Richard McCann



Sunday Morning, Cape Cod

And when I woke the sun was abrupt and fortunate
rising in the room like water ... white ceiling . . .white walls
and through an open window .. . forsythia

what had I dreamed ...those years
someone whispering in the dark ..not me .. not me .. not me
the words made tunnels too small to crawl through

I was entering my life

and the dead were gone
though I could still see them if I tried

through the back window their small wooden cottage
their red blankets pinned to the clothesline to dry


Western Motel

As for the room: green walls; asbestos curtain, some shade of orange.
I'd been waiting there all morning, the car parked outside.

If you didn't come back, I thought, I'd walk along the highway.
I counted six squares of sunlight on the carpet.

I kept thinking it was like waiting for an ink stain to disappear.
I'd written something on a piece of paper,

something about there being nothing that couldn't be amended.
I kept looking at the door that gave onto the corridor:

I could see a white placard that showed how to evacuate in fire,
X marking the spot. Nothing's ever final, I told myself

though the water glass I drank from
was unsheathed from its sleeve of waxed paper

and the wrappers from the motel soaps were littering the sink
like pages torn from a calendar.




The street is
a cathedral, even better
because the storefronts' brick
vaulting returns
my eye to earth. While the lame
girl's lame leg's fluttering
her blue skirt, her mother
yanks her hand, says
Come on
which is not so bad as it might sound and is
maybe a kind of prayer, after all: irregular
gait & words, they
walk that way, don't
get me wrong. There are

lots of junk stores open. Floating
on the lake of a blue-mirrored
Art Deco table a wicker bait basket
overflows with lures: little radiant
fish, metallic lights
barbed with hooks, who would not
want to eat you? I am so easily
convinced by things--by things, I mean--
I am fluttering, a blue skirt
ruffling like a lake. Rhythm
means fr. RHEIN to flow--more
at STREAM. Imagine

how many things there are to buy and imagine
you would never get tired of buying them--
not just the anthurium in the slender Steuben vase
but also house slippers, bok choy, fleshy pink
bunion pads, linguini, Sardo, birds'
shadows on sidewalks, the whole
painted-over storefront
of the holiness Pentecostal Church.

This is just
one of the reasons
I like
certain poems, the old lady
right now perilously
crossing the street
against traffic, the weighted
left pocket of her
unseasonable cloth coat
against which the rich
of her handbag



Tonight the Chinese lanterns along the dock could lead your ghost to water;
the departing ones need light, for their sight has already dimmed.

As for me: I'm sitting at the edge of the old canal,
whispering this ghost letter, staring at the moon. Dear friend:

There is no one pitiable in this life. No "pitiful abundance."
If you saw back into this world, you would see me by the hydrangeas

still trained to the chain-link fence, where you first took my photo.
If you have the inclination to look back, that is; if the dead

are changeless; if the gravesite is something other than a way of having,
in the end. When you were dying, the hospital chaplain stood in the doorway;

she said we should be tending to your immediate journey; she said
we should take turns sleeping; she said the room was too cold for words.

And someone told her: Quiet! Don't you know the dead go on hearing for hours?
What might I have said? I'd made so many promises. According to one book

I'd consulted, the autumn fields were set afire after the harvest, to warm
the dying, as they rose.



I had a body again. And I could recall
how it had been, back then,

to want things. Easy to recall that now--
this sun-dazed room; lilacs, in white bowls.
But for a long time I was grateful
only for what your dying was taking from me:
the world, dismantling itself; soon there'd be no more obstinacies,
I wouldn't want anything again...

After you died I rode a bicycle around the lake all day, in circles.
I had come back. And so it was hard not to remember
how it had been walking the path that circled the lake
where I'd once gone each night to look for sex.
It's true that I drank heavenly

--heavily, I mean. I was drunk.
I walked until someone wanted me. But what did I hope
to love in return?--I followed him, his pale shirt disappearing
into a small clearing hidden by shrubs.
He undressed, his bare chest mottled by moonlight's shadows of leaves.
If I could have followed you like that, even in grief,
into a clearing littered with wadded paper tissues
. . .. .... . ... ..... .... ... ....... ............. .... .... .... ... .. .--white carnations!
Mostly I met no one.
The path ended by the public toilets.
I loitered by a row of urinals; or I stood outside,
beneath the dim, caged streetlamp,
in a body I hated. Without it,
who'd need to ask the world for a thing?


Richard McCann is the author of Ghost Letters (1994 Beatrice Hawley Award, 1993 Capricorn Poetry Award), Nights of 1990, and Dream of the Traveler. He is the editor, with Michael Klein, of Things Shaped in Passing: More 'Poets for Life' Writing from the AIDS Pandemic. His poetry, fiction, and essays appear in such magazines as The Atlantic, Esquire, and The Nation, and in such anthologies as The Penguin Book of Gay Short Stories and Men on Men 2000: Best New Gay Fiction. He is currently working on a series of meditative essays concerning his experience as a liver transplant recipient. These have appeared or are forthcoming in Tin House, Body (Avon Books, 1999), and The Washington Post Magazine. He co-directs the graduate program in creative writing at The American University.

Published in Volume 1, Number 1, Winter 2000


To read more by this author:
McCann's Tribute to Ed Cox: The Memorial Issue