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Poetry

George Franklin

George Franklin is the author of Traveling for No Good Reason (winner of the Sheila-Na-Gig Editions manuscript competition in 2018), a bilingual collection, Among the Ruins / Entre las ruinas (Katakana Editores), and a broadside, “Shreveport” (Broadsided Press). He is also the winner of the 2020 Stephen A. DiBiase Poetry Prize. He practices law in Miami, teaches poetry workshops in Florida state prisons and is the co-translator, along with the author, of Ximena Gómez’s Último día/Last Day (Katakana Editores). His chapbook, Travels of the Angel of Sorrow, is forthcoming from Blue Cedar Press, and a new full-length collection, Noise of the World, is forthcoming in Dec. 2020 from Sheila-Na-Gig Editions: https://sheilanagigblog.com/sheila-na-gig-editions-quick-shopping/george-franklin-2/  Traveling for No Good Reason is available at: https://sheilanagigblog.com/sheila-na-gig-editions-quick-shopping/george-franklin/

At the Art Institute of Chicago

There’s a crowd gathered to see Edward
Hopper’s Nighthawks—Ximena and I
Are still cold from the chill outside.  It’s
November, and we’ve just checked our coats.
From the back of the room, we see the
Other visitors more closely than
We see details in Hopper’s painting,
A tall couple, from Europe maybe,
Dressed in matching black leather jackets,
Colorful sneakers, the backs of their
Heads moving at different angles,
A group of women, old friends I think,
Midwestern, in their fifties, blue jeans
And wool sweaters.  Some kids are standing
Up close to the canvas, in college
Or art school.  Everybody’s eyes are
Looking at the light shining from the
Diner’s yellow walls and white ceiling.
That’s when I notice we’re all standing
In front of the counter, pulled in by
What we recognize: three faces that
Are exposed, and one turned away, the
Metal urns of coffee, the narrow
Door, the empty stools for customers
Who aren’t there.  No one stands in front of
The larger part of the painting, dark,
Nothing human about it, a store
That’s probably out of business, a
Deserted building, street without cars.
It’s like an old magician’s trick from
A carnival—misdirection.  We
All look at the faces, thinking there’s
A backstory we can understand.
The woman with the red hair and red
Dress was Hopper’s wife.  The man smoking
A cigarette has a beak-shaped nose.
I edge left and stand by the greens and
Blacks of the street, the soot-smooth brick of
The tenement, dirty windows where
No one’s drawn the shades, where there’s no sign
Anyone’s ever lived there.  Why do
Those faces keep staring over that
Counter?  Why don’t the customers get
Up and leave?  The woman dressed in red
Holds something in her hand and never
Takes her eyes off it.  Is it money?
Don’t let the woman’s hand distract you.
Keep looking at the doorways, the street.

Kitsch

There were Dresden figurines up on the mantle,
A music teacher despairing at how badly

His students played.  The child musicians had
The rosy cheeks you’d expect they’d have

And skin whiter than snow in some remote
European village.  Whatever made those fragile

Cheeks rosy, it wasn’t blood.  Beneath the mantle
Was a gas heater, fireplace without a chimney,

A hissing valve, and a blue flame.  It was a damp
Heat, and in winter the air seemed thick and

Hard to breathe.  If there was a story behind these
Pasty knick-knacks, I never heard it, but

Someone, probably my mother, must have thought
They were beautiful, inhabiting a world

Pure as mathematics, without insults, rudeness,
Or beatings, a world where nothing breaks,

No one goes hungry, no miscarriages or
Cancers, where the local policeman is a quaint

Old drunk who wags a porcelain finger at
Minor miscreants, where there are no bad

Smells and no one dies in prison.  After my
Father’s funeral, I sold the figures along

With a large glass pitcher for martinis,
A silver tea set, and the dining room table

That came from a plantation in Mississippi—
They were all kitsch, nothing to do with my

Parents’ lives or mine.  Today though, I
watch the usual procession of white clouds

Cross the summer sky and think that if my
Parents were fools to admire these things, then

Socrates was a fool and Plato too.  What
Were those Dresden toys but shadow puppets

Cast on the wall of a cave by firelight?

*This poem appeared previously in Panoply: A Literary Zine and is forthcoming in Noise of the World

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