poems by M.P. Powers

A Desperate Character   

He never did live it down –
the night of the fire broke loose
on the S.S. Nicholas I

He was one
of the passengers on that steamer

the hurly-burly young
man with the high-pitched voice

the one everyone remembered later
for his craven behavior

for trouncing upon the carriages
and free-falling onto the
lifeboat

this, after shoving
the women and children aside in white
terror

It was 1838
his first trip abroad
his first taste of freedom

Years later, this same young
cad
would dazzle the Russian literati
with prose so eloquent

his stories like the paintings
of a master impressionist – so vivid
in color & tone so true

they helped hasten the emancipation
of the serfs – his “Hannibal
oath”

they still live on
 
But that night
on that steamer, of course that lives
on too

as it lived in him –
the unforgivable fear of death

they never did let him forget it

even forty years later
even after Spring Torrents, First Love
and Fathers and Sons

they never did let him forget
that the man and the artist are
inseparable

and that
the genius and the cowardice
in him were too

Bolshevik

gazing at my frugal wardrobe
slumped hideously over the clotheshangers
in my closet
reminds me of communism
and soft atrocities
oppressively worn. they will wear my ghost
again, the blanched colors of my plaid work shirts,
and the pants my apish trunk has tortured into
shapelessness…
will become me again, having borrowed moments
from my days which give them
meaning. they will riot and laugh and weep
upon my bones. but for now they just dangle
lifelessly
in my closet, like some part of me (my soul
or something) that has hanged
itself again.

Charmed       

I’m with Robert Frost‘s
great-nephew and he’s telling me about his
        so-called job
as a kayak outfitter in Key Largo

How he gives guided tours
through the upper keys and the everglades

How he searches out wildlife
along reefs, in streams gin-clear and through
        mangrove-tunnels

How he birdwatches
        and watches manatees, flamingos
        dolphins, alligators and snakes
lapping up their ecosystem

Half of his clients are women
       he tells me
and half the time he goes out drinking with them
       after the tour
and half the time one or the other of them
       will want to fuck him

and most of the time he will be so good
       as to oblige

Which doesn’t leave much time
      for the mulling over of his famous
great-uncle’s poetry

In fact he’s never even bothered doing that,
      he says –
it just doesn’t interest him
     
I don’t bother
      asking him why

Pidgin Don

after getting hauled in
for something
that rhymes with failure
to disappear,
don’s out on bail again
hawking fried plantains
and yuca frita from the
back of his roach-coach

weekdays plying his
infinitesimal existence
around little havana
hollering out the window
no habla espanol, beans
and rice no
mas

(in pidgin speak)

while his cute plump
cuban wife does the
cooking in the evening,
don sinks deep into his
lazyboy of despair &
drinks colt ice,

trying to maintain
precisely who he
isn’t: “why da hell should
i learn yer stoopid
langwidge? last i checked,
da declaration uh
independence wuz writ
in english!”

but he sells his wife’s grub
to just about anyone
who can’t speak it

he even sells to a voodoo
church up on 163rd, but
claims the pastors there
are sonsofbitches. “fat shits
want every’ting on credit…

den when its time ta pay,
dey start syncopatin’
all dat damn bible crap…
dat’s der trick, ya see.
an’ da moment ya look
up ta dem heavens ta see
what all da fuss is about,
dat’s when dey sneak
up from behind an’ yank
yer pants ta da ground.

den dey stick it in…”

don’s wife makes picadillo
criollo & delicias frianon
(every night), but don
maintains (every day)
her el shanko de puerco,
which he calls baby pig
shank, reminds him
of the pastors

after reading meister eckhart

if your mind
is a great sunflower
hunched over on its stem
just remember
what seneca said: “that man or
woman is wretched who does not
transcend
their humanity.” and to this i would
like to add: self-love is the
fleetest animal that bears
you to
mediocrity.

(the spiders they
sleep on sunday)

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