A Note for Perilous Times

by Fred Longworth
PenShells
Third Place, August 2017
Judged by Tim Mayo


You’re never ready when
it comes. This time it’s a voice mail
from Cohen’s dry cleaners on Fern Street
that the Levi’s jacket you had custom altered
only a month before
by Qui, the Vietnamese seamstress,
because it was a bit too long in the sleeves,
has been absolutely, irretrievably lost.

Suddenly, there’s a stirring
in the wild places of your mind.
Surely, you should let the monitor lizard that lives
in a nodule at the tip of your spine
have his way with Sam Cohen.
Or maybe not—it’s only a stylish jacket.
“I’m civilized!” you repeat to yourself,
in a mantra of forbearance.

Your fantasy of blood-revenge
over trivia reminds you that an apex predator
lurks in all of us, even those who proclaim:
“Peace and love!”—or else!
On streets and screens, competing reptiles
parade their sharpened teeth. These are times
when even ostriches hoot and screech,
and raise their small heads to a darkening sky.


Haven’t we all had our lizard brain react to an incident in our lives which in the grand scheme of things has little significance in the greater world, but, nonetheless, touches something dear to us? “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold,” as Yeats said.

Suddenly, there’s a stirring
in the wild places of your mind.

The poem echoes Yeats’ poem without actually imitating it. “These are times / when even ostriches hoot and screech, / and raise their heads to a darkening sky” are spot on, pitch perfect lines to end the poem. --Tim Mayo

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