Fall 1988, Volume 5.2
Poetry 

 KENNETH W. BREWER


Flood

4:00 a.m.
The Oregon surf pounds
against the heating ducts
in his bedroom basement,
except he lives in Utah.

Within an hour
two sump pumps and a water vac
shoot steady streams
out two windows and a door,
barely keeping even
with the five inches of river winding
between table legs, bookshelves,
beds, dissertation notes.

He stands ankle-deep
at the urinal
such a long time
he thinks he's pumping floodwater
up through the soles
of his bare feet.

He thinks of all
that must be done:
turn off the gas,
unplug the typewriter,
radio, television, lamps,
pull up carpets,
carry out the couch,
call the insurance agent,
find the policy,
read the policy,
change insurance companies.

A dozen neighbors stand
in his bedroom,
talk about what he should do next.
The two cats run upstairs,
their fur bushed out,
eyes wide,
their bodies crouched so low
they look like black logs
floating up a waterfall.
The poodle whines,
dumps on the bedroom water,
three small tokens of fear
swirling off toward the sump pump.

Outside, rain continues
dimpling the backyard lake
like thousands of trout
rising to mosquitoes.
He feels trout under his feet,
crawdads scuttling through the carpet.
He grabs his flyrod from the storage room,
casts into a riffle at the edge of his desk
where an enormous Germnan brown lies
just behind the wastebasket.
It hits the fly
and they battle down the hallway
crashing from wall to wall.
It tries to snag the line
under the bathroom door,
wraps it around the toilet.
But he has it,
grabs it by the gills
and runs shouting and splashing
through the basement,
holding it above his head
calling "Wife! Wife!
Look what I caught!"

His wife stands at the top
of the basement stairs,
the 20-foot telephone cord
wrapped around her legs,
the receiver dangling from her hand
like a dead river-rat.
"It's Daughter.
She's getting married.
Wants to have the reception here
next week."
 
He thinks of gondolas.
A forty-foot yacht
anchored in the family room,
an ice sculpture of entwined dolphins,
platters of prawn, skewers of lobster,
the caterer's launch
chuffing off for more champagne,
all the bright sailboats of his neighbors
sliding around the bedroom buoys,
loaded with gifts, flashing in the sun ...
"Of course! Of course!" he shouts,
"We'll serve them trout!"
 
Burning the House

The flood failed,
merely wiped out
the basement carpets,
drapes, books and two tables.
The earthquake he had counted on
to swallow up the garage
with the Datsun and the VW
hasn't even occurred.
That leaves fire.

He could start it in the chimney;
let it shoot into the conversation pit
then swirl up and down the stairs.
It would cleanse the wom carpets,
purify the discolored linoleum,
bathe the cobwebs into nothing.
He can hear brittle shingles
snapping like campfire sparks,
can smell basement spiders
melting in n-dd-air.

Of course, he'll have to save
his stamp collection, his autographed books,
his shotgun, all the artwork,
photo albums, his only suit,
the microwave oven, the new fridge,
his wife's two-piece swimsuit, his wife,
all the earrings he bought her,
his favorite ballpoint pen,
the stereo and all the records,
the eight-foot fig tree in the livingroom,
the poodle, the golden lab, both cats,
the four-slice'toaster, the Navajo rug,
the camp tent and stakes, the Coleman stove,
and all his tax records since 1964.

He'll have to cover
the redleaf maple, the two plum trees,
all his evening primrose.
He'll have to move the birdfeeders,
the lawnrnower, the fishing tackle,
and what about the Christmas decorations,
the salt and pepper shakers
they bought in Kentucky,
the antique General MacArthur doll,
the Cuisinart, the blender,
and his favorite Betty Crocker Cookbook?

Suddenly, he can see it all:
charred walls, bent joists,
stepless stairways, scattered chirnney bricks.
All the things he loves
piled in the middle of the front yard.
Everything covered with ashes,
thunderclouds rumbling in the west,
all the animals wild-eyed,
screaming as the ground
begins to rattle beneath him.

Paranoia, Maybe

Babies.
Oh, you think they're cute, I know.
I've never seen a cute baby anything.
Wrinkled prunes, toothless, spastic,
inconsiderate, burbling, howling,
smelly, nasty as a half-used tube of glue-
other than that I suppose they're tolerable.

I've stopped going to movies.
My last attempt occurred
the year On Golden Pond
won an Academy Award.
I went to see it the night of
the Awards.
Only a dozen people
in a theatre fit for hundreds.
Sure enough, a baby sat behind me,
cooing and squirming for two hours.
I've never been back.

My favorite restaurant
refuses service
to children under twelve.

But I should be patient.
I should learn to forgive.
I have two daughters
recently married,
planning families,
planning to visit,
planning to drop off the kids,
planning to torture me,
drive me to suicide
to collect their inheritance
and buy silver-studded strollers,
motorized, equipped with stereo,
a loud speaker system,
and a built-in honey wagon.

But it won't work. They'll see.
I'll be the loving grandpa,
doting, pampering, whining
to all my friends
how wonderful it is
to have a grandchild.
I'll give it toys and popsicles,
walk it through the park,
swing it, slide it, rollercoaster it,
so long as there are witnesses.

Alone in the house
when it reaches for my candy
in the bedroom nightstand,
I'll say Wo no,"
and slam the drawer on its hand,
chew off its fingers
like a pack of Chicklets gum,
wrap it in a muslin sheet,
gag it and set it in front of the TV
to watch Soccer from Germany
all afternoon.

I'll tell it its mother
was adopted from a syphilitic woman
travelling through town in a VW bus.
I'll only read to it
the Original Little Red Riding Hood.
I'll buy it books without pictures.
I'll buy it Fig Newtons.

Then maybe, maybe, after all that,
the toothless little bugger
will stop grinning at me,
stop nuzzling my beard,
stop looking like me,
stop calling my name in the dark
as if I can do anything,
as if I can help,
as if 1 know all the answers.