To Lisa

by Fred Longworth
PenShells
First Place, February 2017
Judged by Sara Clancy


I didn’t beat my father with a steel chain—
the welts from Mother’s tongue
being punishment enough.
And the ricin-spiked pork chop that killed
my neighbor’s endlessly barking Rottweiler
didn’t come from me—though I confess:
if any dog on earth deserved to die,
Spike was the one.

I didn’t set fire to Jane’s apartment on Brower Street
after she gave me gonorrhea,
then bragged about it to her friends—
but I did turn her in to the Health Department.
Though I ran across Eric Starvo Galt in Mexico
in 1967, when he was playing porn entrepreneur,
I was not the mysterious co-conspirator,
when, as James Earl Ray, he shot Doctor King.

I “borrowed” a friend’s Volvo while he was in
Namibia as a Peace Corps volunteer—
then something happened I can’t talk about—
but to this day Wally and I are buddies.
Though I’m old enough to have murdered
villagers at My Lai, that wasn’t me
who pushed a farmer into a well,
then tossed in a grenade.

At nineteen, I shoplifted a carton of Marlboros,
for which I felt no remorse—nor feel any now.
But as I look back on all the ugly stuff
I’ve done, or could have done, or had
someone falsely accuse me of doing,
one terrible misstep comes to mind for which
no atonement will suffice. And that is:
for a long dark year I wasted my life with you.


What a delicious, ingenious revenge poem! I just love how all the inventive things the voice admits to doing, or attests to not doing escalate into a darkly comic set up for the devastating actual regret at the end. I didn’t see it coming. --Sara Clancy

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