John Hoppenthaler


a week ago, she began to sing and still
hasn't stopped. I hear her now,
trilling through leaves, perched high
in the farthest crook of the apple tree.
Her mother's concerned. "Rachel
doesn't sing well," she jokes, forcing
a grin.  "It's hard hearing her lullabies
falling asleep at night, and what
about school? Maybe it's just a phase."
Walking over to the gnarled trunk,
She grabs hold of each end of a board
he'd nailed there to serve as a ladder,
peers through the branches. "Rach,
sweetie, how about a sandwich?"
But Rachel isn't hungry. Suddenly
much younger, she's into a sing-a-long
learned years ago from Barney,
that lavender dinosaur on TV:
"I love you, you love me," she chants, picks
a big, green apple. She takes a bite,
and it's bitter; then, she takes another.

NYACK, NY,  1/29/02

The temperature holds near seventy; a shirt-sleeved crowd
gathers at Memorial Park to consider the river, toss aloft scraps
to gulls in mid-afternoon. The men of Cool Breeze Mechanical
take a long lunch. No desperation calls for heat today or air,
they munch pizza at leisure, and prepare for summer's arrival.
Local kids are shooting hoops, and every swing is swinging

in the playground as two guitar strummers huddle on a picnic table
and stumble through their skittery repertoires. Even Nickel Joe
stops poking for bottles awhile to grin. I've come to wash away
some days I regret in brackish water. Something awkward
gnaws at the phoenix heart that trembles my chest. Why ever
blessed in the aftermath, that spiny wreath of last year I'll toss
away as I can. The black lab chases the Frisbee, comes back, chases

the Frisbee, comes back—no end, it seems, to his enthusiasm,
his devotion. And now lovers have come to the quiet gazebo to whisper.
On New Year's Eve, I watched fireworks set this skyline ablaze.
I stood outside the bar in blue cold with regulars, cradled a delicate
flute of bubbles in my fingers. We were thinking of towers,
and how change had come. We wished together it meant an early spring.


Afternoons they often wandered through malls,
and he held in his hands small objects of growing
      desire.  One time, a purple Duncan Yo-Yo,
      then a plastic revolver that spat diaphanous

      streams of tap water.  Today, he might have chosen
      the yellow Tonka dump truck or screaming red
fire engine, but instead picked the crop duster
because battery-powered propellers spun at the flick

of his finger.  For months now, wanting to keep him
in a safer place than home, his grandmother has taken
      the child away each time her only son’s anger scorched
      the thin fabric of his marriage–always it seemed just

      as it had been ironed again to threadbare smoothness.
      She sips cherry Coke while he sprawls over
simple patterns sewn into her new Persian rug.
When has it been easier to love one’s own

hidden scars?  The boy grown bored, tired
flaying back room air with his toy, begins
      to complain, says the plane just goes and goes
      but never takes off.  He wants to see it fly.


Down on Main Street, the guy who owns Pizza Boutique
has bought out River Antiques
to open a family restaurant. Word in town has it that he's
got designs on Molly's, which
would rankle me—man doesn't smile, never acknowledges
my desire: "easy on the cheese."
Today I order a pie with grilled veggies, "easy on the cheese,"
head to Molly's for a quick pop,
maybe three. The barstool feels fine, like my ass tethers one
world to another, one life to hundreds
who've swivelled this seat, knocked back smoky shot glasses
of bourbon, felt heat course into
their flabby but always-hungry stomachs. Molly's sympathetic,
still easy on my eyes, and my ass
is reluctant; as I spin from the perch, lurch for the door,
it puckers up in an effort at tightness,
tries mightily to overcome the gravity of mozzarella.

John Hoppenthaler
John Hoppenthaler's poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Ploughshares, Southern Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, McSweeney's, Tar River Poetry, Pleiades, 5 AM, and the anthologies September 11, 2001: American Writers Respond, Chance Of A Ghost, Wild, Sweet Notes II: More West Virginia Poetry, Blooming Through the Ashes, and elsewhere. Poetry editor of Kestrel, his first book is Lives Of Water (Carnegie Mellon UP, 2003).



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