men, wise and otherwise

Hmph.  He doesn’t seem much like the happily-ever-after type.

Such sentiments were shared frequently by my mother,

Expressed in tones which alternated between bemusement

And (if it happened to be one of those occasions when she was accompanied

By a six-pack of wine coolers) barely constrained anger.


Saturdays from May to October, she would pack my brother and I

(She had, as she said often and to all who would listen,

Wanted daughters) into the back of our pea-green Ford Maverick

And head toward any of the half-dozen Catholic churches

(Protestant couples, for some reason, being of no interest to her)

Which littered our down-at-the heels old mill town,

Where my mother would cast a cold eye

Upon the wedding parties exiting into the sunlight

(I remember all the days as sunny and bright,

Perhaps due to mother’s oft-uttered judgment

A cold shower might do these people some good)

As they prepared to douse the lucky couple

In a cloudburst of jubilation and rice.

She would ruefully pass judgment on the bridesmaid’s dresses,

Pronouncing them either mere fashion foibles

Or outright faux pas (though in fairness to her,

It was the era of sherbet-pastel concoctions

From fibers created by maladjusted madmen at Du Pont),

And her verdicts as to the future of the newly-minted man and wife

Were no less pointed nor optimistic, as her Bartles-and-Jaymes crystal ball

Foresaw either disappointment or outright disaster.


After bridal parties and sundry guests had departed

For the festivities at some fire hall or the Ukranian Club,

The three of us (our father, unknown and unremarked upon

Had left just days after my birth) would rumble home

In the unsteady Ford, sometimes helped along by a black-and-white

If my mother proved equally unsteady (she enjoyed the mystical protection

Afforded to drunks and madwomen) back to our apartment on Ontario Street,

Where she would carry out the rest of the day’s activities,

Most likely some combination of television and TV dinners,

In utter silence until Sunday morning, when she returned

Her particular version of normal.


The day came, of course, when our reactions to the prospect

Of watching bouquets tossed from the vantage point of a back seat

Passed from sullenness to outright defiance,

And we continued on our wobbly and ultimately unsuccessful trip

To manhood–my brother’s sojourn ending spectacularly

In a combustion-engine conflagration on a back road

Way out by the state park in Grafton

(His life a supernova waiting to happen, anyway;

He had been the drinker, the lover, the brawler),

While I have continued on–prudently, cautiously

Seeking subtler epiphanies in out-of-the way corners of libraries

And between the lines of unfashionable volumes,

Making my way home to my quiet room–slowly at that,

As I walk with a limp which, if I am in a particulary boisterous mood,

I attribute to an old football injury, although in truth it came

When I fell in the stacks at my college library,

A manifestation of my all-encompassing clumsiness.

I am at peace with myself and my solitude,

But there are nights when I find myself in the back seat,

The wedding processional having slowed to an elegiac pace,

The vibrations of the bass pedals as dense as granite,

Seeking out my ears with the relentless intensity of a murderer.


5 thoughts on “men, wise and otherwise

  1. You capture Three Lives (better than Gertrude Stein!) in such compression.

    My, you have much rich material. Some of your images are heart-breaking to me.

    The early tension seems to ease into a comfortable (?) acceptance.

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