JACOB M. APPEL - POEMS
THAT LAST GOOD SUMMER
That last good summer
How busy we all seemed
Mama directing Our Town
At the summer stock
And Father atop the ladder
With a brandy snifter
Declaiming bits of Auden
Or Father on the deck
(Slippers, cable-knit sweater)
Narrating Pickett’s Charge
To the geese and squirrels
In the raucous gloaming
While Uncle Charles
Routed himself at checkers
That was your summer
Home from Vassar,
Your underlining summer,
Those battered classics
Bleeding with ink. How
Your eyes raged when
Little Emma sailed
To the Lighthouse in
Her bath until it bloated.
You conjured plans
While the twins nursed
Their crippled grackle
And Cousin Philip
Netted that garter snake
He left in the postbox
And what did I do?
Yes, what did I do?
A whole long summer
When we never managed
To repaint the wainscoting
We did not drive the coast
Nor wind the longcase clock.
That promised photo
A whole long summer
And we failed to stop
Time even once.
SELLING A COFFIN TO BETTY GRABLE
In my concern you only meet folks twice
We hope they’re pleased—but don’t accept returns
Our caskets are bespoke, you understand
Or for a price we sell designer urns
So when Miss Grable rang the counter bell
I introduced her to my teenage sons
And later told them how her fabled gams
Had kept my buddies firing their guns
Of course she’d aged somewhat over the years
A muslin wrap skirt veiled her vaunted shape
Yet I still charged her at a discount rate
For glossed mahogany with velvet drape
When we next met I peeked beneath the hem
Of her gown without permission
A lifetime’s chance for me—and what harm done
To Miss G in her condition?
Yes old enough to be your dad I am
Your granddad if I’d started in my prime
Though we’d no start at all, my ex and I
Then years slipped by and—Anyway, you’re here
Feel free to make yourself at home, my boy,
Draw up a chair! No, anyone but that--
And tell me how you plan to use your time
And what you hope to do with your degree
And all those lies: Malaria you’ll cure,
Alzheimer’s too. Or represent the poor
In courts across the god-forsaken land.
Speak Norse, read Greek, translate Harappan script
To Hmong. Remind me which Olympic team
You led—about those kids you kept afloat
While hardly knowing how to swim yourself--
Those circles that you squared, those giants felled--
Cold fusion in a bottle, is that right?
I’d thought them lightning bugs—’tis just as well.
I’ve heard it all before. And dreamed it too.
You think you’re such a cut above the rest?
That no one else had ever thought he might
Transform the world? Or make a lasting mark
Upon something somewhere?
That chair will do.
Please set aside the books.
The girl who fell down the well.
That’s where my brother retreats,
Behind the tempered glass partition,
Serving a year short one day
For financial offenses he won’t accept
And I cannot explain. He fishes
For her name. Other subjects
We have fast exhausted.
Do you remember how we all watched?
Fifty-eight hours, he says, the nation
Holding its breath. And didn’t they
Send a contortionist down, or a cop
Born without collar bones? He invokes
Samantha Smith, but she’s the apple-cheeked
Brunette who melted Andropov’s frown at ten
And fell out of the heavens three years later.
Along the way I penned her love notes,
Recopied to perfection under flashlight beams,
Stashed inside a drawer for lack of courage.
At the end of our minutes, the guards return:
We’re still struck on the well-child’s ordeal.
Once I fantasized of saving the girl myself,
Clavicles and all, but who am I to defy
The clammy depths for a stranger’s child
When I can hardly brave my own brother?
He remains the sort of guy
To shove a young girl down a well
In order to effectuate her rescue.
I know the name. Jessica McClure. I do not share.
On his breath, it might easily have been mine.