Terence Winch

 

SOCIAL SECURITY

No one is safe. The streets are unsafe.
even in the safety zones, it's not safe.
Even safe sex is not safe.
Even things you lock in a safe
are not safe. Never deposit anything
in a safety deposit box, because it
won't be safe there. Nobody is safe
at home during baseball games anymore.

At night I go around in the dark
locking everything, returning
a few minutes later
to make sure I locked
everything. It's not safe here.
It's not safe and they know it.
People get hurt using safety pins.

It was not always this way.
Long ago, everyone felt safe. Aristotle
never felt danger. Herodotus felt danger
only when Xerxes was around. Young women
were afraid of wingéd dragons, but felt
relaxed otherwise. Timotheus, however,
was terrified of storms until he played
one on the flute. After that, everyone
was more afraid of him than of the violent
west wind, which was fine with Timotheus.
Euclid, full of music himself, believed only
that there was safety in numbers.

 

 

SLEEP WALTZ
for mcw

Get old enough so you won't have much to fear.
By then, the music plays inside your head
and everything beautiful must be learned by ear.

In the bathroom mirror I behold my wear and tear.
In out bedroom I try to levitate in bed.
Get old enough so you won't have much to fear.

Meanwhile, my son at six wants to keep me near
and we sing together every night head to head.
So everything beautiful must be learned by ear.

His father's tunes, though, will one day disappear
beyond today's routines and daily bread.
But get old enough so you won't have much to fear.

Remembering my mother was my first career
and the songs surrounding her on which I fed,
knowing everything beautiful must be learned by ear.

We may waltz in the kitchen now, my dear,
or dance out of time in our sleep instead.
Get old enough so you have nothing left to fear.
Everything beautiful must be learned by ear.

 

 

THE IRISH RIVIERA

I wish I could remember the names
of these two old guys I used to see
when I was a kid and spent my summers
in Rockaway.......which was known as The Irish Riviera
one of them played the fiddle.......the other played
the accordion.......and I think one of them wore
a top hat.......they just wandered in and out of bars
playing for drinks.......they were like bums
but I still remember how fine they sounded

 

 

MY FRIENDS
for doug lang

They came here first in a car shaped like a heart
and now they depart as brilliant jazz musicians.
They arrived in full costume, rolling north
through a winter of neon.
Now I watch them leaving me
in a moonlight of falsettos.

They are singing goodbye to me in the echo chamber
and I am smiling at them from my king-size window.
You get the idea.

I was always making way for the others.
Now, like an intake of breath, I am beside myself.

They tell me that God is inside us and I tell them
our fathers' teeth were white with fear. The streets
that I used to see from my window have faded away.
The birds I used to hear in the trees have fallen
on evil days. The beautiful girls who used to wear skintight
silver foil now dress in ugly shoes with big square tongues.
And the immaculate boys in their red velour are old men
who rock their bodies back and forth in grief.

But I take comfort in a dreamlike kind of consciousness
in which every breath is like my last breath
and all my friends are quiet as brides
skirting along on sheets of ice.

 

 

MYSTERIES

All last night I kept speaking in this
archaic language, because I had been reading
Poe and thinking about him. I read 'The Murders
in the Rue Morgue' which is supposedly the first
detective story. Who dun it? I wondered.
It turns out an orangutan was the murderer.
It looks to me like the detective story genre got off
to a pretty ridiculous start. I used to visit
Poe's house in the Bronx. I used to think,
God, Poe must have been a midget. Everything
is so small. Poe died in Baltimore and I can see why.
In Baltimore, all the people are very big and sincere.
During dinner last night, I told Doug and Susan
about "Murders in the Rue Morgue." I said I hadn't
finished it yet, but it looked like the murderer
was going to turn out to be an orangutan, unless
the plot took a surprising new twist. Then Doug
suggested that he and I collaborate
on a series of detective stories in which
the murderer is always an orangutan.

 

 

DIAGNOSIS
for david lehman

I woke up this morning feeling
incredibly Gorky. So I made an appointment
to see my Doctorow. He said my Hemingways
looked a little swollen and sent me to
get an M.R. James and a complete Shakespeare.
By that time, I began feeling a slight Trilling
in my Dickinsons and some minor Kipling
in my left Auden. The entire experience
was extremely Dickey.

I was referred to an H.D., who asked
about my cummings. She detected traces
of Plath in my Sextons and suggested
I might also have some Updike
trapped in my Yeatsian system.
She recommended that to keep Orwell
and prevent inflammation to my Balzac,
I elevate my Flaubert once a day.

 

 

NON-POSSESSION IS ONE-TENTH OF THE LAW

Do not travel over vast distances.
Stay home and contemplate your neighbor,
the old woman who roams up and down the street.
She can never remember who you are
or who she is, for that matter.
This way, you will protect
your precarious sense of self.

Ruin your appetite before dinner.
This will ensure that you'll never feel hunger.
Play the same tune over and over,
driving everyone else crazy.
This protects you from unpredictability.

Find large articles of clothing
and wrap them around the trees,
so you will be as one with nature.
Fill your shoes with rocks
to ensure a suitable measure of gravitas.

Hide precious items from yourself,
then forget where you have hidden them.
This will promote non-attachment to things.
Make yourself dizzy by spinning around
so that the world will seem more steady.

Put all of your chairs in one room.
Sleep standing up. Move the refrigerator
into the bedroom and at night read
by its light. Rub with things,
not against them. Use pain to distract
a sore spirit. You will then be dreamier,
full of strength, able to bark at stars.

 

 

Terence Winch is the author of three books of poems, The Drift of Things (The Figures, 2001), The Great Indoors (Story Line Press, 1995), and Irish Musicians/American Friends (Coffee House Press, 1985, winner of an American Book Award), and a book of short fiction, Contenders. His work also appears in numerous anthologies, including Best American Poetry 1997, and journals such as The Paris Review and The American Poetry Review. He has been the recipient of a poetry grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Also a musician and songwriter, Winch recorded three albums, all featuring his compositions, with Celtic Thunder, an Irish band he co-founded in 1977.


Published in Volume 3, Number 1, Winter 2002.

 

To read more by this author:
Terence Winch: DC Places Issue
Terence Winch: Poets in Federal Government Issue