Mennonite Poetry Home | Larry Nightingale



Luncheon (five discourses)

      The untold want ... Whitman

      You get bigger as you go / no one told me, I just know. Cockburn

It is the lunch hour,
menu arrived, your fogged reading glasses down
off your nose, the great Canadian small-town spy
novel not cracked, your ear-pods out,
your anonymous grey raincoat hanging
dripping on the rack, you still just settling
into your seat at the mysteriously new-name Hillside Grille
table for three by the window

you meeting with the old folks,
all the black-bruised funny-bones aching
there in the old hometown, inside time's rainy snow-globe
where the old café's twin psychedelic headstone
pinball machines stood glowing shoulder to shoulder,
shuddering, shaking long-haired bells and buzzers
and tilting Allan, the wedge headed Mennonite boy, long ago

forever, you can still see his hot breath streaming,
muttering his bad language out loud in a frozen word bubble
still in that strangled moment of a common winter Saturday
in that onetime pool-hall side room all his skinny feelings
failed and as well his stumps for fingers
('lost to the fucking saws at the factory')

and the mute bent ghost of our poor lonely Mrs. Betty,
original manager, yet violently quakes, just holding steady
through all what's feared regards an explorer lost, a body entire,
her absentee man, her Mr., her groom, her cold cares crystalizing
round the room and silver dome of that periwinkle Sunbeam
milkshake maker

wherein seems to be our Northwest midwinter holiday swirling
neither merrying nor gentling them there, this sleet and rain
not soon forsaking, love and pain
through the fleeting town carrying them,
where now and again you or I have lingered, not strayed
for long, never having steered the prow of our souls'
proprietorship (the ever-expanding universe)
back through the narrow passes

dear C., bleak days before Christmas (will you be ordering
your egg free-range sunny side up with sausages
and maple syrup?) we know not
first hand (yet) of our own dreaming
screaming ghosts, nor angels' midday herald (there locked
in time's old establishment) no midnight-clear passages

our messengers knowing not of former lives nor afterlives,
though (please God) some have legitimate
desperate immediate need of these, but you now
with transcendental excuse-me half-wink eye-lid flutter,
double-checking for them, web apps metaphysical
on your digital device, there between the divining forks
and knives, the country farmer's cream and butter,
as relentless aging modern secret agent folk will do

since I've hit 'send' (encrypted here from large coast metropolis
where the Our Lady of Sorrows new bell-tower apparatus
is cranking out a carol, same matins hymn mechanical
again and again and again, holding hostage
my entire East Village, like a stalled ice-cream truck from hell,
everywhere once tinkling worlds crash hard as iron,
wheels grinding slow, but at last—no longer,
rung hollow tidings end, as again I've hit 'refresh' and 'send')
perhaps just as your tall clear glass of mossy mountain reservoir
water has arrived

dear C., perhaps the long armed sleeves-rolled-up
taciturn country gentleman—new proprietor
son of our gregarious old long-lost cleft and chisel chinned
gumboot captain, perhaps more-than-coincidental
namesake (famous subject of a troubadour's national
folk anthem) it is who has kindly set it for you

like that mid-19th century voyager, Sir Franklin,
as much as that boy from the farm
who once we all knew well and loved
who tumbled about our laps and ankles, tugging at our arms
in a tiny sailor-suit, weathered secret adolescent storms
with a Botticelli face and so much of his mother's charm...
Were you recognized as he came leaning over?

dare to whispering ask him
'young agent, are you still reaching?'
As if, there, he's reaching in across and through
the low lovely arc of his dear café's veined fissured ceiling
with his (everyman's) inner genius—his Michelangelo,
this his pristine chapel blue, between God and man, and woman
and man, and man and man, and that withered brown apple
still-life, across and through, full span, reaching

for that spark divine first-digit touch (we know
we are all reaching but can we not here and now show
something of what we are/are not feeling?
What we are missing? Kissing what somehow we can't touch?)
Reaching reeling through a winter land—emptiness
so wide and savage. Whisper 'speak to me

no longer young, no way remotely were you ever average,
singing murmuring of your Beaufort Sea. If this is she,
this old refurbished hometown eatery, bless you. So may it be.'
And should an Old Colony knock-off mint neon jukebox
Wurlitzer crash up as through vast ice fields
from black cellars bellow, into that quaint and savoury room
there, as your beetroot borscht steams the window, let it play

that old Stan Rogers, loud, let him play...
Is everyone there now listening? Top of their lungs
now roaring along? the small-town stowaways,
the ghosts of Mr. Keller, Mr. Koop, No-Sea-Legs Sam,
Old Dame Studensky, wee Marigold Enns and Henry
Fish-voice Hooge...all our secrets,
all our agents, all the superhuman crew reaching
magnificently, reaching beautifully,
though so dutifully compromised, dear C.

4. C. simply tell them (if they don't know) what our stick-people
at the bureau's central committee, the department of secrets
and half-truths never could—'work hard think slow walk slower
and laughing whistle past your own relentless past, extremist
sinister midwinter crop-dusters on your trail spell trouble,
across that frozen stubble, trajectory north by northwest'

shout out (brave where I'm not), 'love — love
is the missing link between a cold world and a new,
between tomorrow and its truth, pinched in somewhere
between opposable thumb and the phantom pain
of missing digits, now, voyager! our dear old early middle-age
weight-of-the-world man, may you, your coffee-drinking chorus
all find your weary way

up the rickety back, up by the restaurant fire-escape
up past your old stairs dizzy spiral, the prehistoric
and juvenile God does acid—God's a drunk graffiti,
to your captain's deck, and gazing with a great explorer's gaze
out that shining south-face
over the endless glassy white Cascades
as if straight through and far beyond you clearly see

every beloved soul you ever knew,'
we are making our long slow way, comrades
tracing one warm line, braided by water, land and air
by dirigible, barge, bicycle, and with our laughing children's
little-red-wagons in train, will all, dead or alive,
eventually arrive, with all our bits intact

our perhaps unwitting double-agent Al
still hard at it—down along the slippery banks
enforcing his own silence against his will, a frozen river hymnal
like the last echo of a haunted nickelodeon
(you can hear the reverb and tremolo of "Secret Agent Man")

will he not by now at last/forever
have bested his own profane and foul-mouthed best?
as ugly pockets empty of all that old plug nickel,
and joy—street legal—finer even than his premium Valley dope
transforms his gutter bawling (quick—please God
like mine now!) a thousand times over
washed out with our dear celestial restaurant's
Mrs. Betty's special men's-room lye-and-lavender soap

flushing out every stinking thing (till
that grand toilet no longer floods, sink no longer overflows),
bless our intrepid poor misplaced mean-streaked pacifist
armed with heavy duty plunger (his soul to be wearing a rose)
for now leaning back satisfied with a filter tip Navy-cut smoke
his new anchor-on-arm tattoo and a diet-coke
chased with sour cherry cream soda, lemon-lime spritzers
and a seeming slim (but blessed) hope

and you my dear green tea sipping C.,
there with dear everyone, will eat and drink and live and breathe
just exactly as they please (bon appetit) and in no way suffer for it,
but every beautiful way profit on each other's behalf
even full past the full facts telling—through time
past space, past endless snowy ranges, iron waves, sheer walls
of mirrors, fears, tears, blood-in-urine-stains, needle tracks,
soul's income/outcome taxes, as our little hometown
Hillside Grille trembles and quakes

as the cold lonely ghost of our Mrs. Betty (if she is in fact
our Mrs. Betty, and if old Al is in fact ever to be our boy)
can only laugh, at last we've pulled the plug and hauled up anchor
on collective heartbreak, so tip her and thank her,
and someone fold away her blackened apron
as she, before carbon dating a half ice age along, awakes

and with a blossoming that's without rancor,
fully gives herself to the pure eternal sunlight and the spring,
waltzing, twirling, in a full turning,
and all this and infinitely more than this, like the slanting sleet
and snow, your empty pie-plate (nicely tart gooseberry?),
and clear stream water in your glass, dear C., is (must be) bliss!

p.s. please 'reply all' with this one wish and kiss, please,
to send and receive via these our hearts and digital devices,
for love of all—the last intelligence,
countering the winter cold, circling the mass un-marked grave
of the old-time carolers, the innocents and the misbehaved,
up by the hillside reservoir—a cairn of ice and concrete,
our better angels, the agents of the operation/endgame
randomly codenamed Good-night King Wenceslas...

© Larry Nightingale




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