Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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SHJ Issue 2
Fall 2010

[Five Poems]

Bob Hicok

The American Dream Circa 2010

Hard to recall a harder time 
if you want a job, yesterday 
I heard tarmac’s being pulled up 
in various Podunks and replaced 
with gravel to save money 
on maintenance, so why not 

let the sky go, stop painting it, 
put off breakfast 
till lunch, teach half 
the kids half 
the presidents, the other half 
how to beg, I like gravel 

as much as the next guy, well maybe 
not him, he loves gravel, has it 
in his coffee, his bed 
but backward’s the opposite 
of the American, the western 
vector’s progress 
not erasure, isn’t dismantling 

push coming to shove, aren’t teachers 
firemen cooks doctors cops 
a good idea, ever unstuck 
a shitty valve in a sewer, ever skim 
sulphurous slag in a foundry,
ever thought ideology would outweigh 
a pbj, ms. left, mr. right, hard 

to recall a harder time
for compassion, for the common good 
of common sense, what are these times 

proving: we can scream, pout, stomp, 
that we are politically 
children who should be spanked, hard

to believe the guy who ran 
the RM300 Caterpillar rotary mixer 
down the rural route his father paved
got laid off when he was done
turning back the clock, paved

and drove his son out to 
one night with a sweating
Pabst between his legs and his arm
around the boy he thought he was handing
the world to.


Four Star

I call room service and ask 
for bees. 

In a while, a man in body 
but boy in face 
knocks, asks where I’d like 
my bees.

Good hotels 
bring entire hives, the dumps, 
a few stragglers 
on a dab of honey 
on a broken stick.

The best hotels, like this one, 
anticipate that you’ll need 
a tree for the hive, dirt 
for the tree, flowers 
for the bees, a cloud 
and some rain is nice 
when you’re on the road, 
the crease in your slacks 
no longer definitive.

I nod to the bed, which is a king, 
which has provinces 
and districts 
I’ll never visit, 
which if I leave now 
on horse, I’ll arrive at 
in a day or two, tired 

and in need of a bed 
with a tree in it, a hive, 
some bees, a cloud, rain 
falling softly, as if 
it’s not sure it’s wanted, 
when it is, more than words 
can say, though listen 
how hard they try.


Mister Me, Mister Useless

The poem about menopause my wife asked me 
not to read to you is folded 
and inside my underwear. The only other thing 
I keep there likes company 
to be softer. Hot flashes 
are such a cruel & busted thermostat 
to place in a woman that if I believed 
in God, I’d have to stop 
and throw all my stuff at the sky, 
car and house 
and arthritis. She’s asleep 
and I just whispered the poem 
into the dead roses that weren’t dead 
two years ago when she bought them 
and the fluted vase to say to me, 
love. First blood, the monthly abattoir 
for decades, then this Mojave 
shoved up her vagina 
as thanks for all the cramp- 
& tampon-ing, then bits 
of memory are rivered away 
like so many leaves 
that were beautiful 
for a few months until cold 
turned tree shadows 
lean. Car & house, I wish my penis 
were a grenade 
I could pull the pin of 
and get to you, God, evolution, o 
these concepts that plague us 
with their lack of faces to aim 
our pleases at: please stop making her 
cry. Life, I’m talking to you, 
stop pretending you’re too busy 
earthquaking & baby-making 
to listen, though words 
are the most ineffectual levers 
I’ve tried over and over 
to lift the world with, 
no better than the air their broken 
bones are made of.


The Cannibal Notices Nostalgia is a Form of Cannibalism

This kid was walking the dog 
of his yo-yo excellently along the whiskers 
of grass, a glow-in-the-dark number 
like I had decades ago when Nixon 
was king and I rooted 
for the kid to cross the park 
without being shot and wrote 
this note when his red shirt 
had red shifted 
out of sight: Dear 

intelligence of smoke signals: Dear 
skidmark slowly ravished by rain: Dear 
banked turn of the velodrome: Dear 
electrical storm lost at sea: let us run 

our affairs from the top of a tree. Dear 
innocence: I’m sorry 
I broke both your knees, ate 
your throat, everything, the open 
mouth, the tiny bones 
even, the inner ear of your delicious


Cultural Exchange

It seemed bad taste to ask how much he paid 
not to serve two years in the Iranian army.

We were beside the net post on a cloudy day 
that never matured to rain. 

Tennis is a game I enjoy even more 
than I like to say Sacré-Coeur.

In our Civil War, I told him, you could pay 
I think three hundred dollars not to end up 
in a Ken Burns film. 

He squinted at my joke until I explained, 
when he laughed and we soon agreed 
North Korea is crazy.

How does one person control millions 
is a thing to wonder 
on your back as you leave 
an outline of sweat the shape 
of a corpse.

A plane flew over.

Then a hawk.

Then a crow.

Then nothing and nothing and nothing.

I asked how do you say rock and roll 
in Farsi.

What’s so great about Elvis 
was the best part of his answer 
in English.

I told him that’s a love 
I don’t feel, not for the leather 
or the hips or the sneer or the slim 
or the fat or the TV 
shooting Elvis. 

In a while he said everyone in Iran 
knows Rumi.

Then a butterfly limped along.

Then poetry 
rose over a green court 
in a language that made his face 
remind me of the full sail of a ship 
heading home.


“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury