After Verlaine’s arrest, I could have left town,
I just couldn’t have gone anywhere.
When I drank beer, I lived in a dark damp house
Under the bar stools. Other folks—drinkers all, fellow thieves,
Concrete poets—with the same leather coat I favored
Lived there too.
But when I drank absinthe in the heat of your anger—
You wanted to shoot me?
The one who pulled you into the fresh air?
When I drank absinthe even tall ceilings crowded me,
And later the hangover mornings came on all sudden.
I woke up on the bus to Thompson Falls.
I woke up anywhere.
And there my head was: a galvanized steel blob
Banging around in shards of light.
The Umbrella Thief
André-Joseph Salis de Saglia was a famously gay, absinthe-drinking friend
of Verlaine known for stealing umbrellas, decades later he was also the subject
of a Picasso painting.
Preparing late breakfast for his father,
The Umbrella Thief contemplated rain.
Rain, he figured, was dozens of wet rags
Snapping at the top of one’s bald head.
In black rain littered with golf umbrellas,
If someone approached you with an honest
Plan, then the wind might smell clean
But would be shot through with chiding hail.
His father shouted that he liked oatmeal.
The Umbrella Thief was serving omelets.
Do you want some tea, he asked gently.
His father said coffee. I always want coffee
And who are you and where’s Mother?
The Umbrella Thief couldn’t remember everything either.
That dark Burberry on the coat tree,
He’d stolen it from someone. Who?
John Whalen is the author of Caliban (Northwest Emerging Poets Series, Lost Horse Press) and Above the Pear Trees, which won the 2014 Floating Bridge Press chapbook contest. His work has appeared at here in 2River and in CutBank, EPOCH, The Gettysburg Review, Verse Daily, and VQR.