Rich TomasuloRich Tomasulo moved to Albany in 1995, and he’s been active in the poetry open mic scene for the last three years. He occasionally ventures into prose. Most of his writing occurs in restaurants.

POEMS

 

 

 

 

 

 

AT THE DRAGSTRIP

The cars burst from their clouds of vaporized rubber
Like lava bombs out of Mount Pinatubo.
In the bleachers we cover our ears,
But still that carbon monoxide thunder
Shakes the forbidden drives
Out of our unconscious minds,
Like the bass line of some obscene polyphony.
And the driver, the overreaching wimp who is us,
Hanging on to the steering wheel with frail wrists,
Yodels above the clamor, falsetto soprano castrato,
Trying to make the beast sing in his key.

But the torque of that supercharged, super-sexed, alcohol-crazed engine
Wants to twist the lurching gargoyle off course.
When the wheels break loose with an upshift at a hundred and forty,
The driver overcorrects, can’t control it,
Backs off the throttle to regain traction,
And slips through the traps at a disappointing one eighty five,
Parachute dragging on the ground
Like the tail of a disillusioned dog.

Meanwhile the winner,
The guy in the other lane, who is not us,
The guy who mastered the terrifying power
Of his hypertrophied American drivetrain,
In a perfect fusion of action and thought,
Coasts ahead in triumph with the lightboard blazing:
Two hundred and twenty mother fucking miles an hour
In six and one half seconds!
My God! My God!

On the sideline — silent, reverent and amazed —
We are lost in a labyrinth of images:
Teenage boys comparing carburetors at the Tastee Freez,
Father letting out the family crate after church on Sunday,
Herds of bison on the great plains,
Howling Indians on pinto stallions,
Atomic bomb at Alamagordo.

The Zen master brings his disciple into enlightenment
With a well-timed blow from his wooden staff.

 

DOWNTOWN LUNCH

The women are thin, with short hair and ferocious smiles.
“It was chaos for a while,” says one, “but we got the grant out in time.”
She sits erect, wearing her extraordinary competence with extraordinary grace.
“I hated to let my secretary go,” says another, “but she kept calling in sick.
She’d forget my messages, and she talked to her friends so much on the phone.”

A man with a grey ponytail smiles for no reason.
He’s so cool the air conditioner cycles off when he enters.
He speaks of his domestic life with conspicuous insouciance,
joking in predictable fashion about his son’s prowess with a computer,
the boy’s insular gregariousness in virtual chatrooms.
He takes pains to reveal that, despite his personal dignity and institutional grandeur,
and even in the face of his embarrassing, almost quaint, family attachments
the wife, the kid
he still knows how to enjoy himself in a cheap Greek restaurant on Lark Street.
His balding companion struggles to conceal his admiration.

A woman reads at a table alone.
The curve of her back and the indulgent slump of her shoulders
convey an appealing earthiness,
as if in silent homage
to the cloven-hoofed, goat-eared,
and long-neglected demigod, Dionysus.

 

LIFE AS AN AESTHETIC PROBLEM

In your robe you walk through the kitchen like a Samurai,
placing each foot solidly on the floor.
The teaspoons rattle in the dishwasher.
You place your cup and bowl in the sink
and stride toward the bathroom.
Maybe you rotate your shoulders with each step,
like an overconfident cowboy
entering a saloon in a strange town.
Your swagger disguises your fear,
but no one is watching you.
The target of your ruse is yourself of course
but what are you afraid of?
Osama bin Laden doesn’t want you.
The FBI only cares about folks with funny names and quaint headgear.
And you can be sure that, dumb as it looks,
your plastic bicycle helmet won’t arouse any suspicion.

You dreamed you called your dead friend on the phone.
“Everyone here speaks in cliches,” he said. “It’s ‘been there, done that,’
or ‘twisting slowly in the wind,’
or, with all the ironic force of a Baptist preacher telling a dirty joke,
‘get a life.’ You think NPR is bad!
This place is worse than a convention of sportswriters.”

And you remember that Roberto said, in a panic,
“I think I’m living a cliche,” when he was overwhelmed by his mortgage
and fantasizing about sex with his wife’s friends.
“Whose life am I living?” he said.
And then, shocked, “Whose words am I speaking?”

You soap your hormone-fed whiskers for the daily castration ritual.
It takes three sharp blades to tame your unruly masculinity.
Sometimes you let two days’ growth accumulate on your face.
Those days the young waitress who serves you lunch
seems to linger a few extra seconds at your table.

You finally get your tie in place, and comb your wet hair.
You’re going to be a half-hour late for work.
Your personal timetable coincides exactly with the limit
of your boss’ tolerance.
All that’s left now is to get into the car and go.
You can listen to public radio on the way.