Formerly Executive Editor at MediaTier Ltd., Editor at Large for Poets at Work, and Associate Editor for Danse Macabre, as well as author of the comic strip The Adventures of Ace Hoyle, Phill Provance has seen his poetry and prose appear in diverse publications, including The Baltimore Sun, InQuest Gamer, Orbis, Cha, Word Riot, and many others. In 2017 his poem “The Stenographers Union” was selected by Diane Seuss as a finalist for the Crab Creek Review Prize, and the contents of his first poetry chapbook, The Day the Sun Rolled Out of the Sky (Cy Gist, 2010), received three Pushcart nominations and one nomination each for the Best of the Web and Best of the Net awards. Other, forthcoming publications include his critical essay “Warring with Whitmania” in the anthology The Poetic Legacy of Whitman, Williams, and Ginsberg (PCCC, 2018), his first full-length work of non-fiction, Woodbridge, NJ: A Brief History (The History Press, 2019), and his second poetry chapbook, Given to Sudden Laughter (Cy Gist Press, 2019). He previously studied literature at Oxford University and Bethany College and is currently completing his MFA at WV Wesleyan College. A native son of Connellsville, Pennsylvania, he now lives near Chicago, Illinois, and, when not writing, enjoys spending time with his son, Ledger.
To St. Pious,
defender from too many cigarettes,
let me not smoke the lucky too soon,
nor let me set
off the fire alarm
in any airport restrooms,
nor let the butts
in my overfull ashtrays
fall to the floor smoldering
beside my particleboard bookshelf.
(Please note: especially remember
this final favor when
I am reading on the toilet.)
To St. Raphael,
succor for the good sex,
let not my left nut
know what my right is doing.
Preserve me from the stranger
but also from brown mystery growths.
And lead me not into titty bars
with girls whose hand jobs
give patrons a Brazilian
contact STD that makes a guy’s
dick shed like a garter snake.
To St. Thomas More,
fiery sword of divorce attorneys,
sow nothing less than chain lightning
in my lawyer’s eyes. Transform her
into Kali, Boudicca and Xena,
Joan of Arc and Pallas Athena,
all infused into one tangerine pantsuit.
Let her tongue spit venomous
dropkicks before the bench.
Let her words erupt
with an atomic Kung-Fu grip.
Let her protect me
like my own mother.
To St. Rita,
sister to the lonesome,
let not my despondency over her
who once shot through my breath,
once made me believe
I would drown as our hands grazed,
consume me in the rituals of heartbreak;
remember me to mornings
and the sweetness of sunlight
through the curtains of my tiny studio,
even when she is no longer
warmed beside me.
To St. Felicitous,
patron of the small and lost,
let me still be the vanquisher
of burnt-out nightlights
and slayer of gray reflections
he spies in closets,
under beds and down dark hallways
until, someday, I am that grizzled face
whose hand he squeezes
as he huddles over the paper-white
sheets where my breath
shudders and breaks.
What a fucking obstruction—
all fifty solid cubic feet of inlaid oak
dingy with ink and cigarette smoke
sitting square in my father’s longtime office,
where his soon-to-be-former secretary’s stilettos
zipper like jackboots
across the low-pile carpet—
and I, the only son around
to help him move.
In three months I’ll come home to find him
planted on his couch, the upholstery full
of burn holes,
him sucking on tin foil,
getting the good cocaine out,
the desk clutter in some corner
scraped and shattered
among the grandkids’ toys.
But now my problem
is less the old man’s retirement plans
than a matter of simple physics:
How the hell do we move this? I ask.
He just grunts,
shifts his weight off his bad hip
then shuffles out the storefront
while I stumble over
a run in the carpet and think
If I had a chainsaw
I’d tear the bastard in half.
Of course, I wouldn’t
Instead, I check if the desk’s been cleared-out
and find the middle drawer still packed
with pens, sticky notes
and a half-filled legal pad—
When he still had it
together, he’d use the glossy-green pen
with the gold finial
to mark up inventory
balance his ledger
and sign his checks with cavalier flourish.
And I picture him,
freshly pressed, herringbone suit and all,
diligently scribbling a price on every yellow tag
that hung by a wire
around each sweepers’ handle,
so that before I know it
I slip the pen in my pocket,
pull the drawer from its runners
and tip the rest
into the trashcan—
By the time he waddles back with the dolly,
I’ve hefted the desk awry
and he helps me slide it onto the toe plate.
Then, I dig my shoulder in, and heave, and strain
so that the broad, nicked-up desktop shudders sideways,
and for the first time,
I see in full light
the kneehole where I used to hide,
when I was small enough
to carve my name on the inside
of the modesty—
But then, setting my eyes
on the dolly’s chipped handle,
I lurch forward,
and my dad in the lead,
I remember when I was five
and it was summer
and he was taller than the sun,
when I tripped and giggled breathlessly
to think I’d never outrun him.
Mornings I am given the day,
given the day, with all its tallow light squeezing my eyelids like a tightening blindfold,
given the day with a soft grind in the back of my skull, the starter of my synapses spitting and misfiring,
given the day as I open my eyes to the hanging arabesques of last night’s smoke,
given the day in a half-forgotten litany of responsibilities that stray like feral cats inside my brainpan—
given the crinkled electric bill, the dishes coated with grot in my sink, rent due, emails from clients wanting to reschedule, the bloated, made-up faces of the anchors and pundits and politicians on the morning news, I am still
given the day, given the keen bite of coffee slaloming through the sluice of my teeth,
given the stacks of unread books I have given up cramming into my bookshelf so their covers trap my gaze with soft-toned blues and greens,
given the words to be strung then nailed in place, then replaced gently like cogs in a watch housing,
given the mousy barista with the lavender perfume who rings up my lunch each day,
given the wherewithal to eat three squares after years of homelessness and starvation and living in a hotel room where the toilets never flushed and the shower never drained,
and given the bister and vermillion plait of corn and soy on two-lane Illinois roads,
I am given the way my son’s eyes widen into quiet smiles as my ex opens the door,
given the way she smiles too, as if in just that instant, we could forget all we can’t undo, and the noose of history that dangles from our necks.
(But, given love and giving love, what can’t a heart forget?)
Given the smell of new toys, of popcorn and a box of peanut M&Ms freshly opened in a dark theater’s cozy void
given my new perspective on campy action sequences, the CGI shrapnel hurling at me with cartoonish booms as my son sits rapt in wonderment,
and, given all this, what haven’t I been given?
Even as my son is given over to sleep,
even as he is, in turn, given back into the arms of a woman I gave more than I thought I had,
even as I slide between the comforter and sheet of my twin-size and switch on Forensic Files for sleep,
given this day and so many like it, when the calm in my chest is such that I give no thought to being bored—for all these things,
for being given the day, I give thanks to each day
if only to be given more.