The Sugarcoat Everything Blues – David Lohrey
January 14, 2022
We play house under her bed.
We hang sheets from the twin bed
posts to create an attic.
She lies beneath the bed and I above
and talk about our dreams. Sarah,
the black maid, vacuums outside.
Kim’s dream includes a maid, mine doesn’t.
There is no help in my house at home,
no help at all. We are all on our own.
Her parents have a cook and a cleaning
lady with gold teeth who lost her left hand
in Kim’s father’s laundry among the sheets.
I like to play rich. I like hiding under Kim’s
bed, the ensuite bathroom just steps away.
I like being called down for lunch, even
though her father makes me nervous. I even
like seeing the piano through the door. I spy
the Spanish guitar lying on the sofa.
I always feel poor. The maid calls me Mister
but I know it is a lie. I am nobody’s Mister
and wouldn’t know how. I sleep in her
big brother’s room and am called a guest.
He is off to college with his horses. Her sister
shows me how to hold a soup spoon and laughs.
I guess he doesn’t mind if I sleep in his bed.
Kim’s mother makes us leave the door open. I
hold her hand when no one is looking. We
watch The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Get
Smart. Her mother comes in to cut her toenails.
I think about staying. Perhaps they’ll adopt me.
Wouldn’t it be great to be part of a rich family?
Then, their eldest daughter takes LSD and drives
into a tree. Her brother stops feeding Trespasser
and Merchant and they starve to death.
Father comes home late. He sleeps in the back well
away from Kim’s mother. He’s a drunk.
I am beginning to get the picture. Sarah tells me she was
never paid for the loss of her hand. She asks for help
when her son gets busted, but Kim’s father says jail
will do him good. Instead, Sarah’s son will be knifed.
Kim hopes to marry into a family just like hers.
The poor guy’s potty.
That’s how people describe me. Yes, indeed.
It must be thrilling to know everything.
I say 1970, they say Nixon bombed Cambodia.
When I was a kid, I found a brontosaurus under my corn flakes.
Today I get all of world history at the end of a tootsie pop.
The bodies, you cry. The dead bodies in the lobby.
Why can’t you reply, “My mother’s violets in the window box
remind me of tiny flamethrowers.” Crazy world,
but what you say is right. It is all very Maoist.
The crimes of the past are the crimes of the future.
The crimes of your father are yours, too.
Down with the capitalist roaders, the students cry.
Down with the running dogs of American imperialism!!
I am so alone. Everywhere I go, I’m an unknown quantity.
Why do they invade my territory? I’m happy.
They bring me hot dogs when I order origami.
In China, they beg me to stay. “You say you’re a teacher.”
Stop with the “How are you’s?” Why keep asking?
It’s an intimate question, but here it’s a matter of public policy.
Infants wear reading glasses to mommy and baby English classes.
You know you are in another country when the students dance
into class wearing chiffon tutus. Boys and girls wear rouge
that matches their lipstick.
Horror movies are better in Japan. We must go.
Students hide behind hair that’s green.
That one’s yellow toenails match his glasses;
that girl’s braces sparkle like a princess’s tiara.
You fit right in. The rich are fun to teach.
Show the girls how to hop around the class.
On trains, they don’t keep their legs together. One sees
bandaged knees and little hands spreading skin cream.
The Santa Barbara coffee shop in Roppongi brews no coffee;
it serves poached eggs on a bed of lettuce.
You’ll finally be alone. You’ll never meet anyone.
You’ll be free. Suicide is not against the law.
Paradise is demanding.
The bodies pile up to one’s Adam’s apple.
Step over the corpses. Learn to be gruff.
Your daughter will love the cranes and pandas.
You won’t be punished for ignoring corpses.
You’ll learn to ignore death.
If you are not a terrorist, what are you?
Must you feed the neighbors, take care of tornadoes,
split the atom, or make ice cubes?
Everyone knows you can barely add 2+2. They can see
you can’t remember to change your socks.
Last week you lost the Empire State Building.
You keep asking for your teddy bear.
Can’t you like pandas instead? Buy a new one
made in China. Forget about God. Think about
your parents. It is time for Confucius.
Thou shalt not kill…unless you have to.
Is that not enough for you?
The busker asks for what’s left over.
You say, “Must I share?” The answer’s no.
You have lots to spare but none for him.
Drive him out. Why can’t you do that?
Chinese food is too good to share.
Think of it as another day in paradise.
You Americans have been mollycoddled.
It’s not critical thinking; it’s complaining.
The students can’t wait for a chance to die
for their country, while you reach for your mother’s
edition of Rilke. When the bugle sounds, you’ll cry,
“I have to go now. My wife needs me.”
There will be no more birthdays in Aberdeen, Mississippi.
There will be no more orgies in Northern Alabama.
There will be no more Christmas parties in White Haven,
nor will polo games be allowed to proceed.
Pack up your things and head back home; it is time to surrender.
The police are no longer looking for incidents of sexual perversion.
Officers are not confronting intimate acts. They can wait.
What the police want is to head off acts of spontaneity.
It is henceforth against the law to throw one’s hands into the air
and announce at the top of one’s lungs how much one loves one’s neighbor.
Mamet made clear how much fun sex can be between strangers.
He ushered people right out of his house, including me, and delivered
an ultimatum. Once removed, few of the elderly are likely to return.
The cows and the horses have had to be taken from their barns. The
chicks have found their way. They’re hiding out at Poplar Records.
They have had their ice creams sundaes. They have been fucked by
Albert Finney. Alan Bates is running through the wheat in the nude.
He was wrestled to the ground by Oliver Reed. Ken Russell is not
the only one to have died. They are going one by one,
leaving one feeling very much alone.
Now it is time to put an end to acts of sexual perversity. And not just
acts taking place in Chicago. Cadillac Records sold out. They’re singing
Dixie at ‘Ol Miss, but they have been instructed to wear masks and to keep
their distance. I was pleased to have been served a slice of pecan pie.
Tonight’s rehearsal of The Boll Weevil has been postponed.
I got the Sugar Coat Everything Blues, but the only thing I can do is play
a march, or a song of exultation, like processional music at a funeral. Toot.
Time for the sledge hammers to smash the tiles and break the toilets.
The Blues was meant to cheer people up. Get them working in that sun.
Soul is a whole lot more. One is lonely but not just for love.
One is lonely for God. One sings Please. Pleasepleaseplease. Please, God,
don’t leave me now. One’s hunger is not solely of the body. One is lonely
and full of longing. One knows what one is missing. One reaches
out. Gospel is not just pain but celebration. One lives on edge. One must,
finally, face the music. Listen. Love is not enough. Sing.
The Nobel Prize for Listening
Our President makes a point of greeting little old ladies
in the White House.
He makes a grand entrance and hugs them.
His wife does a jig. I’ve seen them.
He gives them a medal and congratulates them
on reaching the ripe old age of 100. Astronauts,
soldiers, artists and old women: who could blame him?
Among the many accomplishments, aging is one of them.
Survival deserves attention. Stephen Sondheim even wrote
a song about it, “I’m still here.”
But I wonder.
Is beating Trump triumph? Is being there enough?
Does the President greet them in his impeccable French?
Does he ask them if they know their leader?
Do they discuss Greek declensions, debate the proper
use of each tense? Teddy Roosevelt did, before
dying in his sleep five days into the New Year
Our leaders and their earnest followers no longer value
education. They can speak but that’s about it. Few Americans
can balance a check book. Many can barely read and write.
I’m talking about those born in the USA. We eschew
19th century education. We’ve dropped the Classics. We
don’t want Latin. We don’t know Greek.
Instead, they’re praised for existing like raccoons and
mealy bugs. The hive lives. Put your ear to the wall. It’s hot.
The hive creates heat. They survive and then they drop.
The ants eat their dead bodies. Our President stands ready
to pin a medal on the little old lady and says, “You did it.”
Then they hug.
Set for Life
They were alive just a few months ago,
battling old age, illness, yet so full of verve and bluster.
They’re dead now but every morning when I wake,
Mother greets me, demanding that I shut up about their dough.
There are so many things we still need to cover.
They were alive just a few months ago.
Whenever I called, father would pick up and seemed to glow.
Despite his illness, he gave as much as he could muster.
They’re dead now but every morning when I wake,
Questions ran through my mind, and I’d say, “Whaddaya know?”
He was too sick to answer and all I ever said sounded lackluster.
They were alive just a few months ago, but are dead.
My heart beats faster than a mad killer in a story by Poe.
Something weighs on me and tortures me like a long-lost lover.
They’re gone all right but every morning when I wake, I pray,
“May they rest in peace, my folks, at least for my sake.”
They’ve had their lives; I feel nothing but abandoned and low.
They were once so vital; now passed away. Each and every mourning
they are no more, and I all I have to remember is their scorn.