Avatar Review
Issue 13

Poetry: Susanna Childress

Halfway to The Jesse James Wax Museum

Marry me, Juliet
is what the billboard says
and though this strikes you as mawkish and/or
ironic in a geeked-out way
suddenly you are crying and none
of the 32 ounces of iced tea will soothe
the feeling it didn’t work out
or else it did and whoever Juliet ended up with
was so happy with the message
he’s paid or she’s paid since anything’s possible
to keep it up forever right there
on 44 smack-dab in the middle of Missouri,
one exit before Ft. Leonard Wood/St. Robert

and you’ve got to wonder how he did it
or she did it since anything’s possible only
try as you might you envision someone
named Barry or Nash or Derrick or Tom
+ Juliet = Luv 4ever
. And actually
it doesn’t matter if he took her out
for a steak dinner first or whether she was checking
her teeth and/or complexion in the visor’s mirror
and after vacillating he had to snap it shut to say,
“Would you look at that—”
because either way at 70 mph how long would you have
to set your eyes on it and wonder if it was you
though there’s not so many Juliets in this world

and as you turn to gawk at Barry or Nash or Derrick or Tom
he’s grinning but lopsided
like he’s peed iced tea in his pants and as for the answer
either way he would’ve had to pull over,
right? Either way being a reason to hit
the brakes, get off at Ft. Leonard Wood/St. Robert
and do whatever you do when your life
is about to change while you’re in the car
which is to say thank God he didn’t
get down on his knee
though your fellow did
and it’s worked out alright for the two of you,
making the most of clichés

by stepping into them with the bright edge
of laughter at your throats but
since he’s got his blue eye mask on
and is trying to sleep has missed
the billboard and can’t begin to know
why you’re rummaging in the glove department
for a hanky or slurping madly
at the last watery teaspoon of your drink.
“What happened,” he’ll ask, once, then twice,
and finally insist, “Pull over, lover,” only when you do
it’s worse than you imagined, so still
when everything else
is moving so fast.

Everybody Must Pass Stones

                          My father is thrilled with himself, drones the line
         into the phone with Dylan’s thronged rhythm, voice
                                    thin and buoyant as his undershirts in the wash
 or the cowl of my mother’s hair, spun these sixty years
                          to a fine, airy thread, white as a peaked bulb
                of light.          Nothing can disappoint him today, not
    my single hiccup of laughter, not the stretch of pain below his navel
                                    signaling another stone, another passing long
 as his streak of shitty luck.          Where he sits in the dim family room,
                          his sciatica vibrated by a remote-controlled
                lounge chair the size of Bimini, that soft huff and turn
       of vowels means another set of pedants discuss canine acuity
                                    on TV, that slender whip of fabric means he was called
    to substitute today, knotted a tie and himself administered the last
                          of the state tests, holding one palm against the front loop
                of his belt so as not to let on.          No one has to tell me
 his high cheeks, more like Sitting Bull’s than Custer’s, are not ruddy.          Forty
                                    years ago, the scapegrace of Pasedena, my father spoke
          over the roar of the Pacific with pebbles in his mouth, roped
                          a surfboard to the Datsun he bought by picking oranges
                every muggy summer of his youth, picked up girls
    in broom skirts and bangles who’d hitch from San Francisco and take
                                    a crack at variations of his weed: Bilbo, Frodo,
           Meriwether, Sam.                    How hobbled now, arthritic, smears
                          of blood in his urine, a cardiovascular bedlam, how
                muscular only his sang-froid, granted these past thirty years
   by the Synoptic Gospels.          My father, granite-faced when his fingers skimmed
                                    names he knew, men from his platoon etched
      into black stone polished shiny as a spoon, now tends to tear up
                          at each of the minor holidays when my mother
                props a card on his pillow.          My Nicked Miracle, one begins,
    My One and Lonely.                    High today on pain’s tart creed, he trombones,
                          he tambourines his borrowed song, cuts from the bridge
                to urge, All together now!          So we cough the line out
              a final time, and where I mean to laugh, I’m able.