I Saw Two Beat Poets at an Elks Club with a Girl in My English Class

…………..We stood at the back, her smoking,
spiked blonde hair, biker jacket,
………………………..much cooler than me.

…………..I sipped beer, nervous, chattering
about “that Ginsberg sound”
………………………..—when out he stepped,

…………..big granny glasses, grey prophet’s
beard, pumping a harmonium,
………………………..chanting:

…………..Bush paid Noriega, used to work together
……………They sat on a couch
……………and talked about the weather …

…………..Who was this tuneless
dorky grandpa? Where was the goblin sea hag
………………………..that once sang

…………..out of this mouth?
I stared, heartsick. Gregory Corso
………………………..swaggered out,

…………..head of hair, horn-rimmed specs,
black blazer. Edgier, tighter,
………………………..better. My date nodded hiply

…………..till Corso tripped, cockeyed
drunk. Spell broken.
………………………..I stopped reading them;

…………..never saw my classmate
out of class again. Now, thirty-one years later,
………………………..I’m the age,

…………..almost, of those old swans,
who weren’t so bad, really,
………………………..just bone-tired.

…………..Comes a tap at the window,
a figure, I know them,
………………………..the Chernobyl eyes,

…………..the duende fingernails. I step out
into humid West Philly. They
………………………..are bald, quick, shoeless,

…………..in sackcloth and ashes.
We walk, they talk, a non-
………………………..stop rhizomatic whine,

…………..reckoning for me
which strangers play piano by ear,
………………………..which conceal handguns

…………..under their coats;
who was knifed here,
………………………..who OD’d here,

…………..and, hours later—
at a boarded-up row house,
………………………..blackened windows,

…………..empty for years—
who was born here, and born again.
………………………..It’s my house.

John Wall Barger

John Wall Barger

John Wall Barger’s fourth collection of poems, The Mean Game (Palimpsest, 2019), was a finalist for The Phillip H. McMath Book Award. His fifth book, Resurrection Fail, is forthcoming with Spuyten Duyvil Press (Fall 2021). He teaches Creative Writing in the BFA program at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
John Wall Barger

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Author: John Wall Barger

John Wall Barger’s fourth collection of poems, The Mean Game (Palimpsest, 2019), was a finalist for The Phillip H. McMath Book Award. His fifth book, Resurrection Fail, is forthcoming with Spuyten Duyvil Press (Fall 2021). He teaches Creative Writing in the BFA program at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia.