Jul/Aug 2002 Poetry Special Feature

Four Word Poems

by Taylor Graham

Art by Bob Dornborg



You always were a cut-to-the-chase
kind of guy: dispense with
the howdy-do's, the buenos-dias,
and palmetto-lined siestas.
Dispense with the photo ops:
yourself in a sombrero
with a misery-stricken donkey
in the streets of Ensenada;
the Kodacolor serapes, senoritas
leaning on your shoulder,
the Cielito serenades.

You've found the dizzy nights
bludgeoned with stars; the deep
dark, queasy jungle ruins
from which you'll never come home,
never paste those memories
in an album. No memory, you've lost
track of time, too busy dancing
yourself into the tomb lined,
tonight, with a dozen filthy
bottles of Dos Equis, and Jose
Cuervo in a broken fifth.


Ninth & Figueroa

Two crows on the Dos Equis billboard
dispense their blessings on the morning.
Every sidewalk traveler has passed
so many stations in the night, he comes
here as if it were a destination,
and then he just keeps going. Who knows
where any of them will be by coffee-break?
The grate in front of Vince's Vinyl
has accordioned itself against the east
wall, and that means business, somebody's
about to spin a gospel album second-hand.
We all know, it's always better in replay.
Except on the northwest corner, the bank
still broods its vaults in the dark.
One crow rasps like a hinge that tries
to sing. Oh when, on a day like any other,
will the doors to the tomb roll open?



Three days after earthquake, the Dos Equis vendor
stands posed forever—no, he's going from one
man to another, asking. "My wife, you see,"
he holds out an album where a lady smiles forever
at an unseen lens. "Have you seen?" He'll show
you others, the same eyes same smile in different
dresses. Already the toppled wall is covered
with out-of-focus faces, names, addresses.

A man in scrubs dispenses dust-masks; another,
wrist-bands for the workers to write their names
before they climb back up the stinking pile.
The hospital's become a tomb. The cerveza vendor
goes from one man to another, asking; then
sets the album down for anyone to see; writes
his own name on his wrist and climbs atop
rubble to dig to where his wife must be.


Ars Poetica Reconsidered

for J.J.

This is the message he's carried
for the world: Life is just a dusty trip
through the unknown, you'd better
love the road. No itinerary,
no place to call the journey's end.
A tomb is good as any bed, he'll say.
But he keeps getting side-tracked by detours,
a second-hand store, a Dos Equis poster
on a tavern wall. He'll get turned around
at any clover-leaf interchange.
A new day's poem is just another town
to sleep in, another dark den
where the barkeep will dispense anything
he orders; another table where he'll sit
awhile to eat. No one
will make an album of his song.
Tonight's roadhouse may be his only
claim to fame. He might as well
write it up with stars.


Previous Piece Next Piece