J. B. Hogan – Three Poems

Thomas Wolfe Saw James Joyce

On the tour bus from Brussels he sat in back
sizing up the Irishman’s skinny face,
remembering old days at Harvard and
the illegal copy of Ulysses when
he imagined himself to be the equal
of the eternal Gaelic expatriate
with his cool, aloof bearing
and single black eye patch
beneath cheap wire spectacles.

At Waterloo, the son, Giorgio was friendly,
conversant, but the wife and girl ignored him,
as did Joyce, though he saw the good eye
size him up more than once.

On the way back, he sat behind again,
still not introduced, still not talking,
keeping his hero worship to himself,
and the ego-certainty that he would
soon rival the master, sooner than anyone would believe.

Later he saw Joyce again
on the streets of Frankfurt where
they bowed in greeting, said nothing,
politely opened doors for one another, said nothing,
finally separated, one on each side of the street,
walking slowly along the sidewalk, peering into store windows,
looking at the reflection of the other in the glass.

Joyce amused, perhaps, or bored,
while Wolfe, in unshaken awe,
gauged the reflection of the great writer,
in the shiny windows – the image so small
compared to his own massiveness,
self-absorption, and unfettered verbosity.


The Old Man

The old man,
a frayed golfer’s cap
covering a really bad toupee
that stuck up wildly from the back
of his scrawny chicken neck,
was on aisle three arguing
with a can of pork and beans.

Then back in fruits and vegetables
he took on a cantaloupe,
cursed a pound of bacon in meats and cheese,
charged the paper products like they were
an enemy machine gun nest,
scattering nervous stock boys
across the supermarket battlefield.

For someone so hostile to groceries
his basket was nearly full
by the time he approached the checkout stand.

On line, he snarled and sniffed at the tabloids,
their covers showing starlets in various stages
of skeletal-like anorexia and equally emaciated space aliens
on their latest visit to earth.

The checkout girl rang up his purchases –
never once looking at him –
and she jumped slightly when he howled at a particularly
egregious headline he spotted in the local paper there on display.

The other patrons, waiting, looked around the store –
at their feet, at the ceiling, off into space.

“You don’t get it,” the old man growled to no one in particular, “do you?”

Nobody did, of course, nobody but him, the old man.

Taking his bags, he exited the store, jabbering away, and
disappeared somewhere into the vast parking lot outside.

The checkout girl rang up her next customer
with a great, relieved smile.
The business of the store went on as usual,
droning, bustling, indifferent.


The Pyramid Outside Puebla

Planted heavily on the earth,
the pyramid outside Puebla
rose from its thick base to a
sharp point aimed at the heart of god.

Carlos the Iguanero had driven us there in
a blue-smoke chugging rattling bus
with his friend Andres who dreamed of driving a truck in
the United States like his uncle Chuy.

They bantered back and forth, tried to explain
about the Iguanas but we barely understood and
they let us out by the small dark entrance where
the archaeologists had dug a narrow trail inside.

Inside, the path was covered by long sheets of
plywood and open light bulbs had been strung
along the sides of the winding walkway to help
guide us, dim-eyed and claustrophobic, from
one side of the pyramid to the other.

Deep inside, you climbed up and down small steps
turned tight corners, wondered about settling of large rocks and
the odds of an earthquake shaking the stones down and
leaving you buried for eternity among the ruins of
the lost civilizations of Mexico’s central valleys.

For longer than was wanted, the path went on
and on, until the less courageous took quick shallow breaths and
longed for the other side of the massive monument, hoped to see
light soon and the Mexican sky and the bus to take you back home.

Finally, relieved, feeling proud and happy, the pyramid ended
and you were back outside, outside in the sun, with the Mexican
sky above and the Mexican earth below and there was
Carlos the Iguanero and his friend Andres who dreamed of making a
better living in the north but would never leave and they were
joking and laughing and you made a joke about how Carlos got his name
and you were damned glad to get out of there and later tell people bravely
how you had felt the presence of Mexico’s twisting bloody past while you traversed
the dimly lit trail beneath the mighty pyramid outside Puebla