365 Degrees

Tom Johnson
Poetry Editor


Fixing Things

Let T.V. or radio go on the fritz,
Grandpa peered inside the back
removed a tube or two, advising:
"Careful, kiddo -- you do this,
and Philco bites be-jesus out of you."

He demonstrated when I was eight.
I unhooked the plug for safety's sake,
as ordered, yet the set gave off a loud hrummph!
Grampy toppled backwards off his stool,
goddamning as he blinked. The unrepentant

tinkerer. His boast: Did-it-myself,
showing his wristwatch from the war,
faced with cockpit plastic from a real Zero.
Those days, the Walgreen's tube-tester
was a shrine of bliss.

Buying new tubes, plugging them in --
the black-and-white of simple pleasures.
Then, solid state arrived with living color.
Then nitro for his heart.
Then the Lazy Boy. Surfcasting,

he grilled me about my college plans
and cursed at flounder we reeled in.
"Bottom feeders," he snorted,
"A man is what he settles for. Gumption
never made a flounder." Back home

berthed in the garage, his dulling Packard.
Grand whitewalls sighing to the rims.
We tuned her up, buffed out her skin. "She's yours,"
he said. Then, "Teach your hands, your brain
will follow." We took her for a spin,

tooling out the interstate's first leg.
At seventy miles an hour, he drove
like a guy outrunning time. Head back,
confidence restored. His windswept heart
purring like a straight eight opened up.

Mrs. Beidermann

Time was, Charles,
when a helpful neighbor mattered,
but not this morning at 2 a.m.
Me, here at the bedroom window,
watching your heat pump fall apart --
the thing jangling down to a bright corsage of sparks.
When I phoned you with the news,
you exploded too!

It does so little to sympathize, express regrets --
your wife has left, gone bitching back to Buffalo,
harping about our rednecks here,
their intolerance for Negro hordes.
I might applaud her sense of place, except
it's made you surlier than before
when you'd come by, borrow the mower occasionally,
instead of renting one like today. There --

you've passed again, riding shirtless,
murdering the black-eyed susans, so profuse this year,
as I'm thinking -- Go ahead, Charlie!
Crank the volume on your Walkman up!
Lower the blade if you want to!
-- but suddenly, you brake,
jimmy the tractor's switch so it idles
unattended at the last uncut swath of lawn,
then pick a wild bouquet
as my husband used to do,
and head this way.

Walking Junebugs on a String

When threads popped loose, your fun
escaped for good. And left as tip
a meager leg. It never dawns on us
fun's crux is fleetingness. Wings,
beating time, are bound to leave us longing.

How gently we looped the leash.
The cupped bug, a frenzied buzz.
And so surprising when our greatest care
exerted the heavy cost. Still, does it matter
life snaps off a leg, so long as it stays

aloft in its iridescent bumbling.
I saw this once, photographed. A man
encased in monarch butterflies, peasant clothes
transformed to scarlet armor. You could tell
the thrill had paralyzed -- laden so

with their lightness. Stillness, always
our greatest burden. As if rising from a grave,
he must have raised his arms. The lift-off --
like hope in our deepest heart. Winged --
a flurry of desire, its hunt for something sweet.

The Death of Men

Somewhere a glamorous mortician does her work,
nursing a newborn between stiffs. The same hand
that guides the breast notching corpses.

All the male cadavers pine for photographs
of her, Madonna-like. Icons for their interment.
Some wish they were her father. Some wish

a son or lover. None wish her husband. What hell
they joke: a three-door family wagon darkening the drive,
her warm hand navigating buddies from the club.

Their latest gag -- how draining she would be
on a daily basis. Inevitably some guy cracks,
"Yeah, life's a bitch. SEE?!" Her, nicking him

at the groin. The rowdy howling still passing on
as bonding. Bravado, potent enough embalmed
to stubble beards. So, what's new? When a naked

female dollies in, her wizened form
fresh, raw from living, they treat her like a virgin.
The veil between them parting.

Curtis Derrick, who lives in Columbia, is a teacher in the Gifted and Talented Program of the Kershaw County school system. A writer of poetry since elementary school, in the recent past he has won awards for his work from the South Carolina Arts Commission and the South Carolina Academy of Authors.

© Copyright by POINT, 2000