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Shenandoah Sowash

Love Poem for a Brooklyn Boy, 1959


Kiss me fierce in the phone booth, write love
across my knuckles, tell me I’m perfect in red,
whisper you’re the prettiest gal in this booth,
the prettiest gal at Coney Island
, fold your smokes
in your shirt sleeves, fix your hair in my compact,
draw your name across my wrist in eyeliner,
be famous, be in the middle, be my sidekick,
go north with me, go west, tell me where the thrills
live. Brooklyn Boy: you live hard,
beyond the genius of Coney Island, beyond the beach,
no joy enough for you, you groggy, you drunk
in the morning, you locked out of hope, and your line:
This place is a boardwalk of broken dreams.


In the booth beside us a girl picks at a bit
of eyeshadow on her mother’s face. Outside are seven
women wearing seven hats. Some wear rings, hold each other
for help walking or searching in purses for packets of tissue,
loose aspirin, peaches half-eaten, miniature dictionaries,
television schedules, rubber bands, photographs
of children with ponies, gold necklaces broken.

You pretend to sleep, head flat against the glass door,
hiding your erection under your hands, and here
I’m thinking about women too.

So this is tenderness in a phone booth.
I’ll take it, and give some to you.


Take for example, the landmine –
the genius of an instant grave.

Or take a pigeon on a farmhouse roof.
Or smell a goose's breath and sing into the cup's

elongated ear. Or run your fingers down a fat man's
spine. Benjamin Garhart said he could

smell the trash-can fire before he lit it.
The landmine ain't no genius. It was sixth grade.

I found a dead crow. I froze its claw.
In the next world, there will be only

angels wrapping paper and green bottles.
They'll jingle like breaking Tiffany lamps.

Old Blue Book

Not her eyes, or what was left of them, but her mouth,
gums blue from the Popsicle at Coney Island, her lips bruised

to make her handsome, or a monster. The newspaper published
her with those blue lips, but they were funny there, the text beside her,

her prior convictions, her sentence: twenty years for robbing a gas station with a samurai sword.

Her lips the spine of an old blue book, no title, pinned together
with dry flaps of skin, Carmex making it worse.

You’d think she’d choke on her own horror show mouth, or choke on the rot between her teeth.
But she didn’t have teeth. I looked.

➥ Bio