October 2-8, 2006: Marcia Nehemiah and Hugh McMillan

week of October 2-8, 2006

Marcia Nehemiah and Hugh McMillan

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Marcia Nehemiah

Bio (auto)

Marcia Nehemiah’s poems and essays have been published in literary journals and newspapers including The New York Times, English Journal, Blueline, Journal of New Jersey Poets and Main Channel Voices Her work has appeared online at jerseyworks.com, subtletea.com, and The Pedestal Magazine and has been included in the 2003, 2004 and 2006 Women Artists Datebook published by Syracuse Cultural Workers She lives with her husband in Lackawaxen, PA
Visit Marcia’s website here.

The following work is Copyright © 2006, and owned by Marcia Nehemiah and may not be distributed or reprinted in any form whatsoever without written permission from the author.

Three Martinis

The first was Peter,
who was no Marcello Mastroianni Too short Thick lenses
magnifying stupified eyes
under thin strands of hair
plastered from right to left Dandruff But oh! that accent!
intoxicatingly trilled Rs
played hide-and-go-seek
with elongated vowels I listened
for hours, tipsy on the seductive
tales he spun of La Scala, Mussolini
and the lost temples of Agrigento

near Taormina, 1983,
a table by the sea, the fish,
an orange umbrella between me
and the sun setting magenta
over Etna After two martinis,
neat, I got messy—three sheets
to the Sicilian summer wind,
pie-faced and laughing
under noctilucent clouds,
dancing with apple-faced men
in bowler hats to the beat of Vespas
carousing the ancient hillsides,
singing loud, drunken songs.

An Aging Vegetarian Buys Groceries in a Post-Literate World

“How d’ya like this warm?
Gotta enjoy it while it is”

says the boy with the shaved head and pierced lip He isn’t sure what his hands hold, can’t tell
a bunch of loose spinach from a tight head of lettuce “Escarole,” I tell him, answering his blank stare We work at it together—I name bok choy, chard—
he fumbles through laminated pages
of pictures and matching codes The scanner punctuates our exchange The avocado undoes him completely,
a green heart he cradles in a quizzical look “How’s this taste?” he wants to know How can I describe it? I’ve spent my morning
contemplating two words—or else—
wondering if together they form more a threat
or the opening of possibility I could leave the boy here
in his confusion Or else bring him home with me,
feed him salad and grammar, read Austen’s
compound-complex sentences out loud
letting my tongue slide over the words
and my larynx fondle them while the boy chews
endive and arugala, fennel fronds leaking from his mouth When he’s finished with the avocado, I could reveal
that it’s a fruit and explain why and then offer him
some Dickens for dessert Or else I can watch him bag
the collards and kale, and leave with all my vegetables
so beautifully and eloquently green.

Everyone Needs a Hobby

The 700 members of the National Toothpick Holder Collectors’ Society have,
since its inception in 1973, attended 33 national conventions
held annually in August in such places as Kansas City, Denver, Las Vegas,
where they participate in toothpick holder auctions
and raffles and identification clinics On the final day, the popular toothpick holder show
features exciting display competitions To fully feel the delicious anticipation
that precedes the coming year’s event, they wait
for the Toothpick Bulletin (published ten times a year)
which they peruse for information on manufacturers, patterns ,
previously undocumented toothpick holders,
members’ collecting adventures and lucky finds

while I rattle from room to room
still in my pajamas at noon
and think about Death I can almost see her mocking face
daring me to stave off the dread,
to find a cause, get busy, believe in something,
anything instead of wandering around
wondering, “Why bother?”
since I’ll be dead forever;
ergo, effort and achievement
mean zero Still, the NTHCS pamphlet invites me to join
and for a moment I consider the possibilities I imagine a happy me arranging the porcelain and cut glass
beauties on my shelf between “Being and Nothingness”
and the weeping Buddha who holds his head
in his hands and the suffering of the world on his back Membership dues are a reasonable $20,
and I could fly to next year’s convention in Cleveland
to purchase my toothpick holder commissioned
exclusively for Society members I could order
a copy of a prominent toothpick holder collector’s book
with the intriguing title, “Is It Old? Is It New?”
But then I realize I already know it’s very, very old
and where I’m headed I can’t
take my toothpick holders with me I sit and stare and finally get dressed
and go outside where, for the rest of the day,
I stand in the cold and watch November’s leaves
fall in clusters on the lawn.

The Leader of the Pack

I can see the back of his head,
blue cap peeking above the edge
of the driver’s seat On the passenger’s side
a silver coif of curls rises I can read the small print on their
Proud to be Retired! bumpersticker
so I ease off the accelerator,
try not to tailgate,
try to practice compassion instead,
knowing that my future is ahead of me Sooner (rather than later) I’ll be the one
creeping, obeying the speed limit
while some kid in a pick up
inches over the double yellow line,
jittery fingers on the steering wheel
pushing for a way past me.

Why do we slow down when we get old?
Wouldn’t it make more sense to speed up?
Shouldn’t we rush from place to place,
cram a lot of life into each fleeting minute
before we pull into our final parking spot
and kill the engine forever?

I try to picture the old man in the car ahead
drag racing his hot rod GTO down Main Street,
or cruisin’ for chicks or parked in a corner
of the local drive-in, DA stiff with Brill Crème,
his muscular arm draped over the soft shoulder of his steady—
the old woman sitting next to him now in the Lincoln,
rambling along after all these silent and familiar years,
with no particular place to go I’m almost part of his pack now
and we’re all headed nowhere fast.


“You have to be good,” I think,
as each inch of the road that unwinds
behind me makes it harder to turn back I should do it anyway, explain,
“I was never good at math “
Instead, I keep recalculating:
eighteen for the cut equals one-eighty times two
makes it three-sixty So it should have been four all told,
rounding up Not three I should have broken
the other twenty and asked her for singles,
given her the extra buck
(which I certainly don’t need)
what with her on her feet all day
and that picture of the two little kids propped
behind the combs that floated in sea-blue
water and made me think of summer.

I thought for once I was sure to do the right thing,
since luck and chance led me to that copy of O
that opened right to “Advice on Tipping: What’s the Right
Amount?” while I waited for Sue to poof the grey hair
before mine “At the salon, split the tip
between the stylist and the person
who washes your hair,” which is what
I did, giving the young girl, so tentative in her tight top
and too-short shorts, one dollar of the three,
when what I really wanted her to have
was confidence and defiance, a portion of the permission
I’d taken myself–to strip off those awful clothes
be just beautiful instead of trying to copy YM,
dark-rimmed eyes and the wrong lipstick (stanza break)
So Sue got stiffed and I knew she knew it too
as she looked at those two bills in her hand.

But I keep driving anyway,
remembering  the words of another woman
who got everything wrong: What’s done
cannot be undone, unless I mail
the dollar with a note marked
“For Sue Sorry ” But I know I won’t,
all my vanity, all the burden of looking good
or looking silly stopping me,
and the further away I get
the more certain I am that I’ll let my
uneasiness fade until it nags only a little,
then not at all, like all my other
mistakes that have died of neglect.

Furniture and Undertaking

In India Hindus burn their dead on pyres;
flames lick fresh flesh to bone The Yanomami
of Brazil mix the burned body’s ashes
with coconut milk From the dead man’s skull,
the tribe’s most honored priest drinks the draught Tibetan Buddhists help all dead souls rise
from the highest hallowed mountaintop A holy man hacks off limbs and piles
the bloody logs in a banquet for vultures
who fly off after days of feasting Bones litter
the ground until time dissolves them back to earth On an American main street, a sun-bleached,
rain-beaten sign advertises Rasmussen and Sons,
Furniture and Undertaking Since 1817 Since 1817 a man’s heavy hands pushed a plane
over rough pine or hard walnut–tabletop, headboard,
coffin—the shavings settle at his feet
like leaves in autumn woods The sons
of the sons are still at it, preserving the dead,
undertaking to make them look more alive
than dearly departed, dressing them in party clothes,
leading those whose time has not yet come
to wander through labyrinths marked with stones
engraved with names and numbers The parade stops
where vermilion-dyed flowers decorate a dug pile of earth A black-robed priest reads from a book No one looks Strangers lower the coffin-clad body into the hole,
its finely-carved lid closes over fleshly remains–
not ashes, or dust, but solid, satisfying food for worms.

Hugh McMillan

Bio (auto)

Hugh McMillan lives in Penpont in Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland He is the winner of the Scottish National Poetry Prize 1987, the Smith/Doorstep Poetry Prize 1995, and four Scottish Arts Council Bursaries He has five collections of poetry, the last two being ‘Aphrodite’s Anorak’ (Peterloo) and ‘After a Storm’ (Smith/Doorstep) Hugh has been widely anthologised, including in ‘Oxford Poets’ (Carcenet 2002),  ‘Twentieth Century Scottish Literature’ (Mainstream 2003) and the ‘Edinburgh Book of 20th century Scottish Verse’ (Edinburgh University Press 2005) His collections have been translated into Catalan and Bulgarian
Visit Hugh’s
blog here and podcast here

The following work is Copyright © 2006, and owned by Hugh McMillan and may not be distributed or reprinted in any form whatsoever without written permission from the author.

My Father

Fathers were good to all my pals
lectured them about money
then bought them flats,
had doubts about their morality

but flitted them from place to place
at dead of night Oh my Dad’ll go spare
they’d cheerfully admit

as they phoned for loans At such times
I would remember my own
and his two pieces of advice:

how to remove your bayonet
from an enemy’s ribcage,
and how to disarm a maniac
coming at you from the stairs
They thought their fathers weird
for having cardigans,
I thought mine odd
because he’d talk to men

who’d burned alive in 1942
and because of other things
I’d watched him do:
vault walls three times his size,

or sprint along a busy street
to punch my Mum When he vanished
it left a hole as a trepan might I have no idea where he went

though I knew he would live long,
as mad folk do Years down the line
I received a sentence or two,

written in his cramped
and delicate monkish way,
I wonder, it began,
if you remember me


Stone wings of land
roll into a belly of sky
beyond eye-shot They are pinned
by trees today, orange as old fire
The wind coils Lydia’s hair,
a little fleck of yellow paint
just a smudge, a thumbnail
such as you might spot

in curling photographs,
or muddy in a mind’s eye It’s tragic enough,
nailing moments like butterflies
I sit on the hillside
and furiously blacken pages,
as if trees don’t wither, hair won’t fade,
nothing ages.