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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.
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