The Things of Cezanne
We stood in Cezanne’s studio
and the guide spoke in French because
the English tour was at 5
and I preferred dinner more than
understanding any language.
It was magical and almost
sacred to stand there, even in French,
the way it had been sacred
and almost magical that morning
to take the bus from Aix in rain—
he died of pneumonia after
painting two hours in a rain—
and wind past farms, hamlets, and wet woods
to stare at the bottom of Mont
St. Victoire which he painted more
than fifty times, whose rocks slanted
fifty yards up to become fog
and cloud and then fog again
so we didn’t want to climb it.
At Cezanne's studio, some things
that were in his still lifes were on
his shelves lined around the big room.
You remember the blue pitcher?
Well, there was that old Blue Pitcher.
The ochre plate? The Ochre Plate.
But the biggest thing stationed there
was a huge stepladder, legs splayed,
ready for his larger canvases,
such a rustic piece of lumber
yet so necessary, climbing
up to work, climbing down to work,
maybe thinking This is getting
really old, though he was happy.
And when we left, the rain came down
again the way it might have rained
on him, I mean on every thing
but he was one of those things then
and we were two of those things now.
I was once told I had a Planter’s Wart
on my foot but I didn’t know why
it would be named for that guy in the ad
for Planter’s Punch, white suit, Panama hat.
Sixty years later I stumble on Plantar’s
Wart, meaning the sole in Latin, planta,
so it had nothing to do with a plantation
or a punch with rum, sugar, bitters, you know,
including grenadine (pomegranate juice)
which has nothing to do with grenadier,
a thought I almost had. Back then I confused
“cavalry” and “Calvary” on my tongue,
a problem for a Baptist who watched westerns.
I thought “miscellaneous” was a word
my mother made up (although it could have been
a Greek king) until someone else said it too.
The wart disappeared. How many ailments,
how many benefits have worn away?
But we step on, through the sweets and bitters,
the way we do, one sole flat down, the next,
planting one word after the other,
Christ with his cavalry, one soldier
on the hill of Calvary with his grenade,
the pin loosened, and a cup of rum.
Good King Miscellaneous on his throne.
Meeting a Poet Second-Hand in Seattle
Now here’s a book by a friend—meaning
I knew him in college and he didn’t dislike me—
who’s written poems, even a Collected,
even A Reader, and I buy a Selected
from a second-hand bookstore in a city
of unfamiliar rain and stop at the door
to read the title page: “Good Luck with everything!”
and signed “The Whole Group.” So the first owner,
who moved and didn’t plan enough space
for poetry or needed that small change,
let go the gift and I leave, nothing left
but everything, good luck, and halfway friends.
Across the street, the Hmong sell daffodils
by the armful and I follow a stranger
hauling a clutch over his shoulder, spilling
one piece of gold here, over there another,
and I think of my old best friend, lugging
along his books, blossoms falling in bunches—
all right, tokens of luck—for whomever comes along
even if, some time, they’re handed wholly on.
New to this country, the Irish poet listed the sayings of comic signs he found
on the walls of American bars and read them to the coffeehouse audience who
laughed at the fresh joy of his talent.
Another poet stole my wife by writing her a chapbook of poems about his love
and damned if he didn’t win the Burning Blue Hair Quarterly’s annual Emma Sue
Another poet said to me, as we sat watching an old man, “I’m going to write a
poem about that old man sitting outside reading in the sun—how white and empty
and dazzling language is for him.” I found it six months later in a little magazine-
-that hadn’t replied about some poems I’d sent them a year ago—with the first
seven words deleted, a ‘the’ for ‘that’, and ‘sits’ instead of ‘sitting’.
About the only poet friend I can stand any more is the one who got an envelope
with the return address of the MacArthur Foundation and had three heart
attacks on the way to discovering he was being asked to write a letter of
recommendation for someone else.
The New-Fangled Chinese Poet
The white flakes off the apple trees
will have to do for cherry blossoms,
two high school girls in pink shorts,
sandals slapping toward the retail strip,
for the wisdom of the day.
I sometimes think I’ve retired,
become a Chinese hermit, although
I’m drinking coffee, watching over
a parking lot, and what else
could be more American?
And there arrive more girls, more blossoms
the color for age and for winter.
So long have I served my small empire
that in whatever season comes
I find delight alone.
ROBERT W. KING's first book, Old Man Laughing (Ghost Road Press), was a finalist for the 2008 Colorado Book Award in Poetry. His second, Some of These Days, appeared from Conundrum Press in 2013. He recently won the Grayson Books Chapbook Competition with his manuscript Rodin & Co. He lives in Greeley, Colorado, where he directs the website www.ColoradoPoetsCenter.org.