I end up at the reception with Joel
…..where we pretend deep conversation
while tracking the visiting great man,
…..Robert Bly, trapped in the galley kitchen
by a circle of the overly after-shaved
…..whose manly Ho-Ho-Ho!s annoy us
because there is no room to squeeze in,
…..catch Bly’s soft, slightly lisped words
that must be telling fresh hero stories.
…..So Joel and I cling to each other like
needy prom nerds yet we feel superior
…..for not being kitchen suck-ups, and since
we’re next to the wine it’s not so bad.
…..Plus I’ve got questions for Joel who teaches
religion, questions about Arjuna
…..the Bahavagad Gita’s conflicted hero,
vedic gaps Joel is happy to fill in,
…..correct me actually, for this makes us
look like we really are having good talk
…..instead of just waiting for a chance
to wedge ourselves into the kitchen.
…..Joel says I have the story all wrong –
Arjuna was a mortal, not a god,
…..an exalted warrior who looked out
over the great Hindu battlefield,
…..saw friends on the other side and cried,
No! No! I won’t. I can’t go kill them!
…..Which was when his chariot-driver
revealed himself as purple Lord Krishna,
…..enforcer of duties, Krishna going,
Warriors must war! Same as cobblers make shoes!
…..what goes on for hundreds of pages,
the basis of India’s caste system laid out.
…..And by now I’m wanting to say something
anything to at least compete with his smarts,
…..“Mmm, kind of like that old Ricky Skaggs song,
Don’t get above your raising isn’t it?”
…..But Joel frowns, shakes his head, says, “Not really,”
just as another kitchen Ho-Ho-Ho!
…..washes through, makes us see how we’re Arjuna
right now – we’re schmoozers at a schmooze-fest
…..looking for moral high ground instead
of just elbowing in there, doing our duty,
…..the moment’s clarity propelling me
to confess my sad hopes for this party –
…..how I’d planned to engage Bly in deep talk,
such a soulful exchange he’d remember me,
…..perhaps supply a generous blurb
in that day-dreaming future of my book.
…..I was going to ask about his dust-up
with James Dickey in the ‘60s over
…..Dickey’s bad-boy poem, The Sheep Child,
its wink to bestiality, and then
…..I was going to say I liked that poem,
what Bly would think admirable, quaint even,
…..Southern loyalties and all that rot.
But Joel makes a face, says I’m wrong again –
…..their public spat was more over Vietnam,
Bly’s pacifist versus Dickey’s warrior,
…..two poets playing out the great anger
that had poisoned a confused country,
…..shots fired back and forth in quarterlies.
“Right . . . Dickey was Arjuna,” I say.
…..“He’d seen combat, that was his caste.
He had no choice but to be the warrior.”
…..But Joel says no, it went back further,
to the Scots-Irish temper, to Two Drovers,
…..Sir Walter Scott’s story, perhaps the world’s first –
a Scotsman knifing his friend in a roadhouse
…..over some stupid slight that could have passed.
“Like that Lucinda Williams’ song where
…..Townes Van Zandt keeps getting in fights
just because ‘somebody looks at him wrong.’”
…..Joel says, No, again. Her song was about
somebody else, and now I’m really getting
…..weary of being corrected all the time,
plus I’m getting a hammering white wine
…..headache, and I’m realizing I’ll never
make it into the kitchen but that’s really
…..not so bad since I have so many things
wrong or mixed up, so no action for me
…..tonight on the great schmoozing battlefield
which is the usual although I did shake
…..Jackie Wilson’s hand one night, but probably
only because my date had big tits.
…..So I find the host and thank him because
I do have manners, and on the way out
…..I see Joel has wormed into the kitchen.
He’s Ho-Ho-Hoing it up with the rest,
…..but it’s not such a bad sound to me now.
It’s just the noise people make when they laugh,
…..And I don’t need to hear more hero stories,
I’m my own. I’m on the way home,
…..planning my next move, that Miami
conference this winter – Denise Duhamel
…..will be there, she’ll introduce me around,
I won’t drink so much, it’ll be brilliant.
This poem was originally published in the January 2012 issue of A Baker’s Dozen. Fike’s collection, Lotus Buffet, is now available from Brick Road Poetry Press. Nominated for a Pushcart prize in fiction and poetry, his work has appeared in Rosebud, The Georgetown Review, Natural Bridge, The Atlanta Review, The Cortland Review, storySouth and elsewhere. He has a poem inscribed in a downtown Atlanta plaza, and his non-fiction work,Voices from The Farm, accounts of life on a spiritual community in the 1970s, is now out in paperback.
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