Traveling for No Good Reason — winner of the 2018 Sheila-Na-Gig Editions Poetry Manuscript contest.
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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.
The turning passages wrap round themselves,
Intestines of adolescent girls and boys,
Skulls broken, arms twisted askew or off.
All the time, Theseus dreams of a bronze sword
Cutting the fetid air, a spool of white
Thread that unwinds as he walks, the breathing of
A creature that didn’t ask for birth or death,
That never wanted to be part of a story.
The labyrinth does not contain Theseus or
The beast he’ll kill. The labyrinth coils tight
Inside them both. It’s growing late, though who
Could tell that in the skyless dark? The Minotaur
Feels sleepy, flesh-drunk. The horns on his head
Bend toward the ground. Theseus will not come
Tonight. He is still a dream, another passage,
One that turns when it appears to go straight, that ends
At a blank wall where bull and man collide,
Look up, and recognize each other, familiar
As the face in the bathroom mirror, the screen
Of the television when it darkens, or the glass
Frame on the photograph above your desk.
If the Minotaur cries out, the cry is sharp-
Pitched and sudden. Tomorrow, the philosophers
Will gather near the marketplace. Presidents
And cabinet ministers will settle their differences
Over chilled wine and platters of shrimp curled
Like small fingers. Tank commanders will give
The order to fire. Tomorrow, the philosophers
Will teach the principles of government:
How much grain should be distributed, what day
Of the month unemployment checks should go out,
Whether prostitutes should pay taxes.
In the labyrinth, the Minotaur is either asleep
Or dead. It’s too dark to see which. Theseus
Is on a ship headed back to Athens, his black
Sail engorged with wind, his thread abandoned,
Trailing like a vein or artery toward
A dry, broken heart at the earth’s center.
Far away, Daedalus stands on a hilltop, weeping.
Far away, Icarus crashes into the sea.
Today, I think it’s the world that’s real, not me.
I close my eyes and listen to traffic, a dog’s nails
Scratching at the pavement, someone’s radio,
And voices speaking a language I don’t recognize—
It sounds a little like French but not much. There’s
Something I don’t like about the poems I’m reading.
The paper is rough against my fingers, or
Maybe it’s the coffee or the people walking by.
It’s too easy to imagine it all the same, but with
Me airbrushed out of the picture. The street would
Be just as crowded. The taqueria on the other side
Would be just as busy. At the next table, there’s a kid
In high school meeting with an advisor to discuss
Plans for college. She is exuberant about his options.
Her sister went to Tulane. She is from California,
But doesn’t say how she ended up here, why she’s
Sitting in that café chair, talking about universities,
Careers. The poems I’m reading are hopeless. They’re
The poems of a man who’s dug himself a hole and
Can’t climb out. Women have betrayed him, and friends
Are otherwise occupied—the poems are performances
Of all the things he can’t make happen. It makes me
Sleepy, and I skip ahead in the book. I do that a lot,
See what’s going to happen, then work backwards. It
All makes sense then. Every story goes wrong somewhere,
And this way you can see it, how who he was slid off
The table and cracked against the concrete floor. It
Could happen to anyone, myself included. Maybe it
Already has, and I don’t know it. This morning, I read
Text messages from a cancer patient to her boss. She
Described how after the surgery the wound wouldn’t
Stop draining, how uncertain she was if she was really
Getting better. She wanted to believe the drugs were
Working and that her doctors could keep her alive. I
Don’t know what happened to her, but nothing seemed
To be going right. She switched hospitals, doctors,
Medications. Skipping ahead in her story doesn’t help.
Sometimes, there aren’t any right choices. Endings
Are always arbitrary or banal or both. But, I don’t
Get up and leave. I’m meeting my son in a few
Minutes. He’s twenty and unconcerned with endings.
Later, I get a call from a friend in Los Angeles. When he
Left the hospital, his sister had thrown away all
His books, his notes, photographs. He’s starting again now
With nothing, inhaling who he wants to be next, the
Future like some odd smell you can’t identify. If
This “I” weren’t here, would it make any difference? The
Question is nonsensical. I was never here to begin with.
For Ximena Gómez
I love it that they are not like us,
More like artists and writers from a
Hundred years ago, inhabiting
Cafés in Warsaw or Paris, chairs
Crowding together, pecking at each
Other, and having affairs. Preening
White feathers, they roost beneath an old
Hong Kong Orchid, the red kind with blooms
That are almost purple. They prefer
Manet’s “Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe” to
The rigors of cubism, and when
They argue, one or two will get up
And glide elegantly to the far
Side of the pond, wings reflecting
Mottled sunlight patterning the brown
Water. Tomorrow, I’ll bring some bread.