John Cheever’s Cameo in The Swimmer (29:33–29:39)
Incognito at the poolside party,
the gin-soaked wreck steps forward to greet you,
his hearty and hale son. A dry kiss
on your date’s cheek is all the fragile fool
can manage before you steer her away to chase
more sun and laughter, having offered him nothing—
no handshake, no nod, not even a wink
of gratitude for all he’s provided—
and why should he receive more? After all,
he’s heading nowhere but the grave
while you still have an epic journey ahead,
one awash with comely-enough matrons
(if not more of their daughters)—and pools,
so many cleansing pools eager to take you
into their mouths that the sun will happily stall
its course until you say you’re sated.
But he knows all, this old wreck,
not nothing. Having swum similar ones himself,
he knows well the pools that lie ahead of you,
knows their darkness and their depths,
for he was the one who dug them and filled them
and bid them to wait for you, to show you
what finally always happens to the man
who never asks before he pierces with a dive.
The True Story of Plastics
after The Graduate
I saw the poor boy floundering in the waves
of wives giddy at their rare release into public waters,
a shoal of minnows desperate to nibble away
at his tender promise, so I hooked him by the lapel
and pulled him to safety.
Lipstick splotches stained
his cheeks, for Christ’s sake! And he stunk
of zealous perfumes.
By the pool I said,
I want to say just one word to you
though I had not even one word to say.
Because, after all, what could be said
It was too late for him now,
yet another boy already suited and tied to death,
just like me.
As he awaited my vaunted word,
I watched a synthetic-pink float, a pathetically empty raft
drift past without leaving a wrinkle on the water
of the pool’s deceitful sea of turquoise.
After saying the only word
such a sight could call to mind, I patted his shoulder
and slunk back inside to the missus, fully aware
how poorly I had served him.
The Poet-Hero in Deliverance
You’ll have to wait all the way to the end,
long after the squeals and the duel, the broken
canoe and the shattered leg, the arrow-pierced chest
and the buck ague, even the camera’s reverent lingering
on Burt’s biceps. Only after it seems all over will he come,
Look smart, for here he comes, strolling over
ever so languidly in faded khaki from hat to boot,
seeming so much more sheriff than seems possible.
Admire the naturalness of that akimbo stance, would you?
Do you see how comfortably only the slightest paunch
rests on the buckle of his belt holster?
It’s as if all this has always been his only life.
Now, he asks, what about this?
Notice how much strength it takes
for the men not to immediately surrender
their stories of the dead as they stare
into the most amiable of gaps between his front teeth.
And then he’s gone, having said his piece,
never once hinting that all of this,
from the book’s very first words—
It unrolled slowly—
to its last, had only been to pay the rent,
thus freeing himself to call into being
the only things he ever cared for,
the heaven of animals,
the strength of fields.
John Cazale (1935–1978)
Five films in six years, then
with Meryl at your side,
finished by cancer at forty-two.
Fredo. Stan. Fredo. Sal. Stan.
Your names. In order.
Stringy-haired and frail,
stooped and stammering,
no one played cowardly
more bravely than you.
At the fruit stand, you dropped
your gun and cried. And when the kiss
of death came, you died.
In a Film Named After a Book of Piano Exercises
A man came in today with three young women
and took a seat in my section. They seemed polite
enough, though I’m tired of seeing their sort
come through town, smelling as they do
of green smoke and privilege.
He gave me trouble with his order just because,
enjoying himself as he told me to hold the chicken
between my knees. Little did he know how far
I was beyond ruffling. Everyone then got a big bang
out of him sweeping those glasses off the table
to break on the floor, but water dries without leaving
a stain because water was all they had, as I’d yet to bring
them coffee, which I would’ve gladly poured in his lap
if given the chance, but given the chance I was not,
and so he left me to eat the ticket, having rejected
my world, which I’d been taught had no substitutions.
Kevin Grauke has published work in such places as New World Writing, The Threepenny Review, The Southern Review, Quarterly West, Cimarron Review, and Quarterly West. He teaches at La Salle University in Philadelphia.