Cornered in the Dupont Circle neighborhood
that mutated from Hippie Haven to Gay Central,
nestled among homes of once-illustrious families
broken into pieces and sold separately,
the building morphed from a Planned Parenthood
clinic in the 80’s to real estate office today.
In those bygone days one monthly night
they’d unlock for men––a handful of us
that night (I left work on time for once)
stirrups repurposed for heavier legs,
a backdoor visit from the suburban doctor
who snipped away through evening hours,
disconnecting wish from bone, Russian
from roulette, leaving us a little less but better.
Three months after the last one came out kicking
sense into my wavering head, I stepped up,
lay back, inhaled the icy air of regret and relief…
all of which made for a strange exchange
last week, with the fresh-faced lawyer passing
papers for my wobbly signature, asking
my commitment to a fixed amount for longer
than it takes to raise a kid––longer than
I’ll probably be around––too young to ’ve seen
what the sea can do, to know what preceded
the condos. I edited his untested worldview–
Was in this same room 20 years ago,
I said & waited for him to look up.
The PBS station on mute tonight,
a ballet comes into focus,
my smart phone in front of me, I scroll
through the nonsense, land abruptly
on a live link to her inaugural poetry
reading in our nation’s library, I planned
to go before this damn hurricane decided to stay.
I flip the rectangular phone
on its side, a landscape view of dazzling
blood-red dress and streaming cinnamon hair,
prop her up, settle her on my knee.
I press volume, lyrics ascend through
the floorboards of the silent hall,
of the hushed on-line audience,
the marble-lined tunnels of Congress.
She moves fluidly through windy pages
on the podium, the ballet
twirls on my wall, forms a backdrop
of whirling limbs leaping across my living room––
a larger-than-life dance backdropping
a poet in my hand, her voice drops
melting ice cubes in a lake, circles
of fearlessness ripple from the center,
her smiling delivery is everything I need
tonight, shrinking me to human size
in amazement of human agility, in awe.
I recall the day my breathing stopped:
Can the words on this page be doing this?
Dumbstruck & finally managing
to raise my hand, asked if what I think
I just saw was real, and the professor
smiled and said, Yes, that’s art.
After happy hour, feeling at a loss
I stumble along the boardwalk into
the racket here (it could deafen
a thousand ears––and tonight
it almost does) stand under a beach
town tent, holidays in full tilt, by
the kiddie rides: the carousel, then
little fire trucks and finally
a few feet from mini-boats
afloat in inches of water, moving in
circles, carrying toddler cowboys
fire fighters and sailors,
each looking around to see
a thumbs-up from moms and dads––
you’re safe, have fun, I won’t
let anything bad happen to you.
I try not to see that horse
break a leg and fall, the fire engine
careen over a cliff, little boats
get sucked into a whirlpool,
I try not to shout Watch Out over the din
run over and pluck them from peril
hold their hands, caress their silky heads
carry them away, I can’t but
that doesn’t mean I don’t need to.
They think they have it all
the parents looking at me funny,
one elbows her husband, nods my way
and now I’m aware I’m a little
too close to them, they sense danger
but have no idea
it’s not me, they don’t know
what I know.
The four of us back in the car heading to a
West Virginia weekend, they make me
defend my actions––or inaction actually––
when the waitress back there got snippy
with me, gave me some good-natured lip
because I couldn’t decide on a condiment,
I explain to my too-thoughtful fellows how
the bop on the head she gave me hardly hurt
was in good fun and she reminded me
of the salty gals back on Long Island,
the ones I worked with in my teens, them serving
and me clearing, where I got a different schooling,
said I rather enjoyed her refreshing sharpness
tired as I was of the mayonnaise life in D.C.
but after a few minutes explaining
I wonder if they have a point.
We cross the mountains & fall foliage
meanders me back to the autumn day
I took a black eye from the town bully,
just stood there straddling the bike seat
while his thighs held the front tire still,
left me to explain the stain, to consider lessons
I could’ve got that day, how life would come
at me like a raised fist and how I should’ve
learned to box.
Today our neighbors
removed a fence we thought
we believed it
right on the line, not theirs
or ours, so tonight the dog got lost,
the faithful scents
gone, stars behind the clouds &
moon covered over,
making the search for her more dire,
no border to orient
The hour was a week, it seemed,
our girl so old
the cold so resolute
we were sure she couldn’t endure.
We found her cowered in a corner
waiting to fall asleep.
When my father had had enough––
the tumor lodged
between his ribs, walking impossible
even talking painful––
we carried him
my brothers and I
in a comfortable spot in the sun
a warm place, familiar
walls and pictures, to look
past the open windows
drink in the jasmine
take the pills
Jack Mackey holds a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Maryland and was awarded a fellowship in poetry by the Delaware Divine of the Arts in 2021. Jack sits on the advisory board for Quartet Journal and his work has appeared in Mojave River Review, Third Wednesday, Rat’s Ass Review, Anti-Heroine Chic, Gargoyle, Bay to Ocean Anthology, and other publications.