MY BACKHANDED REWARD
Dear Joe Bolton,
You played a cruel trick on me.
I pulled your The Last Nostalgia: Poems 1982-1990
randomly off a shelf at the public library,
opened the book in the middle and was at once
captured by your sharp eye, your immediacy
and your melancholy music.
I stayed with you, Joe.
I roamed at your side through all those pages—
pages that took us down flowing blue rivers
in western Kentucky and up Florida city blocks
glowing pink in the summer heat.
I sat with you and listened to those cicadas
singing in the muggy dusk of Houston.
I loved how you found a way to fit
the flamingos from the opening credits
of Miami Vice into a poem.
I smiled at how you crafted verse out of each
and every attractive woman you ever glimpsed—
no matter how briefly—
and made me feel like I’d ogled her, too.
I was so busy doing these things,
I overlooked your penchant
for elegies, odes and lamentations.
I was preoccupied with chiding myself
for not discovering a major voice sooner,
with planning on how I was going to track down
all of your books on amazon.com and
devour them in chronological order.
I was anticipating, like Christmas,
reading your most recent poems.
When I happened to glance at the author’s biography
inside the back cover of The Last Nostalgia.
For sticking with you, Joe, through the whole book,
there was my backhanded reward:
“Mr. Bolton took his own life in March 1990
at the age of 28.”
Fuck you, Joe Bolton, for writing so uniquely
and then dying like a cliché.
Wish you were here.
RIVER PHOENIX SAID
She called herself “Passion.”
The name on her student i.d., though, was Karen.
She said she’d renamed herself when she’d been “reborn”
at an Earth Day rally at college. Okay, laugh now.
But this was serious business in 1992.
Passion had gone Green long before it was fashionable.
This meant: wearing only billowing hippy dresses
made of natural, undyed fibers;
forcing me to watch Running on Empty, a film starring
her “eco-hero,” River Phoenix, 101 times in a row;
and hauling me along on dates, where we spent
the evenings picking up trash along highways
in service to, as Passion said, “our Mother Earth.”
I wasn’t and never have been Green.
So why did I stay with Passion
for the few months that I did? It was simple:
she was the horniest woman I’ve ever known.
Passion used to call fucking “serving the life impulse.”
And between the two of us, I must say that
this impulse was one well-served son of a bitch.
Despite this, our relationship crash-landed
the day I presented Passion a love poem
I scribbled for her on a sheet of notebook paper.
“Are you shitting me?” she cried in outrage,
waving the page in my face.
“You barely used six lines! Do you have any idea
how many trees were sacrificed for this paper?
River Phoenix never writes love notes
to his girlfriend. He records them on tape
and sends her the cassettes—
which she then reuses to reply to him.”
When I scoffed at this idea, Passion added:
“Really! River Phoenix said!”
That ended us as a couple.
A few weeks later, Passion joined Greenpeace.
She left town on some ecological mission
and I never saw her again.
But thanks to River Phoenix,
I remember her fondly
whenever Running on Empty plays on TV.
ROSEBUD AT XANADU
According to reliable sources, a wealthy young film producer
from an undisclosed foreign locale paid $50,000
in a silent auction for an electric typewriter.
The typewriter had belonged to Orson Welles in the 1970s.
Upon receiving the precious artifact, the producer
was disappointed to find only a Smith-Corona 2200
typewriter in a slightly battered sky-blue case.
The typewriter, much to the producer’s chagrin,
did not glow in the dark or play music of any kind.
It merely hummed, impatiently, when you flipped
the “on” switch and clattered out letters on paper
when you pressed corresponding keys.
What frustrated the producer most of all, however,
was the failure of Orson’s ghost to return
to the machine to write a screenplay, a story
or one lousy fucking sentence,
despite the typewriter’s having been left out every night
in the company of a chilled bottle of French Chardonnay
and a box of Cuban cigars.
According to those same reliable sources,
Orson’s typewriter’s current home
is an anonymous storage locker,
where it rests among snow tires and winter clothes,
as forgotten as Rosebud at Xanadu.
Jack Phillips Lowe is Chicago-born and raised. His poems have appeared in Clark Street Review, Nerve Cowboy and The Bitchin' Kitsch. His chapbooks include So Much for Paradise (MuscleHead Press, 2000) and Cold Case Cowboys (Middle Island Press, 2013). For the latest on all things Lowe, check out this interview Jack did with Christina Anne Taylor at Poetica-Place: http://poeticaplace.wordpress.