ISSUE 17
August 2001

Tad Richards

 

Tad Richards' book length comic poem, Situations, will be published this fall by Ye Olde Font Shoppe Press, which has also published his My Night With the Language Thieves (1999). He is the illustrator of Rachel Loden's chapbook, Affidavit, and the author of The New Country Music Encyclopedia, published just this month by Simon and Schuster.
Selling Secrets     


I.

I sold my first secret to the Russians
in 1936, those days of ideals,
none of us in it for the money, and on
holidays, Uncle Wystan would come by,
Aunt Lillian, Uncle Gadg, and we’d sing union songs
around the fire, and they’d let me put
just a little rum in my egg nog.

That was one of the secrets I passed on
to my first control, Uncle Dmitri, about
the rum, and that was how I learned
there was no Santa Claus, only Uncle Dmitri,
in a red suit, down at Rafalowsky’s;
I can blame the party for that.

Later, I reported to an agent named Mrs. Fallon,
a librarian, who gave me books
by Lynd Ward and Don Freeman, and later
Steinbeck and Upton Sinclair, and warned me,
on September 2nd, 1939,
not to talk to Uncle Wystan any more.

I smuggled secrets to her on the due-date cards
in the back of library books.
I told her I had seen Mrs. Whitmer’s underpants
once, when she bent down to pick up a book,
and her garters, and the white skin
above her stockings. Moscow sent back word
to push books off her desk, but not too often,
just when there were small groups of kids around.

I didn’t tell her that I was secretly sneaking out
to meet Uncle Wystan, who had a room at
the YMCA. I didn’t think anyone
in the party could explain what we
did there to me, except Aunt Lillian,
and she left the room if anyone
mentioned Uncle Wystan’s name.



II.

My control in college was
my English professor, naturally,
but I asked Moscow for a transfer.
I couldn’t trust him with my secrets:
I didn’t understand Ulysses,
I was scared of Richard Wright,
and I was starting my first affair

with a woman. Her name was Mary.
She was an English professor too,
and the first time we undressed, I noticed
she’d mended the elastic in her undies
with a safety pin. Uncle Gadg liked Mary,
but Aunt Lillian came to campus,
told me I was never ever to talk
to Uncle Gadg again, and not long after,
in a conversation peppered with “and” and “the,”
said I was never ever ever ever ever
to see Mary again. I started going out

with a girl who wouldn’t go all the way,
but gave me hand jobs. I later discovered
she was an undercover FBI agent,
so I sent a communiqué to Moscow:
here’s how you can tell the provocateurs.
No sex, just hand jobs. They cut off
communication for a long time after that.



III.

Now I’m just in it for the money,
idealism long gone. Aunt Lillian died
a while back, but I hadn’t seen her
in years, anyway. I sell my secrets
to the highest bidder. I told the Israelis
that I was worried about my gastric ulcer,
the French about incipient erectile

dysfunction. An agent from Uzbekistan
didn’t pay much, so I only told him
about the porn sites on the Internet–
barely legal teens! And they could have found out
for free, by gaining access
to my computer, reading my cookies.
What do I care

about Uzbekistan, anyway?
Would Burgess and McLean have fled there?
I think not. Iran doesn’t want my secrets;
Iraq doesn’t want to pay. And frankly,
I don’t think I’d sell anyone the only
good secret I have left:
I still miss Uncle Wystan.

 

 

Tad Richards: Poetry
Copyright © 2001 The Cortland Review Issue 17The Cortland Review