Sunday, February 13, 2011

Looking for, and at, Grover

Last night many of my friends celebrated a Presidential Beard Party at The Royale. I stayed home, as a family man (sigh).

Part of the night, I piddled around in my archive. One item that passed before my eyes was an unfinished poem I had started writng about Grover Cleveland. Grover was not a notably bearded president, but it was close enough to the spirit of the event I was missing, so I spent some time shaping up the poem.

Then I got into the mood to sketch the dead president from the image of him that was printed on the $1,000 bill until it was taken out of circulation.


By Chris King

In grimy Center City,
I passed porn shops, thrift
stores, hot dog stands, looking
for you, in part, jaw tumor in
a jar at the medical college.
The company you keep.
A tybia with syphillis
and the arm of good John
Gallagher, age sixteen,
a machinist whose tattooist
spit to mix his pigments
then smooth out his ink: good
John’s girl, and crucifix.
With that spit, syphilis seeped
into good John’s veins. Widow
Sunday with her ten inch human
horn. Forty five years of New
Jersey gall stones. Bust of Adam
Horn, heartless killer of two
wives, fragment of a minor
industry in murder mementos.

The tumor they cut from your jaw
that Silver summer of money
panic looks like tops of
chrysanthemums bedded
on angel white tripe now.
Your cancer kept secret twenty
years. You feared fodder
for your amibitous VP,
Adilai, a pro-Silver hopeful.
It’s no secret now, plain
as pickled eggs in a tavern
jar. Adjacent to collected
chunks of assassins: notch of
Wilkes-Booth neck, sliver of brain
of Guiteau who gunned Garfield
looking like a rag doll hugged
too long and hard in a jug.
You were the $1,000 dollar man
till you went out of circulation.
Now you’re doing time, Grover,
with the dime museum kind.

Most of what is left of you was
left in the ground in Princeton,
at Witherspoon and Wiggins,
where Wiggins turns into Paul
Robeson Place. I walked the graves
looking for you, and was surprised
by low-slung brick row shacks.
Your next-door neighbors
in the grave are Rosewag,
“a bonnie lassie, mother
and friend,” and Ruth, your baby
you buried, dead at thirteen,
and Francis, wife. There was a scrap
of candy paper by your monument,
a pepperment ingredient, so
no Baby Ruth. Your grave
is kept pretty clean, Grover.
They keep a small, cheap flag flying.
I’m not sure why I felt like crying.
A tumor, a stone, a president
of the veto, vetoed for good.

Since photographing and posting the sketch, I added some lines to suggest the part of his head Grover seemed to be missing.

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