Kevin Grauke ~ Five Poems

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
worth saying?
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,
the poet.

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.