Martin Galvin

The woman who had a house for sale
Had been kissed once by Emmett Kelly
And had not forgotten.  The fact is, she said,
She didn't like it at all, the winged lips
Glossed over with balm, the greased cheek
Pressed against hers, the cheery cherry nose.
She told her mother so, her father too
When he got home.  He gave her seven dollars
To forget it, said it was the way of clowns.
A clown'd jump in a woman's lap and buzz
Her and her daughter too, and smile even as
He thought he saw the trapeze artist miss.
That's why, the woman said, the asking price
Is firm and she will seal it with a kiss.

The one my girlfriend hasn't yet recovered from had mirrors
That swelled her body as it shrunk her head, let her tongue
slide out of a witch's mouth to lap her up
if she didn't move.  When she lengthened,  her head
narrowed the way a pine did in her favorite woods
then let her go into the next darkness, a dreamdread
where fingers swiped at her ankles, her legs,  arms,
where something green whispered hot breaths on her neck.
She screamed for her life, the way an infant does, gasping,
Laughing, hungry and loosed at last for who knows what.
A birthing place, this Fun House with its dark rooms,
Then sounds, whispers that feathered her blood,
Deep-throated guttering beyond what she knew as reason,
screams that set her to a dance she knew no human danced.
She's my best pal still,  knows her way around our town
Better than the mailman, better than the river.
I like to follow her when she's out to have some fun.
I take notes, hoping I'll have the words some day.

Circumferential obstacles:
Flung petticoats, flung frocks,
the text the Reverend left folded in
his waistcoat pocket, bleached.
You listen to the roundness
Agitators take to bring things clean,

You've come to understand machines--
and love them in a certain way
then invent a better way to hear
the Wheel.  A couple of coins,
all that you need.  Circumference days.
The stiff gray grime of morning stars.
All circle utterly and reappear
As sodden and bright as birth.
Your father wears flatiron frowns
for Sunday's best, as though
his congregation is in need
of one old-fashioned pressing out.
You'd show him if he'd listen
of the better way of washing out,
write him poems to tumble dry
his flock of smelly sheep,

save them some time and him some grief.
50 cents and 30 minutes. Neat.
 TIMED TESTS                 
 So the teach he gives me marching orders:  Seize.
 So I do and I get that day by the throat
 and I shake him as hard as my daddy did
 his pocket watch when it was running late.
 I shake him good and plenty    
 watching the seconds fall out, then the minutes
 like false teeth do their little dance
 around my shoes before they're still at last,
 the end of another mouthful of time and space.
 When the teach says Do, I do.  It's how
 he got to be so smart.  Soon enough, hours
 start dropping like rocks off the overpass,
 like teeth, one, two, then a whole dozen of them
 clnking on the linoleum floor which,
 for mothers, is always too new to have hours
 clunked onto and she's going to have a fit
 conniption about the damage eight o'clock
 did to the spot in front of the fridge where all
 her friends  think to look first thing for what
 they say is praise-purposes but we know
 has to do with being a woman in another's kitchen.
 By spring,  I'm full in fever with the grades
 I'm not racking up when I listen to the teach
 so I really seize the month by the neck,
 rocking those diems around ferocious hard,
 the hours splintering into minutes I grind
 under my boot that doesn't need a teach
 to tell me I pass.  I can go on.  And time
 need not stop itself for good, the way my daddy's did
 the day the mother sewed his watchpocket up tight.

Martin Galvin
Martin Galvin has had poems in The Atlantic Monthly, Poetry, The New Republic, JAMA, Commonweal, The Christian Science Monitor, Midwest Review, OntheBus, and many others. His book Wild Card won the Columbia Award (1989) judged by Howard Nemerov.



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