Against Pleasure

Robin Becker
Worry stole the kayaks and soured the milk.
Now, it’s jellyfish for the rest of the summer
and the ozone layer full of holes.
Worry beats me to the phone.
Worry beats me to the kitchen,
and all the food is sorry. Worry calcifies
my ears against music; it stoppers my nose
against barbecue. All films end badly.
Paintings taunt with their smug convictions.
In the dark, Worry wraps her long legs
around me, promises to be mine forever.

Thugs hijacked all the good parking spaces.
There’s never a good time for lunch.
And why, my mother asks, must you track
beach sand into the apartment?
No, don’t bother with books,
not reading much these days.
And who wants to walk the boardwalk anyway,
with scam artists who steal your home and savings?
Watch out for talk that sounds too good to be true.
You, she says pointing at me,
don’t worry so much.

More by Robin Becker

Man of the Year

My father tells the story of his life

and he repeats The most important thing:
          to love your work.
I always loved my work. I was a lucky man.

This man who makes up half of who I am,
         this blusterer
who tricked the rich, outsmarting smarter men,

gave up his Army life insurance plan
          (not thinking of the future
wife and kids) and brokered deals with two-faced

rats who disappeared his cash but later overpaid
         for building sites.
In every tale my father plays outlaw, a Robin Hood

for whom I'm named, a type of yeoman
         refused admission
into certain clubs. For years he joined no guild—

no Drapers, Goldsmiths, Skinners, Merchant
         Tailors, Salters, Vintners—
but lived on prescience and cleverness.

He was the self-inventing Polish immigrant's
         Son, transformed
By American tools into Errol Flynn.

As he speaks, I remember the phone calls
         during meals—
an old woman dead in apartment two-twelve

or burst pipes and water flooding rooms.
         Hatless,
he left the house and my mother's face

assumed the permanent worry she wore,
         forced to watch him
gamble the future of the semi-detached house,

our college funds, and his weekly payroll.
         Manorial halls
of Philadelphia his Nottingham,

my father fashioned his fraternity
         without patronage
or royal charters but a mercantile

swagger, finding his Little John, Tinker,
         and Allen-a-Dale.
Wholesalers, retailers, in time they resembled

the men they set themselves against.
         Each year they roast and toast
one member, a remnant of the Grocer's Feast

held on St. Anthony's Day, when brothers
         communed and dined
on swan, capon, partridges, and wine.

They commission a coat of arms, a song,
         and honor my father—
exemplary, self-made, without debt—

as Man of the Year, a title he reveres
          for the distinguished
peerage he joins, the lineage of merry men.

Angel Supporting St. Sebastian

Shot with arrows and left for dead,
against the angel's leg, Sebastian sinks.
In time, he'll become the patron

saint of athletes and bookbinders.
But for now, who wouldn't want to be
delivered into the sculpted arms

of this seraph, his heavenly
shoulders and biceps?
The artist understood the swoon

of doctrine, its fundamental
musculature, and the human need
to lean against the lusty form,

accept the discourse that assigns
to each of us a winged guardian
whispering into our ringing ears.

Great Sleeps I Have Known

Once in a cradle in Norway folded
like Odin's eight-legged horse Sleipnir
as a ship in full sail transported the dead to Valhalla

Once on a mountain in Taos after making love
in my thirties the decade of turquoise and silver

After your brother walked into the Atlantic
to scatter your mothers ashes his khakis soaked
to the knees his shirtsleeves blowing

At the top of the cottage in a thunderstorm
once or twice each summer covetous of my solitude

Immediately following lunch
against circadian rhythms, once
in a bunk bed in a dormitory in the White Mountains

Once in a hollow tree in Wyoming
A snow squall blew in the guide said  tie up your horses

The last night in the Katmandu guest house
where I saw a bird fly from a monk's mouth
a consolidated sleep of East and West

Once on a horsehair mattress two feet thick
I woke up singing
as in the apocryphal story of my birth
at Temple University Hospital

On the mesa with the burrowing owls
on the mesa with the prairie dogs

Willing to be lucky
I ran the perimeter road in my sleep
entrained to the cycles of light and dark
Sometimes my dead sister visited my dreams

Once on the beach in New Jersey
after the turtles deposited their eggs
before my parents grew old, nocturnal