John Hoppenthaler’s books of poetry are Lives of Water (2003), Anticipate the Coming Reservoir (2008), and Domestic Garden (forthcoming, 2015), all with Carnegie Mellon University Press. With Kazim Ali, he has co-edited a volume of essays on the poetry of Jean Valentine, This-World Company (U of Michigan P, 2012). His poetry appears in Ploughshares, Virginia Quarterly Review, Southern Review, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, West Branch, The Literary Review, Subtropics, Blackbird, and Copper Nickel, as well as in many other journals, anthologies and textbooks. For the cultural journal Connotation Press: An Online Artifact he edits “A Poetry Congeries.” He is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at East Carolina University.
Waterfall One: Rocky Mountain Day Camp, New City, NY, circa 1975
—for my father
Top of the waterfall, I’d sit
and smoke a stolen cigarette.
Home was only a grayish blur
beyond trees and the curvature
of the world as I knew it then.
Fifteen-years-old—and I could spin
that scene, top of the waterfall,
into imagination, all
possibility poised high, top
of the waterfall, opening up
there, impossibly, and vivid
today as your still calloused hand
in mine as we stand together,
top of the waterfall, and for
once you don’t plunge to the bottom;
for once it seems as if you’ve come—
to straighten me out—from heaven.
Waterfall Two: Danny Holds Out His Hand, Economy Falls, Nova Scotia, July, 2011
At Economy Falls, Danny
clambers over boulders, heading
toward the top. Eight and already
he is impatient with standing
at a safer distance, so I’m
embarrassed into following
his quick lead and eye the fallen
log, the slick tightrope that’s bridging
my own perch to the rock from where Danny
urges me on; Economy
Falls’ roaring insistently warns
of limitations and the door
through which I ought no longer pass.
I summon my last nerve and cross
over. Danny smiles. Then he goes.
Poem from Titles in Toni Morrison’s Library
The Tongues of Angels. The Farming of Bones.
Human Behavior. Contraries. Easy Travel to Other Planets.
You Must Remember This. Rain and other Stories.
The Foreseeable Future. Voices in the Garden.
Anything Can Happen. A Handful of Stars. Grace
Abounding. The Dimensions of the Short Story.
What Happens Next? Unseen Rain. Hoodoo Medicine.
Breakfast in the Ruins. This Rain Coming. One Dark Body.
Dinner at the Wok ‘n’ Roll Buffet
Guilty is how I feel on the road. Floozies sing to me
from the hotel’s lobby bar.
Floozies seem everywhere,
multiplying as if I travel a hall of mirrors.
But across the service road
is all I can eat. Watch me
brave rush hour traffic and remain faithful to you.
A Chinese buffet is where the overweight take their last meals.
It worries me to death
that I’m here. Try not to stare.
Consider instead the grease congealed on your china.
Every trip to the trough
requires another clean plate—signs
are hung to remind you. The dishes are scratched.
Decorative rims have faded with the washing.
A Chinese Buffet is a whorehouse.
Still, fat people arrive. The hostess
loses her face. She whispers in her daughter’s ear,
“Tell them in back, more
Kung Pao, more beef on a stick.”
She dreams thousands of deep fryers orbiting Earth,
watches them glisten like stars. The fat people
change and grow unearthly.
Unaffected by gravity,
they gracefully maneuver space around steam tables,
steel serving spoons held
daintily in their swollen hands.
Wok music clatters through the tiny kitchen window.
She hates this dying from hunger; she hates how
her face changes when
she sees them at the door.
The fat ones; the sad ones. How the restaurant loses
money on them. How,
after eating their weight
in eggrolls, they rise, Coke-bloated angels, generous
tips blazing the red tablecloths as if generosity could make
up the difference, as if guilt
was a toll road and here I’ve paid.
So goodnight. There’s ice cream on a chubby boy’s shirt.
He’s smiling, and his over-sized eyes
are absurdly beautiful.
I’ve given in, my love, to desire so that I might die fat in your arms.
The Short Visit
The collection box is hung there
by the door like any other.
What to offer I leave to you.
We enter the house, hurry through
doors to the huge backyard, to where
someone has taken every care,
impeccable patterns, dark blue
paving stones wound through perfect row
after row of well-primped flowers.
We stop here and there to admire
such coordination and to view,
planted at the garden’s center,
varieties flaring like fire,
yellow, orange and red, and you
and I shrug, then leave together.