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C.N.P Poetry 

  • Writer's pictureCathexis Northwest Press

Etagere; Fathers And Sons; Binaries

By: Doug May


Nearly a century ago it rode

By steamer from Le Havre and east by train

To where a porter’s swaying buckboard sat

In freezing rain, awaiting crated props

Pried from the grasps of shuttered ateliers

And smuggled past the customs cops.

It must have piqued their curiosity

In Cedar Falls, where frivolous displays

Of fickle affluence were seldom seen

And even cottages strove to abide

Like main street shops or red-brick factories

Behind facades reserved and dignified.

A miracle of scalloped paint and brass

Applied to poplar steamed for seven days

And molded into curvatures and bays

Appareled in the foliage of a park

As reimagined by some artisan

Who didn’t leave his tradesman’s mark

It stands beside the flat screen HTV--

Pot belly illustrated with a scene

From Cupid’s court, a startled dove

Escaping momentarily its fate

While on the lawn a vulgar cherub chokes

Inaudibly his fat indifferent mate.

The shelf above is home to faux Laliques

And whimsically positioned dolls procured

From kitschy catalogs or plucked from bins

At dollar stores where imitation fruits

And plastic vines moon effigies of Death

In papier mache toreador suits:

All members of that unacknowledged tribe

Ignored by arbiters of excellence

Whose fickle emperors and peasants rub

Immodest glaze within a common space

And shadows’ peaks and vales of shared routine

Deflect sharp edges into soft embrace.

Fathers And Sons

Another Friday at the watering place

For rats grown weary of their endless race

(Excluding junior members lured by whiffs

Of musk-and-sandalwood emitting quiffs).

While recollections of that awkward phase

Intrude upon their prideful wounded daze,

The old ones weigh some casual snub

Of rites attaching to their misty club

And wink at how initiates flout laws

In favor of a moment’s fleeting cause,

Then toast lotharios who stalk the night

Before it yields to wisdom’s mournful light.


Among the Spanish tiles and ranch house bricks

He stoops to snugly lace his Wal-Mart shoes

And execute the usual stretching tricks,

Ignoring lush green feints of sunrise views

And chaste recessionals of stately lamps

Ethereal as fading Betelgeuse.

The neighbor fills a window sconce, her damp

Rebellious locks and throat once kissed by fools

And cynics, college beaus or fleshy gramps

Defiantly extol night’s threatened reign

By pressing to a highball’s muddled rim

Plump crescents of abandonment and shame.

As vacant balcony and tuneless scrim

Announce the dawn, she greets her dead,

He sets his jaw more resolutely grim

Before onrushing waves of infrared

Deny the shadow foes he runs against

And tender ghosts who crowd her empty bed.


Doug May has two poetry collections available, "Songs From The Back Row" and "Cold War Piano," and was recently nominated for a Pushcart prize. He is a musician as well as a poet, and has ADD and other learning disabilities that have influenced how he sees and functions in the world. He is currently retired and happily growing mangoes and figs in a desert microclimate.

“Etagere” is a poem inspired by an actual piece of furniture in the living room of the house where I have lived most of my life. It is something my mother inherited from the collection of a distant relative, and I can only confirm that it is French and probably from the time of Louis XVI. (Maybe someday I will figure out how to lug it to the nearest Antiques Roadshow.) In this poem, I am responding to my fascination with the inner lives and unwritten histories of things. And to the psychology of accumulation. The etagere is not just a piece of furniture, it is a true democracy, where objects multiply and intermingle without regard to their origins, races, or biological inheritances.

“Fathers and Sons” is a poem about what it means to be male, and the nebulous rites and customs of the club to which all men belong. Also the moment in a certain kind of man’s life when he begins to look backwards at the fading world of possibilities, and realizes he can no longer stand in the same river.

“Binaries” started life as an open-form meditation on urban loneliness. It then went through more than a hundred revisions from the early 1980s until recently. The “binaries” are two stars orbiting a common gravitational center of disappointment and loss. Even though their “spectral lines” are different and indicative of alcoholism on one hand, and exercise addiction on the other.


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