Kettle of Fish

by Mara Lee Grayson

The heavy-lidded Kettle cover hovers at my head,
the photo frame that frames a storm:
every jacket photo poet is my father.

My father was not a poet; he breathed
the bottomless, dreamt in jazz, poured
spontaneous across the country.

These men pour from pictures,
graveyard-risen, great unwritten,
bottle-fisted blue-eyed beat men.

These men blow deep, these men
of contours, men who speak
in pictures. Painters at the Cedar, once.

Jack outside the West End, once.
My father (at the Half Note, gone),
once rapt and kept by trumpet tolls.

We’ve awoken half past six
to key teeth poised and catching,
turning inhalation over exhalation, catching

on to shadows slipping out.
There is always somewhere else
to sleep, from someone else

to borrow. We work. We break
the fasts of eight wage hours,
at half past six, unbuttoned down.

Cold beers in hand, with heels to kick
at night we dance in cold beer puddles,
cold floor skidding, cold and willing,

cold hard women.
We uneven pinstriped women,
stripping off the vestiges we’re born to bear.

Jack’s blue eyes now drain like dust clouds,
pouring puddles on the tabletop.
You know what it’s like

inside a place like this: the fish are breathing
air too thick for swallows. Birds can’t fly
through shuttered windows.

In spilled beer puddles, we are small
shoes sliding toward each other, meeting
at the conversation middles.

These great unwritten,
good gone wild woken women—these women,

they’re emasculating.

Shrill peak pitches carry
while a deeper voice resounds. Both
arms open, standing still between the ghost men,

this sleepwalk worship spills across my hands.

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