Instead of green beer and corned beef, my St. Patrick's day gift to you is a poem by Joe Weil, one of those poets whom we might call a 25-year overnight success. (Click here for a great NJNPublic Television piece on Weil's story.) His poetry is informed by gritty anger and unflinching realism, tempered by humor and humility. It seems to carry all the qualities we expect of "Irish" poetry, with something more - a kind of ferocious tenderness that is, I think, distinctly American.
Weil's most recent book is Painting the Christmas Trees. He teaches at SUNY Binghamton.
"The Dead Are in My Living Room"
by Joe Weil
The dead are in
my living room.
Uncle Ernie insisted he
in that toy outhouse he so loved:
you know: the one with the
little boy tinkling
with his ding dong out?
It seems appropriate.
My uncle was an obnoxious man
the kind of guy you see in Atlantic City
wearing a bright orange tank top,
black fur on his shoulder blades,
slapping his son in the face
in front of four thousand people
"to teach the kid a lesson."
My mother sits in a silver urn
on top of the piano.
When I had scarlet fever,
she played "Sweet Georgia Brown"
twenty-three times for me.
Towards the end of her life
she cut a tendon in her left wrist
washing out a beer glass
and couldn't play the bass parts anymore.
I used to watch her staring
at her bum hand
then at the piano
then at her hand again.
She had large dark eyes - like Madame Bovary
and thin pale lips.
And I don't know why I'm telling you this.
Suffice to say - the dead are here:
Uncle Ernie, Mom, our pet dog Rex...
I am what keeps them alive.
I keep their silence
Often I catch myself
late at night
when no one's listening.
You think I've gone mad?
Even Uncle Ernie deserves my strict attention
for I grab him by his lapels in dreams,
shout: Stupid, Stupid, Stupid!
Until he is a child again
with his mother's large dark eyes
and HIS FATHER is standing
slapping HIS face
teaching HIM a lesson.
What are those lessons?
Fathers in orange tank tops.
Mothers with bum left hands.
I DON'T KNOW.
What is holy or memorable
or worth preserving over the whole of this earth?
I only know the dead are in my living room.
I can't just kick them out.
from Painting the Christmas Trees (Texax Review Press, 2008)