The Innisfree Poetry Journal
by Larry Moffi
The plastic eyes of the Indian maiden
clock on the wall glow and click
the minutes away, a cold indelible blue.
She has been sneering generations
of revenge down on me for hours,
her pendulum's quiver of arrows
tipped with steel her people forged
in the fires of my dream. I remember
trying to count cubes of lamb
in a stew, the tender carrots,
chestnut meats, sprigs of fresh
mint. It felt like New Zealand,
cradle of a dell -- the green
declivities and the gangly young
girls dyeing wool for smocks
along the river's lips. Rose
was the woman beside me whose beauty
those girls, in bodies they would
never grow out of, could not bear.
What was it we were asking that
brought us to laughter? Surely
I am going to die before I dream
New Zealand again. And here, God
save me from the useless hours,
beneath a puff-ball, pastel coverlet,
in a motel room of original chintz.
Still the clock tells a naive
American time. The magic fingers
that vibrate the bed have not
yet walked off, and the box, with
its clean slot for money, calls.
Ping, their beaks blast
THE DONKEY SERENADE
February, probably . . . 1957 I would almost swear,
Joe Maize and his Chordsmen playing Hartford
"live onstage" and I am watching a man punch
a woman bloody through the driver-side window
of a green Buick Roadmaster in the parking lot
behind the old State Theater. How does she hold
on so long, or why, tires shrieking from the alley
onto Front Street, as in the movies, though the sound
registers a pain impenetrable as song itself. By
the entrance marked Stage Door, above a sewer grating's
indifferent warmth, a few sleepy, tuxedoed musicians
huddle on break for air or to smoke. “Show business,”
one of them offers.
Then each of us
came in from the cold and I listened from the dark
wings to their signature piece, The Donkey Serenade,
slight Joe himself a curious, off-beat rendition
of Sinatra and Crosby combined. I won't argue
they were not loved as that poor woman or stunk
worse than hell as that son-of-a-bitch in the Buick.
They were good enough. I wanted to know what drove
them to a life turning the gift of music into
a comedy act they managed to make work,
even on television's more popular variety shows,
Toast of the Town among them. Eventually,
like every other great and mediocre combo and quartet,
the Chordsmen broke apart. The music no longer held
and the sight-gags died and Joe's electric guitar
lost its resolute twang. One by one the happy chordsmen
went away into different lives far offstage. Two,
including my cousin Johnny, the one on the accordion
and with the bad "rug" styled for the time, opened
restaurants having learned much about food on the road.
Mr. Joe Maize, I've been told, ran for mayor somewhere
in Jersey and won and kept on winning.
I own the record
they cut forty years ago on the Decca label. A demo,
it has its place among Elvis and Shirley Ellis and Jimmy Soul,
among Doc Starkes and his Nite Riders, The Champs
and The Crystals, Glenn Miller and Billy Eckstine
and dozens of 45s I've never bothered to throw away. I play
them in my head on occasion. Sweet Apple Cider, Two Faces
Have I, The Donkey Serenade. What's the difference?
Still the credits scroll down on all of them, somewhat cloudy
and out of focus through the eight-inch tv screen, a blizzard
of who's who and how and what, while a melody circles and crackles
and fades, and a gay señorita gives her burro his lead
and doesn't seem to care how song becomes air.
You sway in the virtue of yellow today
Where once you fought civility to belong.
Does it matter now you were never welcome
Long after every Mum bastard turned to straw?
Two brown sparrows weave a nest
in the rain gutter above my study.
Ferocious, dedicated, they work
through morning's awful heat
hauling the salt hay I let go
rancid through winter, spring.
inside the worn tin trough,
the effort growing round and
firm and deeper by degrees. They
will know when they are done.
Even as I want to rest they claw
the span of drought above. Yes,
torrents will break upon the cove
they trust their lives within. What
comes by chance does not flee, nor
can we command it from the mind.
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