The Innisfree Poetry Journal

by Louis McKee

Black wing tips, the shoes
my father was married in,
rented, and never returned,
a sin he gloried in, much
the way I celebrate
The Babe Ruth Story, a book
I checked out of the library
in nineteen fifty-eight,
and which, for one reason
or another, is still shelved
in a place of honor in my den.
My father's shoes were all
I took from his home the night
he died; they sit on the floor
of the closet in the spare room;
Today I gave then a spit-shine,
buffed them with an old chamois.
The book was due December 28th,
the feast of the Holy Innocents.
One of these days I'm going to
take it down and read it.
I used to think if anyone went over the wall
it should have been Sister Donna Michelle,
young, pretty, with breasts she couldn't hide,
even in the heavy folds of a blue habit,
under the starched white wimple, and fat beads.
"Over the wall," what my parents would whisper
about priests and nuns who suddenly went missing;
"transferred," they told us, even about the young one
who disappeared with CYO money and the cheerleading coach,
one of the worst kept secrets of the neighborhood.
Years later, a thousand miles away, I met a priest
I knew from the parish back home‚"once a priest,
always a priest‚" but he and his wife were teaching
at the University I chose to escape to halfway across the country,
and in the union cafeteria one day I shook
his hand, anointed hand, and remembered
and pretended to forget and they said I had to
come over to their place some night for dinner,
to talk about the good old days, the old neighborhood,
but we parted after only a few minutes, and
without exchanging addresses, or even a single word of truth.

Cleanliness is next to Godliness,
it comes into my head as I shower,
the heat and grit of another day
running in rivulets for the drain.
This is as naked as I'm likely to get,
a good time, I guess, for confession,
soaping my hands, washing away their sins,
rubbing the sudsy cloth over my face.
My eyes have sinned, yes, so burning
is fair, and if it doesn't taste good,
perhaps I should have thought of that
before I said the things I did.
My soaped up hands take care of what
they can, giving extra attention
to cock and balls—where they've been,
what they've done . . . .   God would be proud
of how I clean up, although I'm not sure
he'd look too kindly on all that extra attention.
I held your breast, my hand
cupping the all of it,
my fingers made much of your nipples—
that was how we spent
our last night in Lake Bluff;
sleeping late, the lake
never more blue, taking
the sun and the sweet Illinois air,
the song of the loosestrife along the roadside,
leaving us a sad emptiness and memories.
All day I've been going through the house
touching this and that, setting
things right, straightening up
like a careless thief.  I think
everything looks fine, but I know
I've left clues, fingerprints everywhere.
Someone who cared could tell
I was here, I'd left my mark.
This house was my place, no doubt about it.
If ever they come to you,
to dust your breast, you know, don't you,
there will be no denying it?
This is the reason today
for the quiet smile on my face.
The river is the place to flex your muscles.  
Rowers work their sculls toward the bridge
while the sound of metal weights comes clanging
from the boathouse where their teammates are
lifting and laughing and the path beside the street
is busy with runners working up a sunny afternoon sweat.
It takes two buses and ninety minutes to get here,
but once the weather breaks it's time to train,
and today I've brought along Mr. Emerson; he and I will sit
in the fresh greeny grass between the rowers and runners.
The heavier the book, and the more reps,
the quicker the road to success.

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