Heavenly Couple | Rick Cummings

                                Heavenly Couple | Rick Cummings



After my mother left him
and it was my father’s turn to have me
for the weekend, we usually wound up
at the movies, monster flicks and Japanese sci fi,
possibly because he liked them himself,
or because anything was better
than sitting in his downtown hotel room
with its chair and bed and TV set.

Drunk on Jim Beam, his great bulk
rested beside me as Reptilicus
or the Beast from Twenty Thousand Fathoms
collided titanically on the screen and died,
crushing whole cities in the process.

As my father stared, aliens came to earth
with their giant robots and death rays,
destroying our armies, stealing our women,
our beautiful young women, bearing them off
to new, unimaginable lives.


I fully intended to paint the rose trellis
that summer Sunday six years ago,
and even bought a gallon of white paint
and some sandpaper for the belt sander.

I put on my surgical mask and ball cap
and stood out there in the back yard
feeling very much on top of things,
imagining my wife watching from the kitchen
and saying to her mother on the phone, Oh,
he’s out back painting the trellis,
and both women would experience
that deep sense of comfort
related to the husbandly painting
and repairing of things on Sunday.

Then, about halfway through the sanding,
which compared to painting
is tedious and unfulfilling,
plus it was like ninety degrees that day,
John dropped by with some tickets
to the Indians game, the Yankees
were in town, Sabathia was pitching,
there would be hot dogs and beer,

so I took off my mask, shut off the sander,
and went to the game with John,
dead these three years now, although
he somehow lives on, right there,
at the point where the old paint
meets the sanded, as yet
unpainted wood and its dark grain,
the point where John showed up
and we went off to the game.


A very old man moves down the sidewalk
pulling one of those little rolling oxygen tanks
with the thin plastic tube snaking up
under his shirt and alongside his neck
and over his ear, then along his cheek
until finally arriving in his nostrils.

This would be the same guy
who stood on a carrier deck in ’45,
puffing on a Lucky, his white cap rakish
on his crew cut as he watched some gray
foreign coast slip by, the same guy,
a regular Joe, you might have observed
a few years later, jabbing a butt at his pals
in a Brooklyn bar, his point being
you would have to be blind not to see
the Dodgers didn’t have any pitching
and he was right, this being back
when his hair was black and swept back
and he liked to tuck a cig behind his ear,
he liked the way it sounded when you asked
for a pack of smokes, the way you smacked
the pack down tight against your palm,
like you belonged, like you knew the score,

and a few years later
he liked to tuck that pack into the white
sleeve of his t-shirt when he bowled,
or shot pool in Queens, always in that gray-
blue air, that smoky cloud formation
hovering over the century,
and a girl who worked at a Coney Island
hot dog stand just happened to enjoy
the James Dean way his eyes narrowed,
that little squint he got when he lit up,
like he knew something you didn’t,
and furthermore she was quite impressed
when he struck a match on the heel of his shoe
like Brando, like a guy who could handle himself,

liked it so much, in fact, that she gave him
four kids, all of them grown up now with kids
of their own, can you beat that, and him
with his three-pack-a-day habit long retired
from GM, and her dead and buried, never
smoked a day in her life, go figure, gone
these ten years now, the kids spread out
to the four corners, and only this little rolling tank
to follow him down the street to the drugstore.




GEORGE BILGERE’s most recent book of poems is Imperial, from the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2014. He has won the Cleveland Arts Prize, a Pushcart Prize, the Midland Authors Award, a Witter Bynner Fellowship and the May Swenson Poetry Award.  His poems are often featured on Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac, and he has appeared as a guest on A Prairie Home Companion. Bilgere teaches at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio