Two Poems

Paul Kelly

First time I saw you

you were riding

a stolen motorcycle

down the middle

of our baseball field,

the cops in hot pursuit.

Last time I saw you

you were fat and ugly

and fixing elevators downtown

when you weren’t getting loaded

at the local bar.

What happened between

I can only call age,

too many fights, too much drugs,

one-too-many trips to jail.

And when I heard

that you had been killed,

shot down at a pay phone

on the avenue

by some Jamaicans you had screwed

in a deal,

I have to admit I was relieved.

I’m a selfish guy, perhaps,

but it was nice to have you back

the way I wanted to remember you.

I never told you this, I was never

really your friend,

but you should know that

all those years growing up,

I admired you from afar.

You were so alive,

you had so much guts.

You were everything I wanted

to be—and still are:

The coolest guy in the neighborhood.

Blond curls blowing shoulder-high,

the lights of a corner truck going red,

as you gun the throttle,

and grin.

My Father’s Rubbers

It was the day after the funeral.

My mother and I went out back to search his car,

a 1988 Caddy Cimaron with bent driver-side wiper,

parked at an angle on the grass.

We didn’t say it; it was probably due to years

of my grandmother’s conspiracy theories,

but we had visions of bundles of cash

hidden under the floor mats.

We looked and looked.

At first we turned up nothing:

a few empty packs of cigarettes,

gold-lettered matchbooks

from restaurants he never took us to,

phone numbers with no names attached

written on ripped slips of paper,

an open bottle of Canadian Club

with peeled label,

a cassette of Mozart’s Requiem

conducted by Leonard Bernstein.

So much for finding treasure, I thought,

when, just about to go back inside to watch A Christmas Story,

I found something:

Tucked in the pouch behind the passenger’s seat,

my father’s rubbers.

Not the ones for your feet—

the other kind.

My mother didn’t see them, thank God;

I jammed them in my pocket

when she wasn’t looking.

Later that night, after she had gone to bed,

I took them out beneath the plastic sunflower kitchen clock,

its petals flecked with grease.

I stared and stared at the box, its bright-blue coloring,

its bright-white writing, its hastily torn-off top.

I thought about him, age 56, lying straight in the coffin,

a sense of peace filling my chest,

joy (almost),

a thankfulness that before he left this world

he left me a gift—this one useful lesson:

We don’t break the rules; we are broken by them.


Poetry Writing

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