Note: This was a long time ago (in the way we mark it anyhow). I was living in New Jersey then, a small town outside of Princeton. I wrote a series of letters that Summer to people I knew a little but had never met. I could place the year precisely by the reference to a World Cup football game, but it doesn’t really matter. I’ve had other face cancers removed since. Different doctor and considerably more delicate. I don’t drink any more either. But, as is the way of things, a few people mentioned, my wife’s mother, and the wife of the man I am writing to here, have died.
Dear Mister Perch:
I had turned the beef into anchovies
by way of bad cooking and all that wine
an alchemy I was ashamed of.
I threw the thirty bucks of slop
straight into the sink, heard the disposal
eat its first decent meal in a week.
Went out on the porch with a whole fresh bottle
and sat hungry in the seven o’clock sun
wishing I had a rusted out IROC car
and any place half worth driving to.
I live in the Nacirema’s most expensive double-wide
3000 square feet of corn chips and puke.
I can hear my little boy killing geese
on a PBS webshow that leaves no kid behind.
America. Love it or change it.
I went to the Doc this morning
just some dermoguy from the phonebook
who had the kind of immediate I can squeeze you in
availability which may not be for the best in doctors:
Yup don’t need no biopsy that’s skin cancer alright.
Having dropped his little suntan bomb
he backed off with how as it was nothing to think of.
Had me take off my shirt to show the hot nurse
the evidence of forty more years of eating
and then stuck me with something sticky in the neck
(for it was the neck cancer that I had evidently contracted}.
He took out a scraper like for taking paint off windows
and made me come clean, took a melon baller
and said kid it’s like the rotten bruise on fruit
you just spade it all out and shoot on the freezer.
All round interesting day, Ivory Coast came back from two down
to beat Serbia & Montenegro, won’t be often you’ll say that in the future
seeing as how Serbia & Montenegro have closed on the divorce
and will be Serbia and Montenegro from here on out.
I knew a standup punk poet called Monty Negro
a poor man’s John Cooper Clarke if you can imagine it.
He was 31 (decrepit to us then) when he died of lymphoma
long gone from opening for Ian Dury and the Blockheads
but then Uncle Ian wandered off far too soon also.
My wife is at a sad funeral as we speak, death being all around.
A good friend’s mother was inert on the ground at 5 a.m.
there was a phone call and an hour getting rings off swollen fingers.
Now it’s three days later with catering and a reception
a second bookend wedding and a motherless child.
We drink together, marry together, have babies together
in order do our parts age and one by one get mourned.
I asked the Doc about my neck and he laughed a beery breath
It’s the pretend kind, called the same but no threat at all.
Some basal cells on an English boy unused to New Jersey sun
but in constant purchase of three-lion hats from now on.
And I thought of my mother-in-law surviving good and your wife also
of my grandfather dead with lungs in a Hammersmith ward
my wife’s father too and of all our expectations, fond true hopes
and these yellowed teeth falling one by one
and thus the death of our dreams of immortality.
I pull the lichen from my gums, deny these trunk circles
that date me like the girls I never met.
I feel the plaster below my right ear loosen with the sweat
and do no better yet than go inside
cook up dinner and feed my child.
Felicitations to you and yours,