Sadness and other poems by George Franklin
I talk about sadness as though she were a dinner guest
Who’s overstayed her welcome. It’s one in the morning and
She’s still here chattering about philosophy, asking for more wine.
I talk about sadness as though she were cleaning windshields
At a stoplight, pleading for quarters or, better still, dollar bills.
She is persistent, it’s true, and undeterred by switching off the light.
But, I know I’ve got it all wrong about sadness. She waits
On my bookshelf to be taken down and opened. She’s patient
And oddly reassuring. She says she’ll always be here
After everyone else isn’t. She’ll go for walks with me
And observe the formation of clouds, how tree limbs are shaped
By the wind. She’ll remind me to bring a scarf.
The problem with waves is there are too many of them.
The salt foam only lasts a second, smell of soiled
Sheets, an ancient petri dish filled with angel spawn,
Diogenes’s lamp in the midday glare shines
Without significance. Zarathustra announced
Its arrival, body of a lion and face of
William Butler Yeats, his glasses askew
In desert sand, Lawrence of Arabia blowing up
Railroad tracks, escaping in a Bugatti with
Isadora, a long scarf. One day my heart beat
Differently. I was the cuckold in a fabliau,
A pilgrim without going anywhere, a Lombard
Foot soldier captured by Saracens. Byzantium
Conspired against me, and all the stoplights turned
Red at my approach. I couldn’t help but imagine
Your bodies pressed together, sweat on your nipples,
The camera panning to the window, the darkened
Suburban street. Afterwards, you take a shower.
Due to the Generosity of the Emperor
Senators in white robes watched from
Galleried seats while a Nubian lion rushed
At a bear from Gaul, or a man rushed against
Another man—subtle differences of equipment
And skill, force against metal and flesh—
They could smell the blood from the stadium’s
Highest rows—women with gold earrings
And hennaed hair bit into sausages, took
Long mouthfuls of sweetened wine. The sun
Was never so bright, and later
When they went to the baths, the Senators
Felt themselves grow hard in the water,
Knowing they had seen something real.
The grotesque is not a category of our lives. We
Never imagine ourselves with mouths open, staring
From the stone facade of a cathedral, pigeon
Wings draped like laurel across our skulls.
In the campo, the bearded statue of a novelist,
Unknown to me, watches sternly the adolescents
Sprawled across his steps—cigarettes and
Cell phones dangling loose and eyes looking
Everywhere but at each other. They wear
Their hearts on their t-shirts and, when the
Shadows of palazzi and tourist hotels lean over
Their heads, drift away to cafes and drinks.
I can see light spreading from the piano nobile
That looks onto the canal—a reception for
A visiting film director or other luminary. Well-
Dressed women and their uncomfortable men
Walk up the steps. I see you standing by a shop
Window, considering an album of hand-made paper.
I want to take your hand and walk with you
Back through the courtyard of our building, past
Iron gates and doors with unfamiliar keys, fold back
The bedspread and compare memory with the smell
Of your hair, the shape of your hips and
Calves, your thighs that open to me, while
From the window we hear the splash of water,
Footsteps, and voices. None of this will ever
Happen. We are not in Italy, and what was between us
Will not be repeated. Memory is both baroque
And cruel, and I am like that gargoyle,
My mouth locked open, staring.
On Sundays there are omelets, the chatter
Of eggs against the bowl and coffee grounds
Forming maps of Yemen and the Gulf—foreheads
Bent over plates and napkins, advertisements
For clothing no longer in style.
A moving hand writes and having writ,
Stops. Weighed, weighed, and unsurprisingly
Found wanting. If you remember voting machines
And cake sales, click “like.” If you remember
Thucydides, you are probably dead.
Prophet, how many lean years will follow
The fat ones? A cloudless sky in winter—
I touch the window expecting pain,
Spread refugees on my muffin.
About the author:
George Franklin may have multiple employment disorder: once upon a time a New England academic, he now practices law from a penthouse office on Miami Beach, teaches writing courses in Florida state prisons, teaches yoga classes when he’s not taking yoga classes, and then stays up at night writing poetry. When people ask him what he does, it takes him a minute. His poems have been published in Salamander, The Ghazal Page, The Threepenny Review, The Quarterly, and Verse, and his criticism in ELH.