Friday Poem: Insult to Injury

Illustration insert:

I find an old air gun
and a can of ammo
down in the basement
in a cardboard moving box,
along with some other stuff,
flotsam from previous lives.
A teenager, a long-expired
me, used it to polish off
tins cans in the backyard,
and once a bright, golden
oriole, shot in mid-song,
blowing a hole through me
as it fell. Holding a pistol
is like shaking hands
with death. What the hell,
let’s see if the damn thing
still works. In the same box,
a volume of poetry, slim,
but not slim enough,
by a poet I never liked—
all smoke and mirrors—
a poet utterly, brutally
forgotten, although a blurb
on the back still calls his book
“an astonishing debut.”
I prop it against the wall,
pump, load, cock, and Blam
goes the gun as it hasn’t
in half-a-century. I inspect
the astonishing debut.
The pellet, as it happens,
made it farther than I ever did,
stopping on page sixty-two,
just deep enough to dimple,
not tear, a sonnet on the guy’s
divorce, how his wife ran off
with his best friend, how terrible
the betrayal, how deep his grief.
How losing her tore out his soul.
And now this.

—from Cheap Motels of My Youth
2023 Rattle Chapbook Prize Winner

George Bilgere: “When I was eight years old my parents got divorced. My mother packed her three kids into an old Chevy station wagon and drove us from St. Louis to Riverside, California, looking for a fresh start. She had visited there when she was an Army nurse stationed in LA during the war and fell in love with the place. That cross-country car trip, full of cheap diners, cheap hotels, and desperation, changed my life. I fell in love with the vastness and beauty, the glamor and tawdriness, of America. I’ve travelled all over the country since then, on that ancient and deeply American quest, the search for home.” (web)

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