By: Charlie Brice
Drinks with John
Last night I had a drink in a pub with John Lennon.
His hair was short and he wore those rimless glasses
he used to read the world.
We had a nice time although he made fun of the tiny glass
my drink came in. I’d ordered scotch, neat, and I guess
in London or Liverpool or wherever we were
they thought that “neat” meant pouring less than an ounce of
amber goodness into a tiny shot glass
and serving it to me.
While kidding me he fluttered his eyelids like he did
in A Hard Day’s Night. What a delight to hear, once again,
that Liverpool inflection dipped in honeyed gravel.
He told me many secrets about his time with The Beatles:
the inside scoop on his relationship with Yoko,
the dream he had of white space death
that led to The White Album, the story behind “Why
Don’t We Do It in The Road,” some nasty pranks
he played with Paul when they were young,
his hopes for Sean, what the bullets felt like, where he
put the strawberries he found in Strawberry Fields,
but I can’t remember any of it.
Was John visiting me from the other world I don’t believe in?
Did he swoop into my dreamscape to let me know
that we’ll be having more conversations soon?
All real living is meeting.
It was easy enough. I simply reached
into my chest and pulled out my heart,
sat it in a chair, and started in:
“You’ve given me nothing but trouble,” I barked.
“You sit there comfortably today, but for years
you’d surprise me with wild polyrhythms
that no one could dance to.”
“Sometimes you act like a convict imprisoned
in my chest, banging on the bars of my sternum—
an enfant terrible demanding release. Well
you’re out now, how do you like it?”
Bla Blurp Bla Blurp Bla Blurb Bla Blurp.
“Is that all you have to say? Bla Blurp?
Okay, smart ass, I’ll find some medical dude
to pinch and poke you with electrodes,
hook you up to an EKG! What’s that?”
Bla ha Blurp Bla ha Blurp Bla ha Blurp.
“You think that’s funny? Well, I guess
you’re right. All an EKG would show
are T waves, troughs, and cardiac impulses
while I want to decipher the depths of your
pulsed scroll, the language locked in pulmonary
veins and atriums. I want to know what’s so superior
about a vena cava and what part of the moon
birthed semilunar valves. More than that
I’d like to know why you are so often broken.
Why did you fall for all those losers?
Why do your invisible tendrils encircle
so many dear ones who will soon disappear
down the frail funnel of time?
I promise to stand six feet away from you
during our wedding ceremony.
I promise to brush, floss, and gargle with mouthwash
before and after I kiss you.
I will scrub all my essential body parts with antibacterial soap
before we make love.
I pledge to wear sterile disposable rubber gloves
when I caress you.
I vow to chant William Blake’s poem, “How Sweet I Roamed
from Field to Field” three times every time I wash my hands.
I will now, and forever more, cough into my arm
when in your presence.
I will never, ever, pick my nose again.
I swear to quarantine with you beyond grey hair,
illness, and fear.
I will hold you in arms you cannot see,
recognize your forgiving smile no matter
what mask you wear,
search past lash and lid for the resplendence of your eyes,
and cherish you in contagion’s fire until my fevered
chest heaves its last.
At seven I diligently practiced throwing my voice.
My goal in life was to become a ventriloquist
like Edgar Bergan or Paul Winchell. My mother
bought me a Jerry Mahoney dummy so I could
become “the life of the party.” That was, according
to her, the best thing that could happen once I grew up.
Jerry and I became pals and often performed
for my parents who wouldn’t look at me so that
we all could pretend my lips didn’t move.
Then, one summer morning, cousin Terry,
drunk and weary from war, drove his car
into a ditch near Torrington, tumbled front
over end, and crushed his chest— two years
after Korea, finally a civilian casualty.
In the mortuary I felt Terry’s cold forehead,
gaped in wonder at the rosary braided
through his wrinkled fingers for eternity.
I watched the mortician gently close
the coffin lid and spread the Stars and Stripes
over his casket—watched him place his hand
over his heart during taps and the marines’
twenty-one-gun salute. He handed me
a spent shell from the firing.
Back home, I found a large box and put Jerry inside.
For three days I prayed for Jerry, wound
a rosary through his wooden hands, felt
the cool grain of his forehead. On the third day
I dug a hole in the backyard and draped
Jerry’s cardboard coffin in a tiny flag I’d saved
from the Fourth of July. I cupped my hand,
mimicked a solitary trumpet playing taps and
lowered his coffin into the ground. I threw in the shell
the mortician had given me—imagined marines
giving Jerry a twenty-one-gun salute.
I shoveled dirt over Jerry,
and caught my own voice,
like a boomerang,
come back to me.
Sonnet for Camus
A poet keeps time with his heart,
a metaphor maker, hardly a pump,
that lets church bells sing
and freedom ring, or not.
Time can’t be found in a clock.
Our world is more than a rock.
Youth exists in the mind
unbound by logic that limps behind
how we really live in our turbulent times,
where love is the shortest second of all
and so many, day to day, live with gall
and weary toward death in a dreary line.
We push, stumble, and fall
and, like Sisyphus, we climb.
Charlie Brice is the author of Flashcuts Out of Chaos (2016), Mnemosyne’s Hand (2018), and An Accident of Blood (2019), all from WordTech Editions. His poetry has been nominated for the Best of Net anthology and twice for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in The Atlanta Review, The Sunlight Press, Chiron Review, Plainsongs, I-70 Review, Mudfish 12, The Paterson Literary Review,and elsewhere.