The Trouble with Poets
In the way that movies arrive
at the playhouse two years after releasing
Billy Collins came to our infinite town.
We were eight miles across the Mason-Dixon,
a lunch hour’s ride and back
to Gettysburg and other cemeteries.
First the fat sweaty mayor spoke—
he was pretty sure Billy was Republican,
a blue poet in the only county that had carried Bush!
After four hot days of hay-making someone said,
Why doesn’t he read his fucking poems?
At which point my wife kicked me.
She reminded me we were in church in spite
of the hand-made posters decorated with bears,
picnic tables, bullets, and zagged yellow lines.
Then Billy stood and delivered verses about death
and being isolated and feeling lost. We clapped
after each, his silky words impossible for us
not to feel even if we didn’t understand them.
Good one, my wife said to our neighbors,
the Harrisons, about Billy’s dead parents.
Afterwards, we were allowed to ask him anything.
Mr. Collins, would more people read poetry
If it had a rating system, like PG or R?
Mr. Collins, does Sarah Palin have a shot?
I wanted to drive to the bridge mounts
between the dam and the first crossing.
Ed wanted to walk, that crazy fool,
swirling his canteen scotch for company.
So I yelled the gear into the pick-me-up—
our rods, packs, rice, bamboo rolling sleeves.
Ed disappeared into the Indian summer,
the stream full of cold and splash and air.
We wanted to hook our lunch and eat
sushi on the bank, chatting about Li Po.
If a fish weren’t clean enough to serve
raw why would you want it oiled and fried?
We’d heard the trout would jump
into your bucket like clowns.
When I got to the river I saw Ed leaning
on a boulder, praising the last ice age.
He offered me a Cuban. Hand-rolled
against the thigh of a virgin, he said.
Must be an import, I replied.
There aren’t any virgins around here.
Our snorts must have scared away the fish.
Next time, we’d remember to bring our tears.
Isn’t it true, trout love a good cry?
Sob, and they tumble out of the clouds like acid.
Driving, I love the feeling at the wheel
when one of my tires needs marriage counseling.
Maybe there’s a shimmy, an intermittent squeal,
like I’m always moving over rumble strips.
And how the pain worsens the slower I go,
and how the radio doesn’t quite hide the noise,
and even the wind rushing my face
doesn’t carry any mysteries,
Tuesday she dyes her crotch green
to make it easier to find others’ pubic hairs
astray in the sheets. Friday he answers every question
with doubt—maybe, not sure, OK I guess—
Sunday she squints at the tweezered evidence
and curses, who belongs to this black coil?
Twice in my life I’ve driven the axle off the frame,
and it’s such a long dying fall, the bullet
coursing through the air like a drugged moth.
It seems so easy to ignore.
And next month someone is shaving
whiskers off a dead man,
wiping grease off the dead man’s face,
more than one witness wondering
if he ever bothered to look in a side mirror
and spit on a comb to relax the beast
rooted in his skull.
Barrett Warner's poems have appeared in Cultural Weekly, Nude Beach, Industrial Decay, Little Patuxent Review, Berkley Poetry Review, Comstock Review, Quarter after Eight, and other places. He is associate editor of Free State Review and gets kicked around for a living at An Otherwise Perfect Farm.