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Poems by Mark Wakely


Verbs unnerve her.
She wants nothing to do with them,
those hyperactive words that race
around like unwelcome children,
demanding her full attention.
Adverbs annoy her.
She much prefers to remain
unmodified, cannot even imagine
being transitive; frozen in place,
she's a past perfect scene preserved
for eternity, a living dictionary
with an inactive voice that
no one thinks to reference.
Adjectives aren't her-
those words too won't do;
she would rather live like
a proper noun in her proper house
filled with good, solid words like
table, chair, couch.
She's both the subject and object
of her domain, not linked
to anything she can't singularly
possess, yet at night she still
yearns for some wild word
to slip under her door and give
chase to her textbook life.


Memory, those obsolete circuit chips,
misfires at the oddest moments,
stops current conversations with
shocking inappropriateness,
jolts us while we absently
stack the evening dishes or
idle in our daily dose of traffic.
Worse is when memory grows dim
and we grope in a landscape once intimate,
where all the names we knew are well
beyond our means, where strangers
prove they know us,
and we're ashamed.
A tangled maze of
faulty wiring and switches that
inexplicably trip at the wrong time,
memory seems our imperfect appliance
that flashes in fits and can't be fixed,
woefully inaccurate.
Or does memory serve only to protect,
a defense made perfect by its
clever imperfections?
Every written word can haunt us
by its permanent precision,
but memory flickers like a
dangerous lamp,
one that could split the night
with painful light,
but brilliantly, mercifully,
shorts itself out instead.


The day the gravel road became
no longer our casual playground but
a hard, defined street, our
outraged mothers armed themselves
with brooms and charged right out
of their antiseptic kitchens to
confront the man who would dare
provide tar for their children's feet.
Meanwhile, we children stared in rows
of unaccustomed silence at the stout
asphalt machine as it chugged along
like a smoky paddleboat, leaving
hot black swaths in its orderly wake
that steamed like a stagnant stream
at twilight. Concerned only for their
waxed floors and new carpeting,
our mothers shook their makeshift
weapons in the oily air, a sudden
Luddite tribe opposed to the miraculous
transformation that transfixed their
humbled children, while the man
on the machine- seemingly oblivious
to their hurled threats and ramrod
straight on his slow throne-
glided by majestically in his
self ordination, a high priest
and we his witnesses to his
mechanical ministry, his
petroleum anointing.


And so there was Oedipus, blind as a bat, his kingdom in
chaos, and only Creon to take over, unwilling and half
as wise. What made Oedipus think his future was not his,
the oracle damning a stranger? His fate forewarned
so clearly, that rare gift, yet he refused to hear.
Why then did he choose his eyes and not his ears?
Just the week before he had pointed out a distant ship
on the Aegean, and knew she was friendly; with eyesight
so sharp, the lack of sounds wouldn't bother. At least
he wouldn't hear what they whispered behind his back.
Instead he was reduced to beggar, an embarrassment in
the marketsquare, few acts of charity to keep him alive.
But no matter. His mother survived the hanging. She tended
for their secret son, a slow boy shunned who had unspeakable
visions of the future: his father famous for all the wrong reasons,
and fierce nightmares of Roman Centuries to come.


The problem with death is that when it happens
to you, you don't get to talk about it.

There are no lecture circuits, no post interviews,
no chance to voice regrets or apologies due.

No way to pick up a phone and call a friend
"Hey- guess what!"

Or otherwise spread the news.

What happens when you die is of course
still a great unknown.

Either there's a Supreme Being you've never met
deciding forever which way you'll go

as you stammer and sweat, or else Nada,
that cosmic black hole that pulls all life in.

Whichever is true, I'd give anything to send back
just a word or two, nothing fancy.

Wouldn't you?

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Biographical sketch: Mark is a college administrator at Elmhurst College in Elmhurst, Illinois. He
is married and has three children.

Mark Wakely recommends:

Heart's Needle by W.D. Snodgrass
Reason: Easily one of the best examples of how a poet can take a lifetime of tragedy and triumphs and create heartfelt poetry that is neither maudlin nor overly smug.

Recommendations for writers:

Write about what truly matters to you, not what you think others are expecting to read. To do otherwise is to be false to your own voice, your own vision.


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