Driving Dad to The Dog Museum

On cross country road trips, my father sang,
old songs he made us learn at least to hum,
my mother snapping along in the front seat,
their daughter untethered in the back.
He sang Oh, Susanna, he sang There's a Hole
in the Bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza,
he sang Maybellene (why can't you be true?),
songs with pet names for all of us.
Today I've sprung him from Assisted Living,
a picnic in the park, then the Dog Museum.
I'll pay to see the Huneck exhibit,
the wood cuts and chairs, admire
the exquisite porcelain Great Dane,
a harlequin. My father's done well
with his therapy dogs, their soft coats
bring back his days of raising hounds,
a young father, before the suits and ties,
before the suburbs. He loves best the room
which houses the war dogs exhibit,
old Rin Tin Tin and the Yorkie, Smoky.

As we enter the parking lot, circle
for a spot his chair can handle,
he starts to sing, he sings Way Down Yonder
in the Land of Buttons...he sings loudly,
his voice echoes across the lot, reaches
a woman walking her whippet, she's startled,
the dog turns toward us. My father
ignores the woman, says isn't that the same dog
your friend had in high school? Wasn't she the one
who died of a self-inflicted woe?

What happened to her dog? Was he sad, too?
Before I can begin to answer,
my father starts to sing, he sings This Old Man—
knick knack paddywack, give the dog a bone!
This old man came rolling home. By the time
we travel the museum's ramp, he has sung
all ten verses, and I'm Liza again, mending.

Where Do You Go from Tonopah?

Because the Mizpah Hotel has claw foot tubs,
this is where you stop. This place has its own
ghost, a good story about The Lady in Red.
It’s said she was murdered here, discovered
by her husband in the arms of her young love.
She’d have lived to wear her lace and heels
if it hadn't been for the train being late,
her husband missing his connection, stopping
in for a cold drink, seeing her, seeing him
ascend the steep stairs. In Nevada,
it’s always about trains, drinks, connections
missed and made and wholly imagined.

Because, you’re told, Tonopah is for those
with a thirst for adventure, you venture
into the Long Shot Bar, order steaks,
a fine red wine and, arguably, the best
margarita between Reno and Las Vegas,
listen to some old man chat up the young
couple from Henderson who say this is
the farthest north they’ve been, exploring
their new state, transplants from Atlanta.
The old man says this is the real Nevada,
but suggests they also make Elko, Winnemucca,
decent towns he’s fond of, would live in, given...

And because you love books and the beauty
of dust, you’ll spend hours wandering
the dense aisles of Whitney’s Bookshelf,
where paperbacks are a dollar hardbacks, two.
What you’ll take home is a first edition,
hardback, John Gardner's On Moral Fiction.
Inside is a personal inscription, June 1978.
Bob, it says, keep writing in NYC. Thanks
for all your help these two years in Tonopah.
Best of luck. I’ll miss you here. Love Jack.

Address What Matters

You know you want Marilyn's dress.
Not the one your mother wanted, not
the rhinestone second-skin she sang his song in—
Happy Birthday, Mr. President—not that dress.

You want the simpler but also sleekly tight
little thing she wore here, in this Nevada town,
the dress she wore while drinking shots at this bar
in Dayton. Cocktail cherries, halter back.

You want this dress because she wore it here
but also because everyone who watched her
learned of her secret special talent,
how she could wield a paddleball 100 times

and never miss a strike. Her hips, egg yolks sliding
around a big bowl, kept time, and so did the men
who loved her, or wanted to. No one, not even
Huston nor Miller, knew she could do this,

could create this moment of pure carnal joy.
The movie was The Misfits, and you watch it
every year because it matters, Marilyn matters,
this bar where you and your third husband

spend long summer hours—it all matters.
Everyone has a story here, and some
remember Marilyn, or say they do.
If you had her dress, you could be fearless,

could show everyone who's ever doubted
that you have skill, you can shudder air.
You would move with a ferocious heat
like the dry desert dust, which is where,
when you're done here, you're headed, no matter what.