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Two Poems

That Coach in My Head Never Stops Asking
How Much I Want It

This shot that arcs
                     toward my goddaughters' seven-foot basket
means nothing tonight. No, really.
                                The time-thickened quarterback
                     whose ass I saved from the Jenkins blitz twenty-
                           five years ago will horse me here on the dark
driveway where we have strained
                     our hook shots, hotdogged away our leads to keep
the tension low in what has become a belching
                                two out of three after tacos and enough Sangria
                     to change my depth perception
for a full working day.

                                                         The set shot
upon which so much manhood once depended
                                means nothing to me now as that ball goes,
I think, long, half-moon in the porch light
             streaming where our wives sit in the yellow glare
                           drinking yet another nightcap. They have given up
or forgotten the wheel of the stars, forgotten that the girls, hypnotized blue
                                in the x-ray of a film they should never see,
have school, that we've all got to push on to bed. It won't matter

if it's as long as it felt leaving these fingertips, more
                     sweat in my eyes than I have earned with a limping layup,
a nailed-down jumper, and that flat set shot that will vanish,
                          I know it, right past the pale backboard into the dark
                     backyard where sprinklers shush the shadows
like a mother calming a child so tired he cannot surrender
                         his whining to those ordinary dreams which are all, just now,
                                           he really needs.

                                                                              (dedicated to Stan Tretiak)

Coda alla Vaccinara

        (Monte Testaccio)

Leo X was "Determined to make Rome the most cultured
city in Europe."

       —Christopher Hibbert

The pedigree of honey
Does not concern the bee—
A clover, any time, to him
Is aristocracy.

       —Emily Dickinson

From Keats's grave, past the Paladiana and Coyote
nightclubs, I limped to the celebrated
ristorante, determined to play it safe this year,
gout-wise, and eat only ox tail, where twelve
months ago I had the intestines and the tripe
and the sweet, sweet testicles and paid,
as they say, the price. I like to think
this is where Pope Leo enjoyed orange-
throwing contests, whatever they might
have been. But I know this is where, in his
frame of mind, that jolly, genial, generous fellow
loved with a special relish the game of the rolling
of the barrels down ancient Rome's famous
trash heap.

                    The poor and the country folk liked Leo,
though they kept their distance, partly because
of the odor of his anal fistula. His advisors
mouth-breathed at the side of His Obesity, who
trembled with delight. Machiavelli smiled
almost genuinely as Il Papa squealed
and pounded his palms.

                                     The barrels
gathered impressive speed clink-clanking down
one hundred and fifty feet of weed-sprouting
potsherds, amphorae so scrupulously broken, so
carefully stacked, convex into concave, century
after century and the barrels out of the sky
making little landslides, small avalanches of
tumbling points and edges, and the people,
so many people, rushing to catch the pig-filled
barrels, risking some of their not-yet-ruined faces,
risking the crushed sternum and the splintered ribs,
shattered arms, legs smashed to pieces—
Can you imagine how they came hurtling
down that commerce-created mountain, that
monument to the discipline of year upon year
of oil and wine from all over the Mediterranean?
This was not the running of the bulls, fleeing
from frightened, hugely pissed off beasts. This
was more like the drunks at Daytona trying
to catch the cars as they roared around the track.

"Some fun!" said Flannery's Bobby Lee,
I thought, ungenerously. A mezzo of red
arrived and then my wife's exquisite liver
and my steaming ox tail, so fat-sweet, so lush
with perfect pomodori and sprinkles of cioccolato.
When a barrel broke open, the terrified pig lit out
for any space not filled with a hungry grin,
and the pope's litter, flush with his enormous
capacity for pleasure, rocked with, I suddenly
want to believe, a not-entirely-unwholesome
hilarity, with, let's say, a genuinely warm
fellow-feeling all the way back to the papal palace.

                                      (dedicated to Dave Cappella & Maria Frank)

Ron Smith

The Humility of the Brutes
LSU Press

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