John Philip Drury – Ode to a Bureau Chief

Drury LE P&W March 2024

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing March 2024.

Ode to a Bureau Chief, poems by John Philip Drury.

Ode to a Bureau Chief

I threw away the letter you sent me,
declining to sponsor our FBI club, a brainstorm
for my gang of would-be detectives, grade-schoolers drunk
on your forensics lab, the wanted posters (enclosed by you),
and the street-front where agent trainees looked
for cut-out figures to pop up in windows, doorways,
and then Think fast—Do I shoot?—Oh no, a housewife!
No, a child!—Too late now, wish I’d missed—
Oh-no, Ma Barker got me with her tommy gun!

Not really a G-man, since they had to stage
your arrest of Alvin Karpis, agents serving him up
for you to collar. You qualify as a B-man:
B for bureaucrat, B for bigot, who
wiretapped and tailed, harassed and hounded
Paul Robeson and Martin Luther King.
Do we know you from the Clint Eastwood film—
cross-dressing at parties, the partner you kissed?
Gayness almost redeems you, but hypocrisy ruins it.

You’re dead now (yay!) but not forgotten (boo!).
Blackmailer with a badge to enforce his grudges.
Cop who never walked a beat. Censor of divergent thought.
I did end up an investigator, after all. Thanks
for not sponsoring our club. Or tracking my activities.
I’ve put you on my Most Unwanted List.


We know it means “Go slow,” the tempo mark,
but it refers, literally, to walking,
an easy-going pace, not rushed, not sluggish.
As Ammons says, “A poem is a walk,”
and inspiration comes from moving feet,
the groove of strolling through a neighborhood.

Praise to the dog for taking me on walks!
At first, the puppy seemed too reverent
to piss or shit outside, to make a mess
on grass, but soon he learned to feel at home
with nature, like a true Wordsworthian.

We both relieve ourselves in different ways.
For me, a walk expels the numbing static
that crackles in my mind. It helps tune in
the distant signals on that radio.

More sociable than any social network,
dog-walking unites the peripatetics
who know the dogs’ names, not each other’s,
finding nature within the city limits,
regularity making them receptive
to noticing the secrets in plain sight—
a hawk, swooping from gingko to the crown
of a bare oak, a sparrow fleeing into
the mouth-hole of a mask nailed to a trunk
in a yard full of terracotta faces.

The ritual gives me a good excuse
to meditate and clean up excrement,
knowing the tasks are complementary.
And our Italian Greyhound, tugging the leash,
is so excited to run into his friends
and frolic through their yard, while I converse
with neighbors who are digging holes for saplings.

The dog goes cruising like a motorboat,
exultant in the breeze and then the calm
that settles when he stops to sniff the grass.
I turn around and follow the trees’ progress,
happy the fallen leaves are still unraked—
a beach that’s rich in conchs and mother-of-pearl.

Days in Key West

Awake, I walk a balcony of dreams
over a courtyard’s tendrilled net of leaves,
zigzagging, knowing the sea’s on the other side
of hotel doors. Palm trees have broken through
the canopy of blue-sky vines. Below,
the elevator opens. I proceed
under dangling blossoms, a garden that gives
delight by hanging above where a walker roams.

No labyrinth. It’s easy to get out.
Who wants to, though, with beauty so outré
and so immured, like thought. Yet I emerge,
attracted to a dock at the end of the street:
a crane unloading pilings from a barge.
Next day, a heron’s idling on the quay.

© John Philip Drury

John Philip Drury is the author of five books of poetry: The Disappearing Town and Burning the Aspern Papers (both from Miami University Press), The Refugee Camp (Turning Point Books), Sea Level Rising (Able Muse Press), and The Teller’s Cage, which will be published by Able Muse Press in January 2024. He has also written Creating Poetry and The Poetry Dictionary, both from Writer’s Digest Books. His awards include an Ingram Merrill Foundation fellowship, two Ohio Arts Council grants, a Pushcart Prize, and the Bernard F. Conners Prize from The Paris Review for “Burning the Aspern Papers.”

He was born in Cambridge, Maryland, and grew up in Bethesda, raised by his mother and a former opera singer she called her cousin but secretly considered her wife. (His book about them, Bobby and Carolyn: A Memoir of My Two Mothers, will be published by Finishing Line Press in August 2024.) After dropping out of college and losing his draft deferment during the Vietnam War, he enlisted in the Army to learn German and served undercover in the West German Refugee Camp near Nuremberg. He used benefits from the GI Bill to earn degrees from Stony Brook University, the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins, and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. After teaching at the University of Cincinnati for 37 years, he is now an emeritus professor and lives with his wife, fellow poet LaWanda Walters, in a hundred-year-old house on the edge of a wooded ravine.

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