The Air of the Present

I was trying to remember some important quip
By a famous person that rang of wisdom
Or was prescient, so obviously so that even
In retrospect we feel brief awe in having bumped
Into what must be an immemorial aphorism.

But, over and over, as the brain muscle flexed,
The words of Uncle Lemuel recurred, indeed,
Several of them. Watching Wheel of Fortune,
Beer in hand, he cleared his throat from that place
Which only seemed disengaged: “Not mental giants.”

My uncle came from a place where horse sense ruled,
Where holes in one’s shoes was hard but fair,
But failing to wear any shoe where the hard stones,
The sharp glass, the brutal edge of the real world bruised
Was “That kind of man bleeds stupid.”

My aunt, never undone, once stared at him, waiting perhaps
For his timeless remark, finally said, “My feet ache
At attention for your absolute genius.” Maybe
She was his muse, so to speak, and this place
Which took me in on Sundays deserved respect.

Outside, the crows gather among trees nearby,
Their number growing for a reason surely;
Only yesterday the newborn cardinals vanished,
Then the gorgeous pair whose nest grew
In the crape myrtle before the white blossoms

Surged so the slender limbs sagged with the burden
Of summer in their arms. Today the dogs found
The bones of a hawk-stripped squirrel. I grabbed
The jaws of the black Lab who fought to keep,
To swallow, forced them open, made her cough

The treasure sure to choke the sweet beast
Gone savage with the blood tapped beyond
Today’s breath I forced shut until the body
Demanded reversal, rejection so immediate
It was the gagged song of the present.

Copyright © 2017 Robert Parham. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Summer 2017.