June 2006

Alfred Corn


Alfred Corn Alfred Corn's ninth book of poems, Contradictions (Copper Canyon Press), appeared in 2002. He taught for the Poetry School in London last fall and the Arvon Foundation in Devon. He lives in Hudson, New York.
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How much sneer a gray head provokes.
                                                                Take this woman friend
Of mine, past seventy, fit,
                                         sane; but lucidity cut no ice.
Her son wanted the estate,
                                           signed papers, overnight
Mothballed her in a "home," stripped
                                                            of rights and bank account.
At least she wasn't forced to attend,
                                                        as I was mine, a requiem
And chime in with elegiac noises.
                                                        Resisting the root-vegetable
Treatment got nowhere.
                                       A revenant's seldom welcome
Least of all when still alive, yes,
                                                   and vocal? "We can stand you
Dead, but only then." Oh. The role
                                                        demanded cunning and acting
Skills not easy to master
                                       for a says-what-he-thinks,
A does-what-he-says frontiersman.
                                                       (Best unlearn that, old knife!)
So I read up on the animals'
                                            shrewd ingenuity
At aping quietus—
                                how a frog or mammal
Will go belly-up,
                            let jaw hang and tactical tongue
Loll, considering teeth and claws
                                                    tend to avoid carrion.
I practiced, kept practicing,
                                           till each paw acquired the proper
Leaf-curl. Memorized and repeated
                                                        Buddhist mantras saying
We should live life as though
                                               we'd already departed it—
A plan under which the clattering
                                                     rat-wheel of existence
Eased, slowed. Here's to going
                                                  about your business as a grateful stiff!
(Figuratively speaking.)
                                       And if the figure ill fit a body
Still hale and flexible,
                                   it nevertheless rhymed
With the hoary dictum
                                    that we "become our survivors."
Thing is, above ground, we want
                                                    dinner, shelter. Legatees
Mourned abundantly, rest assured;
                                                       but have omitted seeing
To the loved one's material
                                           needs. A blush, for someone
Who never whines, to report;
                                               I'd button it, absent concern
For a flock these words may help
                                                     defuse future-shock: the moment
They in turn are hustled off the scene
                                                            by their premature bereaved
And, still breathing, are put under
                                                      a two-ton blanket of piety,
For all food, the bread of tears,
                                                  for all roof, a ceiling
Of satin homage. Never too soon
                                                     to prepare a demeanor
To meet the mourners, a face
                                              made up for the stage,
Plastered with this rigid grin—
                                                 a mimicry of the old tombstone
Skull, its wings useless till those
                                                    waiting in them provide the lift.



Alfred Corn: Poetry
Copyright ©2006 The Cortland Review Issue 32The Cortland Review