Poets Online Archive
A Job Done Badly

In  "Appointed Rounds"  prose poet Louis Jenkins tells the story of someone doing their job badly, but doing that really well.  The hero of the poem is not just a lousy mailman - his lack of work moves to legendary Pony Express comparison.  He wears the sandals of a Marathon runner, the toga of Fate. I start to believe that he's right in not delivering the mail that his job requires.

Prose poems aside, write a poem that tells of a job done poorly but not just merely doing a poor job, but doing it heroically bad.

Louis Jenkins has described the prose poem as a kind of box, like the “lunch box Dad brought home from work at night.” The contents of the box are “magic,” he says, “for having made a mysterious journey and returned.”
A native of Oklahoma, he has made his home in Duluth, Minnesota for the past twenty-seven years. He and his wife, Ann, have one son, Lars. His books include:  THE WINTER ROAD (2000), JUST ABOVE WATER (1997) and NICE FISH: New and Selected Prose Poems (1995), ALL TANGLED UP WITH THE LIVING, (1991) and AN ALMOST HUMAN GESTURE.


HER COLORING BOOK

She colored outside the lines
Drew her own things there
She didn't care for the ready-made pictures
She left them empty, colorless, blank as ghosts
Everyone told her to color inside, keep it neat, pretty, you know
She didn't
She X'd them out
She X'd them out right through their hard and fast lines
and drew her own things,
colored her own,
and left the ready-made empty, colorless,
blank as ghosts

Pammy


WHY WRITE A POEM

Why write a poem about excesses?
The melody of poetry cannot represent the tone of harshness.
All attempts at capturing the result of greed must fail.
Consider a poetic end to the outcome of
Eating too much;
Drinking too much;
Cleaning too much;
Sleeping too much;
Spending too much;
Hating too much.
Excesses lead to calamity--
Except for, possibly, the excesses of true love.

Ellen Kaplan


MAYBE MESSAGES

I think you miss the point
When you are talk
Of being against
Bureaucracy ironically,
As being heroically bad.

I, too
Have slipped a fast one
Against the rules
Of the New York State
Office of Mental Hygiene
When giving information.
It was not wrong
Not to comply
With the German rules
On psych disability
Where all is
Strictly organic
As in 'thirty-three.

If you were in Auschwitz
For months
It is non-contributory
To your problems
No pension, and disallowed.

I was counseled
By a limp-wristed worker
Who submissively quivered
At Nazi helmeted
Porno motorcyclist art
But not at a Jew.

II
The mailman hippy
who arbitrarily censors
With his hard on dreams of glory
"I can be fate,"
determining who gets what.
I will piss away your world
With my loneliness.
Many will find him cool
While others see him (how) cruel.

III
My son blesses his sick uncle
From places he has not seen,
Xian, Macao, Canton,
With bland wishing well calls
Who are capitol to hope.

Edward N. Halperin


THE SONGWRITER

the guitar strap hung around his neck
like a hangman's noose
his fingers squeezed the fret on his guitar
like he was trying to squeeze the last drop of sound
from the unfeeling strings that vibrated beneath his calloused hand.
he leaned into the microphone.
and then came the words, unsure at first
then slowly building, he struggled to stay on key
or even close for that matter.
he remembered that old opry star's advice,
look at their eyes son, if you don't get them with the first line, don't bother singing the chorus.
too bad he didn't heed those words.
i guess he thought talking about the song
after such a terrible performance
would somehow make it better.
to the silent upturned faces he said,
i wrote that song for my mama while she was in the hospital.
it didn't.
with his guitar now hanging in a pawn shop,
he sits outside the greyhound bus station
sharing a bottle of jim beam with an old homeless man
you know i sung on the grand old opry one time, the old man said.
yeah me too, the young man said quietly,
me too.

Ray Cutshaw



HEROICALLY BAD
A War leaves thoughts entangled in a web -
justifying that what’s done is done.
And this cruel fact was carried home to her
who’d also been entangled in its threads -
like echoes from a distant sounding drum ,
confusing her in buried, tempting dreams.

Just how do man and wife resolve the mix
that doesn’t fit the pattern that they’d used
to make their union work before he left
to save the world ? He is much too proud
to admit that there is something changed
from what it used to be, compared to Now.

And what of her? How could she confess
to spending lonely hours in much more than
wifely actions during all those years
that tore them both apart? No other way
but to tell the truth and bear the brunt
of manly outrage - to keep HIS honor bright.

So, she ate humble pie and saved his face
by putting up with years of his abuse
pretending that she didn’t know he too
had sinned; but later, when he realized
that she had shouldered all his guilty burden,
War between them changed to Lasting Peace

Catherine M. LeGault


LOSING SUNDAY

I am grating Shop-Rite mozzarella for English-muffin pizzas
after a long day at the computer meeting deadlines.
When I can't find the oregano,
I realize Sunday is lost, just like knickers and spats.
This morning I skipped the bread and the wine,
stayed home in jeans and went straight
for morning coffee, the aroma of which didn’t vie
with powdery crumb buns, thick crusty bread,
fresh basil, and minced garlic browning in olive oil.
No slow-simmering gravy from hand-seeded plum tomatoes,
ripe as today's teenage girls with their low-rise jeans and pallid hair.
In fact, though it is late summer here in the Garden State,
there's no basket of fresh tomatoes on my counter--
not even the stern plump ones like old-fashioned Italian mothers.
My father's father got those round ones, still sea-sick green,
by truckloads from Pennsylvania farm auctions and prepared them
for another truck ride to the New York Farmer's Market.
Seasonally plucked from Arts High and the Italian neighborhood of Newark
my father's dark-haired hands (supple sculpting hands)
sorted, ripened, and packaged tens of thousands of tomatoes.
Each red gem gently hand-wrapped in tissue paper and cardboard box,
while still more arrived green, as endless as laundry
and cloth diapers in a Catholic family.
On Sundays, my mother's grandmother spread fresh sheets
of ravioli on the beds, hung fettucini and linguini to dry on a line.
If my own grandmother knew how often I feed my son
Prego over Ronzoni she'd throw out my scolapasta
and whack me in the back of the head with a wooden spoon.
But she didn't see me today. I didn't make appointed rounds
to the family after a mid-day dinner. Didn't kiss everyone's cheeks.
I hadn't a teaspoon of guilt or contrition.
It's not like the years my father's grandfather gathered his nine children
and their families for Sunday dinner in the basement of his brick home,
saved for by peddling fruits and vegetables from a horse-drawn cart.
My father sat with his aunts, uncles, and cousins at one table
as long, loud, and crowded as the Jersey Shore on the Fourth of July.
Even the children drank strong red wine his father and uncles cranked
from the barrel wine press in the corner of that basement
while his grandmother and aunts boiled macaroni on three stoves.
Still working at pizza muffins for three, I am balanced on a kitchen chair
scrounging through my pantry for spices. When I find the empty oregano jar
that I can't even remember finishing--Christ!--
it's enough to make me lose what's left of my Sicilian temper.

Lauren Cerruto


PHOTO SHOP

Family and friends have gathered here
To dream at images they made last week.
The photographs pop up, foretelling cheer
For those whose pride requires a graphic tweak.
How sleek the prints, their pigments bright and clear --
A festival of flattering technique.
The sales assistant smartly bills them twice,
Since narcissism, gorged, pays any price.

And yet these images, so precious, bring
A chill the subjects miss, so great their thirst
For mutual self-esteem: an ill-tuned ring
Infects the frozen gaiety. The worst
Blemish of each friend propels a sting
As though the lens and shutter had been cursed.
Wattles and squints are stitched on babe and dame;
An added twist of limb afflicts the lame.

With jeers and sneers the spiteful lab technician
Has squirted venom in the darkroom tray,
Enhancing hate in every disposition.
She's bathed the folk with diabolic ray
To wrack their souls and physical condition --
They honk with pleasure as they flap away.
And thus the cackling Furies hone their arts,
Turning joy to slime with poisoned darts.

Richard Lubbock


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