Kenneth Pobo

Edwina and the Family Album

Before their divorce, Dad stayed
for a month in the Holiday Inn
where a lunch cook bled
into the potato salad. Mom told me
stories. Dad told me stories.
Lies slept in the same bed

as truth. Tonight I’m deep
in a family album—in one picture,
Mom’s buried in a book,
Vonnegut? She looks
like she’d crossbow the camera.
Dad rarely smiles in pictures.
I’m like him. His parents stayed
together, happily and sadly.
Pictures make them look like goldfish,
one inside the glass castle,
the other out.
Mom’s parents had the perfect
marriage, I guess. Maybe so,
though perfect aches in quiet.
Do I need

to get married? It might be
like high school. All you want
Is to get somewhere else.

~~~

Something Watches Us

and won’t rest
until we’re found.

Morning feels distant,
mist on a pile of leaves.

We hear steps.
We walk faster.

~~~

Story of a Divorce

Mary and Joseph are, according to their college friends,
a great fit. Ask them to name
their favorite fruit and together they say “Plums!”

They get married at St. Broadbander’s on a June afternoon.
Mothers cry. Fathers pat fathers on the back.
Children die beside rivers.
They begin their eager lives. Jobs come
but drop like cell phone signals.
Mary has a tough pregnancy, a boy named Elton East.
Mary has an easy pregnancy, a girl named Edwina.
Elton throws silverware at visitors,
Edwina stabs her pillow with a fork.

Mary decides marriage is a nosebleed. Joseph decides
marriage is a Ford with a flat. Just like that.

Now they live on opposite sides of town,
sharing custody. “50 is the new 40,”
grins a TV star stirring a pot of paella.
Crack an egg for breakfast and you’ve lost another day.

Mary is alone. Joseph is alone.
Text messages miss their recipients,
run like mice under blushing red maple leaves.

~~~

Under Construction

The sun faucet turns on.
Warmth floods icy ground.

Plants think
This is my time. I can begin.

A thief sneaks in,
a frigid night. He takes

everything and runs
before we can walk in

blossom houses
that hellebores build.

~~~

Days of 1960

A sit-in at a Woolworth’s lunch counter. Lucy
and Desi split. On our neighbor’s driveway
I sing: “Nixon, Nixon, he’s our man.
Kennedy belongs in the garbage can.” Ben-Hur.
Sharpeville. The Fantasticks. Sunday school
bow ties. Nikita: Apologize!
TV in Auckland. I wet my pants
during the Pledge of Allegiance. Hamburg Beatles.
OPEC founded. The Flintstones.
Wilt Chamberlain’s 55 rebounds. Havelka’s, O’Regan’s,
Lichti’s, Weber’s, Cox’s, Heaton’s, and us. A Summer Place.
Population: 3, 021, 475,000. Dick and Jane.
The Virgin Spring. Pirates beat Yankees.
Windowbox moss roses, each blossom
gone after a single day.

~~~

Homage to Gray

Sometimes Wandawoowoo wants to be gray
as her basement floor, gray as the slate roof
on the house across the street. A sunray

shatters on a gray sidewalk
then goes poof. If you’re gray,
people say you don’t look well. Maybe

you should see a doctor or nurse–
they prefer you as a purple seashell.
A gray pallor will only make you curse.

Her Aunt Stokesia went gray before
she turned twenty-four. She became someone
no one could ignore. Wandawoowoo

wants to take a gray route to a gray shore
where gray ships come and go,
gold and red trees lost to deepening snow.

~~~

Kenneth Pobo’s ekphrastic book of poems, Loplop in a Red City, came out in 2017 from Circling Rivers. A collection of his prose poems, The Antlantis Hit Parade, is forthcoming from Clare Songbirds Press. His work has appeared in: Hawaii Review, Mudfish, Nimrod, Sibling Rivalry Press’s anthology The Queer South, Indiana Review, and elsewhere. He teaches creative writing and English at Widener University in Pennsylvania.

The following essay, by Kenneth Pobo, offers insight to this collection of poems and his work as a poet.

VOICE FLOWERS

I’ve been interested in how voice works or can work in poems probably since I began to write poetry when I was fifteen. At sixty-three, the waves keep rolling in and I know I look silly when I try to stop them.

The poems included in this issue of Parhelion Literary Magazine are, to me, voice studies. “Edwina,” “Something Watches Us,” and “Story of a Divorce” focus on a family.  I originally thought I’d just write about the mom and dad, but as I got interested in their lives, I got interested in who their children were. What started out as a few poems is growing. I’m looking for keys, unearthing images. “Story of a Divorce” got its title from a Bette Davis movie. It was the original title of a film eventually called Payment on Demand.  I adore Bette Davis, always have, ever since I saw Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? in junior high. The daughter’s name in my Edwina poem got her name from a character on the soap One Life to Live. The name stayed in my head and worked its way into this series of poems.

I enjoy working on a related series. I have other character studies too: Trina, Spacker, Aunt Gwen, Dindi, Aaron Stern, Wandawoowoo, Steve, a rather long list. One poet who influenced/influences me to write in character is Edwin Arlington Robinson. Is he being taught much anymore? Maybe “Richard Cory.” He has much more to offer. For a poem about a fraught relationship, his “Eros Turannos” packs a punch. I love when writers can make us see a character, including a historical character, in a fresh way.  Patricia Smith’s new book, Incendiary Art, helps us to re-see and think about Emmett Till. Or Rita Dove’s collection, Thomas and Beulah, shows a portrait of a marriage as well as a study of the time and forms of racism the couple encountered. I don’t think that I’m a frustrated novelist. I like how one poem leads to another and characters, voices, build.

“Under Construction” has a more personal voice. However, just because the other poems aren’t directly about me, I still think of them as “personal,” just less obvious about it. My voice is as much in them as in poems which are more clearly related to my own life. I’m a gardener. Right now I’m angry because we had snow this morning—in spring—and I want to be working outside, not getting the brush-off by a bunch of snowflakes.  Other than music, flowering plants have probably been the source of many of my subjects and images. The garden is never the same year after year. It’s like putting a glorious puzzle together only a crow flies off with a couple of the pieces. A garden is always under construction even when winter snows it in and nasty temperatures bully their way into the yard. While I do find my garden “relaxing,” I know it is one upheaval and struggle after another. A garden is risk. I’ve had Lyme Disease treated twice. Yet I go out and work.

I have a series of poems, over fifty by now, about a woman named Wandawoowoo. I don’t know how her name came to me. I think it was the sound, the w and the oow.  “Homage to Gray” is the most recent of the poems here. It didn’t begin as a Wandawoowoo poem. I became frustrated by the endless gray skies of this winter. I’m not a huge fan of hard daily sunlight (though our dahlias are) but the daily graygraygray gets numbing. Decades back, Elvis Costello sang about living in a black and white world.  Even that seems an upgrade from the dreary gray blah. In the initial drafts, the poem was all about poor pitiful me facing these gray days. I didn’t feel it asked much of a reader. A reader can only say “Yeah, the dude doesn’t like gray days.” So, I decided to exit my role as speaker and give it to Wandawoowoo. How would she think about it?  Is there too much gray in her life? Maybe the poem isn’t about gray and winter after all.

“Days of 1960” is from another series of poems I’m working on about the 1960s.  I wouldn’t have become a poet without the music of the sixties.  I still live there.  It’s only a rumor that The Supremes broke up.  Learning poetry in school didn’t wake up my sleeping poet.  Music did that. I awaited Donovan’s hurdy gurdy man.  When I wrote my first “poem” called “The Open Door,” a lyric of peace and love, I basked in the sunshine of “Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James and the Shondells, a #2 hit in 1969.  I wanted Tommy to sing something I would write.  This has never happened and I’ve been following his career for over half a century now.  The sixties were hardly a time of peace and love.  JFK. RFK.  MLK.  Viet Nam.  Riots.  We flashed peace signs and drew them on our notebooks,  our ink always blood red.

I grew up in a Chicago suburb called Villa Park. We had an Ovaltine factory, now a condo. My parents grew an avocado tree in our living room. It got good sun from the picture window. Perhaps it dreamed of California. The sixties ached and sent out deep green leaves. 1960 for some began Camelot with JFK’s thin victory. He’d be gone in three years. Alone, I watched Oswald get shot on television. My dad, now 92, tells of his fear watching JFK confront Russia over the Cuban Missile Crisis. How close we came to annihilation. School the next day.  The Great Society–I think I misplaced mine.

I like to think of the poems here as connecting rooms. Voice connects them.  Edwina, Wandawoowoo, me—we’re in a garden. Strange flowers bloom. The silence turns to words. We listen at the same time as we speak.

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