Will I sneak up behind myself and push?: four poems by Alden Nowlan

Great Things Have Happened

We were talking about the great things
that have happened in our lifetimes;
and I said, “Oh, I suppose the moon landing
was the greatest thing that has happened
in my time.” But, of course, we were all lying.
The truth is the moon landing didn’t mean
one-tenth as much to me as one night in 1963
when we lived in a three-room flat in what once had been
the mansion of some Victorian merchant prince
(our kitchen had been a clothes closet, I’m sure),
on a street where by now nobody lived
who could afford to live anywhere else.
That night, the three of us, Claudine, Johnnie and me,
woke up at half-past four in the morning
and ate cinnamon toast together.

“Is that all?” I hear somebody ask.

Oh, but we were silly with sleepiness
and, under our windows, the street-cleaners
were working their machines and conversing in Italian, and
everything was strange without being threatening,
even the tea-kettle whistled differently
than in the daytime: it was like the feeling
you get sometimes in a country you’ve never visited
before, when the bread doesn’t taste quite the same,
the butter is a small adventure, and they put
paprika on the table instead of pepper,
except that there was nobody in this country
except the three of us, half-tipsy with the wonder
of being alive, and wholly enveloped in love.


It’s Good To Be Here

I’m in trouble, she said
to him. That was the first
time in history that anyone
had ever spoken of me.

It was 1932 when she
was just fourteen years old
and men like him
worked all day for
one stinking dollar.

There’s quinine, she said.
That’s bullshit, he told her.

Then she cried and then
for a long time neither of them
said anything at all and then
their voices kept rising until
they were screaming at each other
and then there was another long silence and then
they began to talk very quietly and at last he said
well, I guess we’ll just have to make the best of it.

While I lay curled up,
my heart beating,
in the darkness inside her.


Broadcaster’s Poem 

I used to broadcast at night
alone in a radio station
but I was never good at it
partly because my voice wasn’t right
but mostly because my peculiar
metaphysical stupidity
made it impossible
for me to keep believing
their was somebody listening
when it seemed I was talking
only to myself in a room no bigger
than an ordinary bathroom
I could believe it for a while
and then I’d get somewhat
the same feeling as when you
start to suspect you’re the victim
of a practical joke
So one part of me
was afraid another part
might blurt out something
about myself so terrible
that even I had never until
that moment suspected it

This was like the fear
of bridges and other
high places: Will I take off my glasses
and throw them
into the water, although I’m
half blind without them?
Will I sneak up behind
myself and push?

Another thing:
As a reporter
I covered an accident in which a train
ran into a car, killing
three young men, one of whom
was beheaded. The bodies looked
boneless, as such bodies do
More like mounds of rags
and inside the wreckage
where nobody could get at it
the car radio
was still playing

I thought about places
the disc jockey’s voice goes
and the things that happen there
and of how impossible it would be for him
to continue if he really knew.


A Mysterious Naked Man

A mysterious naked man has been reported
on Cranston Avenue. The police are performing
the usual ceremonies with coloured lights and sirens.
Almost everyone is outdoors and strangers are conversing
excitedly
as they do during disasters when their involvement is
peripheral.
‘What did he look like? ‘ the lieutenant is asking.
‘I don’t know, ‘ says the witness. ‘He was naked.’
There is talk of dogs-this is no ordinary case
of indecent exposure, the man has been seen
a dozen times since the milkman spotted him and now
the sky is turning purple and voices
carry a long way and the children
have gone a little crazy as they often do at dusk
and cars are arriving
from other sections of the city.
And the mysterious naked man
is kneeling behind a garbage can or lying on his belly
in somebody’s garden
or maybe even hiding in the branches of a tree,
where the wind from the harbor
whips at his naked body,
and by now he’s probably done
whatever it was he wanted to do
and wishes he could go to sleep
or die
or take to the air like Superman.

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Will I sneak up behind myself and push?: four poems by Alden Nowlan