George and Me
by Denis Mair
My life lies splayed out across the years
In serpentine course through town and city
I need an old friend to prod the memory-snake
And let me feel it stretch into the past.
The tail goes back to industrial suburbs
And a sad-eyed boy
Who studied the scenery on the stage
And escaped being inducted into the sound and fury;
Then the story bends toward a college town
Where he missed some friends that fate appointed
Being rapt in imagining the hearts of others
Inside the many marks he learned on paper;
Then it makes its way to a Far-East sojourn
Tilting at windmills of someone else’s culture
Hitting the wall of Third World awakening;
Then making a loop to the Midwest
To weather the storm he brought back with him;
Then lost windings homeward, coast to coast
One coil always wrapped tenderly around a child
Many convolutions abysmally submerged.
Finally it climbs out, shakes off the flute-song of ancient books
Winding schoolward again to study its own land’s culture
Allowed to crawl into a classroom, to teach ‘Freshman Composition’
Which is how it ran into George.
George: quick-witted student and instant pal
You kept our class alive,
Late-met friend to remedy my lonesome youth
You stood out like a ‘Bud’ sign in a dim bar;
Nothing was serious or simple to you
And the rest of that Warren rat-pack
From the favored heights of rusty Youngstown,
But you were good-hearted and tough-minded.
Your remarks were cloud-enclosed captions
In a comic co-written by God and Satan;
You played your thoughts on heavenly piano
(no talk of your tormented fingers) .
When my marriage exploded, you and Dave Kelly
Let me and my daughter move into Animal House;
You taught her duets and Beatles tunes
She guarded Dave’s keys so he wouldn’t drive drunk.
Three wild undergrads and a grad-student father
Kept house with a sweet-tempered first grader.
Of course our household scattered soon
I went to work in Philadelphia, then on to China;
You went to law school, then on to New York
Piles of letters have passed between us
As I continued my wandering ways
And you served, and made a life for yourself
As Public Defender at a courthouse in the Bronx.
Now you’re getting prickly and hard-bitten
Still you’re best for sharing thoughts and poetry.
That’s why I don’t need this moment’s tyranny
And I think of George, to touch the memory-snake
To help me keep what’s mine from ten years back,
To give this memory-snake a nudge
So I can know the road I came on
And own it every inch of the way.
I am more than these sensations through beady eyes
Sidling up distractedly to flowers and grasses
To flicker my tongue at the wind is not enough
A friend helps me live in the snake-body of my whole life.