David Gewanter


Leopard Man

Mom once posed as LaGuardia’s girlfriend
and smoothed her way past an usher.
She gets gas-attacks at lectures,
.......and even gave
herself a cardiac, worrying which cruise

to take. A lifelong scrimmage between
ambition and self-doubt has given her
a fretful, pestering energy, and a genius
.......for quirky triumphs
over cabbie, onion, and varicose vein.

Working in a museum gift shop
she hears that Reagan has been shot,
and say, “Hinckley botched the job.”
.......Was it that,
or was it her rebuking letters—each one

signed An ex-Republican so it hurt more?
—Something put her on a list. Because
a Secret Serviceman comes to question her; sunglasses now,
he’s undercover, and checking his notes:

Young Spartacus. Gray Panther. Quote:
‘I’d wear a dynamite girdle and blow
us both up. They’d never check me—
.......I’m a grandma.’”
The bronze breasts of an Ethiopian Goddess

almost touch his back—he doesn’t see them,
but I do, generations of schoolboys
have rubbed her cool nipples all shiny:
.......big golden pawns.
And I love to see my mother behind

the counter, tidying up the fossil fish
and reptile rulers, watching him walk up,
and whispering a sales blessing on the lot—
.......a wizard of retail.
He fingers some shark’s teeth, chatting

headlines, politics: “Yeah, and what about
his cutback on Aid to Dependent Children?”
“He’s a stinking lousy miser, that’s what.
.......This talking drum,
see it? And the husk face—both on sale.”

Back and forth they go—he, schooled in
Interview Maneuvers; she, assuming a man
so full of grudges would want a bargain.
.......“So tell me,
what should we do about a man like that?”

We’ve all heard Mom blurt out Assassination
in answer to this. Now she muses, “Do?
Well, I don’t know….I guess we could him out
of office…?
Which sends him packing,

while Mom sits and rests her ankles,
safe within her Old Testament justice
and shopkeeper’s courtesy. Encased nearby,
.......the Leopard Man
has seen all this. The Leopard Man,

exorcist of his tribe while he wears
the skin, who could suffer a vision
and kill his whole family, and yet spared because
in dreams he sees the enemy clearly.

He stoops behind the glass, a fusty
mannequin—one eye points at Mom, but
the other is painted too far to the side;
.......his sight widens,
and the world could fall within his gaze.



David Gewanter's poetry books are In the Belly and The Sleep of Reason (both from U. Chicago Press) and the co-edition of Robert Lowell: Collected Poems (FSG & Faber). His new book, forthcoming from Chicago in 2009, is War Bird. Awards include a Hopwood, the Zacharis First Book Prize, Whiting Writer’s Fellowship, Ambassador Book Award (English-Speaking Union), Witter Bynner Fellowship, James Laughlin Prize (finalist), & “Book of the Year” (Contemporary Poetry Review). He teaches at Georgetown University.


Published in Volume 10, Number 1, Winter 2009.


To read more by this author:
David Gewanter
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