by Ron Risley
for Quincy Troupe
University of California, San Diego
9 December 1991
Trading in impressions.
The ones I make,
The ones they try to see behind the mask.
The ones they show,
Obscuring what I need to see,
Obscured by what I want to see.
Somewhere, somehow, it’s useful,
Something they and I can use.
Between my tailored suit
And their so-carefully phrased questions,
Between the dropping of a pencil
And the pregnant or aborted pause,
A blink, a glance, caught breath, nervous laugh
A scrap of something slips out, between the walls,
Between the social and the so-called politesse.
It hangs a minute in the stillness.
While we reach, they and I, and grab
That slippery something
On which my future rests.
Do we dare to call it truth?
For a Poet
It’s hard, putting life on a page,
Three point three decades of experience,
Twelve thousand plus mornings and noontimes and nights,
It’s hard to get it all on a page.
The minor aches and pains of colds or flu,
Major headaches from the IRS,
A lover’s warm, embracing whisper,
Kittens at play, cats at rest,
It’s hard just to remember it all.
Christmases and rain
Broken toes, television
Crying alone on a New York sidewalk,
Pressed by the throng, and so alone
Until the snow fell, and covered fears in pristine blue.
Riding horseback in the wilderness,
Smoking weed in dingy rooms,
Tart red wine with special friends,
Disneyland, top-down highways, beaches, sex and
Hangovers with hot biscuits, strong coffee, huevos rancheros,
And nothing to do but mix margaritas and talk, talk, talk.
It’s even harder.
Squeezing ideas, condensed
From incoherent masturbation
To well-defined, just-enigmatic-enough tightness
That makes a loved one smile.
But still it’s hard.
Failing to capture the tearing,
Stinging cut that says “it’s over,”
It’s hard to get up tomorrow, go to that same job
With the same old friends when, just today, “it’s over.”
It’s hard to put life on a page.
What is this gentle heat that fills my nights,
Warmly reaching to my being’s core?
In other fires’ dancing, flickering lights
I’ve lost my chill, but this seems so much more
Than just another branch that’s caught in flame,
Crackling, dramatic, in its early blaze,
But too soon quenched by wind, or time, or rain—
Leaving just pungent ashes, smoky haze.
This grows from spark to roaring, searing glow
To comforting, enduring yellow flame,
Dies down to waiting coals and, with a blow,
Returns to heated, fiery life again,
This hearth–fire, as the moon or light of day,
Might wax and wane, but never dies away.
So many poets
When reading haiku
Nature’s tears drying
On the tattered spider’s web
Reflect moist sunshine
Nervous students stare
At clocks inside, sunshine out,
Waiting for an end
The unnamed stirrings
Felt in youth as flowers bloom
Are replaced by words
Words become a shield in life
That falls only with the leaves
The first time cats meet
They will hiss, spit, snarl, swat, screech
Until they are friends
In this world’s short history
For nations to meet is new
For A Grade
I have to write this sonnet for a grade
Not for fame or heartache, for a grade
And if I get an “A” I’ll have it made
I’ve written sonnets sometimes from my pain,
I’ve written them to try to ease that pain
To find the light that often follows rain
I’ve written them while crying in the dark
I’ve sat and written, crying in the dark
But never, never crying for a mark
Sometimes I write to try and find a voice
To give these thoughts I have a real voice
Sometimes I write because I have no choice
But what of verses written for a grade?
Would love, will time, approve the lines I’ve made?
“I’m a hooker, goddammit,” she’d say, with a shout, with a slap,
Emphasizing her words as she’d turn back to me from the mirror,
Voice low, and scared, and threatening. With almost a choke,
Almost a growl, she’d shout “Don’t ever call me a whore!”
Then she’d stride, with her pride on her sleeve while the fog and the dusk
Closed in behind her, the greasy old clock striking seven.
Her pride somewhat thinner, next morning around about seven
She’d come dragging in, her tired old shoes going slap,
Slap-slap, the morning light fading her lips to dusk—
In the morning she never would bother to look in the mirror,
Afraid all she’d see was the face of a tired old whore.
Instead she’d just light up a cigarette, and with a choke
And a cough, she’d turn to me, blowing out smoke. With a choke.
She’d count out small, blue balloons, “Bag number seven,
I’ll split it with you,” she’d say, “I ain’t a whore—
Whores just give it away. I sell it.” and slap!
She’d throw down the works on the table, next to the mirror.
“You do the honors,” she’d say, and I would until dusk.
“I’m a hooker, goddammit,” she’d say while she walked into dusk
While behind her, bloody needle still in hand, I’d choke
Back a laugh, looking down at a face in the dusty old mirror
And scrape up two piles, a brown and a white, ’ball seven,
Into a spoon, and heat it, and draw it, and slap!
It’d land in my brain like a freight train -- but who is the whore?
Then after a while I wouldn’t care anymore: who’s the whore.
And with a salty metal-taste tongue, my own dusk
Would creep in. I would forget where she was till the slap
Of the door would remind my nodded head with the choke
Of a start: the first of, I’d guess, about six or seven
She’d have that night, so I’d glance toward the hall where the mirror
Would show her back and her date’s, as they walked past the mirror
Out of sight where she’d do whatever it is that a whore
Would do with whoever she could maybe six or seven
Times each night if she’s lucky, then dawn until dusk
Spending all that she’d earned from each bump, every insult, each choke,
Every fantasy, asshole, corrupt cop, each whistle, each slap.
Then she’d come home to the mirror, to a chemical twilight till dusk
(With _her_ whore, I might think with distaste) but I’d soon somehow choke
It back seven or eight times before I’d fight back with a slap.