Thursday, August 25, 2011

Q and A: Do you simultaneously submit?

(a poem reposted for a Facebook friend -- it originally appeared in my collection Compulsions of Silkworms and Bees)

Q and A: Do you simultaneously submit?

My grandfather sold Electroluxes in Morgantown

door-to-door under the constant rain of ash.

A laboring mountain town, it was a joke

to think of keeping it clean.

Roadside wild flowers pinched coal.

Soot snuck in to gray the sugar bowl,

to dust baseboards, wash tubs, porch gliders,

the bird’s newspaper-lined cage, the bird, its clawed feet.

His boss had a pork-pink face, jowls.

He drove the men around town in a converted hearse,

dropping them at street corners. Glowering,

he’d say, “No tea cakes. Cover your beat.”

Now I am the boss in the long black car and, too,

my grandfather at the top of High Street, dusk;

he’ll disappear one night, drunk, die in a hospital

in upstate New York, his head wrapped like a swami,

but for now he’s sober. He says, “No tea cakes.

Cover your beat, Baggott. Keep at it.”

A family to feed, who would knock once and

sit on the stoop through the bitter winter?

In a warm parlor, he’ll prove the vacuum’s power

by sucking up a metal ball which locks to the tube’s mouth.

I admit I have no tricks only the hearse and the heavy case,

a slouch and shuffle, a valley of lit windows.