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Jack Myers

Jack Myers passed away November 2009. Jack was the author of seventeen published books of and about poetry, and a final, as of yet unpublished, manuscript, The Memory of Water. The 2003 Texas Poet Laureate, he was the recipient of two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships and two Texas Institute of Letters Poetry Awards, and his work garnered many honors over the years: in 2005 Routine Heaven won the Texas Review Press Award; The Glowing River won the 2000 Violet Crown Award; and in 1985, his As Long As You’re Happy was a National Poetry Series selection chosen by Nobel Laureate, Seamus Heaney. Jack co-founded The Writer’s Garret, a community-based literary center; served on the faculty of the Vermont College MFA program; and was Professor of English and Creative Writing at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where he taught for 34 years.



Intimacies of Cleaning

They have wiped off what I said
from my keyboard, sprayed the splatters
of toothpaste, and shaken out the arabesques
of beard and pubic hair into the trash.

What do I know of them? They stop talking
in Spanish when I enter the room.

I know Sonya’s grandson, the first
in the family to go to college, was shot
dead in an argument over his girlfriend,
that all her revolving helpers are illegals,
and her mother’s dying in Guanajuato because
that’s what she said when she couldn’t come.

What does she know of me?

That I don’t sleep so well and my heart’s
not right, that I’m taking antidepressants
because she rearranges my pills. I overhear her say
I’m falling apart so fast I won’t make it to my death.

I know she sneaks extra strips of twisties
out of the house but leaves the loose change
from the couch out where I can see it.
That her trailer is crowded with relatives
from Mexico, she says, who won’t ever leave
or get off their butts to help out.

I pay her in cash and she pretends we know nothing
of each other’s lives, that she’s not there when she cleans.
But why, after she dusts every photo and picture in the house,
does she leave all of them crooked? I don’t want to know.
I answer the door and tell her where to start cleaning,
abajo or arriba according to where I won’t be at.



     --for Allison Hedge Coke

I thought I was doing my job
“fulfilling my purpose
on this earth,” as they say,
the way every creature
from ant to amphibian
goes about its business
in headlong allegiance
to a prime directive 
that says work is faith,
and lacks the defeatist
questioning with which
some little lost part of me 
won’t stop interviewing 
the larger part of me that’s lost,

when I sat down to a bowl of
mariscos del mar, whose 
mollusk and shellfish sat glumly
sunk in a primordial broth, 
with a Native American poet
who called me her mentor,
whose blandishments in life,
she laughingly explained,
have been one long horror show 
after another, from rape to abuse 
to diaspora, and who talked about 
helping the poor in this world
who don’t have water or work
and can’t defend themselves
against the greed and corruption
of murderous governments,

and felt my sense of purpose
thin to the razor I’d been
shaving off slices of my life with,

as if I had eaten the whole cow
by slivering it into transparent

flitches of carparcio smothered
in virgin olive oil and lemon
and topped off with spicy capers

for the pleasure of the gourmand
Italian thug in me to eat.
and she kept beaming 
and offered to take me
to the barrios of Columbia 
to read my poems to people 
who were dying from a lack of 
spiritual encouragement, read 
about my suburban doings 
that began to look to me like 
the foulard of orange grease spots
floating on top of my tepid soup.

I felt my heart enlarge inside 
the emptiness that asked 
if there’d be an honorarium 
and wasn’t a war going on down there
and would it be safe for someone like me 
who’s living out, no, floating on top of,
no, spilling out of the American Dream?

Sometimes in this life an angel
appears in a disguise we can’t imagine,
maybe as a student who looks
beyond the blackness drowning us
in muck where, in the difficult light
of hearing who we’re supposed to be,
a purpose finds us that will feed us,
makes us stand up from bottom-feeding
on the exotic and expensive and,
with that clarifying sense of emptiness
reverberating in our hearts, fortifies us
with enough to enter the obliterating world.



Going Away Party

               Inside every old person is a young person
               asking “How the hell did this happen!?”
--sign inside someone’s bathroom 

I deftly second-guess and sidestep the antagonist’s
certain downfall. I improve on a superhero’s power
so he can transform into anything. Then I turn the tv off
and rush off to attend a going-away party for octogenarians.

I find it hard to look at the old man with a cotton wad
sticking out of his left nostril. Does he even know it’s there?
Maybe he doesn’t give a damn anymore. The live jazz trio
has closed its eyes to get deeper inside its elevator muzak.

My wife insinuates I’m having trouble growing old.
I say not so but I feel like I’m stuck at a hideous petting zoo.
One of the beasts with a half-lamb, half-human face, lectures me
with a mouthful of coleslaw on women’s suffrage.

Back home my wife says, “Isn’t it wonderful how their minds
are still sharp!?” But I’ve already caught the tail end of a thriller
in which there’s only a few seconds left before all humanity
will become extinct if I can’t figure out which wire to cut.




Here in the oncology ward, bald and nauseous,
we wait for the intercom to call our turn
under the red buzz of the radiation gun
or the chemo bag that’s slowly dripping
as if something above us were melting.

Everyone’s faced the fear of leaving the world
at one time or another, but the alien world
of cells blooming into barnacles inside us, then
into coral reefs that’ll one day unexpectedly
detonate makes death seem like a welcome blackout.

Anupa, a beautiful Indian techie in purple, butterflies
among the despondent as if she were what is possible.
Have I ever gone through the world feeling beautiful?
Maybe when I was tumbling underwater and everything
wanted to touch me. My memory can just barely feel that.

That was when I was as wildly thriving as what’s broken off
and gone crazy in us. I miss those heady times. And I’ll miss
the time when they’ll have shrunk cancer back down into
a word like dyspepsia and there’ll be a pill for it. Meanwhile
my eyes have turned yellow. I need a liver immediately.

That seems to have made the knowledge of death quicken
something in me that’s ripened into the exquisite kind of
sweetness you see in little children and the gently senile.
Everything has been planned for me down to the last minute.
I’m waiting as fast as I can for a stranger’s fatal accident.



My Top Ten Lists

I was thinking about how you picked me
for a one-night stand after scoring 90
on my top-ten list of things I looked for in
whoever I’d marry next: a lady who’s a writer
but is lots of fun, someone who’s co-dependent
but adventurous, a cover girl who’s suffered
but doesn’t want kids, and I thought, hmmm,
so here’s Miss Runner-up Cincinati who wants
to start a literary center. Ok, I’d better marry her.

And you said fine but first we need to rid ourselves
of bad old stuff, let’s do the ancient Hebrew scapegoat
ritual of writing our sins on stones and throwing them
into The Ohio River, and I said fine but somehow left
The Stone of Infidelity in my pocket and you made me
go back down through rain and mud and toss that in too.

You said, like all the others, I was “terminally unique,”
and made me go through Swiss analysis and Alcoholics
Anonymous, and nicotine hypnosis, and weaned me off
my ex’s needs and slept with me through my by-pass
and made me be more spiritual but grounded and
pierced my ear and dressed me up with sapphire studs
and hid away in Motel 6 when I was being a schmuck

and donned a long black wig and bustierre and
called me up and said “This is Veronica, I’m in a bar
under a neon horse in Dallas -- if you can find me
you can have me,” which I did and off we went
to Fantasy Camp in Las Vegas to learn No Limit
Texas Hold ‘Em so when we grew old we’d maybe
make a living under the table. I don’t know where
I’m going with this. Everyone’s got a story.

You’ve got so much life in you than I’ve got doggedness,
I need to buy some thyroid pills just to feel a little
vivacious, which I’m putting on my other list,
the one that says “This is Jack, if you cremate me

and put me in a jar you can have me, and tell the new guy
how it was with us, how even though I’m dead and
hopefully doing something else beside being nothing,
take me with you and tell him I didn’t want to miss a thing.”



Autumn on Cape Fear

How thrilling to dive through the muscular roar
of the curling surf and have thousands of hands
welcoming me back.

The day cooks sunny-side-up, and one by one
the sweet bikini girls saunter by, each stooping to examine
a particularly beautiful shell washed up in my garden.

I smile my “I like the feeling of no underwear” grin,
knowing their game is to pretend they’re unaware
one of them will be chosen to visit the king tonight.

A little tern, the color of a handful of sand and white foam,
balances on one twiggy leg in the steady wind and studies me
in the exacting, matter-of-fact manner of a mirror.

I, an old, bald, grey-bearded, abashed male of the species,
rise on my skinny legs and abandon the beach.