A Zinc-Colored Shirt
You claim I’d look more myself
in a zinc-colored shirt. Not
light gray, but galvanized pure
molten zinc. Braving tangles
of interstate highway, I drive
to the shop you’ve specified.
Instead of a conventional door,
it offers a slot through which
I’m expected to drop like third
class mail. Is a pun involved?
The shopkeeper seems to think so,
inviting me with a manly wave.
Claustrophobia forbids me
from entering such a cramped space,
so I stand on the sidewalk and shout
“Zinc-colored shirt, please” for all
the world to hear. I flash
a credit card. Five minutes later,
the slot ejects a parcel wrapped
in plain brown paper. The angle
at which it hits the sidewalk
seems non-Euclidean. The light
of the March afternoon collapses,
attempting to muffle its tears.
After an hour of wrestling traffic,
at last I unwrap the shirt,
which gleams like chain mail and fits
so absolutely I’ll never
take it off. Thank you for suggesting
such a hard metallic look.
No one will find me wimpy
droopy, or sullen in this shirt.
The buttons button too firmly,
and the breast pocket contains
a valentine from the universe,
my first exposure to love.
Black and White and Gray All Over
Down a steep muddy driveway,
the auto restorer’s garage.
A character in a film noir,
I’ll drive the ’53 Hudson
to a notorious crime scene,
then abandon it with a body
bent and stinking in the trunk.
You don’t believe this will happen,
but this plot is destined for film stock
left over from my childhood
when big men shaped like bullets
warped women with their dialogue—
a mélange of flattery and tough.
Look, this driveway is real enough
to muddy my shoes. The car
with its low windshield gleaming
in sloping afternoon sunlight
has already conveyed a corpse
or two in its long slow career.
Listen to that big engine throb,
spewing enough hydrocarbons
to fatally tilt the climate
in the course of one long road trip
from the east coast to the west,
from obscurity to stardom.
The restorer is a grimy fellow
who plays many casual roles
in his own life and others’.
Didn’t you have an affair with him
a year or two before your birth?
As I drive away, he returns
to the shadows and folds like a bat.
At the top of the driveway you stand
with folded arms, rebuking me
for adopting this alternative life—
so grainy and underexposed
we hardly recognize each other
except as exigent forms.
© Luigi Cazzaniga:
Desperate young men scour the streets of Lowell for a glimpse of Jack Kerouac. They want
to walk around Kearney Square calling his name. They want to visit the Pawtucket Social
Club where Kerouac Senior managed the bowling alley. They want Jack to appear in his
childhood holding his father’s hand.
They want to spot Jack buying a six-pack at Lowell Provision Company at West 6th and Aiken Streets,
Centralville. They want to overhear Jack praying in Our Lady of Lourdes grotto. They want
to visit his grave in Edson Cemetery and find Allen Ginsberg squatting on it, waving his
favorite part. They want to walk past 9 Lupine Road and hear the infant Ti Jean crying.
They know Jack won’t show up. Still, they linger on the bridge above Pawtucket
Falls. Admire the long Boott Mills block of weathered brick. Eat lunch at Arthur’s
Paradise Diner, on Bridge Street. Then a tour of the other houses Kerouac occupied,
however briefly: 16 Phebe Avenue, 34 Beaulieu Street, 66 West Street. Then maybe a drink
in a brown and drowsy bar where no one had known their hero. Maybe that’s enough for
one day, the November dark falling in thick and dusty folds
To Write a Painting
A big exposed root growing around and cuddling a boulder. Did the glacier deliberately
drop this erratic here so the tree could claim it? The ancient Chinese painters would have
loved this root as an invocation of the universal creative effort. The tree would love the
ancient Chinese painters for appreciating its effort. The boulder, being object rather
than subject, would probably decline to comment, even if that were possible. I’m not
a painter and therefore not a Chinese painter, either. But I read a lot and take certain
things seriously. Like Ezra Pound’s mistaken ideas about Chinese ideographs. He made
his error into a virtue by catching the imagery, atmosphere, and mood of certain moments
of Tang dynasty elegance. I wish I had his beard, but I would hate to have his hatreds. I
used to have a shirt and vest-sweater identical to his. Wearing them didn’t make me
hate anyone, but didn’t help me understand Chinese aesthetics. Surely not as much as
this root has helped me. Look at how muscular it is. If I could cuddle a boulder this
comfortably, I might feel inspired to write a painting (as the Chinese say) oblique enough
You claim I look crucified
today, my downturn stark
and almost exemplary enough
to cancel the true religion.
Ice retains its grip on ponds
too small for serious drownings.
The brown woods lust for brushfires
to clear decades of debris.
You wonder if the latest
virus has mesmerized me,
whether expensive but useless
patent medicines apply.
They can’t heal crucifixions,
but can ease certain symptoms,
like the arthritis in my hands
and the muscle pain from walking
six miles on the rain-slick roads.
Today those nostrums won’t help,
not with my ego deflated
like last summer’s party balloon.
It’s good to humble one’s self
by comparing a sinus headache
to the rough of a crown of thorns.
It’s useful to make a fist,
despite the arthritis, and think
how a nail through the palm would feel.
But why do you see crucifixion
when you peer through my glasses
at my ordinary hazel eyes?
You know that my faith in stones
precludes a spiritual life.
You know that the shadow [stanza break]
of erasure looms behind me,
sighing and wringing its hands.
Spring bares certain body parts
for the benefit of everyone.
But I’ll stay indoors and press myself,
like a flower, into a book.
Don’t worry about my pained
and nearsighted expression.
It’s not social or political.
It’s only a disembodiment
waiting to occur in private
like plants coming up in the dark.