POETRY – 4 Poems by Paul Jolly

Rotgut Piano

Sign on warehouse: Piano liquidation. Like the pet
shelter, the piano warehouse has a kill date for each puppy.
If someone doesn’t take it home, into the vat it goes,
grand or upright. Next door a neon-lit piano bar.

Mack at the piano bar keeps a keg in the backroom.
It’s bootleg, of course, and Mack has to be careful.
So only ask Mack for piano juice if he knows
you or he’ll escort you out the door

so fast you’ll be lucky to recall your name
when you come to. The best stuff is old, of course.
Nectar of the first baby grand. Mack is waiting
for the right occasion. A morose octogenarian

tortures show tunes Friday and Saturday nights.
After midnight, he gets tight, then loose: ragtime,
boogie woogie, stride, standing up, howling,
eight, nine empty glasses lined up on the piano.





Thank you mom and dad

Late summer late evening walk. Four year old
skips on the path. I ask, “Why is your shadow
so long?” She giggled. “My parents,” as if the question
was so silly she was embarrassed for me.

You are the providers of fruit loops, tomato
soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. Car seat
strappers. Odd noise explainers. The five year
umbilicus is stretched – as long as she can see

you from the corner of her eye she’s safe. You
still carry her the last quarter of a walk but talk
about how heavy she is. You stencil pelicans
and flamingos on her walls. In a month, she

will bravely go. A teacher’s aid will take her
to her place and introduce her to the girl at the next
desk. She will trace sand paper alphabet cutouts,
finger paint with dad’s frayed shirt buttoned in back.

Soon she will insist you drop her a block from school,
sit with her friends in the church balcony, deny
the pain you see in her eyes. But this summer,
you are the funnel between everything and her.




Last letter mailed

Don’t dodge. You, me, we decided the post office’s
death. Animated message, delivered in seconds,
better suits this generation than ink on embossed
stationary, envelope, stamp, walk a block, mailbox
drop before noon, delivery in two or three days.
Each of us pink-slipped the mailman. Each of us
kiboshed the whole deal: Ben Franklin, Pony Express,
thirty thousand brick-built squares. Night night.
Ta ta. Adios. Forever stamps bye bye forever.

Last letter mailed? Not an apology for childhood
bullying. Not thank you for being my brother. Not
I know you didn’t invite me to your second wedding
because I married your ex wife but I forgive you.

Turns out the last letter was from a lawyer with skim
milk colored skin to his client after defeat. You
are entitled to appeal the ruling. Please advise
of intent. Invoice enclosed for services rendered.









The anthem’s fifth stanza praises
freedom’s dawn. The square’s quiet
the first time in years. Is the silence

the king’s retreat? Rebel’s defeat?
My comrades could be choosing their suites
in the palace, each deciding the proper

title, the proper honorific. Dark this morning
I stumbled downstairs, reached
for my gun. They said “stay behind.”

Did my bawdy limericks tickle them?
Or was I assigned to write the new republic’s
anthem because I’m a hopeless soldier?

Marshal verse cramps my hand. Stanzas
one two three four would be easier
if I didn’t know my brothers in arms so well.

One acquires by habit. One assumes he speaks
for the crowd. One is a bit too thrilled by blood.
When they return from their messy errand

they will ask for verse that trumpets their valor.
I’ll say there’s an ink shortage. I’ll say the quill
was snatched back by the bird who grew it.

I’ll say I need details. Massacre or surrender?
Did the king draw dagger or choose exile?
Did the palace guards defend or revolt?

It’s hard work to pen words that cause heart
to catch, eyes to fill, hands to reach for guns.
I know most conscripts fire over the heads

of their enemies. My verse will serve as bayonets
soldiers screw into their rifles to fortify blood-rage.
How long till the new junta annexes land taken

a generation ago? People who speak our language
and worship with our gestures seem content subjects
of another king, and will, most, die fighting.

The pen is deadlier than the sword. I can’t
write unless I know it’s not just a new
ass enthroned in the old stone castle.




Paul Jolly grew up in Oakland CA   His day job (plus occasional evenings) is coaching non profit organizations regarding fundraising.  He lives on the outskirts of Washington DC.

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