Morning Rush; Shuttering; Happy Hour
Morning’s rush hour starts before we even leave the house,
the paws of the dog leading us down the stairs, the tap, tap tapping
of her claws on laminate floors to the kitchen where we calculate
the math of the eggs, balancing it with the scramble to get out the door on time.
Do we have enough milk? We bump against each other in a kitchen tighter
than the cellophane that wraps last night’s leftovers turned today’s lunch,
an awkward first dance of the day. Do we have two slices of bread?
Cutting the moldy edge off in last-minute desperation, the clock tick, tick ticking
louder, a doomsday countdown with a metronomic beat. Dad, Matt’s
still in the bathroom. Jakob yells. Use another one!
I reply and hurry, hurry, we gotta go! Adam is away at school
and these two are close behind, an assembly line of college visits
and college tuition. In quiet times, we worry about affording
school while trying to save for retirement, but that can wait. Right now,
Jakob doesn’t have a clean school shirt, I-95 has two lanes blocked
in my direction and we’ve just run out of coffee.
Mom asks for my dead father ten times a day,
a whisper from an ashen murmur wondering
where he is and when he’ll be home from work.
I think of new ways to respond each time.
Mom telephones old friends, people long dead –
like the woman she made me call Aunt Millie
even though we weren’t related, conversing
robustly to empty air, perhaps hearing
the rhythms of their answers in the flapping
of our converted guestroom’s window drapes.
I politely ask how they are when she hangs up.
Mom leaves food simmering on the stove, forgetting
the broth she boils, or the water for tea, wandering
away into another world hearing other voices until
mine bellows, frustration boiling over like the water
sizzling onto the stovetop as I ask my wife
if we should babyproof the house from her.
Mom can amaze by recalling minute details from 1972 –
like organizing the anti-Nixon rally at NYU
or the name of the Filipino student who asked
for her number after – but nothing from the last hour
memories reduced to an accounting equation:
first in first out, last in last out
her brain flickering as a failing and loose light bulb
on and off on and off.
The dead are stressed out and wrecked, too, and they rise bone
dry & bloodless 3-6pm weekdays at the Last Gasp
Lounge. The dead smack thin glasses together in fake ritual
like friends who’ve known each other forever
even if they’ve just met. Joe casts his stick-figure
fingers around a Bombay gin shot & his glass ricochets
off Chad’s Tito’s & soda. Chad’s new here,
transported from a construction site in Kansas
where he fell five floors without a harness.
Joe’s cancer explains his frail form
& he checks his watch looking for his wife
concerned. She should have beaten
him here. They sip & signal another. Chad kicked drinking
five years ago, but figures he needs a hobby
& he has “nothing to lose now.” Joe & Chad
make morbid jokes like this each day
around this time & when Sasha saunters
past them, they stop talking to take her in & debate
whose arm she’ll be wrapped around when she ambles
into the amber night & disappears. The dead
don’t care about hangovers. Death lasts forever but happy hour
only a short time. Broken neon lights flicker
across faceless bodies like a samba. The jukebox
blasts songs that make the dead feel young. Or old.
The dead aren’t sure. When Joe spots
his wife shaking staccato raindrops off her umbrella
he waves her over to meet Chad. They exchange
pleasantries & chit chat as the Last Gasp Lounge
crowd thins. The dead are stressed out and wrecked, too.
I watch all of this from behind the bar, leaning on the damp
wood rot counter. I know the dead – among the hubbub –
await their bar tabs & leave good tips
but the coins in their pockets murmur like heartbeats.
The dead hope someone remembers them, & I stressed
out and wrecked, wait on a friend who never arrives.
David Colodney is the author of the chapbook, Mimeograph, forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. His poems have appeared or will appear in journals including St. Petersburg Review, South Carolina Review, The Chaffin Review, Panoply, and Poetry South. A two-time Pushcart nominee, David holds an MFA from Converse College, and he has worked as a sportswriter for The Miami Herald and The Tampa Tribune. He serves as Associate Editor of South Florida Poetry Journal and lives in Boynton Beach, Florida with his wife, three sons, and golden retriever.
Interview with the Poet:
Cathexis Northwest Press:
How long have you been writing poetry?
Since January, 2012. This whole poetry thing is an accident. I went to grad school thinking I would emerge from it as a fiction writer. I was a divorced dad of two young boys, and the course I really wanted to take didn’t work into my custody schedule. So I signed up for a Poetry Writing Workshop – thinking how bad can this be? – and it wound up changing my life. Who’d have thought?
Can you remember the first poem you read that made you fall in love with poetry?
It was probably Robert Hayden’s poem, “Those Winter Sundays.” “Love’s austere and lonely offices” was just so beautiful and mysterious, and the father/son dynamic became so important to what I write; it’s the theme of my debut chapbook, Mimeograph, which is available at www.finishinglinepress.com/product/mimeograph-by-david-Colodney. Sorry for the shameless plug!
Who are your favorite poets? Any specific poems?
Oh, gosh. There are so many. Tim Dlugos is such an important influence; “G-9” is so significant, even today, 30 years later. Whenever I have writer’s block, I read some of his work and things open up. David Trinidad taught me that you can turn a TV series into a haiku. Denise Duhamel, Suzanne Cleary. They’ve been mentors to me and teachers as well as great poets. David Kirby. Kim Addonizio. Major Jackson, Erica Dawson – two other great teachers and poets. Tim Seibles. Wow, I could go on. Addonizio’s “Glass” was an a-ha moment. I read that and was “YES! THAT! That’s what I want to do.” It probably all goes back to Frank O’Hara and the New York School, though. American poetry begins there, I say!
Can you share for us a little bit about your writing process? Any specific rituals that get you in
I like to think that I should write a little every day, but it doesn’t always work out that way. I mean, we lead busy lives, we’ve got families and 9-5’s. I do try to set aside designated writing times and stick to them. And wine helps. Seriously. I need to get into my own little world to write, so I’ll often close off with headphones and music, and wine. A few glasses of wine helps me tear into my inner layers. It makes me less afraid to dig deeper. That said, a few too many has the opposite effect! I’ll forget all about writing and do something else.
How do you decide the form for your poems? Do you start writing with a form in mind, or do you let the poem tell you what it will look like as you go?
I usually just let the words rain down on a page and when I go back to it, that’s when I start to think about how it should look. I guess I’m concerned about the poem breathing; it needs to have enough air and be properly inflated, like a tire. So I’ll play with spacing so it doesn’t look claustrophobic. I’ll think about line length, too, because that’s important to the reader. You don’t want a line so long the reader is out of breath by the line break. Air in a poem is important.
In terms of poetic form, I really struggle with it. I’ve written one villanelle and, I think, three sonnets. I tried a pantoum once but I gave up because I kept confusing the pattern.
Any advice for poets who have yet to find their voice?
Don’t give up! Try to mimic one of your heroes. Write a poem in the vein of Tim Dlugos. Or Ginsberg. Or Keats. Or Bukowski. Imitate them at the beginning. But keep writing. You’ll get there. You just need to keep writing.
What is your editing process like?
I’m just all over the place, and it goes in bursts. I’ll get into “editing mode” and it’s like I’m manic. I’ll whip though all of my “in progress” poems and tinker with them, even if it’s a line break here or a comma there. And I’ll do it really, really fast. Comma. Next poem. It’s total chaos. Then I’ll be in the middle of working on one and remember I wanted to go back to do something on another one. I ask myself if any other writer works like this and the answer probably “no.” But it seems to work for me, and it keeps the energy in the poems, too. But I don’t recommend my method.
When do you know that a poem is finished?
I don’t. I subscribe to the theory that no poem is ever finished. I can see one of my published poems in a journal and I’ll still want to tinker. Could I have found a better word? Does this line break work? I just can’t help myself.