a B.A. in gravitas.
he had me cornered, but I casually
explained to the hotshot chaired
professor of chemistry that Beryllium
is found only in the residue left by
rainbows, the misty precipitation
in the glow globes of fortune tellers,
the decades-old middens of unicorns,
and even then can be conclusively
identified under electron microscopes
not yet invented. But we can be certain
that the unique properties of Be include:
verisimilitude, obliquity, and wit.
Otherwise, Herr Professor, you will
have to be satisfied with dullards like
Rutherfordium (Rf) or, heaven forfend,
irascible vowel hog, Unununium (Uuu),
neither of which can ever be reached,
even at the boiling point.
3. Poetry Is...
the tunnel at the end of the light.
an anagram for "Yo, esprit!"
commotion in the left field stanzas.
the great flywheel of metaphor.
prose, bent out of shape.
the idiom of the djinns.
experience's armor against oblivion.
the midwife at the birth of the alphabet.
verbs hunting for anemic nouns.
an antidote for adjectivitis.
words on a busman's holiday.
a greased pole to the castle in the air.
the sound of silence...amplified.
4. Only in Russia
the fish are whitecap-happy
truck engines run endlessly
to keep from freezing
young girls favor mauve and purple
salt is a minor deity
bus drivers earn three times
more than doctors
In St. Petersburg
Catherine's Palace is ridiculously
sacks of potatoes tattoo the backs
of old women
swimming in radioactive lakes
the family car is a reindeer
Amur tigers glow in the dark
5. In A Fifth Floor Moscow Walk-up,
Waiting for the Plumber
Relentlessly the week-long leak from my sink
angers the Grebnikovs below me,
Misha coping with joints so painful the concert
violinist has forgotten how to saw a bow; Lydia
banging on her ceiling, my floor, the broom handle,
futile against the drip, but the rat-a-tat-tatting's
a startling imitation of a militia issue Makarov.
Moscow never learned how to reverse the law
that insists water seeks its own level, but it has tried.
Two who remember Stalin,
two who endured a lifetime of Soviet insanity
now inherit the new Russian lunacy, accepting it
all so stoically, an imprint on the Muscovite genome.
Like bugs in amber,
the Grebnikovs, complaining for fifty years
to the Duma of the Wall, the Ministry of the Ceiling,
expect no action, expect nothing, and are duly rewarded.
They enjoy no other sport as much as Olympic indoor
I phone them. Dear Misha, I say, please know
that I share your distress. Chto delat'?
What is to be done?
Lydia has put on some tea, he tells me.
She has made your favorite dessert-napolyon.
Come down, Vanushka. The mystery of the pipes.
We'll discuss it further.