Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The Ballad of Gene and Oscar

Who knows who they really were?
They tried to insinuate
Themselves into the slipstream

Of high canon formation,
Packaging anthologies
Of selected immortals

And indiscreetly splicing
Their own poems and faces in.
They sold millions of those books

In cheap pocket editions
Now found, foxed and yellowing,
Falling apart at glued seams,

Sometimes in the dusty heaps
Of shadows and self-published
Verse in dying used bookstores

In nearly ghost mining towns
Like Tonopah, Nevada.
Oscar was Ukrainian

And Jewish at birth, but changed
Into something rich and strange,
A self-made American.

He named his new name, Williams,
And he married Gene, and they
Had a son they sent away

And seemed to have forgotten.
Off the proceeds of the books,
They lived in a small penthouse

And hobnobbed with some poets
Who sometimes joked about them.
It was a nice life, perhaps,

But the stratagem failed them.
Cheap pulp rots. Tastes change. Canon
Is a dirty word these days

And immortal dirtier,
Especially among those
Slyly interested in both.

Sly thinking still feeds human
Hunger, still eats us alive,
And rusts our harps in the air.

There. That last bit was for you,
Gene, and your husband Oscar.
Who knows who you ever were?

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