Ready For Their Close-Up: Two Poems

Curated by Suzanne Lummis


In the American Heritage dictionary close-up is defined as:  1.  A photograph or a film or television shot in which the subject is tightly framed and shown at a relatively large scale. 2.  An intimate view or description.   

 

VIKINGS

TENDERNESS IN MEN

by Charles Webb

 

 


CRUEL

by David Hernandez

 

 

 


The Rise of the Guy Poets

 

Be apprised you tender-hearted male poets of the new age, you whose eyes might glisten at the sight of a dead sparrow on your windowsill (but then you take comfort; maybe there's a poem in this . . .), the Guy Poets are coming to town.  In fact, they may already be in town, perhaps right next door.   Don't worry, even the most unruly won't sack, much less pillage, your condo or townhouse, and like you they're liable to be gainfully employed in the field of education. 

 

You will recognize the Guy Poet by this trait: he explores and discloses aspects of the male experience – from childhood, through adolescence into adulthood –  with neither apology nor braggadocio.  The Guy Poet does not find fellowship among men who seem to have purified themselves of all behavior, even thoughts,  traditionally associated with their gender.  And yet he would find the blowhard ridiculous and feel only scorn for the bully.

 

Irreverence might be present in the Guy Poet's work, and sometimes a vestigial rage.  However, this anger when it appears must be artfully revealed within some interesting context.  It does not, certainly not in the case of the accomplished Guy Poet, show up as crude, shapeless blathering. 

 

B.H. Fairchild, Tony Hoagland, and Fred Moramarco are among those who’ve written Guy Poems, and at times – late on certain brisk, light-crinkled afternoons – actually walk the earth as Guy Poets.  But for our purposes here, Charles Webb and his protégé, David Hernandez, will serve as prototypes.

 

This month I must break with the two-poem policy and include three so as to produce a more well-rounded understanding of my new literary classification.

 

First below, Charles' account of his bold third-grade Viking exploits probably invokes amusement from the reader, yet it contains a hint of the darkness that comes on full force in David Hernandez' poem.   "Cruelty" David calls his, and here endeth the fun and games.  This extraordinary piece – an altogether new kind of Confessional poem – seems to suggest boys are in the grip of something over which they have no control, can't understand, and the poet is helpless to do anything except sound out a warning to young girls. (Of course it won’t serve to alert the young girls in his own past, arriving as it does rather after-the-fact.)

 

But let us not end on that particular harsh truth.  Charles Webb's "Tenderness in Men" reveals its tenderness without – as one film noir girl once said to another – getting "sticky about it".  Notice at the end how skillfully he avoids the King of Cliches – the eyes that "fill with tears”.  And that final capitulation is all the more affecting for the poet’s resistance to easy emotion. 

 

Some literati may not care for Guy Poets.  Some may flee their homes and take up permanent residence in arts colonies.  But I say that in the interest of enabling poetry to speak to the full range of human experience, we need a few Guy Poets in the field. 

 

Coming soon (not next month, but soon) : Women Poets: The Rise of the Tough Cookie.

- Suzanne Lummis


 

Charles Webb

VIKINGS

 

Overran my boyhood dreams – fierce

Blond beards, slab-chests,

Biceps gripped by bronze bands,

Dragon ships which terrorized my ancestors,

Weak Britons who whined to Christ.

 

No match for Odin, and the hard hammer

Of Thor. While other kids clutched

Toy guns and grenades, I swung

My plastic war ax: immune to bullets,

Refusing to die. While they dreamed

 

Of rocketing through sunny skies,

I dreamed of fjords, their crags and storms

Matching my dark moods, my doubts

Of God, my rages and my ecstasies.

I snuck in twice to see The Norseman,

 

Wincing but bearing it as the Saxon king

Chopped off Prince Gunnar's right

Hand. I gloried in the sulking gods

And ravens and great trees, roots

Reaching underground to realms

 

Of dwarfs and trolls.  I gloried in the runes

On shields, the long oar strokes

That sliced through ocean cold as steel.

I gloried in the Valkyries, bearing slain

Heroes to the mead halls of Valhalla

 

To feast and fight and fondle blond

Beauties forever, while we sad

Methodists plucked harps and fluttered:

Sissies mommy had to dress

For Sunday school. The day before

 

Christmas vacation, when Danny Flynn

Called me "a fish-lipped fool,"

I grabbed a trashcan lid and slammed

It like a war shield in his face,

Then leapt over his blood and bawling

 

And – while teachers shrilled their whistles,

And Mr. Bean, the porky principal,

Scurried for his ax – thrust my sword-

Hand in my shirt and stalked out

Into the cruel winter of third grade...

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David Hernandez

CRUEL

 

Of course Marcus tethered the lizard

to his remote-controlled Fiat,

drove it up and down and up

the street again, drove its scaly body

raw and bleeding – haven't I told you

about his father yet, his sledgehammer

fits and switchblade tongue?

Who knew what horrors lived

with Frank, a boy with clear eyes

like chipped glass, a boy who blinded

Angela's cat with a firecracker,

a black Persian that lifted

her ruined face to any footstep,

any twig-snap. Who am I kidding?

My parents were angelic –

I could've been cruel to those two

screeching parakeets in our living room,

and I was, banging their cage

when I was alone, lime feathers

fluttering as if on fire. And who knows

what I would've done

to our neighbor's dog if that brick

wall wasn't there. Her barking

punctured the air again and again.

I leaned over the wall and spat, leaned

over and flung dirt clods, bursting

like clay pots on the concrete patio.

If idle hands are the devils playthings,

he charmed our fingers like snakes,

curled them around this helpless

animal, that defenseless creature.

We didn't stop until our voices

cracked, until acne stippled our skin.

That's when we noticed the girl

next door was a lovely thing

in a summer dress, small hands

lacing up the thin straps of her sandals

as our own hands reached out to her,

pretending they were kind.

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Charles Webb

TENDERNESS IN MEN

 

It's like plum custard at the heart of a steel girder,

cool malted milk in a hot bowling ball.

 

It's glimpsed sometimes when a man pats a puppy.

If his wife moves softly, it may flutter like a hermit thrush

 

into the bedroom, and pipe its pure, warbling tune.

Comment, though, and it's a moray jerking back into its cave.

 

Dad taught me to hide tenderness like my "tallywhacker" –

not to want or accept it from other men.  All I can do

 

for a friend in agony is turn my eyes and, pretending

to clap him on the back, brace up his carapace with mine.

 

So, when you lean across the table and extend your hand,

your brown eyes wanting only good for me, it's no wonder

 

my own eyes glow and swell too big for their sockets

as, in my brain, dry gullies start to flow.

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Charles Webb is a recipient of a Whiting Writer's Award and a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. His poetry collections include Reading the Water (winner of the Samuel French Morse Poetry Award), Liver, and Tulip Farms and Leper Colonies.  He's a professor of English at California State University, Long Beach.

 


David Hernandez' newest collection, A House Waiting for Music, won the 2002 Tupelo Press Book Competition.  He is married to Lisa Glatt and their collection of collaborative poems, A Merciful Bed, was published last year by Pearl Editions. His poems have appeared in The Southern Review, Cream City Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, and many other magazines.

 


 

Ready for Their Close-Up Archive


Speechless Spring 2007
Copyright © 2007 Published by
Tebot Bach