Morning in Portland and other poems by George Franklin
Orange peels on the plate, broken curls
Of skin, scent of trees from Morocco,
Spain, or somewhere else, somewhere other
Than here on this smoke-gray morning in
Maine. The sounds of tires on pavement, of
Exhaust pipes sputtering downhill—why
This fear of expectations? Isn’t
The scattered loveliness of this life
Enough for you? Yesterday, you felt
Old, your children accelerating
Into jobs and children of their own.
You sat in a park beneath trees you
Didn’t recognize, staring at dogs
And middle-aged men napping in the
Afternoon sunlight, and considered
How innocent we are, how much the
World ignores us, how winter doesn’t
Need permission to fade into spring,
How these 19th century brick buildings
Outlasted the people who built them.
Today, you’ll sit uncomfortably
In a plane and doze until you’re back
In Florida, where the seasons aren’t
As obvious when they change, where you’ll
Hold a woman to your chest and try
As hard as you can to make time stop.
Outside in Portland, it starts to rain.
Road Trip, 1976
Days of driving across country, a coyote
Glimpsed running across the highway, a truck stop
In Pecos, Texas late at night, ominous customers
And undrinkable coffee—when I was younger
All this felt exciting: real deserts, real mountains,
Gasoline fumes blown away by the wind. Everything
Real except me. Whoever I was, I hadn’t been, and
Whoever I would be, I wasn’t yet. In Albuquerque,
The dog ran out in the street and was hit by a car.
He survived, but I had to carry him downstairs at the motel
For days. I fed him hamburgers from MacDonald’s
And begged him to live. He did, but was always
A little crazy after that, jumping through closed windows
To chase squirrels, occasionally biting my friends.
I never did the camping I set out to do that year. Instead,
I worked for a few months in LA, developing pictures
In a graphics lab, smelling of chemicals, and never
Seeing daylight. The house where I stayed had no
Air conditioning, so I spent evenings driving the
Freeways, just to stay cool. There were small earthquakes,
But I slept through them. Finally, I drove back east,
Without having gone to the beach or having seen the
La Brea tar pits. I did train the dog not to run out in the street,
But he was never what you’d call obedient. And, whoever
I was then is hard to remember now. The man who drove
Back through the fog and pine trees in Wyoming shares
My name and fingerprints, but not much else. I got
On with my life: work, school, kids, the end of two
Marriages, hundreds of thousands of miles driven,
But none of that happened to him. He stayed somewhere
Between Des Moines and Chicago, left behind
At a gas station.
For Ximena Gomez
The fly on the rim of the glass
Cannot free himself, dried liquor
Stuck to his legs and wings.
The smell of anise smothering
His senses. Too heavy to fly,
He moves like a drunkard, trying
To walk on the edge between
The abyss on one side, and on the other.
(As Szymborska would say, surrounded.)
I watch him struggle for a while
And think of playing God with the tip
Of a pencil. I decide not to, but not
Playing God is the same as playing.
All the fly knows is the clear ridge,
A trap transparent in all respects,
Alcohol and licorice clotting his
Straw-like tongue, his feet—a sweet,
Burning clarity that offers no
Escape except to fall.
Whoever I thought I was I’m not,
And what we did with our lips is not
Called kissing. There is some other word
For that—our mouths pressed together,
Struggling for breath, a tourniquet tied
Around our lungs, desperate for each
Other’s skin, the taste of salt and faint
Smell of sweat, the texture of your hair
In my shaking hands, your pupils, mine,
Staring, words coming out of our mouths
That are not words, sounds that could be pain
Or some other thing, a language too
Intimate to be spoken by our
Tongues—if shadows could speak, their voices
Might cry out like this, bodies pressed hard
Against each other without boundaries.
If I was a person, now I’m not.
On the Importance of Diction
The whole way we talk about love is wrong,
That language of soft feathers and smooth
Fabric, of faux silk and caged birds, of unreal
Lips meeting, never chapped or missing
Their target. No more of that, please.
We need words that twist our shoulders, words
Like “shake,” “spasm,” “wrench,” that turn
Our bodies into misfiring engines or dangerous
Chemicals. Do not store this emotion
In an unsealed container. Kiss
Only with proper ventilation, with gasps
Of breath and corrosive touch. I want
To read your breasts with my mouth,
A blind man deciphering braille.
The sound of the plumbing in the wall next
To your bedroom reminds me we are not alone.
Above us, a figure walks on an uncarpeted floor,
Pacing out a map of the future, his fears—I think
It is a man because the footsteps are heavy. I saw
The woman next door in the hallway, tall, coming
Back from the gym, exhausted, glistening, but
The neighbor below, who is silent, gives us
No clues, just a little cigarette smoke though
The vent in the bathroom. I dry my hands on your
Perfectly folded towels and think about how we create
Distance in the world to protect ourselves, to protect
The world we make for ourselves, our sudden embrace
As the door closes, quiet words as sleep takes us.
George Franklin finds his own life confusing. In addition to writing poetry, he practices law on Miami Beach, teaches writing in Florida state prisons, and even subs at the last minute for yoga classes. He received his MFA from Columbia, PhD from Brandeis, and JD from University of Miami. His poems have recently appeared in Vending Machine Press, Salamander, The Ghazal Page, Gulfstream, and Matter, and are forthcoming in Sheila-Na-Gig.
Good stuff, George.
very fine writing by george