Poetry: John Spaulding

Watching Newsreels

A small girl was lost inside a deep well.
Someone swam the English Channel.
Roosters pecked at our boots and
everyone was afraid of airplanes.
A woman named her baby Alan Ladd,
but hired girls drank bottles of Moxie
with aspirin inside hoping
for an abortion. For dinner
we ate Welsh rabbit on saltines and
cupfuls of junket. When you squeezed
the red spot on the white bag
the oleomargarine turned yellow. Every
night after closing Mr. and Mrs.
LaFrance shot rats in the kitchen
of the Hartford Diner. In bed
my dreams were like bags of bees. Once
I saw a bomb hanging from a cement wall.
I heard singing on the radio
about Halo shampoo and played
yellow and blue records. Peeled
tinfoil from our gum wrappers.
Kept it in a big ball. And Mr. Manning
kept the same fried egg on his stove for weeks.
Back then no one knew if vanilla was a color.
Back then Mr. Steinbach drank cases and cases of beer.
He just wanted to live like an American, he said.

Salt Pork

Back in the day when steering wheels
had knobs with naked women inside,
when farm girls cooked dandelion greens,
ate French fries with mayonnaise,
collected paper dolls and Roosevelt
dimes, dreamed of “him”
with his crooked smile, potato chip
voice and tight Italian pants,
driving across the state line
to buy beer, sleeping naked
on the porch, diving off Floating Bridge
to swim across the river underwater,
he was guns and popcorn, raw sugar
and bone, molasses and wood. And
at night when old furniture listens
to music, when there are no rainbows
and all waters are black, when cats
fight and anyone can hide
in the spaces behind the heart, girls
could smell his cigarette smoke deep
in the sumacs. They drank coffee Cokes
and made lonely visits to the mirror
when he drove by. Yes, yes, it
was just like that. His sex
was as sweet as bubble gum.
Life was salt pork, no milk gravy.

Hartford, Vermont

The gas station attendant is closing up
for the night. The register cashed out.
Tires rolled inside. Pumps locked up.
His khaki uniform is stained with oil and gas,
his fingernails black. This man
who looks like John Garfield is turning
off the lights and locking the door

when a woman with high heels and red hair
(Rita Hayworth?) gets out of an old blue Pontiac.
She wants enough gas to get home
or to get to work in the morning
or she came to pick him up after work.
She is walking toward him with quick steps.
His broad back to her as he locks the door,
he sees her reflection in the glass
and the headlights of a car driving by.

A few maples are rustling their dark leaves
beside the station, papers blowing down the street.
Behind the station on a hill covered with pine trees
a dog is barking. The sky is gray and blue and black.
Large rain clouds move slowly by.
It is 10:10. The town is closed for the night.

Tomorrow by six the town will open again.
Cars and people everywhere. Wet streets.
The café will be serving coffee to regulars,
breakfast to travelers.
By then someone will have found
the bodies lying in the station yard.
This is where their story begins.

Un Soir Après la Guerre

The war is over.
Deer are licking their wounds.
Pigeons no longer hide on the ledge.
Fear has been drained from the trees.

The war is over.
We are drinking vodka in tall blue glasses.
Men are vaccinated against love.
The fingernails of women have grown back.

The war is over.
The soldiers all have chocolate behinds.
Each pint of milk has a new red cap.
Silk dresses fall apart like cobwebs.

The war is over.
We have discovered napping as a solution but
table manners are passé.
We meet in parlors once a month to discuss poetry.

The war is over.
Even teddy bears are running away
with cupcakes in their hands.

JOHN SPAULDING’S published poetry titles are Walking in Stone (Wesleyan), The Roses of Starvation (Riverstone), and The White Train (LSU). In 2003 The White Train was a winner in the National Poetry Series. His poems have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, The Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner, Poetry, American Poetry Review, and other periodicals. He has work forthcoming in Boston Review.