by Jean Pedrick
The old man I went to work for
suddenly sometimes talked in rushes when
a sadness overtook him. Little stories.
A New York colleague of his went home
one summery day—wife and servants already
gone to the shore—and went upstairs
to her dim room and put on underthings
and hose, elegant frock, a flowered hat;
with studious grace walked down the curving
stair, out the French doors, all down the long
green garden till he came to the swing.
Then he sat in the swing and blew his head off.
“You’re quiet,” he said in awhile.
“Is it too shocking? I think, myself,
for all I know of the world, I found it—
hard to encompass.” “Oh, no,” I said.
“It’s only that my father did that, too.
Not in a dress, of course.”
2. Those Were Fierce Afternoons
He had so many tics, how not to think
there was someone in there with him?
Eye droop, neck jerk, foot stomp
in accelerations of mixed order—
I do these things, he explained,
but I’m not doing them—I held myself
like a little willow basket, ready
to catch the total disassemblage.
Yet in a sudden tableau of repose
against the light of the window,
cropped hair, patched elbows, still—
he looks a perfect, sound and suitable boy.
He calls me—in French—
his little cauliflower. He says
it’s a term of douce endearment.
I try to see the cauliflower
as sweet and dear. I see it
blunt, bland, brainy-looking,
its leaves pulled over its head.
Being whited. Being saved till ready.
But born to be devoured.
3. Leaving the Office
He was supposed to “shut up shop”—
retire. And then go home?
And what about me? Hands and face
falling off, telling no time until
I get an invite someday
to his house, to tea?
How shall I ever work for someone
who doesn’t speak in lines?
To whom shall I bring my poem?
The rain when it rained was the kind
that blinds and stings, good to put off
going home in. One day he took his rubbers
from the closet, tossed them into the room,
stopped and leaned on the dictionary stand,
peering—what had we looked up last, what
were we up to?—then sat again, swiveled,
saw the rubbers, hooked one with his cane,
put it on, deposited cane and took umbrella.
“Je vous baise les mains,” he said at the door.
I held up my hands like rags hung out
to dry. He flashed an eye and went home.
I go home, too, in my fashion.
Mrs. Williams, in her quaking elevator
made of brownish corset bones, drops me
to street and rain—a kind of childbirth.
I cross the Common, pass between
the baseball field and the tombs.
The tombs have rusted iron doors.
One has a hole the size of a fist,
the size of a baseball. A soul
could fly out; a soul could fly in.
Copyright © 2001 by Jean Pedrick. This poem appears
in the chapbook The Man in the Picture, printed in the Walking to
Windward series, Oyster River Press, 2001.