Art

Best Foot Forward – David Lohrey

That Summer in Calabria

The summer that I turned twenty-one
and felt fed-up with school,
I took a job as an anarchist at UCLA,
making bombs for the movement.

Of pornographic images taken by the coroner
from discarded personnel files, stills, and
Old reels from silent pictures: a million
close-ups of male and female stars, nudes,

The white hot burn-marks of singed flesh,
rooms washed clean of finger prints, many
Stained with blood, and then some odd-looking
hunk who liked it, in pussy-whipped horror.

Of Behind the Green Door—we had pics
of politicians, police chiefs, too. Each image
Labeled: persons, places, or at time top secret
car accident porn filed under gory.

Sometimes, we found state evidence:
the body’s silhouette or a shadow; perhaps
A spread-eagled corpse on the motel’s carpeted floor,
wrists tied back, tortured with once-lit cigarettes.

And then there were the premium shots:
catalogued every groom at the Beverly Hills Hotel,
Arrayed in tailored suits, some in tuxes; hair
slicked back. Their Brides, buck-naked & on their backs;

Her hands milky, beringed, and crimson-nailed,
her gaze that of a smelly beef carcass, blind & dead-set.
The flowers in her hands, withered, like her tongue;
her diamond ring chipped or chewed off.

But these were just the remnants, traces of lost glamor,
the brittle shades of love, lust, or nascent fame.
Pieces of lost celluloid, like X-rays, in black and white,
but the diagnosis fixed and always the same: finished.

That summer I turned archivist, in the abandoned wing
of the archaeology department, trapped with those 
Passed on, lost in some far-off and far-out land, once 
known as the humanities, on a day trip through Hades.

 

Best Foot Forward

I got a lot out of going to Hiroshima 
while I got nothing out of the Taj Mahal. 

I think visiting Hiroshima should help get me 
into Duke. Why else would one go to a place 

like Hiroshima which has no Ferris wheel?
It must be that the visit will count for something 

since it is not as thrilling as seeing my girlfriend 
with her panties off.  Hiroshima is all right, 

don’t get me wrong, but if the visit doesn’t lead to extra 
credit, I don’t see how it can beat getting my rocks off.

Mother said if I went to Auschwitz instead of Orlando, 
she’d buy me a Longines watch. I’m desperate to go to

Walt Disney World. Chris, my friend, had a blast. Mother 
insists that I not only pass through Auschwitz’s famous gates, 

but I promise not to laugh. No jokes! She is still angry at how
I behaved at the Peace Memorial. She said she felt ashamed.

I could tell the way Father looked at her that he thought Mother
was being too serious, but then he often scowls when she speaks.

He promised Mother that he would tell our priest, an old friend,
that we were going to see the death camps just outside Krakow.

Our priest said he would write me a letter of recommendation
to Exeter where I hope to spend the summer. After summer 

school in New Hampshire, and an extra year at that awful school 
in western Massachusetts, I might have a chance to get into a place 

like Cornell. I’m volunteering to read to the blind on weekends and 
I’m trying out this year for a part in “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.” 

If I get a speaking part at the neighborhood playhouse and finish my
essay on Picasso’s Guernica, Mother said she’d pay for my birthday 

party at the Carlyle. It won’t be cheap. I just hope she doesn’t find out 
I’ve been masturbating in the bathtub. I’m dying to get Marian to bathe

with me. I have it all worked out. When we do some studying together, 
on the coach, with her panties off, I’ll have somewhere to place my foot. 

I am dying to kiss her eyelids. My brother says that in high school the best
one can hope for is a feel. Girls won’t caress you until you start making money.

Chris went all the way with his girlfriend, Blair. He hopes to spend the rest 
of the summer balling by the pool. She promised next time to try it under water.

 

1959

You remember back then.
Go on, admit it. Back when faces
were out of fashion, during the triumph
of the line and the squiggle, back then,
when drips were in: being and nothingness.

In those days, I was four. Mamet, twelve.
Robert Lowell declared it the skunk hour.
Those waddling stinkers, of which
I was one, only less hairy, surely, but just 
as ripe; asking,

What became of Elvis?
It was said he had left the building,
left it to run off to the Memphian Theatre.
Elvis’d booked it for the night, the entire 
auditorium, so he could be alone.

Me and the skunks waited outside.
What movie was he watching, Pillow Talk?
Or was it a preview of Schindler’s List?
The Holocaust was on everybody’s mind;
Ike and Tina were sick about it; Elvis talked

of little else. I knew better to keep quiet.
Not a peep. I was too young to have an opinion.
Like Elvis, I was fascinated by the Warsaw ghetto.
We were proof positive of what Susan Sontag
has articulated: fascinating fascism.

People found Auschwitz unspeakable. Elvis was 
appalled; so was Robert Lowell. The word “unfathomable” 
hung on the tip of one’s tongue. I stood alone on the balcony,
in the colored section, watching the show. I had trouble 
gathering my thoughts. Why hadn’t John Wayne saved them?

It was a double-feature. Some Like It Hot just opened. 
A lovely man worked concession, busying himself with the 
popcorn. I am quite sure he was listening to John Coltrane. 
Soon, it would be time for Alfred Hitchcock to tell the birds 
to peck out Janet Leigh’s eyes.

I was scarcely five. Hitchcock was working out how 
to film blood running down the bathtub drain. One
must consider how much better it is to play a guitar than
it is to pick cotton. Just think of Miles Davis, the only man
in the entire country who knew more than Albert Einstein.

He died when JFK was shot. I’d barely learned how to kiss
a girl and now it was time to accept death. I went through 
the motions, trying my best to act as though things were 
alright. “We’re fine, we’re good,” everyone said, but Tennessee 
Williams lost heart; he never wrote another great play. 

No reason to get ugly. Mass murder is hard to fathom. World
War II was still very much on everyone’s mind. Assassinations 
are more personal. Like watching Ricky Ricardo get run over by 
a car. Like watching your own father die of a heart-attack. We 
all go through it, but we never get over it. We all died with JFK.

 

I’m Just Sayin’

You ever hear such nonsense in all your life? 
What’s this? What kind of 
fool would write poetry ‘bout Paul Revere and his damned 
pony? I told you before: you can write a poem about Sojourner 
Truth, but Revere is out. So is Paul Bunyan and Augustus John;
they both said the wrong thing about Muslims.

Writing a poem ‘bout Paul Revere’s ‘bout as stupid
as erecting a statue to Lee Harvey Oswald or, worse, 
his father, Robert E. Lee. You’d be a whole lot
better off writing a poem about Paul Robeson,
if you’re so keen to use the name Paul, 
but even that’s suspect.

Why not submit a poem about some guy named Darnell
or Vernon; how about Shenelle? Get with it!
Paul sounds like the name of some lucky duck. Even
better, why not write about a boy named Sue or his brother, 
Suzette, since you prefer whites? The thing is, you know,
we’re trying to get the damned thing published.

You can’t just wing it. You ever hear of Allen Ginsberg 
writing about galloping ponies? Not on your life.
What you gotta do is make a few references to mighty rivers. 
We aren’t writing a poem about George Washington. 
Think that other dude you always talking about
– John O’Hara – ever wrote about animals? 

You’d be better off writing about cigarettes. I heard that 
O’Hara always took a drag from a Gauloises 
after his cheeseburger and malted milk, and then 
he’d grab a copy of the New York Times, except, on the day 
he was run over by a car out on Fire Island. Don’t forget 
to say you acknowledge the homelands of the Chumash people.

You should be shooting for something cutting edge. 
My prof says
all good poetry aims to be cool. The best poetry, he lectured, 
was written 
by Michel Houellebecq, but a memo from the department 
chair says Houellebecq is no longer human. He’s vermin. 

He once said the wrong thing about Muslims. 
All you can do now is put on a pair of pink panties. 
That’ll bring in the crowds. The editor, a guy 
named Colonel Parker, says every poet needs a gimmick.
You better off wearing lipstick. We can take a picture of you 
blowing kisses. You do want a baby, don’t you?

I got it: you can call yourself Letitia and say you’re from Haiti. 
The editors are Chinese. 
There is no fee, not if you’re a poet of color. They’ll ask 
for a sample of your pubic hair. They’ll want to know your sexual 
preference and ask about your proclivities. You will get a waiver
if you have a neurological disorder. Just say you love Muslims.

 

Rotten Eggs

Midnight in bed with Eye Magazine, a tall cup of coffee, a limp dick, 
and a hangnail. What’s not to love? And you expect me to criticize capitalism? 

Los Angeles, Hong Kong, and Mexico City: you want me to celebrate Castro? 
You want me to honor Ché and cherish Doritos, Phở, and the poetry of nonbinary
women, all at the same time? Wake up. 

Why would a sex addict embrace Ho? I’d rather be a call girl in the Emirates. 
I’d rather be trans in Lahore. I’d rather be a black queen in Lower Manhattan. 
Stalin threw homos in the Moskva River. He had them shot in the back of the 
head. Wake up!  

What is all this talk of spirituality, I wonder? Mum and Dad gave up on church
years ago. Mother used to say she was no longer a believer but she wanted us to 
say she was a deeply spiritual person, so much so she worshipped spinning crystals 
and took long walks. Not Father. Neither church nor spirituality meant anything 
to him; neither did opera. We were raised to pursue happiness and pleasure. 

Church or spirituality for that matter was a just a bunch of hooey. I never believed
in a thing, not one blessed thing. Not even the romance of poverty. There is no 
power in poverty but there is prestige (at least to trust fund babies, millionaires, 
and girls who attend college). I wasn’t so much managing two to a bed as being
mauled by six, although to be fair it was more exactly described as a serial event
of several one on one pressings; the fellows taking turns, never really a group grope
but a matter of being passed around. 

There was a pecking order but I never quite got that sorted out. Age before beauty
might have been the order of passion, although I’ll be damned if they said a word. 
It was just taken care of, if that makes sense. Wasn’t it Siegfried Kracauer who said
the election of Adolf Hitler replaced Pandora’s Box with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari? 
Either that or it’s the real thing. Otherwise, we’ll be fighting over a Dr. Pepper. 
My father left when I was nine. Sorry! Maybe he left when I was three. Or was it 
twelve and a half? I could be mistaken. My father is in the bathroom right now, 
taking a shit. 

A sinister minion was caught minioning,  or trying to make himself useful, 
Even though he claims to hate Mahler, he says he hates Freud and Einstein.
On the other hand, I hate Mom and Dad. I hate Junior. I hate memories of Riga, 
Harvey Weinstein (but I loved Pulp Fiction), soft-boiled eggs, turnips, and
bacon lettuce and tomato sandwiches made with turkey-bacon and fake mayo.  
People outside are singing the praises of a bunch of thugs who slit the throats
of children. Who are they kidding? This is an ode to a burned out washing machine? 
Such is the insanity of war. “It (Christianity) could say something to me, only if 
I lived completely differently.” —Wittgenstein
“This is your cue, ducky.” I met a redhead who made my knees buckle. 
I once had a girl in class who was so beautiful I couldn’t speak. I love how 
certain universals make cultural differences disappear. Money is one such topic. 
We all understand how money is used to turn other people into slaves. It is 
becoming popular now in certain circles to have one’s loved ones buried 
in a casket lined with dry ice and then packed with enough food for a month.
“We provide the dearly beloved,”  boasts one renowned mortuary in Chattanooga, 
“with chocolate and kombucha, yogurt and tortilla chips, good beer, Roman 
apples, winter squash, sourdough, pimento cheese, ginger and lemon snaps, 
and more.” Their “deluxe” burial package includes lobster and caviar.