☽ The cedar wings of remorse flap, join hands,
Imbricate their flaccid pellicles and
Sign off delight, as a hobbled toad
Would saturate its own instinct — come
Quietly to a suffered being —
And break his own hands over his head
For sadness. Complacency, she thought,
An inadequate penumbra for
This shedding salt incubus of mine,
Brachyencephalitic in its
Easily encumbered abstractions,
The artist within her at a loss
To raise anti-psychological
Objections of the sort she knew fit.
She left the bird virtually dead
At her feet, crimped the edges of
Her eyes, relaxed in the posture of
Familial obeisance and sat
Back in the room, a diorama
Incumbent with a tacit defeat.
It wouldn’t be long. Complacency!
She drank from the vase on the table,
Spit a little on the cupboard floor
And gazed at the platform ceiling through
The glazed reticence of contempt.
She had fought with, over, and against
Herself, until self-admiration
Became as explicit as daylight.
She thought of herself as a vagrant,
Or, spunkier yet, a watermill.
And later, lying prone in the silt
Afternoon, she’d forgotten to ask,
Knowing that Amanda would prove too
Much, her locks twisting in Phyllis’s
No’s, her very appearance enough.
There would be rugs to mend forever
Children would pick themselves up and cry.
Amanda’s beau would batten her eye.
Jamie would come home feeling edgy.
So she sat on the porch and thought. This.
☽ That. Reproach. Consequently. Anxious
For the air under the paint to scum.
A dachshund huddling by on a leash
Beneath a cloud in a bright blue sky.
Clearly her friends knew. Alexander
Fought clear like rabbit fur caught in a
Gin by a man chewing chewing gum.
If these are men, I’m an idea,
And the whole Vassar faculty a
Swimming pool half full — it needs cleaning!
She had all day but came back inside
Someone had thrown the air in her way.
Someone knew, someone else knew, someone!
The screen door slammed. “Mother, are you there?”
Jamie sat on his cheekbones, resting
The hams of his hands on the table.
The filling station closed. Nervously,
Gulls lit up all the harbor again.
His energy sought a modicum
Of decency, a dramatic sense,
Which, history’s chill laid once and for all,
Susan would sit on, like an iceberg.
But his face, his face was in the sink.
The kitchen exercised, as only
A forgotten room can: suicide.
The butter knife slipped off the plate’s edge.
An insurance policy would be
Incongruous. His eyes smiled under brows
So beetled in suspense they veered off.
Pert, hard, he knew himself his own man.
Garbage cans floated on scholarships.
Practice was enough to make himself
Perfect, to re-practice perfection
As a blank situated over
The hill, beyond a Cretan village.
It was nothing but lies. He knew it.
He slammed the door. He wanted no more.
She had a bright inkling of what he
Thought but showed him no perplexity,
Negative as a traffic signal —
☽ Green, but cautions about the red light!
Go on, go on, she thought, kill yourself.
That would be succinct, like your father.
No sooner were the syllables out
Of her mouth than Mr. Ruth knocked at
The window. Jean, in her eagerness
Not to bring the porch back in with her,
Had inadvertently locked the door.
“Hi, Dad,” said Jamie, thrumming on the
Table. Father nodded, looking up
The stairwell, as after Amanda.
“Carnations,” he yelled, “what a bad day!”
“Bob,” said Mrs. Ruth, “watch your language.”
“We’re not on television, are we?”
Bob retorted, slumping in his chair.
“I’ll be damned if I can take much more
Small city life. The car broke down. I
Tried to call you, but the phone was out.”
So much for explanation. Kicking
The air, he threw the paper open.
AGNES MINESTRONE BICYCLES
NUDE THROUGH MAYOR’S DOOR, the headline read.
Gearshift Catches on Thigh / Mrs. M.
Still in Uncomfortable Position.
Across the page: NURSE AT EUGENICS
CLINIC / Posted for not reporting.
”Somber news, the world is going bang.”
Mr. Ruth sighed philosophically.
Try the comics, he thought, get more sport;
Bean your noodle with the lighter side.
Skeezix blushed. Orphan Joe was shaven
From tip to toe, his old hat misplaced.
And the weekend ought to be called off.
Look around for serious items.
Oh, here’s one. Bob let a little belch
Out, hoping the missus’d miss it.
(She did) “Linkoping, Sweden. SWEDES GET
‘HOT FOOT’ — August 26 (ap).
Hot socks put 50 Swedish soldiers
On the sick list. Some suffered second
☽ Degree burns on their feet and elsewhere.
Authorities say the computer
Down at the central defense laundry
Dispensed too much lye in the washer.
Say 15,000 poisonous pairs.
Multiply by two for the hot feet.”
Bob’s practiced eye grazed the letters
And his brain started to ruminate.
SEWER COVER CALLED HAZARD / CHANGE ASKED;
DOG TAKEN FROM YARD / WOMAN COMPLAINS —
“They took my dog while I was working.
It would make me mad if they took my
Color TV, but you can’t replace
A dog like you can a TV set.
This dog-napping’s simply got to stop.”
/Signed,/ Irate Concern. I rate some too,
Grumbled Bob. What a dog’s life I lead.
He slumped back and thought about his job.
Nothing to it (Bob went blank easy).
His vision arose out of the mud.
Often he saw it on the ceiling —
An angel, wings of finest gold,
A wand in hand, smiling benignly,
Hovering over the mantelpiece.
Smell of broiled hamburgers reached him. The
Angel dipped a wing and departed.
Times like these Bob reclined another
Notch, his head tilting into a doze.
“Bejasus,” he would say, “Bejasus,”
And then pluck the string of the gutter.
All my life spent sitting in a chair.
If only had more gumption, get boat,
Sail it around Cape of Good Hope, find
Some nice looking chick on an island,
Get her to weave me a papaya skirt,
String a hammock, drink coconut milk.
“Bob? Bob, are you awake?” He was now.
“Put the milk on the table, honey,
It’s already poured in the kitchen.”
“All right. Ding-bustit. All right,” said Bob.
☽ “Pass the cauliflower, Amanda.”
“Gee, Daddy, don’t you ever say please?”
They all sat glaring at each other
On the edge of the frosted tureen.
The smooth sound of Manny Float
Drifted down from Phyllis’s bedroom.
Mother sensed a rift in the offing
And quickly proposed a new subject.
“Bob, I started my novel today.
It’s about family life in Fresno,
California. A lesbian wants
To have a baby, just once, so she
Can experience natural childbirth.
She goes to a fast food place at night
And tries to get picked up.”
“Mom,” Phyllis interrupted, “do you
Remember when we saw those guys in
Macdonald’s dancing on the table?”
“Yes, honey, but listen to my plot. . . .
Anyway, she meets a wonderful
Sixty-year-old man with a poodle
Who agrees out of kindness to ‘help.’
The first chapter’ll start off with her
In the hospital recovery room,
And she’ll tell the whole story from there.”
“That’s terrific,” said Bob, declining
More mashed potatoes. “You’ll make a mint —
And then get kicked out your bridge club.”
“Oh, Bob, you’re always such a stuffed shirt.”
Dinner over, Bob sits back in his
Rocker-recliner for some TV,
Amanda knitting her brows across
The room like a late adolescent.
(Jamie split for his second dinner,
Phyllis flipping out with her boyfriend.)
Remote control tuner in hand, Bob
Turns on his favorite evening show,
A new situation comedy,
“The Lux Thank God It’s Thursday Hour.”
Opening scene: The Valley of Tears.
☽ Sheriff sits in his office looking
Out window. Spits at the cuspidor.
Dog goes by and wee-wees on hydrant.
Sheriff makes dumb joke about habit.
So much for TV. Slumbering,
Bob dreams about happy family life:
The “little wife” setting the table,
Dressed in a pinafore with red lips
Played by June Allyson, age 19.
An English sheepdog barks at her heels.
Frank Sinatra, home from work, tosses
A felt fedora into the chair
And bends over to embrace (kiss) her.
They sit down to candlelight dinner:
Roast beef, corn on the cob and muffins.
After dessert (strawberry sherbet)
Frank relaxes with a concerto
By Borodin (“Bells of St. Martin’s”).
Meanwhile, June Allyson tippytoes
Around doing the dinner dishes.
Frank falls into one of his Frank dreams.
His mother is driving him downtown
The afternoon before his wedding.
Boy, he thinks to himself, am I glad
This is over. Soon I’ll be married.
Our honeymoon really starts tonight!
Suddenly Mommy says, “Frank, I hope
You and June won’t mind if I meet you
In Paris, I’m taking the night plane.”
Rousing himself up on one elbow,
Frank tries to remember the rest. Was
There a poodle locked inside a room?
“Catnip for breakfast in my salad?”
June overhears him. “What was that, dear?”
“Oh, sweetie, it was only a dream.”
June turns on “The Honeymoon Circle”
And the whole room starts to glow purple.
She leans her shallow angel heady
Against her hubby’s shoulder, and they
Settle in to watch the folks dogfight.
☽ When all of a sudden the bell rings.
June pulls down her skirt. Frank straightens up
And dashes to the door, muttering,
“We forgot to cancel the pizza.”
Opening it, who should greet him but
Mr. and Mrs. Pumpkin, parents
Of the bride, followed by a butler
Bearing a tray with four glasses of
Champagne, followed in turn by two maids
And a bright pink Rolls-Royce limousine.
Just as the chauffeur starts up the car,
Seven big bulldogs attack the maids
And fall on the butler’s heels. He drops
The tray on Mrs. Pumpkin’s right foot,
The corks pop out of the bottles, and . . .
Bob Ruth rolls over onto the floor.
Phyllis’s boyfriend’s car’s muffler’s shot.
It always backfires when he drives up
Slowly (so he and Phyllis can neck
Without Bob and Mrs. Ruth knowing).
Bob picks himself up, yawns, climbs upstairs
And falls into bed. “Jean,” in curlers,
Moans, rolls over, and goes on dreaming . . .
A brand new sled for Christmas New Year.
She smiles at “Sandy” — Alexander’s
Intimate “coffee-cake” name. It comes
With rollers . . . Bob slams his fist in the
Pillow to soften it up — she sighs,
Melting back into dreamy Sandy.
He has taken her up to the top
Of a huge hill, green in December.
The little fir trees sing as they poke
Their heads out of fluffy, pearly clouds.
Bam! Bam! A rumbly sound in the road.
Forgot to shut the gate behind them.
A Stutz Bearcat growls up the hill.
Aunt Eunita stops and dashes out.
She takes a crystal pot out of her
Purse, tossing it high up in the air.
Can Alexander catch it? Will he?
☽ They sit in skillets, watching the sun,
As it tries to set behind an old
Slowly, slowly, the crystal descends.
Meanwhile, skillets get hotter — sizzle
In fact. Alexander’s cuddly warm
Pink-and madder-colored cardigan
Exudes fresh fragrance at the flowers.
“What’s happened to the crystal dream pot?”
Jean wonders, leaning on her elbow.
Larger, it reappears overhead.
Alexander stands in the center,
Naked except for blue gardening shorts,
His belly-button painted maroon . . .
Bob nudges Jean and asks for the check.
So much for the crystal ball. She flops
Over on her tummy to escape.
While Bob watches the check in bright print,
His waitress has zero stockings on.
(Bob never forgets a friendly need.)
His expression spirals into a sock,
Neither gem nor the dark he had seen.
Explosion rocks the ward in someone
Else’s dream. Bob fritters on to sleep.
Still, he’s afraid of sleeping in dream
(Isn’t that something like a death wish?).
His head feels like a tumor, a tumult.
Did he hit it on the coffee table
When he rolled off the sofa? Oh well,
Aren’t we all decomposing somewhere?
But what if the loan doesn’t come through?
What if it doesn’t? No tuition
For Amanda. Sock that pillow, pal.
The crickets make grace-notes on the porch.
The porch swing grates on the rusty chain.
Could the whole lot fall through? Bob wonders.
Luckily, some little mice, wearing
Peppermint-striped turncoats with beaver
Collars ride by in convertibles,
Issuing out of lovely tunnel.
☽ Hey, those fat little animals are
Buttering toasties for a midnight snack!
Bob feels hungry as a mad man.
A long way to go to breakfast, pal.
He gazes upward. Pie in the sky !
He closes his eyes. A liquory
Drip, drop, drip, drop, drip (leaky faucet).
The hungry mind must feast on itself.
Jean mumbles in the sack, all her dreams
Done. Night passes quickly. Rosy dawn
Finds her poring through her recipe
Catalogue to see what’s for breakfast.
Bob’s a notorious “fine glutton” —
Maybe skimpy at lunch and dinner
But ravenous at the break of day.
Let’s see, Jean ponders, what’ll we have?
An evening snack for appetizer?
Apple-oatmeal chews? Baked Alaska
Dripping with hot Bingo-bongo Soup?
Maybe Bob would like Black-bottom Pie.
At least it would hold him up until
I got the Rhubarb Pickle ready . . .
Maybe I could douse a Ham ’n’ Lamb
Newburg in a nice Hollandaise Sauce . . .
Oh, Bob (she sighs, remembering), last time
I served Choco-raspberry Ice Cake
You threw the Lamb Peppero in the
Coleslaw, spit Date Nugget pits in the
Deviled Oyster shells, and made Phyllis
Reheat those Garbanzos Catalan . . .
High up in her pink quilted heaven
Amanda begins to toss with delight,
Her tummy envisioning Main-dish
Potato Salad, a Peppery Szechuan
Noodles with Ham and Roasted Peanuts
(My goodness, am I getting thirsty!),
New England Chowder to wash it down —
All topped off with Honey Lemon-limes
In Ouzo à la Peloponnese.
Jean reconsiders. Let’s start, say, with
☽ A linguini antipasto, then
A Pike Pueblo and Brewer’s Salad,
Saratoga Potato Chips, and
A little Spaghetti with Red Clams.
(Too fishy?) I know. Why don’t we try
A Spicy East Indian Cabbage-
And-Coconut with maybe a side
Order of Tabor City ’Taters
In a Sweet Tartar Sauce for dessert?
(Bob likes desserts really solid.)
Just when the menu seems in a flux,
Jean murmurs triumphantly, “I know,
We’ll start out with Tidewater Pea Soup,
Follow it with Twin Popeye Omelets,
Then miniature Tic-Tac-Toe Pizzas,
A Walnut Chicken, the Rice Salad
Rio Grande and Whatnot Frozen
Green Custard Sherbet with Molasses.
And oh, yes, Bob said yesterday he
Wanted some guacamole. That’s easy.”
She takes off her nightie, slips off her
Slippers, throws on some lipstick, and gets
Down to business. Soon the kitchen is
Steaming. Upstairs, everyone’s awake.
(Phyllis does her College Business Math;
Bob sings Stars and Stripes in the shower;
Amanda lies in bed, eyes blinking.)
Despite the menu, Bob’s still grousy.
Jean: “You hardly touched your guacamole.”
He pushes himself back from the table,
Blusters into the hall, grabs his hat
And briefcase and heads out to carpool,
Without even kissing Amanda.
(He has a terrible drive to work.)
For Jean, whose life’s a tizzy, it’s kids
Off to school, then coffee and a smoke.
“The Church Bazaar! — I almost forgot!”
(You see, Alexander — her “Sandy” —
Is the new minister from Harvard.)
Washing her dishes in the back seat
☽ (She always thinks of a dozen things)
On her way over to Jamie I
Mean on her way over to the church,
She has no draining board, and the fuzz
On the bacon drying rack reminds
Her of upholstery in her old car
(Driving Jamie to Sunday School was
Jean’s last pleasure before she took up
Pottery — she dropped it for Sandy).
“Crystals, that’s what I lost — I mean that’s
What I forgot,” she says to herself.
“Duplicates, send sententiae, or,
Covet everything that he ever thought —
A diaphragm, dithyramb, iamb —
I am not.” She flicks the turn signal,
Misses another car by a trice
And looks at herself (parking) in the
(Rear view) Park Church parking lot. “Not bad!”
(“Then why didn’t Jamie give flowers?”)
She bumps the car next door with her door . . .
Phyllis flops off the bed, her eyes red,
Thinking of how badly she’s been screwed
By the brutal economics prof —
He failed her for not dotting her t’s.
She climbs in the back of the sofa,
Gets off without thinking, and sits down
For a long session before lunch break.
The posters on Dan’s wall look yellow
(Maybe her period’s coming soon).
Her mind wanders into Souzaland,
And the band play on: cop, cop, cop, cop.
A semblance of sugary root beer
On her pretty breath. Dan, as handsome
As ever, sits on the blue fender
Of her convertible mind, winking
His sweet nothings — what a soda jerk!
After class she meets him in the square.
“Hi, good-lookin’, whatja got cookin’?”
He says, and before Phyllis can stroke
His brush cut they tumble into bed.
☽ Meanwhile, in another part of town —
Millet Lane — Jamie has overslept
(Forgot to set the alarm). Hundreds
Of time go batting past his beaten
Brow, a corrugated instant of
Marriage. Is it his, or modern, life?
Jamie has no interest in theory.
The soap is either on the right shelf
Or the housewives won’t see to buy it.
A stretch of the imagination,
That’s not life. Concord bricks, a tough no,
Streets you have to eat like red pavement.
Someone has taken the metaphor
And flushed it down the fission toilet.
That’s not complex, just complicated
Pain, muscle benders, the rat and mice,
As much Susan in her ecstasy
As the picture of bubbles in Life.
Speaking of which, who sold the picture
Window I broke when I was a kid?
Jamie is not inarticulate.
He speaks his mind as well as the rest.
He doesn’t wear his happiness
Just to be wearing it, he wears it
For style, for the style that lacks a style.
He dismisses the new matrices
For the suffering of man and wife
By not taking them into account.
The soap’s on the shelf or else it’s not!
Calumny’s what it really comes to . . .
Amanda, squirming in study hall,
Her braids hanging like gold and silver
In a rich lady’s happy coffer,
Seems like an altogether different —
At least more photogenic — story,
Though sister and brother are alike
(They talk and gesture from the same purse).
Yet, a cow grazing on a hillside,
When the first spring freshets have let loose,
Is not a turtle with a humpback!
☽ She knew she was pretty but forgot.
(Susan thought she was, but she was not.)
Jamie thought she was cool but not hot.
Which shows none of them knew a whole lot.
What she lacked in knowledge Amanda
Made up for in what I’m describing.
Candy torts. Seven slender papers
Written from upside down about bliss.
The sneakers on the boys in the class
Knew what I’m talking about before
Their mothers remembered to call up
And say, “Watch out for that Amanda!”
Window frames and pillows dance in her
Sweet little head, as the fleecy lamb
Who knows that two plus two equals four
Pulls her socks up and sings “Evermore!” . . .
Bob, Bob, the cow shoot tell it of Bob.
He plays a context off the surface,
As if the corruption of youth scaled
Like skin into the crystalline core.
A sense of the nautical yearnings
Takes him into the port under tow.
Later he’ll have to leave to inspect
Something in the bright mid-afternoon.
Now he looks only at the paper
Side of things, as, from behind a desk,
The paper clips glint in a bottle.
The phone rings a chord of ignorance,
Buckling toward him like an office boy.
The memo pad has said what it means:
Today he’ll be a man among men,
Facing north into The Breeze of Time,
A window open to let it in.
The traffic passes. Glum times ahead
Scour no remorse from an often
Sad visage, a dignified clothing.
Thus dress and demeanor part the wave
In the present hairdo, displeasing
The meager skullcap, under which Bob,
Mustering has manliness, survives.
☽ So what happens? He answers the phone!
Boss: “Inspection call’s in order, Bob.”
Bob: “I’m off like Jiminy Cricket.”
He rolls down the company car windows.
After inspection, he thinks, time for
Lunch at Zeke’s Dinette, and then
Even some extra-curriculars.
The October midday brightening air
Blows in the window, and Bob sails on
In the life of the automobile:
Your foot down on accelerator,
Arm getting a tan out the window,
Briefcase on the seat — right next to you.
So what does Bob think about? Football!
Well, he almost thinks about it — he
Tries anyway . . . Watch where you’re going,
Bob! Stoplight! Secretary crossing:
Pink legs nice against asphalt. Green light,
Turn on the radio: “Corn Pone Dogs!”
Turn off the radio. Almost there.
Lakewood Boulevard — there’s the jobsite.
Bob pops his hard hat on and pops out
Into the big construction scene with
Bulldozers, high rise, caterpillars,
Men bustling about on their duty.
Gee whiz, how can I inspect all this?
Well, give it a try! Let’s see, rivets?
Yes. Freeload high jacket settee? No.
Baloney sandwich? Yes. Mustard? No.
He checks them off on his clipboard sheet.
Congratulations to the foreman.
Everything seems “in order.” I guess
I’ll take that lunch break, look up Sweetie,
Get mahself a little “ticky pie.”
Cock-a-doodle-doo! Bob jostles through
The pizzeria crowd, sits himself
At the counter, chucks Sweetie under
The chin and orders a “pepperone.”
After lunch they smooch in the parking
Lot, smuggling into the engine brake.
☽ Post coitum infelicia!
At least the car’s doing fine: oil pump
All flushed out, cylinders all relined,
Valves in “very great shape,” lube job done,
Everything “adjusted,” “okeydoke.”
Have a Pepsi, wake up to Harry
James, tickling along the yellow stripe,
Downtown a mere speck on horizon.
Ta-tee-ta. The bright fresh slant of the
Afternoon sun. Good to be alive!
“Hi, Jennifer, hi you other girls,”
And report back to the grumpy boss,
Watching for cross-eyed eyebrows to twitch.
(Why doesn’t he lie down and relax
In that beautiful brown leather couch?
If I were the boss, that’s what I’d do.
I would muse the afternoon away.)
“Where in the hell have you been all day?”
“Well . . . uh.” “‘Well, uh,’ my ass, you scoundrel!”
“Thank God it’s Friday” — Bob to himself.
Meanwhile, Jean has been at church all day,
Touching affairs with the minister.
She has thrown the cloak of resolve up
Under the chin and scoffed at all those
Things she used to think of herself as.
Sandy offers her the Bible fist.
“Why not?” she says, flouncing her beehive.
“We’re not getting any younger y’know.”
Alexander falls flat on her face,
But Jean’s jealous of spiritual love.
“If you’ve been seeing Penelope,”
She simpers, “I’m not ‘sympathetic.’”
Chagrinned, Sandy deduces nothing,
And he kisses her in the narthex.
She mutters something about “correct.”
Fallen in love, he peels the lady’s
Heart only to find himself inside.
Whereupon, looking ever deeper
In her, pronouncing her man, not wife,
His residue pulls him back to life.
☽ Sloppy Joes Friday night, early to
Bed and up for Saturday breakfast.
Crack! Bob’s awake at the break of dawn,
But the thought of the greasy lawn sends
Him swooning back into Sweetie,
Who clutches him in her beefy grip.
He sits on the white fence, scratching his
Toasty Friday cerebellum off,
Concentrating as he undoes the
Loon tag on Sweetie’s knee (overfly).
She takes the royal plush of Bob’s slew
For the most disingenuous dew.
Swat! Slam! Up goes the sash. In mittens,
Mother bucks him back into conscience.
The tadpoles on the porch need sweeping.
Grass at last tumbles Bob out of bed.
He straps on his white swabber buckband,
Laces his shirtfront and jostles Jean.
“I thought the Mitgangs were coming for
Lunch, honey.” “Oh Bob, what a sick joke.”
Visions of Roast Beef Smetana have
Been dancing in Jean’s turbot since six.
Food, again?!? Quick trip to the super
And she’ll get it all up over. But
What’ll it be? Tidewater Peanut Soup?
Prairie Cornpie and Chipped Beef Chowder?
Bob bust in wid “Beef ’n’ Broccoli!”
Well, why not, mooses Jean to herself,
Lapping out her stalking bad pencil.
“Two and half pounds London broil,
One quarter cup hot vegetable oil,
Two tablespoons musky ‘top’ soy sauce;
One half a teaspoon garlic powder,
Two packages big brown gravy mix,
Two heaping teaspoons ‘simple’ soy sauce;
One bunch garden broccoli (two pounds),
One large can (a pound) of bean sprouts, drained,
One six-ounce bottle water chestnuts;
And all the rice a body can eat!”
She perks her factor and she’s off, pouncing
☽ Up on her old red hubcap den din,
Passes Milly, Satch and Theresa
As they part on Sanctuary Drive
And sandwiches in to the marché.
(She’s feeling a touche Parisienne.)
Down the swirly row she coconuts,
Pausing at the butterscotch fudge, when,
Back half way in the aisle she brushes
Against “same” of a total stranger,
Who seems engrossed in setting the soap straight.
Before either can apologize
The old recognition scene takes place.
“Jamie! What are you doing here?” “Mom,
I told you I had to work today.”
Mama squints, looking in the other
Direction. Jamie’s just as happy.
“Whisper mighty, the catch everything,
Sam Bulismo and the fine night stretch,”
He says to himself in his headache.
“Lucky Susie’s out with the car too” . . .
Phyllis and Amanda both get up
To go Saturday morning shopping.
A. finds a tutu and models it
On Phyllis’s dissatisfaction . . .
Anyway, Bob, sweat trickling down his
Nose likes top soy sauce, munches the beef,
Crunches a pot-blanched broccoli branch
And jaws over Jean for exertion.
“Gonna have me a beer and sit down.
Gonna watch the college football game.”
“To each his own pudendum,” Jean say,
Scooping up rice pile. All smiley, she
Tell him he do what he want by her.
Bob do the lawn, “shower and shave,” and
Then appropriates the love suit couch.
He flicks automatic control and
Settles in as the colophon starts
To blush up into the senseless eye.
Sybillating a station arrest,
Breaths bate over the dastard dash.
☽ Fastbacks curse the roadside scenery.
Kickoff’s on! Picky officials dump
Mail on shoulder pads to round out a
Quarter full of the big joint nation.
The band strikes a substitute motion.
The cheerleaders smile in bright blue air.
Puffing on a beer, Bob tickles his
Feet, scratching them on the hassock.
He feels “Saturday inexorable”
And finally falls down into a doze.
Snoring, his dream begins to surface.
With gold bric-a-brac on her shoulders,
She rides high style on a ’30s coupe,
Bending around corners. She misses
Hydrants by an eyelash. The newsboy
Shouts the headline: LIFER TO GET LIFE,
And she squirts him with a submachine
Squirt gun, tacking her tall window down.
As fire breaks out in Marshall Fields, the
Field commander orders the tanks in.
Jean arrives with her pink bubble gum,
But the “expert” Crenshaw pushes her
Aside with a “Look, lady, this is
Serious.” Bob, feeling impotent
To touch the matter, traces a book
On big-blaze fighting technique to save
The scraper from a small disaster.
Banners float in the final scene, and
All downtown Chicago gathers to
Celebrate the hero, as he
Dances on a beam, wiggling his toe.
“Ouch!” says Bob, “That’s my toe.” He opens
An eye: Jean, wiggling a half-empty
Beer bottle over his nose. “Oh no.”
“Oh yes. They’ll be here any minute.”
(“Having Stuffy and Margene Wigby
Over for dinner is one of the
Ruth’s few genuine entertainments.)
“And get two bottles of cheap pink wine —
Something good with Beef ’n’ Broccoli.”
☽ The kitchen door swings shut. Bob moans off
The couch and grumps into the liquor
Store, keeping an eye out for the boss.
Let’s see, Margene likes whiskey sours;
A California sherry for Jean . . .
He turns into Fat Street just in time
To hear Stuffy “motoring down” his
Yellow-avocado Sting Array.
Margene’s all teeth: “Hi, Bob, how are ya?
“Fine, Mar,” say Bob, “Hotcha-doody-doo?”
Jean and Margene have a wonderful
Time matching custom fabric samples,
Nipping until they get too tipsy.
Bob and Stuff do a little boozing
Out in the yard,. “Dinner’s ready, hon,”
Jean slurs out from the kitchen window,
“Come and get it, you old bowling balls!”
Everyone tucks in someone’s napkin.
Margene lets the conversation roll:
“My goodness, Jean, it’s about time you
Two had a vacation, why dontcha come
With us to the Caribbean?”
“Well . . .” says Jean slowly. Bob leans over
And elbows her under the table.
Suddenly Jean loses her grip on
The Beef ’n’ Broccoli and spills the
Pot in Margene’s lap. “YOW!,” says Marge,
Flapping sauce into the shag carpet.
Bob lights up a disgusting cigar,
The girls gab, and Stuffy falls asleep.
They all have a happy-pappy time . . .
In the meantime, Jamie and Susan
Are weekending (Saturday-nighting)
At a motel in Oklahoma.
The room is full of picture postcards
(Sue is writing to her folks back in
Sioux City, South Dakota). Looking
Closely at Oklahoma suggests
To Susan a very crude movie.
☽ (Susan is “given to” suggestion.
She has large breasts, a very arcane
Sense of humor and an up-to-date
Fig Newton sort of way with her hair.)
A thick yellow light on the blond desk
Burns into the Oklahoma card,
Revealing a very bronze statue
Of Will Rogers in a strange posture
On his horse Trigger-the-Junior-Boy.
When Sue sees oil being discovered
In the H-O of OKLAHOMA,
A moo-cow in the L, sky and rocks
In the M-A, and the Will Rogers
Turnpike in the first O and the K,
It makes her feel like a porno film.
After some heavy petting, she talks
Jamie into putting Newsweek down
And taking her out to the drive-in,
The Norman Mark II Cinema, where
“Oklahoma Crude,” a violence
Western by Marc Norman is showing.
By now Susan is all excited:
She’s quoting Jamie passages from
The New York Times review of the book.
“After the pure Western,” it says, “and
The introspective Western, we are
Now into the picaresque Western.
What makes it different from the other
Genres is that the hero is old,
Maimed and ambivalent. What makes it
Like the old Western is that there’s still
A lot o’ shootin’. “Well, it sounds good.
But the movie is disappointing.
As Susan, the following Monday,
Explains over coffee to Sassy,
“It was all just massacre and guns.
The hanging came before the climax.”
“Yes,” says Sassy, “Sam and I sha’n’t see
Any more Westerns — too childish! We’ll
Sit home with the kids instead, evenings.”
☽ Phyllis has some Saturday night too!
She and her friend Jocelyn get off
On really blue grass music (“where the
Pickin’s good”) and decide to “square out”
Together and see Whinney Ragweed.
Phyllis wears a loose hand-over-cord
Blue V-neck with white alligator
Jeans and a pair of nifty new pumps.
(Jocelyn looks about as subdued.)
They think first they’ll do some bar-hopping
And head off down Main on their motors.
It’s misting real fine and Jocelyn’s
Tear-shaped glasses get slightly frosted
So’s the neon sign on the drug store
Looks for a minute like someone’s heart,
As they rip on past down center line.
They try one of the frat rat beer bars—
Nothing doing — and end up having
To watch Taffey, a “stripper” and a
Soph-o-more (she tells them about home
Over a ginger ale at the break).
Phyllis gets very, very depressed.
She suggests that she and Jocelyn
Go on back home and play canasta.
Jocelyn says card games depress her . . .
Amanda has a more “like big down”
Time — a date with a shy guy who wears
Aviator glasses and pimples.
“But he is very literary,”
She says to herself, as they set out
For a “dry folk” poetry reading.
The audience is happy but full
Of tension, and when the poet comes
On stage they stand up to applaud.
She rends her ballato first and then her
“Short ones,” then a few “shifty ditties,”
Finishing off with her “lovely poems.”
These — unfortunately — make Sammy
Horney (poets will react that way —
Even if no one else seems to care).
☽ He tries to fondle Amanda in
The reading and suggests that they go
Have a beer. Now it’s true Amanda
Feels awfully loose inside her tutu,
But that’s too may pimples, she says.
After the reading Sammy puts on
A funny hat, and Amanda, who’s
Normally a polite person, laughs.
This really destroys him, because the
Hat was given to him by a Swiss
Poet (that’s why the Alpine styling).
She says she’s sorry, and a little
Tired, and gets him to drop her off home . . .
“Sunday morning! A new day!” says Jean
Waking up. This is really “her” day.
She prays for a while without getting
Out of bed, or even throwing off
The coverlet, then glances at Bob —
To take a reading — and considers
How to get him out for church service.
When she passed by late “their” Saturday
Sandy was putting up his sermon:
“How Stress Can Dampen Your Only Soul.”
Bob doesn’t snore in church — just gets mad,
So the trick is to lure him beyond,
Making the line somehow pass through church.
That’s it! We’ll have a fishing picnic!
I’ll get Amanda to come along.
(Amanda looks like two petunias
On her pillow, her cheeks so pinky.)
Bob’s going to fall for this. Coffee on,
Breakfast done, everyone off early
To try and avoid Alice Elbow,
Who usually corners them out on
The front steps. A “marvelous” service,
Though Sandy drools over his words and
Plays the Harvard Divinity School
Tie too much for Bob and Amanda.
Now it’s over. Quick! Amanda, Bob
And Jean dash home to make the picnic.
☽ Jean starts jotting down her grocery list
(A successful Sunday Ruth picnic
Consists of instant lime jello with
Yellowish fruit lumps and marshmallows,
A can of ham spread on white bread,
And a jug of Hawaiian fruit punch).
Just as she congratulates herself
On having everyone together,
Amanda says that she’ll come later,
And Phyllis goes to bed — “discomfort.”
She’s also sick from thinking about
Ed, her self-styled “avocat” (lawyer),
A sometime friend, or even beau, who
Hasn’t called her up for seven weeks.
She has a splitting ache in her head,
Which goes “ping-ping-pong,” and that reminds
Her of long distance telephone calls,
Especially the ones that she made
Between home and summer camp after
Ed first “got in her pants,” as they say.
So, she thinks, maybe I’ll call old Ed.
She hesitates. “Ed might be working
On a tort. No not at noon, Sunday!”
Ed is in the shower soaping up
His privates when the phone rings. “Who could
That be,” he says to himself. “Hm. Well,
I haven’t heard from Phyllis in weeks
(Evidence of the way loved ones know?).”
They have a painful, short and dreadful
Conversation, which begins with bright
Lines, new numbers and witty tones but
Very quickly turns to embarrassed
Exchanges, Ed getting chillier
As his soaped-up things get colder, and
Phyllis getting a worse headache as
The time between aspirins grows longer.
(Ed had had this problem with Phyllis
Before, and she thought Ed was a bore —
That’s why she waited so long to call.
Big Ed always makes her feel so small.)
☽ “Things” go much better with Amanda.
Freddy called her up before church. He
Has long hair and yet plays quarterback,
Rolling his blond locks up in a muffin.
And, more than that, he has a new car.
The trouble is she promised Daddy
She’d go fishing with him after church.
Why not invite Freddy too? She gives
Him a ring. Soon he tools by in his
Zoom-Zoom, and they sludge on out to the
Lake. Young church-goers go whizzing by,
Giving them the straight index finger.
But Freddy and Amanda are such
Nice agnostics they only smile back . . .
Instead of going to church, Jamie
And Susan have been arguing all
Morning about whether to picnic.
(Jean had also given them a buzz
When the idea popped out of her head.)
Susan gets an earache whenever
Jamie says “Mother,” puts her hands on
Her ears and blurts out, “oh, sassafras!
Caligula’s boots on Robert Lowell!
Doo-wa heart-free gasoline coupons!”
It makes her wonder why she ever
Married into the Ruth family.
(She loves Phyllis and Amanda though.)
Finally they “agree,” so to speak.
Jamie puts on his jeans and fishing
Hat; Susan chooses her ugliest
Pinafore, knee socks, patent leather
Tap-dancing shoes and a black top hat . . .
Amanda and Freddy in their car,
Jamie and Susan in theirs, all get
To the lake at the very same time,
Turning into the same dirt road from
Opposite directions. Since there’s room
For only one car, the two couples
Smash and crumple into each other,
Sending crash waves down to Bob and Jean.
☽ Surprised, Jean turns to Bob to ask, “What
In the world can be making such noise?”
They decide it must be the trumpet
Fish. “I smell something burning!” says Bob.
Freddy’s front gas-tank has exploded.
A column of black smoke billows up
Over the spot where the road enters
From the highway. Bob, somewhat alarmed,
Put his reel down, folds the Sunday Times,
And without even counting his eggs
Jumps up to see how bad things can be.
Luckily he arrives to find no
Trees on fire and the youngsters taking
Care of the situation. They’ve all
Joined hands in a small circle around
Freddy’s flaming hood and each in turn
Spits a big goober into the blaze.
Soon the fire is out (with a goober
From Bob serving as the real quencher).
The young folks scurry down to the lake,
Leaving behind, with little ado,
Their badly “totaled” automobiles.
When they reach the picnic site, Jean must
Hear all about the accident. It
Seems tragic, but it turns out very
Soothing and promotes a “communion.”
Before long Amanda says to her
Father, “Daddy, let’s go out fishing.”
Together they find a moss-covered
Boat and set trotlines out in the bay.
Freddy immediately takes a
Liking to Jean, who beams and leans back
To tell him her unhappy story
From beginning to end. For the first time
In their short married life Jamie and
Susan seem to have found happiness
In picking up all the papers and
Things left over after the picnic.
The birds and the game, the sun and the
Lake itself, also seem satisfied.☽