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14th Anniversary Edition, Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Volume One Nov-Dec 2023.
Assembly Day (1959), poems by Alan Walowitz.
Assembly Day (1959)
We knew our place–
first by class, then by size, smallest first
Boys, white shirts, red ties,
at rear-door left,
girls–mysterious creatures—on the right
in skirts and white blouses.
Eyes straight ahead now, Young Men,
though eager for some grab-ass,
and desperate to crane our necks and check
to see who on the other line
might be wearing a bra
for this Friday occasion.
But they, who taught us manners before all,
gathered between us at the center door
to block our view, stem puberty’s onset,
long as possible, as was their other calling,
and, at last, their orders:
soon as God’s deputies here on earth
in their black, lace-up spinster-shoes
heard the strains of The Marine Corps Hymn,
deemed us finally in place, of serious enough mien,
and then, and only then,
From deep inside a message,
from where a message seldom comes.
I mistake it for the sound of waves,
barely discernible, when I bend to this shell,
and, anyway, too far away to be of comfort,
the false-rumor of insistent lapping.
Or the breakers walloping the shore it means to make clean,
more like a Mayday from a ship in a bottle–
you have to strain to listen:
This is not your body
though you might live in it, pretend to be content,
a creature without shape.
Conditions here were always variable, you admit,
the joists loose and the frame swaying in the wind.
And, then, come the sterner warnings,
like a dunning notice:
the rent is past due, papers about to be served.
Can’t this be fixed? the questions ring down to the hollows
where the joints no longer come together clean,
even when properly greased.
Can’t an arrangement be cobbled together,
the way adults talk in hushed tones among themselves
so the children can’t hear?
Or let a work-order be submitted–
so plans might be made, parts ordered,
a permit obtained from the proper authorities.
Truth is, I’m holding on to you like a lifeline
and you suggest–so cruel–it might be anyone who just paddles by.
Maybe better to have latched on to a rope
that would sooner burn my hands as save me.
At the Poetry Reading
It’s poetry, so the crowd is thin–
more worn and older than last time.
It’s another hot day getting nearer the solstice
and a few take seats at the ends of rows,
so they don’t have far to go
when they have to go.
One lady, old–my age–seems bewildered,
having only wandered into the library
to get out of the sun.
She turns to me quizzically. I whisper,
Poetry reading. She nods and decides to stay.
Maybe it’s the free coffee, though so far only a battered pot,
a jar of instant, and an old Cremora
its insides requiring a sharp instrument
to urge some of the chemicals loose.
And someone forgot the sugar,
so one of the assembled
rustles up some Sweet’N Low from her purse.
And there are donut holes pre-wrapped for safety,
four to a pouch. The emcee comes forward,
describes our intention, our raison d’etre,
how poetry is the life-force,
and, while he’s at it, mentions this summer heat and global warming,
and how we’ve all got to do our part
whatever that is. But a mic’s
only good as the speaker’s willingness to talk into it
and he’s a poet-type unused to such conveniences.
He’s nice enough, but doesn’t rhyme,
and he should speak up:
the lady takes her tote, stands to leave.
Hey, I tell her, I’m next. I have some poems,
as if this should have been encouragement.
She says–and not unkindly–
Can’t stay, but I’m sure your mother would be very proud.
© Alan Walowitz
Alan Walowitz is a Contributing Editor at Verse-Virtual, an Online Community Journal of Poetry. His chapbook, Exactly Like Love, comes from Osedax Press. The full-length, The Story of the Milkman and Other Poems, is available from Truth Serum Press. From Arroyo Seco Press, is the chapbook In the Muddle of the Night, written with poet Betsy Mars. Most recently, The Poems of the Air is available for free download from Red Wolf Editions.