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Sample Poems by James Reiss


The Novel

After Gatsby and Catcher
and Gaddis it didn't look back.
It honed its approach for cell-phone mini-books,

then buffed up, tried on smirks,
and tramped past a bust of Jonathan Franzen.
If this was its coming-out party, it mainly peered in-

ward. It wanted to jostle a reader's heart
into snare drumming for bit
players on side streets.

Fidgety, bored, it donned cowboy hats
till it grew antennae and crawled
upstairs into your bed.




Lies about Magnolias

Late bloomers, by Halloween they unmask
every branch-and flower for weeks.

To celebrate Indian summer
we smoke their crushed petals.

We strip each limb of blossoms
and call them white flags of surrender.

Yet their pink and whiteness are a ruse
to make us forget their dark claims.

November, they hint, is a myth,
a leafy interval, our last charade.

America

bridge
out rain

lake mud
berm back

up bump
bump hit

brakes crack
door see

leg crushed
skull hit

gas fight
skid whip

wheel pop
clutch stall

out



Day of Atonement

As city kids we called it Young Kipper
& stayed home from school, even if we never
set foot in a synagogue or knew a yarmulke
from a kippered herring. To atone
meant to hear Les Paul & Mary Ford's
electric guitar tone poem, "How High
the Moon." Our sins boomeranged
in the principal's office when Fleer's
Dubble Bubble gum wads stuck
to our schnozzes like pink tumors.
If fasting meant sprinting from anti-Semitic
gangs, we prayed not be to preyed on,
to play punchball without being punched.




A Sick Eagle Looking at the Sky

In newspaper ads during WWII wristwatches were set at 8:20
as if the 45-degree angle between the minute & hour hands
pleased part of the brain so much that readers set down
their cups of java & said, I'm gonna buy me a Benrus.

Or a Gruen or a Longines Wittnauer-the list of bygone watch
companies sounds like a roll call of GIs wounded at Anzio
& Corregidor. If a timepiece was an Elgin, this was no
time to quote Keats's sonnet about the Elgin Marbles.

Each minute took prisoners. You packed up your troubles
in your old kit bag, but your Mickey Mouse watch didn't smile.
It barked Sieg Heil! & Banzai! while you pledged allegiance,
your right hand over your heart, your left inside your pocket

where an analog ticker with a fob waited to be wound, its hands
spread-eagled at 8:20, its radium dial glowing green.