Room 58 • Poetry Hotel 

Eight Poems / J.T. Whitehead

 

 

A CROSS-EXAMINATION (after a pleading)

IN THE CASE OF

HUMANITY vs. THE BASE

              Counsel for the plaintive – Humanity:

 

1.

 

Have you injected the disinfectant?

 

Have you attended rallies? 

           

                                                Armed?

 

Did you think you could shoot The Plague with an AK 47?

 

Or did you intend to intimidate a different victim?

 

2.

 

Let me ask you about this – instead –

 

Have you read about the Pied Piper?

 

And – if you have –

 

            Would you say you are one of the rats?

 

            Or would you say you are one of our children?

 

3.

 

            Or both?

-------------------------

COAL

 

Sometimes, like now, because it is happening now,

I think about this virus spreading across America.

 

It makes me think of great books written by

French thinkers, perhaps Camus, at a time

that required Resistance.

 

It makes me think of artists and poets in Africa,

where such fears are constant, but unreported

in the Class rooms of America.

 

It makes me think of the insights born in camps.

            I know it’s not the same. 

But I have to say so, to retain credit as an intellectual.

And I must admit, it makes me think of Victor Frankl.

 

Because I think sadly of all the old people who will not be here.

When it is done.

 

It makes me think of the great works written in

the trenches, in what was once the only one

            of what would be two World Wars,

by Wilfred Owen, or Remarque, or Blaise Cendrars.

 

It makes me think of Shostakovich, but only in a way

I hear, but do not know.

 

It makes me think of the great Buddhist teachings

born in the destruction and the war in Vietnam.

It makes me think of Thich Nhat Hanh.

 

It doesn’t just turn me to Boccaccio’s Decameron.

 

It makes me think of the great Eastern European

poets and playwrights, writing in Stalin’s shadow –

            their curtain drawn.

 

It makes me grateful as any miner for the canary

that won’t stop

singing.

 

-------------------------

THEY DON'T MEAN TO KILL

                                                          – after Orhan Veli

 

Life must be very strange & trying

for the Uzi, the AR 15, the AK 47.

 

Anyone, like they do, who suffers

From borderline personality disorder

 

Must find it hard to define who they are.

Poor guns, always becoming the Other.

 

Having to adapt their personalities

To resemble their partners, to please.

 

Changing all the time to match another

Must be confusing.  Having to defer,

 

To make their loved one’s enemies

Into their own, must seem so arbitrary,

 

Yet somehow necessary just to be,

Given their own peculiar psychology.

 

I would hate to have to kill someone

Just because my significant other said so.

 

What a terrible love these guns repay.

They lead such tragic lives, don’t they?

-------------------------

 

ONE WAS MORE THAN ENOUGH

 

One could believe in the one God,

she said.

One can choose to believe in one, true, God.

But that would be monotonous . . . & odd . . .

monotony’s . . . odd – & boring.

she said.

 

She picked up, around the room, here & there.

One hand touched a breast, the other, the air,

waving freely, after she’d put away stuff . . .

Some lotions, a strop, a pair of hand-cuffs . . .

 

I think I could learn to like you,

she said,

& we could learn to like one hundred gods,

gods of Eros, the hunt, time, & the dead . . .

gods to worship with our bodies . . .

she said.

 

I said,

I think it’s time for me to go.

 

It was too many gods not to know

            or to know.

-------------------------

THE LECTURE ON EVIL, EVENTUALLY WHISPERED

 

I am afraid, said the illustrious professor,

that there is no adequate substitute

for that Medieval concept,

odd to some, & theological at that.

But the evidence that informs us

makes its presence known . . .

            except . . .

 

            His voice grew faint . . . stopped.

                        Looking through the glass

            high above the mall,

            he saw, on the lawn, the under-grads gathered . . .

 

            around Mad Max . . .

 

            Max thumped THE GOOD BOOK.

                       They called him “Mad Max.”

            The kids did.

 

            2 of them, impervious to the other kids

                        & to this week’s sermon,

            were locked in an embrace,

                        face sucking face . . .

 

moments . . .

 

             the teacher said

 

. . . send hints of grace.

-------------------------

 

THE MUSE

 

It’s not as if she would need to forgive,

like a Jesus Christ might, this, my sin.

 

It’s that she releases me, to live – 

the Mother, tried before Solomon.

 

-------------------------

THE MAGICIAN: I

 

Creativity does not bear a slow death well.

It jumps & skips in a scotch-colored eye

Then strides through storms & dreams.

It is regal as purple in the robe that it wears.

 

Even when the greenest pines cut the air,

Long knives raised high at a night-time

Rally, it finds that Being recognizes itself

By knowing not only itself, but Others. 

 

In ways, in the ways that an artist sees

Not only the green that lives in the leaves

& their leaving but also the blues above,

Despite that cover of scotch-bottle skies,

It sees rapid red in the blush of the boy

& it shakes with such beauty first known.

 

In the theater of Life the body surrounds,

A darkness bounds the light performance.

& sense is held in the word for its own

Existence, a spirit in body not flame,

& everything living is once so created

            & once so created is never to blame.

 

Such a life should never be sacrificed slowly

But lived forever.  Or left without shame.

 

-------------------------

HIS LITTLE ZENO

1.

The boy has had a hard year.

His mother found a new boyfriend – if a 75-year-old man

May be considered a boy, or a man worth 300 million a friend.

Mom and Dad fought . . . every other day . . . for a year.

His father has filed for divorce and moved out.

The fighting has ended.

The boy is in a high ability program.

He is also an all-star baseball player.

They have been on the field for an hour and a half now.

The sun is down.

And the father does not know when his oldest son needs a ride home.

He is out in the world with friends somewhere, and the cell phone is charged.

“Ten more pitches . . . please?”

Neither of them, really, wants the night to end.

“Ten more, and then we have to leave, okay?”

“Okay, thanks Dad.”

10 hits later, and one bruised shin and one bruised ulna later –

line drives back to the mound – the son says, pointing –

“We can use the batting cage.  It has a net.  You won’t get hit.”

 

2.

The father stares at him.  He was always the responsible one.

The one with the vacuum cleaner.

The one that said “no.”

The one they called the Lord of the Laundry.

The one that balanced the books.

The one that said “we can’t afford it.”

He was no fun.

Millionaires are fun.

10-year-old boys are fun.

Mom was the fun one.

“Okay, but just 5 pitches or so, okay?”

5 hits later . . .

“Just a few more?  Please?  I have a new stance and it’s working.”

It was true. 

His youngest was ripping them up the middle into the protective net.

But it was well after 9:00 and the oldest son had not called yet, too.

“Okay just a couple more, but the sun is behind the horizon now.”

“And it’s late.”

“Thanks!”

Four hits later . . . “Just a couple more?”

“Okay . . . just a couple more . . . but we have to be ready to pick up your brother.  It’s late.”

Four hits later . . . “Just a couple more?”

 

3.

The father has a Masters of the Arts in Philosophy.

His youngest son is wise beyond his knowledge.

And he is always reminding the father of his studies.

The father recalls his first lessons, tonight, from the Greeks.

He has no idea where the mother is tonight.

Perhaps back in the mansion.

Where the boy once visited.

Where the watery-eyed and bony-knuckled old man gave him a gift.

Maybe she’s receiving another gift, of a different kind.

(A wise Jewish philosopher once hinted that love is electric)

But it does not matter now.

What matters is tonight’s lesson . . . taught to him again by his youngest son.

The evening has been punctuated . . . by the boy’s power over time . . .

And the knowledge it imparts . . .

The absolutely certain knowledge . . .

That before anything can go away, be gone and forever . . .

Half of it must go away first . . .

 

-------------------------

About the Author

J.T. Whitehead received Bachelors’ degrees from Wabash College in English & Philosophy, a Master’s degree in Philosophy from Purdue, where he

studied existentialism, political philosophy, and eastern philosophy, and a law degree from Indiana University. He spent time between, during, and

after schools on a grounds crew, as a pub cook, a delivery man, a book shop clerk, and a liquor store clerk, inspiring four years as a labor lawyer on

the workers’ side. Whitehead is the former Editor-in-Chief of So It Goes: The Literary Journal of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, serving in

that capacity for issues 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6. Whitehead is a one-time Pushcart Prize-nominated short story author (2011), a six-time Pushcart Prize-

nominated poet (2014, 2015, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018), and was the winner of the Margaret Randall Poetry Prize in 2015. He has published over 250

poems in over 100 literary journals and small press publications, including The Lilliput Review, Slipstream, Left Curve, The Broadkill Review,

The Iconoclast, & Gargoyle. His first full-length collection of poetry, The Table of the Elements, (Broadkill River Press, 2015) was nominated for

the National Book Award. Having studied or traveled in Hong Kong, Amsterdam (twice), Paris, Vancouver, Beijing, Prague, and Oxford, England,

Whitehead now practices law by day and poetry by night in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he lives with his two amazing sons, Daniel and Joseph.

 

Acknowledgements: "The Muse" previously appeared in So It Goes (Issue 5) under a different title.   

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