Back to Archives - X. J. Kennedy



Two Poems by X. J. Kennedy


In Tiananmen Square


In a mausoleum Chairman Mao

Outlasting late attacks

Embalmed still lies.  They say he looks

Fashioned of orange wax.


Floral displays he would have banned

Brighten the square’s right border.

Policemen verify IDs

Which had best be in order.


Tourists strike poses, shutters click

Before the fountain’s spray.

The pavement gleams, intently scrubbed,

Blood long since mopped away.


Mao’s countenance still held on high

Looks down where once had lain

Dissidents whose lightless eyes

            Protested being slain.







The smell of fish guts finned our basement air

Where my old man in his sprung-spring easy chair

Used to consume his Sunday morning feast,

Bloaters he’d toast

On a shovel over furnace coals, not daring

To bring upstairs that evil-smelling herring.

And when fish-hating Uncle Norman’s reel

Cranked in a tuna fit for Gargantua’s meal,

Who had to be that fish’s glad receiver?     

My old man.  He whipped out his butcher’s cleaver

And in our basement took a vicious whack

At its back-

Bone, causing the blade

To take off into space.  It made

Straight for my mother, missed her by an inch.

She wasn’t one to flinch

And drily said, Good shot. 

And then that lot

Of cage-kept rabbits, their endearing capers

Vulnerable to coal gas vapors,

So that the neighbors swore they set their clocks

By Mother’s trips each dawn with spade and box

Out to our garden graveyard.  The time my Uncle Bill

Flipped and became a gabbling, twitchy shell

Until his poor wife could no longer stand him,

Said to my mother, Here, you understand him,

And lent us him for summer.  In our moldy basement

He’d sleep on the mohair sofa by the casement

That let in rain. Said the perfume of coal

Calmed him.  Indeed, by Labor Day his soul

Grew whole again.  At last he ceased to quiver.

In dreams I still hear Johnson’s Coal deliver

Our coming winter’s heat in a deafening rain:

Down a short steel chute, a two-ton hurricane. 







© 2005-2010 Per Contra: The International Journal of the Arts, Literature and Ideas