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.