At The End Of The Affair

That it should end in an Albert Pick hotel
with the air conditioner gasping like a carp
and the bathroom tap plucking its one-string harp
and the sourmash bond half gone in the open bottle,

that it should end in this stubborn disarray
of stockings and car keys and suitcases,
all the unfoldings that came forth yesterday
now crammed back to overflow their spaces,

considering the hairsbreadth accident of touch
the nightcap leads to-how it protracts
the burst of colors, the sweetgrass of two tongues,
then turns the lock in Hilton or in Sheraton,
in Marriott or Holiday Inn for such
a man and woman-bearing in mind these facts,

better to break glass, sop with towels, tear
snapshots up, pour whiskey down the drain
than reach and tangle in the same old snare
saying the little lies again.


This poem appeared in the 1973 anthology Contemporary Poetry in America , edited by Miller Williams.

If you dig Maxine Kumin, check out her newly released memoir The Pawnbroker’s Daughter.


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The Three Kings of Memphis

Where BB reigned King,
Where they crowned Elvis,
Where Martin breathed his last—
The Three Kings of Memphis

Memphis, on the banks of the Mighty Mississippi,
At the crossroads of the nation.
Where North meets South,
Memphis, where black meets white.
These three legends are linked to this land.

Where BB made love to Lucille,
Altered the blues, and passed his pick
To Clapton, Page and the rest,
Becoming the grandfather of rock music—
The “baby of the blues.”

Where rock first met roll, in a small Sun studio,
Where “Mystery Train” solved the mystery,
Of who would be the white boy
With the black sound, and the velvet voice.
This cat could sing!

Where the Fates were cruel,
And the death bullets flew,
On that balcony, at the Lorraine,
His civil right to life taken, the forger of “the Dream,”
The great orator, Nobel winner, gone,
In the cruel month of April.

Where BB reigned King,
Where they crowned Elvis,
Where Martin breathed his last—
The Three Kings of Memphis

Memphis—where race, history,
And social upheaval dissolve,
In the common ground
of the language of music…

Home of Graceland, where they still make
the pilgrimage, three million strong per year.
Graceland, a testament to the greatness,
To the oversized talent and ego,
And to the tackiness, of he who was crowned
The King of Rock and Roll.

…Beale Street, on a warm summer Saturday night,
Thousands pour out from a concert,
To an already crowded street scene.
Everywhere the sounds and delights
Of music, dancing, food, laughter, and liquor.
Seems like everybody’s drinking!
Guitar, bass, and the backbeat of drums
Blast out of BB’s House of Blues.

A restless energy, a restive crowd
Where white and black mingle,
And reach an uneasy peace.
Yet, there is a tension in the air,
Palpable, taut as a guitar string,
Cops are everywhere…

A street musician draws a crowd,
Pickin’ a guitar and singing,
Urging us, with his lyrics, to dance.
He broods, in song, about one who will not.
It’s in him too, this tension,
This undercurrent of unrest, uneasiness,
You can almost touch it, or smell it.

It has a scent, borne on the wind,
Beyond the beery smells of Beale Street,
The scent of salty tears, tears from the dead souls
Of the Great Conflict from long ago,
And the scent of the bad blood that still lingers
From the time when the bluejackets met the graycoats.

It has a sound too, beyond the blues,
Beyond the rock and roll, beyond the street songs.
A soft, sad melody, played on a fiddle,
A high and lonesome sound, a reminder,
That the bleak past is never far away,
It swirls in the air, circulating
Blue and Gray mists of death and destruction.

Still, the music plays…the music—
In a language of its own, forging new chains,
Breaking old ones…in Memphis.

Where BB reigned King,
Where they crowned Elvis,
Where Martin breathed his last,
The Three Kings of Memphis.

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Some Men

If we all cried, there would be no scorched earth.

No droughts on this plain,
The lemon tree in full bloom.
Somewhere on the chalkboard,
Men became deserts.
Rough, rugged, lonesome
Dove cowboys–
Basking in adobe wall shadows.
Sand snake skin.
Taking in the comfort
Of suppression. Silence.

The plants wither away.
Famine whips land like bootstraps
Rough walls fracture like cicada skin.

But some men cry.
Some men take comfort
In floodwaters, swollen
Rivers bring new life
To this landscape
Of dry eyes and cracked feet

Let rivers engulf eyes
Let thunder beat out of bone,
Crack open coral walls

Shed tears when the sun steals
Time, and the river abandons
Wet rock. Mourn for dead
Stars, remember what’s lost.

We can’t live in walls anymore.
If we all cried then the clouds
Would forgive us.

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