Three poems by Bill Yarrow


Comes as a hand­shake, a pat
on the back, fin­gers through
your hair, a nib­ble at your neck,
a kiss on the lips, a hot tongue
down your throat, a rude hand
in your pants. In oth­er words,
an offer you choose not to refuse.
Well… decline the prof­fered hand,
turn from the puck­ered kiss,
refuse the cos­mic fon­dle. I know,
you’ve been taught it’s a noir life.
Doesn’t have to be. Listen, you
don’t need to return every single
serve that comes across your net.


Skinny guy with glass­es sent to Vietnam.
Came back with an under­stand­ing of heroin,
an acquain­tance with who­r­ish­ness, a clarified
wife, and a hel­met on his soul. His fam­i­ly alive
but indif­fer­ent, he made his way back
to the ocean, back to the pop­corn, back
to the pin­ball machines, want­ed to see
the boss who had treat­ed him well. “Hey,
Bob! It’s me, George!” Kindness is magnetic,
but the past is a loose adhe­sive and rarely
is employ­ment a glue. “How nice to see you,
George!” He hangs around for about an hour,
then slinks back to the dusty battlefield
he has had tat­tooed on his desert­ed future.


A man comes out of the waves crash­ing gasping
falls to the ground col­lapsed pant­i­ng blind with happiness
though the shal­low water does what it can to kill him

He’s shiv­er­ing so I cov­er him with my robe
pale-blue ter­rycloth a present from you
swelling with salt­wa­ter sticky with fishness

A crowd has gath­ered and drags him from the dying waves
to the awful solace of the sand where he lies hav­ing outswum
his drown­ing hav­ing fall­en in tri­umph out of the sea

You look down on this man on the ground who is moaning
thank-you into the earth and glance at the waves
where crum­pled in the arms of the tide floats the robe

You watch as I reclaim it from the dream green sea
and drop the sod­den gar­ment at your wed­ding feet
You did the right thing you say You always do the right thing

I did the right thing yes but the robe my new robe
is ruined I ruined it and it is these thoughts
des­per­ate to be assert­ed that swim in your head

Fifteen years lat­er not a week goes by
that you do not for­give me for ruin­ing the robe
you gave me to wear on our vaca­tion by the waves

Fifteen years lat­er not a week goes by
that I do not remem­ber the tex­ture smell and complexion
of the water out of which we watched a drown­ing man emerge

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