The sewer backs up right under us downstairs—
with every flush it gargles thick black water.
The table’s decked with candles, silverware,
wedding crystal, and the tablecloth they bought her.
But fancy can’t gloss over the forced smiles,
the fact I’m not what they hoped for their daughter.
We eat in silence, pretend we don’t hear the bile
my ex wife spills out loudly over the phone,
as I contemplate the cons and cons awhile:
to be miserable together or alone?
The company includes me unawares—
we pick the carcass down to the bitter bone,
together swallowing our oaths and prayers,
while the sewer backs up under us downstairs.
“Is this some terrible trend?” our young new
assistant editor asked. “All these incest
poems and stories sent for our next issue!”
It’s older than Oedipus, I thought, shocking
as Electra, these forbidden family
secrets that should have remained private,
those dark places people put their privates,
as if we could possibly put them someplace new.
Even sex with those not strictly family
(step-siblings, in-laws) glistens with that incestuous
thrill, boy-meets-girl with extra shock,
these kids towing U-hauls of family issues.
At some point, though, I feel I must take issue.
The personal needn’t bleed into the private.
After years in the biz, it doesn’t shock.
As if to make it deep and dark and new
we need to lace a work with themes of incest,
but no matter how screwed up our families,
it doesn’t mean we have to screw our families
and hock like shiny trinkets our shabby issues.
We succumb to that tempting strain of incest,
as if so great a theme frees us from our private
little angsts, as if the merely true or new
makes Great Art or rescues us from shock-
therapy. Sometimes the stories transcend shock
when those same recycled genes kept in the family
for generations create some monstrous new
species—the mutant DNA that issues
from the loins and then gets shut in private
rooms or attics. Oh, but enough of incest.
This business is already too incestuous.
That editors publish our friends (oh shock!)
who are also editors, who in our private
hours spend time with each others’ families,
and then turn up in one another’s issues,
should hardly come as something new.
So send to our upcoming issue: make it shock like new,
make privates public if you must, but, please,
if you insist on incest, keep it in the family.
It ain’t enough to want to rule da woild.
Da woild must love or hate me as it can,
though all me schemes result in coises, foiled
again. I make heroes’ capes flap unfoiled—
without me they’d never test their wingspan.
It ain’t enough to want to rule da woild.
Each day I take the sewahs to woik. Get soiled.
In my underground lab I goiminate plans
though every one is coised to be foiled.
Nevah ovah-easy, I was boin hard-boiled.
I vote Democrat, for da common man,
but after I’ve begun to rule da woild,
tasted silvaweah, Champagne, been spoiled,
then of course I’ll vote Republican.
Yeah, shewah. All me schemes are coised, foiled.
It ain’t for powah or glory I’ve toiled
but love, or at least hate, from my fellowman.
It ain’t enough to want to rule da woild
when even my coises are forevah foiled.
The alarm clock rips us out of our sleep,
torn from dreams forgotten in first light
as we fumble toward clothes tossed in a heap.
This cold morning, since your car won’t work,
I’m taking you to your stupid job. Last night,
we fell asleep, both exhausted from work,
earlier than our parents, holding each other
without fucking, more like sister and brother.
The one car working strains, starts with a cough.
The folks on NPR are too cheery, campy
for this gray hour, so we flip them off.
“How you feeling?” I ask. “Oh, bad. Crampy,”
you say, considering the world in which we’d raise
a child of ours, these blanched and brittle days.
As such, two lovers part at dawn.
I watch you walk to the doors for them to bilk
you out of eight more hours, going, gone,
the sky behind you the color of spoiled milk.
In 1970, when then-president Richard Nixon returned from China, he brought back home more than just a press secretary recovering from appendicitis . . . the youth culture of the day absorbed Eastern Philosophy faster than McDonald’s cheeseburgers. . . .
—from the internet site heartlandhealing.com
Cadillac cuts through
satin wheat field, JUST DIVORCED
soaped on back windshield.
Black roofs lick the sun
like an orange sucker. Hurry—
curl under dead leaves, hot pink
pages burning red.
whip across the parking lot,
bloom in the bare bush.
Richard Newman is the author of the poetry collection Borrowed Towns (Word Press, 2005) and several poetry chapbooks, including Monster Gallery: 19 Terrifying and Amazing Monster Sonnets! (Snark Publishing, 2005). His poems, stories, and essays, have most recently appeared in American Life in Poetry, Best American Poetry 2006, Boulevard, Crab Orchard Review, Poetry Daily, StoryQuarterly, The Sun, Tar River Poetry, 32 Poems, and many other periodicals and anthologies. He lives in the Soulard neighborhood of St. Louis and edits River Styx.