ISSUE FOUR
August 1998

Kevin Pilkington

Kevin Pilkington Kevin Pilkington is on the writing faculty at Sarah Lawrence College and teaches a workshop at the New School for Social Research.  He has published four collections of poetry; the latest chapbook Getting By won the 1996 Ledge Prize.   His book Spare Change was the 1997 La Jolla Poets Press National Book Series Award Winner.   His work has appeared in Poetry, Ploughshares, Boston Review, Iowa Review, etc.
Train with Snow and Ice    Read Along with the Author


Snow fell last night
then turned on its side,
like a restless man trying to sleep,
into ice. This morning
the 10:05 train out of Grand
Central tries to rattle us warmer.
The first stop is 128th Street
since it won't melt back
into 125th until the end of the week
when temperatures are expected
to rise.

The Bronx looks frozen stiff.
Buildings don't move,
trees are covered in glass
kids break with bricks
to steal bark, and smoke
from factories turn cotton
in the cold.

I turn to catch a glimpse
of Manhattan that is a few inches
wide and the Empire State,
a syringe I would use if I wasn't
already hooked on the city.
At Fordham the conductor
announces ice on the tracks
has forced this local into
an express that won't be able
to stop until North White Plains.

I lean my head back against
the seat, close my eyes
and begin falling asleep
at Fleetwood where the snow
begins falling again like sugar
making a little girl holding
onto her mother's hand
look even sweeter.

 

 

Renting July    Read Along with the Author


I rent July in a town
that once grew on whales.
Locals still think fish,
work water but this time
of year thank cod when their
nets are full.

Today I went to the beach
for the first time and
with the tide out the shore
line looked lean and
in great shape with its muscles
gleaming in the sun.

Sailboats moved like sharks
around a lighthouse
they scared white, but it never
leaves, knowing it has to warn
ships about rock each fog.
I then spread my towel out,
lied down on Rhode Island,
rubbed oil on myself to help
a cloud slide across my chest
and closed my eyes.

When the woman I still love
came by, saying she wanted
me back and would never leave,
I knew something was wrong,
woke and sat up. I was already
red as a sore throat and decided
I'd had enough sun for the day.

As I got up, I noticed a string
of smoke in the sky a jet
left behind. Before it faded
I reached up, took it and tied
any more thoughts I had of her
into a package I tucked under
my arm and carried home.

 

 

Two Nickels    Read Along with the Author


You walk past the old
arthritic woman who sits
by her window and waves
as you pass. On good days
she rocks back to Poland.

Jimmy The Vet stands on
the corner with a Greek
paper coffee cup. He's wearing
an army coat left over
from the wrong war and warns
you about the Cong along 3rd.
You thank him, promise to keep
your head down, then drop
fifty cents into the roof of the Parthenon
he holds in his hand.

If O.T.B. were open,
you'd place a bet on the bump
in the middle of 2nd Street.
Every time the No. 6 bus hits it,
you'd get paid off in all
the rattling fenders you need.

You stop in the topless bar
on 4th that feels colder
inside then it is outside.
The owner keeps costs
down by letting the girls
shake the heat up when they come
on at eight.

You order a draft
since the drinks are too
watered down to warm anything.
When the first girl comes on,
her legs look longer
than any unemployment line
you've ever been on and has a body
that knows how to talk.
It gets through to you the way
your first wife never could.

The next girl to come on
looks familiar. You realize
she danced here last week
as a blonde. Tonight she makes
you see red, but nothing
can change the good mood
you're in.

When you walk out after
midnight, the city begins
to sway and snow starts
falling. It's the color of the head
on the last beer you had,
and when a flake lands on
your lips, it makes you thirsty
all over again.

Before you can begin
walking home, an old drunk
comes over, asks if you
can spare any change
and begins telling you
that he once had the hottest
act on Broadway.
You smile, search your pockets,
then hand him your last
two nickels for a comeback.

 

 

Born Again    Read Along with the Author


Things are working out
on this job now that I'm
learning how to hold on
to a broom the way I should
have held on to a wife.
I prefer jobs where I can make
things with my hands
but last week I was grateful
to make the rent.

At least this job has benefits:
all the cigarette butts I sweep
up that are worth smoking
are mine. Before taking a break,
I find one, smooth it out,
light up, then walk over
to the window, holding the broom
like a rifle since I'm about
to kill ten minutes.

As I look around at the tenements
that shake from the subways
or from the cold, I realize
this kind of neighborhood is for
people like me in order to dream
as soon as we figure out
rainbows are never over the window
after rain, but in oil stains
on the street where cars were parked
or stolen.

Behind the playground where some
guys come in warm weather
to shoot baskets, others to shoot up,
I see the building where I found
Jesus again gazing down from
the large mural on its side.
He looked Latin so I began
praying in Spanish and even
though He keeps fading, I
keep believing. Today for instance,
as I passed Him on my way
to work, I pretended not to notice
how He now holds a cross
in His brick.

 

 

Kevin Pilkington: Poetry
Copyright 1999 The Cortland Review Issue FourThe Cortland Review