Sargent: America's Favorite Illusionist


Poetry in the Mainstream

Volume 18
Number 8

September, 1997

Designed, Edited and Published
by Richard Spiegel and Barbara Fisher
Thomas Perry, Assistant


Joy Hewitt Mann Terry Thomas Susan Snowden
Fredrick Zydek Karen Kirby Richard Kostelanetz
Gertrude Morris Billie Lou Cantwell Arthur Winfield Knight
Geoff Stevens Herman Slotkin Kit Knight
Anne Wilson Lyn Lifshin Albert Huffstickler
Joan Payne Kincaid Mary Winters  

Waterways is published 11 times a year.
1997 Ten Penny Players, Inc.
2000 Themes         other Waterways' publications

Joy Hewitt Mann

Back Again

between the wet mud
and the canopy of weeds,
behind the wailing screen,
are slung on hangers
like bats that died;
beyond the cracking stairs,
across the dusty floors,
names like chips of wood
an empty suitcase
a house
that was a home.

On Rideau Street

The muttering streets
the yellow rain that runs down sudden walls
and slips in cracks . . . perfumes
the surplus of his middle age
the hand that questions in his upturned palm.

In posh store windows where the backs of faces
come and go
he counts the hours by ticks of change
reading eyes like salesmen selling shoes
spitting all the nothingness of waste-wine days
on sidewalks
made of strangers' feet.

He says
he once lived narrow fixtured lives
and slept on peaceful streets like beds of nails
his now-life a candle in
one hundred watt rooms
with coffee
scraps of toast with someone else's jam
reading discard news
when all the blood has dried


he says he once heard Mozart at the NAC
sucked it through the Parkade vent.


Somehow you were entangled
in the strings of my imagination
so I macramed a holder for your name,
crocheted a cloth to lay you on . . .
wove love.

But now you say I made a net --
a snare,
"Just let me be!"

You made your point.

By Degrees

He's an architect,
designed my life to be a box
although it's six if you count
the top --
four flaps there that fold in
to leave a tiny hole.

He lets me fill it up with
female things: cooking classes
a good wardrobe with sixteen pairs of shoes
my make-up case
a box of pads
and a subscription to Harlequin romances---
just like his "mother" used to read.

He himself is
A strong base, he says
is the foundation of
good engineering,
but he's completely out
of touch
with today's literature.

I have just finished reading
a lever
and the fulcrum will be sent
next month.

Life with Father

Good riddance, was what she meant to say
but strong words always gagged her
like a large hand held across her throat.
The death procession wound along the cemetery road
a striped snake
. . . . . . . . . . . black and grey
digesting small rodents . . . or children.

She had given her regrets, so
they would not look for her among the decaying flowers.
Breath clenched
she slipped behind the trees and listened to
the tears of strangers -- soundless.

She had shared her childhood nights with
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . sounds
creaking stairs
heavy steps muffling heavy breaths
a click as the handle turned, and then
serpent-crossing sand
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .as he slipped across the Disney rug.

The bedsprings screamed as she never could
and sheets lifted like the crack of a whip
although he'd always tell her it was

These tears . . . they puzzled her
for she remembered one night -- the nadir of a hundred nights
he'd honed her love thin as a blade
and she'd turned
cut out her heart
and left it beating there beside him
in the bed --
and then she ran . . . . . . . and ran
her severed arteries spraying words
I will not come back / I will not cry . . . . . . . I will forget.

Yet, here she stood
behind the trees
and grieved . . . . . . . her own small death.return to table of contents

Fredrick Zydek

The Magic of Green

There was a time when all trees
decided for themselves where
they would grow, bovine things

wandered the continent at will,
rivers spread out like ideas
from free and inquisitive minds,

deer and elk migrated without fear
of Fruehauf or Mac trucks,
and the only lights raccoons

had to dread were in the eyes
of wolves and great cats.
Odd we have interrupted everything

except our ability to wage war,
tolerate poverty, or sell justice
and health to the highest bidders.

There were lessons to learn
from the trees before we abandoned
and then enslaved them.

Dare we return and remember?
Who can believe the magic of green
once it's been reduced to legal tender?
return to table of contents

Gertrude Morris


Master Sargent, America's favorite illusionist,
could make anything disappear.
Even white doves from a silk top hat.

But where did they go when they disappeared?
Into some dim, gray illusion?
Or fly blind and fall,

uttering their mournful tremolo?
Master Sargent, once America's favorite,
you never knew how illusory you were.

Even this grand publicity:
a dove in hat, a dove in hand,
pouting nether lip, the gallant swatch

of black mustachio. Even the fine
morning coat. Antique-man you're so
passe, it seems you've flown the coop!

In the act of what prestidigitation
did the High Illusionist pluck you
from the silk top hat of time?

When the doves, whose wings you clipped,
flew out of your hand, and
left you grounded in illusion.

Guggle Muggle

I am lying on feather pillows in mother's bed,
attended by "walk-ons," shadowy now,
a quarantine notice on the door.

Mother is wearing her tragedy mask;
brother is jealous of me: The Star;
father wishes me back to my own bed

that he might resume the lifelong,
doomed courtship of his bride.
Dr. Goodside looks grave.

But strengthened by quarts of guggle muggle,
I will soon be well enough to sit
on the fire escape in the warm sun

bundled to the chin
like an old woman in a sanitarium.
To the east a freight train crawls by.

The tulip tree is in bloom again.
Below my cast-iron aerie
Tony the iceman's grandfather

is weeding his squatter's garden.
Goats from West Farms Road have broken in.
One bearded lady rears up

on delicate legs to nibble succulent,
red buds of flowering peas.
Her heavy udders rampant, the kids

jostle to get at those fast food spigots.
As many times as he chases them
they always come back.

I see my friends in the street below.
Tomorrow, if all goes well,
I'll be paroled to join the tribe again.

Guggle muggle: drink made of sweet cream, whole milk, a raw egg, brandy and sugar

return to table of contents
Geoff Stevens

How Many Leaders

How many leaders
have plucked war
out of the hat
insisting it was
the dove of peace?

return to table of contents

Anne Wilson

The Magician

Dark emptiness.
He drew from the
exquisite darkness
magical encounters,
turning bright silk
ribbons into doves
before my very eyes.

"Trust me," he said,
making pennies become
little birds
that danced on his sleeve,
and pouring water
into tumblers
that became gold vapors
when he turned them over.

But once, he convinced me
to lie in a box,
and he sawed me in two.
I am still waiting
for him
to put me
back together again.

return to table of contents
Joan Payne Kincaid


During that life they could not
not only could they not
they would not consider
what had to be to make it
making it impossibly impossible
to manage managing even the possible;
the dream was always in the way...
the dream of a way out
he said "whose idea was it to have children?"
He said this publicly
and what he meant was that he would rather
be doing something more
trouble was he never could figure out what.

Memoir Based on Fireflies

Summer is half over
the cats are covered with sun
why do you bother to plant things you think you can see
a quirk of imagination . . . escape cloying rituals
Chopin is annoyingly trite this bright lovely day
fingering days for connection to something versatile.

Do you really need to nurture or is it a trap
the fireworks return and the dog dragged like meat;
fools sit in rooms of depression venting on everyone
tourniquets of bleeding shredded ideas six flight-up
a trap to put yourself in yet I refused to go;
summer blue sky laughs at futility
worn-out caring . . . turn on an ulcer over the mess
make a cup of tea to absolve Nannie's universe . . .
summer is half over and her gowns are gone.

Perhaps the rhythm of flowers hypnotizes you
the kittens roll and the flowers are laughter unfolding
Chopin with deranged moods that suck you in
to lie ripe in a coffin of forgetful stress of seasons;
see him walk away from dog, children, life's sagas.

Let's make suffocated sounds like gloved lips
trite bright dark anonymous screaming daze
o play crescendos of angst bless my fingers;
I remember you ran the barbecue, bought the groceries
for I have sung . . . sung to deaf eyes for money.

Were we trying to compile our lives in burnt diaries
money money money makes a nice voice
let me make your face a screaming opera olive
blubber-lipped fat throated bird of melody
turn Tchaikovsky into pop passion tunes.

Here in dark summer grass flicker fireflies
green flashing fetishes painted on night
Chopin fades on a next-door radio deranged moods;
the fevered lights will watch them watch themselves end in September.

return to table of contents
Terry Thomas


Grandpa Colwell used to eat
the fat on meat - not
neat - juice running down
his chin, grin wide as
a cow's rump.
He'd work that lump around,
down it, and go for another
slice. Used to think it
was nice - him appreciating
Mom's cooking, looking
for another biscuit to dab
up more slippery gravy.
But that was fifty years
ago - lots of meals
under the bridge.
Now I know the fridge is
the enemy, Big Mac an abomination
from bovine Hell. Well, grandpa
didn't know any better
(ignorance is blissful eating).
I'm not repeating - no sins
of the past. Pass me
more green - salad days are here.
Have a graham cracker
for dessert.

return to table of contents

Karen Kirby

Seeing Red

In those days red hair wasn't the trend.
Back then red hair was Lucy Ricardo
the foolish, bumbling, scatterbrained housewife.
Mom was not a natural redhead
but for years she covered over her brown.
Big Red, Dad called her, in derogatory tones -
subtle put-downs she allowed
without protest, those cues
we picked up on, knowing it was safe
and acceptable too, to join forces,
continue the mockery.
She became an easy target -
silenced into submission she smiled
through the insult, the ache.
I knew then I couldn't have red hair
till my years earned me
strength to carry it.
Now I blatantly cover my brown with red
knowing I possess the passion to pursue
the fire to fight back.

 return to table of contents

Billie Lou Cantwell


A foul stench
that I look
at the old derelict
on the street.

Sprawled rags
cluttering gray sidewalk,
beard and hair matted
with last week's garbage,
a piece of flotsam
of sinking humanity.

Someone should do
something about debris.


Else, I might be
forced to see a
man like me.

return to table of contents
Herman Slotkin

Music Mysteries

A finger darts,
a string quivers,
a sound shivers in air.
A note begins
from a long ago far away man with a head full of nimble numbers,
through a here and now girl with darting fingers on taut strings,
to the drums, circuits, feet, and fingers of all who listen.

It says, "Be sad!"
I have good reason to be so
It says, "Be glad!"
Let me tell you why I am so
It says, "Be strong!"
I know I should be so.
It says, "Be meek!"
I am and it makes me sad so.

Who is the maker of notes and responses?
. . . A long ago far away man?
. . . A here and now girl?
. . . All the listeners?
. . . A creature unknown?

From what secret, simmering source spring
. . . sadness and gladness,
. . . meekness and strength?

return to table of contents
Lyn Lifshin

The Negatives at the Farm

whoever was close, in black and white
that Sunday it was warm enough for a
jacket I remember as itchy wool, but light
now is out of the frame mostly. My

sister and I in a huddle, now don't
talk. In a second shot, we look in different
directions, as if getting ready to walk.
I've dark glasses blurring what must have

blinded, even then. The negatives connect
as none of our lives still do: Murray,
maybe dead, at least in his own world.
The last time we talked he said, "I haven't seen

your poor dead mother in 8 years," tho he'd
come up smoking his cigar the December
before that, drove us in snow as if the glitzy
metal of the Cady would always hold us. My sister's

dog, at her feet where my ex husband has his
arm around both of us, dead too, after weeks
of her nursing him as she wanted to do our mother
and then kicked us both out. It's before I become

thin enough to wear minis the second or 3rd time
around and she ballooned. Here we are smiling, mostly
close enough to touch, at least pretend to be
holding on

return to table of contents
Mary Winters

Young and Fearless Like a Lot of Us Were

The plucky little new car
. . who thinks it's a canoe, a catamaran
a battleship
. . who thinks it can do anything
- hadn't it always before?
. . clung onto a rack on the back of a truck
jouncing from factory to showroom

The cheery little car's first flood
. . "I'll get through no matter how deep!"
soon it's coughing and choking
. . drowned and stopped dead
its owner glub, glubbing out the door
. . griping "this piece of junk,
this worthless pile of crap"
. . - planning to come back for it, maybe

return to table of contents

Susan Snowden

Commuting or How to Destroy Your Soul

Get up
gobble granola from a box
dash from your ranch-style box
hop in your imported compact box

Drive drive drive stop at the light drive drive stop at the light

Park in the underground box
go directly to your 9 x 9 box
switch on your IBM box
shuffle pages from "in" box to "out" box
send out for a box lunch
answer the ringing box
ride down to your motorized box

Drive drive drive stop drive stop drive drive stop at the light
drive and drive

Stumble into your ranch-style box
microwave a box of frozen food
eat while staring at the flickering box
channel surf on the box
collapse on your innerspring box
Dream of a pine box...or a mahogany one lined with silk.

return to table of contents
Richard Kostelanetz

Arthur Winfield Knight


Our neighbor
with the fat wife
mows his lawn
all the time
and when he goes
to the zoo
with Joanne
and the kids
he stands
in front of
the hippopotamus
and stares at her.

return to table of contents

Kit Knight

Asia Booth Clarke, 1865: Pet's Sister

I refused to accept
Mr. Clarke's proposal
until he committed himself
to a life in the theatre.
All four of my brothers
-father was first-
earn their living
on the stage. My father
so named me because Asia was
"that country where God
first walked
with man." But Maryland
was the ground I first walked
with my brother. John was
the youngest; our mother
called him Pet, and I
only wanted
to be close. Together,
we explored our 150 acre farm;
casually, John said if
the Colossus of Rhodes
-one of the Seven Wonders
of the Ancient World-
were still standing and if
he could manage to overturn
the huge bronze statue,
why then, he marveled,
people would be reading
the name John Wilkes Booth
for a thousand years.
John was always
competing with the rest
of the boys, and especially
with our father. The night
John shot Lincoln, he told
someone in a bar, "When
I leave the stage, I
will be the most famous man
in America." Pet finally
topped his colossus.

return to table of contents

Albert Huffstickler


The son of God said,
"This is my flesh
and this my blood.
How do you want it cooked?"
"Medium rare," I told him,
"and go easy on the blood."
"French fries?"
"A few."
"How about a small salad?"
"That would be nice."
"You see what I'm trying to do?"
"No, I don't," I told him.
"Well, I'm trying to
bring the sacraments into
every day life. And
at the same time,
make them more graphic.
So nobody wants to eat
flesh if it's uncooked.
And then the wafer -
I just expand two of them
and I have a bun.""Unleavened?"
"Well, we won't want to
run it into the ground."
"Can I have some onions
on your flesh?"
"Of course.
But you do understand now?
I want to bring the sacraments
into everyday life,
make them as common as
a hamburger."
"Kind of a McJesus," I said.
"You got it."


(with apologies to WCW)

That one-eyed pigeon named Jake was served to us anonymously as a fryer on Sunday morning when he'd flown down into my mother's hair once too often from the chinaberry tree in the back yard where she was trying to feed the chickens. I think it was Jake's way of trying to display affection, him an orphan that I'd raised by hand after his parents, homers whom I let out too soon, had gone home. Yes they'd left Jake there in the nest to do the best he could and I'd brought him through. I don't remember how he lost his eye. I don't remember who had named him Jake, me probably; I don't even remember how he tasted since it was a few years later that my mother, in a fit of guilt or defiance, explained what happened to him -- in an effort perhaps to demonstrate to us in our early teens that even a mother's patience can wear thin finally and break, hence Jake anonymous before our eyes on a kitchen breakfast table. I don't think the lesson took and life went on, as it tends to do, in that little North Carolina mill town without Jake and not much really changed. Not much depended upon a one-eyed pigeon named Jake, brown and still beneath the chinaberry tree where my mother's patience ended.

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