Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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SHJ Issue 13
Fall 2015

[Three Poems]

by Michael Rogers

Fireworks on the 15th of June

It’s 1:20 pm
on the edge of Hawthorne.
My girl shuffles around our one-bedroom house
trying on dresses to the radio’s salt-shaker beat,
as I lie on the couch reading
how David St. John found a face
with enough void to have faith in,

when we hear gunshots—
over the Cumbia music, which has become my silence,
and over St. John’s flourishes of sound
left strewn across the page like a rope of pearls
unclasped and ever waiting to be carried
into the light-wet streets by an angelic nape.

Behind us, on Crenshaw, an 18-year-old
El Camino student and aspiring musician
sat parked at the 99 Cent Store
in his father’s car, when two men approached
on foot and shot him several times before fleeing.
That’s what the news said, “several.”
As if, who’s counting? As if, what’s 99 cents
but a fistful of pennies; not quite a dollar?
It’s 1:20 pm.		

My girl wants to move. Maybe, somewhere
in Highland Park, overlooking something for a change,
she says, before turning her music up higher—
the sound of remembering, or forgetting, or both.

The next night, I park my truck
in the horseshoe beside our place and stare out
between the blur of cars, as bodies pace
over the vacant 99 Cent Store lot.
In the morning, I’ll see little crosses
and signs covered in cut-out pictures—
each smile framed by the tawny knots
of dried children’s glue—but now, amidst the vigil’s
blips of candlelight and shadow, stands a large man
pressing the heels of his palms
hard into his sockets to dam them.

It’s mid-June, which here, means fireworks
coloring the dead grass in confetti shrapnel
and tickling innocent nostrils
with their black-powder chemistry—all night.
Grounded M-80s tattoo asphalt;
bottle bombs, made from Piccolo Petes
and recycled 2-liters, set off false alarms
in parked cars; and all the while,
soaring Tijuana mortars fill in
for the stars we can’t see.
I hear these ersatz pops;
we all do—exit wounds of cheap carbon.




It’s been nice filling and spilling wine these two weeks with her,
the waning moon cycle our cosmic dimmer switch,
until finally, last night, on a blanket in her backyard,
we seized and released, forgetting who we are—knowing only, we are.
She’s studying to tug on threads and unravel the universe
with best guesses and digits past the decimal point.
She tells me how black holes wring out empty space like a wet towel
and I admire her ancient charge; gilded in sacred wonder, and older
than the numbers that give credence to her similes and metaphors,
but I wasn’t cut from that celestial cloth, and never felt the itch
of blackboard-chalk shavings sprinkled into my boyhood curls
by a wild-haired genius, as I slept dreaming of the number 8
tipped on its side by some unseen force.

I tend to focus on other things: like ants devouring a dead slug
on a plate of hot cement; or how callouses seem to tell the truest stories;
or watching water beads race down the side of a tub, crashing
into others along their ordained path, forming larger and denser bodies
that only fall faster under their collective weight, until, plunging,
finally, into the wholeness waiting for them at the bottom;
or looking through the atmosphere of her hazel eyes,
past the leftover lightning of old storms, and into their garden
of sun-soaked greens to cup another handful of perfect earthen soil.
Mine is the threadbare cloth used to wrap a finch
who broke its neck on a plane of glass it just couldn’t see.

In the morning, I sit on the couch, spurning her little dog Lola,
who appears, through a genetic anomaly—something like water
over a shark’s gills—to gather oxygen by licking. Lola reaps her sustenance
from the fabric of furniture and visitors alike, but mainly, she licks
the empty air, as if that Mobius tongue were lapping up one
of those extra dimensions curled away and well-hidden from physicists.



Love and Marriage

We buried my grandmother today in the seething dirt
and tiny white pebbles of a Twentynine Palms summer.
Grandpa refused all flowers, because they shrivel
like burning plastic when laid at the altar of this sun.
Though strangers to me, her community came out en masse—
plodding through late years together under this same infernal orb:
seen from beneath neon visors, glaring
through the bottoms of emptying tumblers,
and all too often, as today, singing the doleful notes
of rosary-chanted prayers as they float past to heaven.
Earlier, at the wake, they played Frankie’s “Stardust,”
and the “The Girl Next Door” to a picture slide show—
moving against time’s imposed order—
starting with my Nonna beaming beside various bleachers
and scholastic bricks, ever attending to grandchildren
scattered along the stops of yearly cross-country road trips,
then, transforming into a soldier’s wife and mother of five, engaging chaos
with whupping wooden sauce spoons and well-timed hugs,
before emerging finally, a South Philly girl with dimples on each side
and cobalt eyes that defied the photo’s black and white,
to shine like the uppermost dome of some Baroque Sicilian church.
The reception was held in the common room
of their trailer park, where my grandfather drank
too much Budweiser and tried to recap 65 years together
as Spaghetti alla Siracusana to die for,
meatballs pressed between cupped palms for picky kids,
and how they had watched a pubescent teen
warbling for nickels in a Hoboken dive,
then gladly paid 60 dollars, a lifetime later,
to see those same Ol’ Blue Eyes.
We had all wanted to bury her
among the green blades of nearby Cathedral City,
so that each day, as twilight’s garter-stitched skies
unraveled before the pressing night,
a Shalimar-perfumed shadow would lean over from her blushing cross
and kiss the smooth face of Sinatra’s modest plot,
but my grandfather refused.
He knew that she’d rather be stuck any day
in the seething dirt and hell-fire sun of Twentynine Palms,
just a white pebble tossed by the summer gusts away
from that parked trailer’s snarled plastic blinds and from him.


SHJ Issue 13
Fall 2015

Michael Rogers

recently graduated from California State University, Long Beach. He runs a local small business in Long Beach called On Deck Batting Cages. These poems are his first publication.

“...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