4 Poems – Mary Kennan Herbert

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Age 13, After Seeing the Film VIVA ZAPATA

I liked to watch Brando
in the sweet dark.
Up there on the screen,
he mirrored my ego.

Life is flawed.
Teen years are tough.
Movies can be the top
escape for the cowed.

A horse gallops free,
the West shimmers,
Mexico’s deserts beckon,
all images speak to me.

Nota bene: Emiliano Zapata
wanted to learn how to read.
At the end, his rearing stallion–
beautiful, literate symbol, or nada!

Who Got Custody of the Ellington Scrapbook?

She often takes the A train
home to Brooklyn.

Coda: this is the ex-wife
of an Ellington buff. Flashback:

he patiently pointed out
Cootie, Harold Ashby and Mercer,

members of the band, eminent
stars who too soon became ghosts,

who were all too imminent
as symbols of another loss.

Once, at a concert at
Lincoln Center, plump with pride

(she was soon to be the buff’s bride),
a sophisticated lady, she was introduced

to the Duke himself, who of course
grazed her cheek with his famous

kiss, and she beamed like a New
Jersey girl. “I want you to meet

my satin doll,” were the words
of her lover who, after they divorced,

got custody of the jazz albums,
photos, old clippings, playbills and programs,

and most of the sounds of music.
Yet “it don’t mean a thing,” the maestro

might say. It was not as bad as when
the Duke died, when her ex cried.

Home Movie, St. Louis, 1945

Between the small bungalows on Wren Avenue
were rows of four o’ clocks willing to bloom in the shade.
We kids played there, until shooed away.

From our kitchen window I could see our neighbor’s
kitchen window. Mrs. Maloney would be washing dishes
at the same time Mom washed ours.

They smiled at each other through their windows
while rinsing plates and lining up glasses to drain,
in a task that might seem to endure forever.

I dawdled over dinner, slowing things down.
The radio in the kitchen brought tunes from Broadway,
Rogers and Hammerstein, One Man’s Family,

The Breakfast Club, Buster Brown, Bob Hope.
Mom’s hope was to move into a bigger and better house.
She wanted a house not wedged between little houses.

She wanted a big yard full of flowers in the sun.
She daydreamed. On summer evenings, with their own
radio close by, the Maloneys sat on their porch swing,

listening to Cardinal games and talking about their
daughter’s wedding coming too soon. A horse-drawn
wagon brought the Post-Dispatch and the Star-Times.

A time for everything. The guy in the wagon would hurl
newspapers onto our porches. His throw was fast.
He could deliver news by automobile as well, but this was

WWII and he wanted to save gas. Horses were still
considered useful, like the big Budweiser Clydesdales
on posters in the store on the corner. Another poster

showed Man O’War. War Bonds. V for Victory.
I would think of Man O’War as I tried to race
to the corner faster than anyone else on our street.

At night I watched reflections of car headlights
move across the bedroom ceiling. No gas rationing
could stop those journeys. The reflections crawled

from the door to the living room and disappeared
into the night. If I could stay awake, another car
would come and the beams of light could be tracked,

and would come back. It was like Mrs. Maloney,
mother of the bride, framed by that kitchen window,
dipping a dinner plate into sudsy water over and over

until we get this scene right. This is akin to eternity,
like when I would race to the corner, turn, and run
back again, home safe, and then do it again.

Christmas in Vienna (Notes from a Young American Tourist)

My father and my sister greeted me at the airport.
We hugged, jumped up and down, and yelled “pastries!”
We toured palaces, we feasted on beer and bratwurst.

Klimt, Klimt, Klimt. Too much art at one sitting.
We are stuffed. We cannot see any more. Gangsters
were displayed at a museum, and we watched Das Boot

on TV in our hotel room. My sister and I translated
a lot of the lines to suit our fancy, focusing on defecation
and military history, holiday brews, and little cakes.

The Military Museum was open, and best of all I saw
the motorcar in which the Archduke was bumped off.
I saw the bullet hole, I saw Western Civilization fall.

I stared history straight in the face. From here the decline
of the West began but, onward, more art museums
to tour. Too many paintings. So back in the hotel room

we watched Animal Farm on TV, dubbed in German,
Squealer, the pig with the monocle, oinked “unsere
geliebter Fuhrer,” so cutely and creepily. Outside

it was snowing and very cold. Just right for the holiday.
On the next day of sightseeing, I saw a plaque in honor
of Austrians killed at Stalingrad. Full Metal Jacket

was on TV, and we were impressed with the accuracy
of the dubbed German. What a beautiful city in the snow,
castles, cobblestones, Konzerthalle, the whole nine yards.

In the Zentralfriedhof I saw Beethoven’s grave, I saw
graves of 7,000 dead Austrian soldiers, dead Russians,
dead Jews, many tombstones in a cold December rain.

We warmed up in wonderful Viennese cafes, sipped
cappuccino. We drank a couple of beers in Mozart’s
neighborhood. I bought a pretzel the size of my head.