June/July 1998

Two Poems

by David Starkey

In Praise of Happy Endings

Let Orson Welles grumble into eternity.
I understand the studio's changing
the end of The Magnificent Ambersons.
What a picture that makes,
Joseph Cotton and Agnes Moorehead
strolling arm-in-arm into the camera,
beaming because things have, improbably,
come out all right.

                            And hurray
for Bulwer Lytton, that rank sentimentalist
who persuaded Dickens to banish the shadow
between Estella and Pip.
They deserve their moon-lit moment
in the ruined garden.

                            I'd write the conclusion
myself to several tales I wish had finished well.
Adam Clayton Powell would give up drink
and sell his home in Bimini,
and proudly clasp hands with Martin Luther King
as they marched, triumphant, from Harlem
to the South.

                            Delmore Schwartz
would wash the sickness from himself
as though it were a coat of grime.
He'd work intently at his desk.
At the great parties held in his honor
each guest would feel at home.

I am unknotting the wrong rat's nest.
There's someone else--a poet,
a light-skinned black man, too--
whose likely course I'd like to shift.
My sister, his wife,
endures drunken fits of spite.
She reaches out
to the ledges on which he's stood
waiting to be begged, "Please come back in."
I swear I don't know what to do.
I call. I write.
I visit when I can.
And he drinks vodka and quotes Baudelaire.
He claims to have no theory of fiction at all.



On that day when the clover blooms
and you're crossing your old high school
football field with a boom-box playing Hendrix
through one speaker only and the phase
isn't coming through and two juniors
look down at you from the bleachers
because it's not their music and it's not
your music either, not by a decade,
then perhaps it's time
to press STOP and scale
the highest structure in town,
a water tower labeled "Roseville,"
and look down yourself
and re-think just what the hell has happened.

This is a poem in three parts.
This part, the middle part, is about others,
about your two best hometown friends,
both of them fucked-up beyond the place
where fuck-ups lead to any rich trove
of revelation. This part is about Sal,
the Chicano kid who loved the Stones
and the Dolls, blew up after band practice
to stay awake and talk talk
talk about music, his passion,
arguing over who played the baddest, sloppiest
leads--Keith or Johnny--and singing Iggy
so loud the neighbors in the duplex
called the police three times a night.
This part is about Sal coming back from an afternoon
at the lake, drunk, the driver drunk, the kid
in the back seat drunk and--you know it's coming,
the scene right out of a MADD commercial--
the darkness, the parked car on the shoulder, the swerve,
the red and blue lights, the hospital,
the cousins in the waiting room, mom in tears,
dad smoking outside, talking about boxing,
talking about baseball, talking about stupid taxes,
talking about anything but Sal up there
with the skin on his cranium peeled back
and the surgeon removing the useless parts
of his brain with a delicate scalpel.
This part is about Sal in the wheelchair at home,
getting fat on ice cream--his personality
that of a twelve-year old, "Michael Jordan
is bad, man"--and staring at the TV
and blinking, blinking, the bits of glass
still in his eye--and smiling
about nothing.

This part is about Mike, the calm one,
the one who would drink a twelve-pack
and drive for hours, perfectly, the one
who would encourage you to keep writing,
"Man, you're the best writer I know," the shy one
there in the corner of the kitchen, returning
to the keg every fifteen minutes
and not showing a trace of jealousy
when the girl he's been talking to all night suddenly
slurps the tongue of someone who just walked in,
a guy she doesn't really know. This second part
is about voices in the next room and shadows
following cars for miles and networks
of spies and dark reasons for the rising
of the sun. This is about disease
walking into Mike's apartment
on his twenty-fifth birthday like the friend
of a friend you can't treat rudely.
This is about pills and no sleep
and daily fear
and self control and clinical madness.

The last part is about you.

But the part you get isn't a big one.

Up there on your water tower, looking down
on the town of 24,347--on the mini-marts and
Dairy Queens and rows of clean new cars
and the used furniture store and the gray
stone City Hall with its green dome and inert
flag--you might as well be a tuft of cumulus
cloud, distant and transient,
for all the good you are.
You might as well have nothing
at all to do with the two lives which begged, "Take
care of me, define me," because your hands
like clouds
                are immaterial
forgive me, my friends
                   they try to hold
I was not there
                      slips through.

"In Praise of Happy Endings" originally appeared in Mankato Poetry Review
"Apology" originally appeared in Beloit Poetry Journal

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