Poetry, Chicago Style
A good looking brown-skin woman
with a head full of braids reads a poem
about an old boyfriend who was
a complete asshole. The women
in the audience shout approval
as if they had dated the guy
and completely agree,
and the guys at the bar hoot it up
as if any one of them might be him.
Behind her over the doorway
is a portrait of a bearded head
next to a reclining nude
and a mannequin torso
in bikini bottoms lit from inside
by a dim red bulb.
The black walls are covered
paintings, and mirrors.
Hundreds of bras dangle
from the ceiling rafters.
A large rubber doll's head
is duct taped to the post by our booth.
Her second poem is about the first time
she had sex. It was in the mountains
and felt like careening over a waterfall
--and not just any waterfall
the godmother of waterfalls
with a volcano at the bottom.
The poem is a success, or rather
she is. Her eruption is greeted
by raucous cheers.
The next poet's white bread rhyme
barely gets started when a half-drunk
Latino at the bar starts to heckle him.
The guy at the mic interrupts himself
to call the heckler a motherfucker
shit-for-brains but the guy at the bar persists
until the rhymer stomps off the stage
grabs his stuff and stalks out
slamming the door. Gregorio
comes over to the heckler
and says something up close
to his face. The heckler
leaves shouting racial slurs.
For the rest of the night we can
actually hear the poems which are
mostly about sexual adventures,
bodily functions and politics. Sergio,
the bartender, reads the only poem
he ever wrote which he said he wrote
back in the fifth grade--it is not
the same poem he read last month
which was also the only poem
he ever wrote. . .back in the fifth grade.
Gregorio at the mic
in his black leather hat
leads the chant for the next poet
who is a first-timer:
What do we do with a virgin?
And the crowd responds:
We fuck em up.
What do we do with a virgin?
We fuck em up.
When it's our turn we know
what we have to do--after Dan and Tom
get their virgin welcome.
It's a toss up what the crowd likes more,
Tom's "ode to the roll" with its many
references to shitting in the woods,
my poem about getting it on
in a feather bed,
or Dan's birthday homage
to his world weary dick.
(3 Guys from Albany do Monday Night at Weeds, circa 2001)
Spring Break Road Report
Winding down scenic Arkansas 7
through Little Abner hollers
we stopped at ramshackle stores
with names like
the tattoo'd motel proprietor said
there's water in the pool but
I wouldn't go in if I were you
it's not been cleaned for the season
and it's kinda slimey
Next morning at the T&C Diner
a fat guy in overalls was telling a story
to a couple of other guys across the room
Yeah, right when we first got married I told her,
'I get home at 6 and I want to see supper on the table
or else you won't see me for three days.' Sure enough,
the first day I came home and supper wasn't ready.
In about three days she was just starting to see me
a little through her right eye.
That night in Hot Springs at the Poet's Loft
we were back at home among mis-matched
chairs, black walls and poets who read
poems about sex and salvation as friends
yelped encouragment for each other
and for us too, not unlike poets and audiences
in Oregon or Detroit or Chicago except for
minor local variations, which in this case
came out as occasional reference to
"whupping Yankee butt"
at next year's National Poetry Slam.
Charlie Rossiter--Hot Springs, ARK, April 2000
A hundred faces of my father
talked World War II on television
specials last night, big band sounds
in the background of rosy the riveter,
loose lips sink ships, jitterbug days
of rations and sacrifice, victory
garden and Times Square victory
celebrations when the Axis
got the ax.
Outside Myopic Books
on Milwaukee Avenue
an old black man, about the age
my father would be, moaned
like a Tuvan throat singer as he
preached and waved at his demons.
Wicker Park yuppie couples
lined up waiting to brunch
mostly looked the other way
but he was loud enough
to be heard in the back
of the history section.
Near the entrance to Humboldt Park
the ice cream wagon was already
in place, a pickup truck vendor
was hanging out his array of
Puerto Rican flags
in the drizzling rain.
Two men were taking huge
potted plants out of a green
dented van while their partner
put up a sign that said
"5 bucks a piece."
A t-shirted young man
leaned slumped asleep
on a nearby bench
with his arms folded
much the way Mike and I
slept out on park benches
in downtown Baltimore,
Mike who joined the army
to get out of the factory
went to Alaska, then went
to college and disappeared
so thoroughly not even a friend
with all the megahertz in heaven
can find him.
Five teenage boys with nowhere to go
were hanging on the corner
slouched in various poses of casual disrespect
repeating history the way we relived
zoot suits and peg pants, ducktails and goatees
hollering "go" and burning to get out
to what we knew was waiting for us
anywhere but here.
It's Memorial Day and all over
America people are wearing poppies
putting wreaths on graves
and giving thanks that the fuhrer
got what he deserved and democracy
was preserved and that the millions
of fathers dead and undead didn't fight
or die in vain.
Here in Chicago, a slow rain
glosses over buildings and streets
with a silvery sheen and I
get the feeling
the world looks so fresh
and new washed it's age
doesn't show--as if
it's barely been lived in and
hasn't been through
what it's been through
swept so clean we could almost
start over again.
I-74 STREETCORNERS OF AMERICA
(Written on the Road Between Albany, Illinois and Albany, Indiana)
Sun rise over the Rock River
and all over America
people wake to face the day
as if nothing were happening,
while all around them
mountains are pushed up
and weathered down
rivers flex and flow, new life is born
at a truckstop on I-74 outside of Kickapoo,
someone is pumping gas into a diesel engine
that spent the weekend in Colorado,
someone's heart got broken last night
in Mississippi, and before the day is over
someone in Cincinnati will fall in love,
someone's had enough and leaving home in Topeka,
someone in Takoma's got the blues
it's a carnival out there
which way the cards will fall
is anybody's call
one thing's for sure
we're all in this together
at least I'm in
how about you
(previously published in the chapbook "3 Guys from Albany" from BOOGLit in NYC. )