The phone vibrates twenty-seven times
between Beowulf and lunch. I
snap each time. Students always know.
They look at me carefully, compassionately.
I dial the number. Wait. “What, Mom?”
Labored intake: “Took you long enough.”
She says the chicken’s spicy.
She says she’s always alone.
She says no one cares if she lives.
She is my dying mother.
I listen, stare at the wall,
wait for the tears to subside.
He had it easy.
Monsters and a dragon?
When I am dead, growing in the
ground — assuming the world goes on,
assuming they don’t end the world
after I’m 80
(or, given my family history, 67) —
I want to be:
a multiple-choice test option.
Think about it! That’s the way
to make it. That’s the way to
know you matter. Who wouldn’t
want to be Archduke Ferdinand?
Sure, he’s dead, and sure,
his death was…painful.
But he is the answer to an
“Whose assassination caused
the first World War?”
He is remembered!
The test question, then — that’s important,
isn’t it? They say if you don’t ask the
right question, you won’t get the right
“Who is the greatest poet of their age?”
That was easy! It just came to me.
It’s the way I want to be remembered:
not a, but the poet —
a poet who moved women to riot
and men to tears;
who showed desire is way
better than thought;
the one who gets quoted at weddings
and funerals, chiseled on tombstones,
printed on birth announcements.
The one who freed Literature
from the puzzle-makers and
Nobody’s done that yet.
Nobody! I’ll be unique!
Okay. Calm down. This is the way to go.
Take it slow.
(I feel so much better now,
knowing what I want.)
Next...the other test options are important,
aren’t they —
almost more important than the question.
Who do I want surrounding me?
Who will share my stage?
Another conundrum! So let’s try:
B) William Shakespeare
C) Walt Whitman
D) Greg Beckman
That was easy, too. I am good at this!
They’ll all select (D), of course —
but only after much deliberation.
I want them to think,
search their souls, argue.
You can’t just give silly options,
answers easily dismissed
like Dylan Thomas or Mitsuhashi Takajo,
whose haiku softly hold my
whispering heart home,
but who Americans confuse with a car;
or Thom Gunn, who taught me
how to speak honesty
but is a cricket-chirp in Catholic schools
(that homosexual thing);
or Lorraine Hansberry —
God! Are they all gay? —
the much-taught playwright, right,
who didn’t write a stitch
of searing raw-nerve
I-can’t-get-rid-of-this-thing poetry, right?
No. Those options are quickly
crossed out. I won’t be a default.
I want students to sit
at hard-carved desks
confounded among the known greats,
those who have risen,
acceptable contenders —
and choose me.
history only enshrines the greats,
and that to be remembered —
to be studied! —
by legions of caring, sensitive schoolchildren
and objective, contemplative teachers of story
will delight my crusting corpse.
There are more poems. After this romp, I’d try something here.
Or maybe a story….here.
Except for fear,
finds a greeting,