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Gremlin

    (The Twilight Zone reruns)


October 11, 1963:
          I think I saw the premiere of this show,
a month before Oswald shot Kennedy,
          when I was seven, half a century ago.

I recognize William Shatner in the lead,
          not yet become Captain Kirk in Star Trek,
playing the part of a man newly recovered
          from a (I didn't know what it was) nervous break-

down who sees a gremlin on the wing
          of the plane carrying him and his wife
home from the sanatorium. A gremlin, the thing
          combat pilots reported seeing if

they were tired or afraid or lost.
          But it's just early black and white TV now,
its melodrama needing the assist
          of sovereign imagination so that, through

propwash and lightning, a child's oatmeal bear
          may stubbornly endure a violent night,
intent on doing harm, clawing at the engine cover
          as if to extinguish the world's last spot of light.

In fact the world beyond the screen was dark,
          my mother bedridden with mysterious illnesses,
my father out of town for work,
          and she would be dead in less than ten years,

taking her unappeasable grief with her,
          the mute appeal I hated and resisted
instinctively, now given a whole life's leisure
          to ask myself What was it that she wanted?

—a question I can't answer, just as once,
          through wind and rain, the trembling invalid
twitched back the cabin window curtains' chintz
          as if it were to glimpse his own wife's naked

body—and yet instead, what does he see:
          a cephalopod face squashed against the window,
writhing and smeared but also brutally
          curious, only wanting to get in somehow,

poor monster, evil not in what was meant,
          but rather in what would not conjure with
the neither hostile nor benign intent
          of desolation seeking human warmth.


Karl Kirchwey

Poetry Northwest

Fall & Winter 2012-13


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