My very educated mother just
Served us nine pickles--her mnemonic
For the planets, Mercury, Venus, Earth,
Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune,
And then Pluto, now planet no longer
For being too small, erratic of orbit,
(Demoted like St. Christopher, martyred
For Christ in the third century, debunked
In the twentieth, as we have all been.
His cult too popular to suppress,
He dangles from rear view mirrors
Of Catholics otherwise uninsured)
And too much resembling an asteroid
To name in the same memory as my
Educated mother, who worked her way
Through NYU, studying in subway cars,
Typing for the Manhattan Project, still
Sworn to secrecy deep as any physicist.
My very educated, martyred, Jewish,
Sardonic, unglamorous, nihilistic
Parent, I remember what you taught.
The Difference Between
Rocks and Minerals
Rocks are meat loaf; minerals are trout.
Rocks are Reader's Digest, minerals are New Yorker.
Minerals are girls; rocks are men.
Minerals are boys; rocks are women.
In my mouth sandstone is dust,
Shale is mud; tourmaline--watermelon.
The French drink eau minerale.
We drink Rolling Rock.
I would rather mineralize than petrify.
I would rather sparkle than endure.
Magpies trim their nests with minerals.
Chickens stuff their gizzards with rocks.
Rocks are patient; minerals are brilliant.
Minerals are sex; rocks are being pregnant.
Discouraged by rocks, the dinosaurs died.
Inspired by minerals, cave folk dreamed of God.
Our dead are very grown up.
They know how to act. They stand
On the highest rung of adulthood.
They are cool, cool to the touch.
You sleep with your shoes on,
In suits, like headwaiters home
From a hard day on their feet,
Too tired to undress.
I envy you, selfish as sultans,
Hogging the bed, on your backs,
Where no one ever tells you
Turn over please, you snore.
The Clean-Haired Yankee Girl
You drove me to South Jersey
To see my childhood home,
Now a born-again parsonage.
The minister's wife greets us
As if we were angels from God
Who might if well-treated,
Throw back our dusty cloaks,
Flash our glory, and leave some
Good news, riches, grace.
They show their proud improvements.
How they fixed up the basement,
The attic, the porch, my own room,
Put a pool out back, and pruned,
From my father's silver maple,
The only climbable trunk.
Then, then I should have shed my coat,
Evicted them in a voice of thunder,
And carried you into the house.
Prohibited on this Highway:
Bicycles, Pedestrians and Horses,
Ridden, Driven, or Led
--At an Interstate Highway ramp
Where walking distance ran
By every house and farm,
Now nowhere is close enough
To walk there.
On the road we are trespassers,
Who leap from the cheap seats
For sunlit moments in the ring.
Who walks here anymore?
Nobody sober, slim, or employed:
A lost-license drunk, slimming women,
One vestigial hippie
Who walks to rebuke society.
Myself, I walk without open rebuke.
Ridden, driven, or led,
Too stupid to be comfortable.
Give you a ride? shout the drivers.
No, thanks, I'd rather walk.
They glare as if I'd refused
To evacuate for a hurricane.
Okay then, then drown then,
flatfooted fool. Drown by yourself.
Never say we didn't try to help.
Let it be written in blood
On my organ donor card:
Stranger, I did this for you,
(Whatever I just did to die):
Slam the Camry through trees,
Fall down the hall stairs, burst
A cerebral artery, choke
On a chunk of rare roast beef
Inhaled as if cool mountain air.
Live on, my partwise inheritor.
No gratitude is owed. My rewards
Were immediate, varied, and real:
Avoiding autopsy's post-mortem audit,
Lingering warm in a private bed
As others cooled in the morgue;
And this card, bail bond,
Out Of Jail Free, habeus (finally) corpus.
Five dreams recur to us all:
Nakedness, the chase,
The forgotten exam, the tooth,
And once in a long while, flight.
They rerun in the race:
Five billion of us sleep
By shorts shifts in the hot-sheet
Boardinghouse of earth,
Knowing despite pajamas
That we are all exposed;
That something sharp pursues
Which never is outrun;
That what must be tested
Is not what can be studied;
That spirit ill-fits the body
like cheap free-clinic dentures;
And how, against gravity and grief,
We float up past green mountains.
Your first million words are trash.
--Old writer's proverb
Old writers say it. Young janitors agree.
Your first million words are trash.
There are kinder ways to say this:
Warming up, clearing the throat for a song,
Stretching muscles for the race;
But why would I be kind?
Garbage is preliminary to nothing.
Throw it out, the sooner the better.
Fill a box, seal it with filament tape,
And leave it out marked basura.
Your janitor knows what to do.
By morning you'll be published
To a dumpster; by the weekend,
Anthologized in a landfill
Near the highway, where the gulls
Wheel low and hungry.
David Weinstock lives, writes, and teaches in Middlebury, Vermont.
Look for his poems in 2River View, Salt River Review, and Free Cuisenart.
For several years, he wrote for the L.L. Bean catalog, where he
several times had the honor of naming a new boot. Until this
appearance in Riding the Meridian, David had never thought of himself
as a writer of "text poems," but the shoe fits, and it beats
being a "content provider."