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Poetry

George Franklin

GeorgeGeorgeCover George Franklin practices law in Miami and teaches writing workshops in Florida state prisons. His poems have appeared in Salamander, The Wild Word, B O D Y, Matter, Scalawag, Gulf Stream, Rascal, Amsterdam Quarterly, Twyckenham Notes, The Threepenny Review, Cagibi,  armarolla, and elsewhere. A bi-lingual edition of his poems, with Spanish translations by Ximena Gomez, was recently published by Katakana Editores. Traveling for No Good Reason was the winner of Sheila-Na-Gig Editions 2018 Full-length Manuscript Contest: https://sheilanagigblog.com/sheila-na-gig-editions/

An Hour South of Cali

On the road, five horses, riders in high
Boots, polo shirts—our taxi pulls over to let
Them go by. The white walls are high and thick

To keep out intruders. Vines grow wildly
Over the top—blue flowers I haven’t seen before.
At the gate to the nursing home, you ring

The bell and wait. Eventually, a young woman
Arrives and lets us in. We learn later she
Is Venezuelan. Her novio is a taxi driver,

And he picks her up at the end of her shift.
He also brings her energy drinks that are
Sold on the side of the highway. We went

There every day to see your father. While you
Tended to him—the air in his room stagnant
With heat, the window closed—I sat downstairs

In the shade, reading Orwell’s Homage to
Catalonia. His Barcelona where everyone was
Equal gave way, one street at a time, betrayed

By Stalinists and Republicans alike. Orwell
Left, hunted by the police, and never came back,
Died of tuberculosis, coughing the way

I could hear your father cough upstairs, gagging
On water, a spoonful of yogurt. On the other
Side of the walls, there are still green fields,

Cattle, a river to the west, ranches, and groups
Of elegant houses with gates and guards.
The horses pass, hooves clattering on the pavement.

The Syllabus

It’s the day before the start of classes, and
I’m trying to think of a poem to give my students

Tomorrow. Something to help them get started,
Maybe by Jack Gilbert or Sean Thomas

Dougherty. I thumb through the pages of some
Books and think again about how our poems

Contain us, become the balance sheets that
Add up our lives. How hopeless we are. How

Our desire to be heard betrays us. My students
Won’t know anything about that yet. For them,

There’s just the satisfaction of getting it said, of
Taking what they see, what’s caused them pain,

And turning it to paper and ink, and I encourage them,
Applaud successes. It’s the only way they’ll climb

Over the razor wire and race across the night sky like
Satan in Paradise Lost. Of course, they wouldn’t

Like that comparison. Most are believers. But,
Tell me there’s nothing Satanic about this need

To be heard, this lump in the chest—maybe I
Should compare it to the creatures in Aliens who

Burst through the stomachs of unfortunate astronauts.
My students might approve of that one. There’s

Something soiled about this business of poetry. It has
To be OK not to be polite, to use words like “mucus”

Or “bloodstain” or “motel room,” to remember the
Times you hurt someone without meaning to—but you

Did nonetheless. Poems are all about “nonetheless,”
The way what happened can’t be changed, a child’s

Fever, the smell of sweat on blankets and sheets,
Women who shook their heads and walked the other

Way, days when the sidewalk’s cold pushed through
The rubber soles of your sneakers, sharp and wet as

The teeth of those creatures in Aliens. Nonetheless,
There is something to say, something that’s clean and

Pure as a haiku by Basho, the smell of pine tree bark
Sticky with resin, the blue of ocean when the sun

Opens a door in the waves. This time of year, it rains
Every day. Outside the prison, the water level

In the Everglades rises. Birds move to the trees or
Rest on the fence. Our poems will always tell the stories

We’d rather not hear, how much a cup of coffee might
Mean to you if you couldn’t afford it. There’s a guard

Who leaves her travel-mug unattended sometimes.
Someone might take a long sip and move away quickly.

Poems are also about stealing, days or minutes we
Hide somewhere back of that gray mass of

Brain and fluid behind our eyes, time we don’t
Want to lose, glimpses of blue feathers nesting

In the marshes, dark brown water getting
Higher and higher. I can’t afford to ask if writing

Poems matters, to them or to me. Rain sputters against
The roof, pooling deep and black in the parking lot.

I decide on Larry Levis’s “Winter Stars.”

“Of Almost Savage Torpor”

For Francisco Larios

It’s July, but the pink trumpet tree
In the neighbor’s yard still has blossoms.
I stand up from reading email and

Stare at the back fence, its wooden slats
Bleached by afternoon sun. Politics
Has become real for us lately, but

We’re not able to change much. When
Wordsworth heard Napoleon had been
Crowned by the Pope, he compared it to

“A dog returning to its vomit.”
Ortega and Murillo and their
First cousin in Venezuela, still scratch

The ears of German Shepherds as they
Order beatings, deaths, have their photos
Taken with bishops. It would have been

The same two hundred years ago, but
With oils and canvas and more gold braid.
My friend, Francisco, has started a

Journal. He tells me revolutions
Only look like they happen all at
Once. For years countries wobble, small acts

Accumulating, deals going on
That no one talks about. Then, the doors
Of the Bastille splinter open, and

Everything seems to have changed in an
Instant. I want to believe him, but
The quiet scares me. The world exhaled

Months ago. The business of staying
Alive resumed, finding food, clothes, a
Place to live. Refugees settled in,

Anxiously applying for visas,
Knowing too much about what’s going
On and too little. I feel the same way

About my own country. I can’t make
Sense out of mobs chanting, “Send her back”
Or the people who encourage them.

I feel like it should be night outside
With rain running down the sides of the
House, but it’s 3:00 p.m. The sky is

Relentlessly blue, oblivious.
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