A native of Johnstown, NY, I retired in June 2016 after 29 years of teaching writing and literature at Ripon College in Wisconsin. I've published six collections of poetry, including Stutter Monk and Second Wind; I also co-edited (with Kate Sontag) the essay anthology After Confession: Poetry as Confession. Essays, reviews, and individual poems have appeared widely, both in print and online. In recent years I've spent nearly as much time on photography as poetry. A gallery of my work is online here: http://instagram.com/doctorjazz
The long table
photographed so many times,
so many years of platters
and baskets of bread, candles
steady as our various yearnings,
long gone kids with spoons balanced
on noses—now parents themselves,
shushing and poo-poohing
the latest under-the-table
bouncing off the window
like piercing stars,
erasing the lake dusk
as the upstairs, too,
is mostly erased
from these feasting photos,
bedrooms with their hidden
bottles and murmurs against
the fragrant pine dark.
Midnight gurgles and flushes,
windowscreens barely brushed
with no-see-ums, stories
told and retold down the decades,
dogs who growled at ghosts,
now ghosts themselves, a cousin
lost to the waves, the gangster
who holed up in a nearby cabin. . . .
What house is ever large enough
for its haunted attic
and cellar rich with clutter,
paddles without canoes,
mold creeping across the page?
This long table holds us
as a planet holds its moons
for a time, for a long time
but not forever, and we orbit
at our own pace and need.
A Fig Newton
"Colorado Hiker Sings Opera, Fends Off Mountain Lion Attack"
-headline in Outdoor Life, 11 August 2014
If a mountain lion stalks you, they say
stand tall and brandish a long stick
to make yourself seem even taller.
If that doesn't work, sing an opera aria
at full concert volume. Lions
are confused by opera, as I admit I am,
and they'll lie down in the rocky path
very flat, trying to make sense of it.
I've often done that myself
when Puccini or Wagner come on.
It's like explaining the Electoral College
to a six year old. You need a certain
confidence in absurdity to survive.
And am I remembering or just dreaming
how Allen Ginsberg once calmed the waters
of a strange scene: drunk or drugged woman
on the sidewalk screaming at her boyfriend
while a vicious dog strained at the leash?
How he held out a bag and asked her,
"Would you like a Fig Newton?" Why, yes,
yes I would, Mr. Ginsberg! Everyone likes cookies.
The Night Bill Gates Dined in Ripon, Wisconsin
The richest man in the world ordered pasta primavera
and I served it to him. End of story. Shall I say more?
He didn't make small talk, but was polite, friendly enough.
I held the charge card of the world's biggest billionaire
in this hand, and I don't mind telling you
it gave me ideas. Just the thought of it: what must
his credit limit be? I could've ordered a ship.
Well, his friends did most of the talking.
No, I didn't catch much in particular,
but I'm sure they weren't talking business.
Somebody mentioned the cold snap we've been having.
I know, I know what a terrible cliché it is, but it's true:
he seemed ordinary. A little older in person
than he looks on TV. And yes, a decent tipper,
but nothing spectacular. What was weird, though,
was how all my friends refused to believe me.
As if I wasn't worthy to slap a plate down
in front of his highness. I mean, really. That made
me mad. But what could I do? Ring him up
and hand the phone off? He may not even remember
his night spent in the dark part of the map
between Milwaukee and Minneapolis, whatever
he was doing here. Yes, I'm well aware we live
in fly-over country; I read the magazines, you know.
I say fly right over if you want to. Doesn't
do a thing for me. But there was a lot of comment:
what drew him here? Ice fishing? Hunting up
cheap antiques? On a spirit quest to the Menomonee?
Or was he just hungry? More to the point, why
can't anyone believe anyone these days? You ask me,
that's a bigger deal than how much he spent
at the only decent restaurant in this ten cent town.
I went home and fell asleep, the same food stewing
in my belly as Bill Gates's—is that supposed to be
amazing or something? Everyone gets this goofy look
when they ask me to tell it all again, and to be honest,
it's not that interesting anymore. I sometimes invent
little details that didn't happen, just out of boredom,
like a side dish he never ordered, or some lame quip
he made when handing me the card. In fact, he just
said "thanks very much." And you know what?
I'm no longer exactly sure if that's even true.
©2016 David Graham
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