Two twins appeared in my 6th grade class
the year my father had his coronary
thrombosis. I couldn’t tell them apart until
I got to know them better on the inside,
and then the resemblance all but disappeared. One
played bassoon, the other played timpani
in our school orchestra. We squeaked and sawed
two concerts out that year, one in the fall
and one in the spring. I played the slide trombone
which has a spit-valve for cleaning out obstructions
accreting on the inside. My father lay down
on the kitchen floor, his mouth working noiselessly
like a greased hinge. It comes from the Greek word
meaning lump or clump or curd or clot
of milk. And spit-valves can get clogged up
with spit or snot or gum or even a deciduous
tooth. What I felt on the inside was
nothing. Then anger. And then a kind of
shame. I couldn’t see my mother but I knew
she was sitting out there in the dark auditorium
crying. I emptied my spit-valve onto the head
of the self-important first trumpet sitting
in front of me on the penultimate concert riser. One
of the twins saw me do it. The timpani twin.
Our eyes met, then we looked away: as the band
played on, we were laughing hysterically on the inside.
Don’t you just want to dummy slap history?
Don’t you want to knock some sense
into the 14th century, tell it about the rats
and the fleas, bacteriology, sanitation, personal
hygiene? I mean wouldn’t you just love
to bitch slap those peasants and popes
who blamed the bubonic plague on the Jews,
those flagellants who blamed it on themselves,
those doctors with their bloodletting and leeches
and humors? And aren’t your fingers just itching
to box the ears of Europe in the late middle ages
for its Inquisitions, its tribunals, its autos-de-fe?
All those poor apostates, heretics, bigamists, sodomizers
who were just like you and me. Just like you and me.
For their sake—for all our sakes—I say,
let’s clock history, cuff it upside the head,
for all its ignorance, sanctimony, rectitude.
In Praise of Poor Excuses
Blessed are the poor excuses
for they are inherently of Earth.
Earth, that poor excuse for Heaven.
Heaven, that worst excuse of all
for not showing up for your own
life here on Earth, where all the poor excuses
live. Just listen to the poor excuses
singing together, hoisting another
draft of a poor excuse up to their lips
and spilling it down their shirtfronts,
and laughing the loudest, and telling the biggest
whoppers. And what on earth
are we to make of all the poor excuses
that we make here on Earth? I say:
praise them. For they are in the world
and of it. For they are falling from the lips
like so many colorful, pathetic, beautiful
dead leaves dancing down and no one
is using them for anything except
maybe the children, and here and there
a few suspicious-looking grown-ups
gathering them into piles, into poems,
and digging around in them till evening comes,
and heading home with one or two
still sticking to their heads.
Paul’s poems have been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, The Writer’s Almanac, and Best of the Net. He has been published in Carolina Quarterly, Shenandoah, New Delta Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Atlanta Review, Poetry East, The Sun, and many other journals and anthologies. He has won a Pushcart Prize, the Comstock Review‘s Muriel Craft Bailey Award, and chapbook contests from Grayson Books, Riverstone Press, Frank Cat Press, and Split Oak Press. He has four full-length collections of poetry, Bending the Notes (2008), Dear Truth (2009), A Little in Love a Lot (2011), and Hurt Into Beauty (2012). He makes his living in Boston as a sign language interpreter at the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.