With the selection of poems by Jack Powers, we continue our series of original fiction or poetry by writers who either published their first book at 40 or after, or who have yet to publish a book. Writers interested in submitting work should see our guidelines.
UNEARTHED When Jim googles me, my picture appears above the bio of a Jack Powers born 1827, soldier, gambler, horseman, accused killer, outlaw. You look good for 192, Jim writes as I contemplate my name-kin, murdered and robbed by vaqueros in 1860, now lying perhaps in a rocky grave. How many other name-kins await mis-googles to unearth their long-buried bones and bios? Stone Soup poet Jack, Manhattan coach Jack, actor Jack, all reborn from one flawed algorithm. What do I owe all past and future Jacks? Should I help Death Row Jack get his life back? Two weeks later a teacher emails me for help with a poem by Stone Soup Jack. I am the wrong Jack Powers, I reply, but find him a YouTube reading, a fan blog, thinking it's the least I can do for kin and fellow poet, but I'd do the same for car salesman Jack, truck mechanic Jack, lying in graves with my name edged in stone. The teacher emails me a thank you and says, You may be the WRONG Jack Powers now but be the RIGHT Jack Powers in the future. If I take care of my name-kin, perhaps after I ride off in that black Cadillac, some future Jack will briefly snatch me back
FLIRTS Once Nanny settles in her pew, she searches the back rows as she catches her breath. Down to ninety pounds, her fragile heart made the walk down the aisle feel like a marathon. She'd layered on rouge and bright red lipstick, slept in curlers to get some bounce back in her dyed blonde hair. I don't even know his name, she whispers as she pretends not to see him, still broad shouldered in his tailored pinstripes. Under thick gray brows, he scans, then nods. She turns to face the altar. After Mass, she waits at the curb in the April sun. He stops, removes his fedora and, in a gravelly voice, asks, How are you today? She blushes. Fine, she says, sticks her chin in the air. And you? He smiles. Very good. He leans in closer. Very good. For a moment, she becomes her twenty-something self, beguiling young Springfield suitors on Sunday trips with the girls to Brigham's. Her eyes are blue as the sky! He limps off, turns at the corner, puts two fingers to the brim of his hat.
A NOD TO THE MASTER Zippy Stolfi distilled the head nod to its essence in seventh grade from the moment he first appeared at the beach that summer: chin lifted an eighth of an inch, dark brows tightened but not raised, brown eyes saying I see you. What elegance and economy! Sincere but not eager. Cool. Effortless. We couldn't respond in kind so we slapped him five, said, What's up? shouted, Zippeeee! We practiced at home in mirrors, never getting it quite right, but learning the eyes and brow were key. I've been distracted since by the high five, the clasped grip, the fist bump, the elbow tap, even the garish Yo, yo, yo, but always return to the simplicity of Zippy's nod. When I heard he died of cancer, forty years after we'd last met, I still felt the sharp stab of his loss, of a door closing on a era, on a little known master who died too young. So I raise my chin to you, one last nod, across this lifetime, Zippy, I still see you.
EVERY SNOWFLAKE The Inuit do not have fifty words for snow, but the Greeks had eight words for love: that familiar kind you pack in blocks and build into a home, that flirty type that lures you to the window but doesn't stay, the practical that treats a sprain or chills a beer, the friendly solid base for the grip and glide of fellowship, that self-polished sort for ogling your own reflection, that manic type that blinds you in a storm, even that pristine-landscape kind that leaves your mouth agape. But we talk only of the sparkle in moonlight kind, the never touches ground kind, the captured in lines and offered in cupped hands to a lover kind. But what of snow angels and snow globes and snow forts dug on snow days, what of swirling snow in April dusting crocus and daffodil, what of snow squalls and avalanches and glittering snow on bowing branches? Why stop at fifty words for snow or love? Coin a word each time they fall, whitening weathered fields, making the world new.
HOW TO HOLD A HEART (Source: "Tip: How to Hold a Heart." Malia Wollan, New York Times, Jan. 8, 2016) Slide your hand behind the heart until you can feel your knuckles graze the smooth pericardial sac encasing it. Once the organ is centered in your palm, lift up. Always cradle it in two hands. Squeeze the pinkie sides of your palms together, overlapping your fingers as if you are scooping up water to drink.
MGOTHGER AND DGAUGHTGER When Mom dragged us out on errands, Mary sat up front and they chatted in their secret language. Did she say Jgohnnagie and Dgannagy? I'd ask Danny, but they'd moved on. We could never keep up. They were two best friends out shopping while Danny, Ella and I fought in the back over window seats, drawing lines to stake out territory. When Mary turned sixteen, their Uga lingo was replaced by screaming about boys and curfews and the smell of alcohol, rising to a crescendo when she moved in with her post-college boyfriend. She was exiled: suddenly Pgersagonaga non ggrataga. We couldn't even talk about her. When she left him, Mary was forgiven and invited home, but instead she moved to Boston, keeping a cool distance. But once Mom was alone, Mary started visiting on weekends. And when Mom stopped talking, Mary spoke for her: Mom doesn't want that or Mom wants you to… I'd returned to the back seat. And they'd circled back to bgestaga frgiendsaga. Yes, yes, Mary murmured as she massaged Mom's feet or wiped Mom's chin.
Jack Powers is the author of Everybody’s Vaguely Familiar. His poems have appeared in The Southern Review, The Cortland Review and elsewhere. He won the 2015 and 2012 Connecticut River Review Poetry Contests and was a finalist for the 2013 and 2014 Rattle Poetry Prizes. Visit his website: http://www.jackpowers13.com/poetry/.
Reading these poems made my day. Thanks
Excellent! We’re hoping to publish this marvelous poet’s STILL LOVE collection soon.
At last, a poet who turns life into a beauty we can relate to and possesses the imagination to observe life as it is with care and grace. Bravo.