The Disappearing Trick

The Disappearing Trick

by Len Roberts


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780252073748
Publisher: University of Illinois Press
Publication date: 07/27/2007
Series: Illinois Poetry Series
Edition description: 1ST
Pages: 112
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Len Roberts’s poems have appeared in numerous journals, including The American Poetry Review,The Hudson Review,The Kenyon Review,Poetry, and the Virginia Quarterly Review. His many books include The Silent Singer: New & Selected Poems,The Trouble-Making Finch, and Counting the Black Angels.

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The Disappearing Trick

By Len Roberts

University of Illinois Press

Copyright © 2007 Len Roberts
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-252-07374-8

Chapter One

Washing the Steps I was washing the hallway steps with a sopped blue sponge and a bucket of clouded water and she was coming after, rubbing her thumb hard from side to side, holding the dirt-smudged whirls up with last night's lipstick-stained smile that said Begin again at the top and this time work your way down right- so as I sit on the padded chair, waxy faces floating by, nodding, whispering words I can't quite hear, a woman placing a hankie in my hand almost makes me rise to dust my mother's casket off, where the others left their smudged fingerprints without a second thought, me half-expecting her to open those eyes that saw every grit and mote, for her to lift that thumb again to rub the coffin's solid walnut grain, tell me to go fill the bucket with some warm suds and the thick, heavy-duty sponge, to put some heart into it this time, to bear down, bear down, till the shine comes up. My Old Friend, My Daughter, October, Wassergass Quadruple bypass, rows of pills that would have killed a horse,daughter dead of cancer, son living alone behind his house in a cold trailer, my old friend is still eating store-bought apple pie and cursing the crust, he's still doing some writing and maybe even some fucking, living right in his Syracusean nights, what with his new Xerox machine, Oxy-Pac and satellite dish I'd been telling him for years to get so he could finally bring in a decent picture of the basketball games, renovated, he might call himself, new-fangled, all get-up, just a few of those catchy Vermont phrases he'd stored up in a madness I don't even want to think about, not with a father and brother gone like that, not with a daughter on Paxil and Prozac and God knows what else the shrink might send home in one of those white packages all marked with blue letters and numbers that tell her mother and me two now, three later, my friend's story of cowering in an attic when his high school band played down the street not so far from our daughter banging away at her guitar for hours, refusing to go to school, refusing to answer the phone, the one lawn chair set out in the barn by the hay door where she sits at night to watch the field, the occasional car passing a few hundred feet down on Wassergass Road, all that blackness in her mind making me nod my head the way my old friend nodded his once in Maine when I visited him, Proust on the table, the loon moaning with a crescent moon, my friend moving like a shadow in the kitchen to boil us some water for tea, the bottle of Bushmills slammed on the table to remind him of what he could not do, until he did, and then could not stop, the way my daughter cannot stop, the doctor said, shaking until whatever seizes her has passed, anxiety, dread, an aloneness almost impossible to comprehend, sixteen and already frozen when she looks up at the stars so clear now in autumn where the air has turned cold and the big, green walnut pods keep thud, thud, thudding to the hardening ground. I blame it on him when I'm a quarter-inch off and the molding won't fit no matter how hard I hammer it, and when the outlet goes dead, it's his fumbling hands trying to sort green from white from black while I shout at my wife to call an electrician even as the wires spark and short, and it's him when I won't talk for days after an argument, his small fists pounding the dust from the bag in the barn, left jab to get it moving, right cocked to knock it out, my old man drinking with my hand on the patio after, his lips singing my songs till 2 A.M. and every neighbor's light is off but I'm still looking for more of something like him those nights in Boney's Bar, the red neon bull charging down while he bought for the house and came home with nothing, the two of us sitting silent then at either end of the table in that unheated flat on Olmstead Street, our skin blue-cold as his heart-struck death within a few months, neither willing to go get a coat, trying not to blink, tapping our fingers, our feet, waiting for the other one to start. I CAN'T FORGET YOU. spray-painted high on the overpass, each letter a good foot long, and I try to picture the writer hanging from a rope between dusk and dawn, the weight of his love swaying, making a trembling N and G, his mind at work with the apostrophe- the grammar of loss- and his resistance to hyperbole, no exclamation point but a period at the end that shows a heart not given to exaggeration, a heart that's direct with a no- fooling-around approach, and I wonder if he tested the rope before tying it to the only tree I can see that would bear any weight, or if he didn't care about the free- fall of thirty or more feet as he locked his wrist to form such straight T's, and still managed, dangling, to flex for the C and G, knowing as he did, I'm sure, the lover would ride this way each day until she found a way around- a winding back road with trees and roadside tiger lilies, maybe a stream, a white house, white fence, a dog in the yard, miles from this black-letter, open-book, in-your-face missing that the rain or Turnpike road crew will soon enough wash off. The Silent Archangels When asked, in that third-grade class, to recite the names of the Magnificent Seven, I could only think of the Seventh Heaven my father'd whispered those nights on Olmstead Street, the one with gold bartops and women with gold-tipped breasts, Everything gold, he promised as he lifted the shimmering glass of beer to the light, the wedding ring glinting although the woman had long ago walked off our brown porch, Sister Ann Zita's voice bringing me back to the rustling seats where I stood muttering I don't know, I don't know, the same words I utter today, my son more than four hundred miles away, my father dead more than thirty years, my heart shooting such pain this morning as I lay alone in bed I thought I was in my last few seconds and finally asked myself why I broke my brother's nose with a telephone, why I left Lorraine naked on the Chevy's front seat, why I keep drinking and spend every night watching TV, the Seven Archangels come back now to hover around me, four of their names, Uriel, Michael, Gabriel, Raguel on my unholy tongue, their names popping out of my mouth as fast as I could say them but leaving the other three lost in the mind's dark with their lilies and swords, their flaming spheres, their scalloped wings spread wide on my either side, nine curves in each and in each of those, thousands upon thousands of lidless eyes. The Eternal Present of the Ancient Chinese Poems In all these poems there's not one mention of a snapping turtle like the one lumbering right now out of our pond, a good forty pounds, I guess, with a head the size of a baseball, a neck at least six inches long that instantly retracts back into its shell when I snap shut Tu Fu's Selected Poems, a creature older than China itself plodding past the red and yellow rowboat toward the cat's blue bowl at the mouth of the dark garage, his pace slow, unhurried even when the barn swallows dive and scatter, even when the dog howls but does not leave the porch, the turtle and me eye-to-eye now as I lean in my hammock and feel my body on the verge of being tossed to the ground, trying not to drop the book where Autumn River flows without end even as the snapper digs his beak deep into the bowl of tuna-flavored Meow Mix with snaps and chomps that carry clearly as a monastery bell. Cover Girl Sparkle The green, brocaded dress, string of diamond chips, the amethyst ring glittering that summer evening in your backyard- that's what I'd bury you in, I think, when an old friend calls to say you've been dead for a week- not that girdle I'd wrestled with the night of the prom, and not the hard-cupped bra with three impossible hooks in back, and definitely not the French twist that was so hard to unpin- streaked hair I watched you wind up again on top of your head after we'd slid back into our clothes and were almost ready to go- when you brushed that gold sparkle on your eyelids beneath the humming streetlight as huge snowflakes fell, some upward draft lifting them back into the dark, the two of us leaning into the dash to watch them disappear, appear, disappear again as we shivered on the broad front seat of that old black Plymouth where you flickered and flashed whenever you blinked. (for D.G.) Flicking After twelve manhattans we thought he'd just pass out, but instead found him flipping the lawn lights, sending messages to the hill rising behind our house that sent back messages of its own, those erratic fireflies suddenly starting up as he kept flicking the switch, which made those of us who were somewhat sober look at each other and then at the man whose brain was about to explode within a matter of months, not one word out of his mouth about the sensitive skin or strict diet, not one syllable about the hair dropping in clumps, the nights he could not love, just that standing alone in what was dark while the rest of us gathered on the porch to watch his fingers turning the night on, off, on, on, on. (for J.M.) Receiving at the Kneeling Rail He stuck to my palate, unwilling to go down- lodged at the top of my dirty throat where I could use only my tongue to work His dryness off as I knelt at the rail ordering my sins from least to worst, trying to figure the one that was making me choke- Lorraine's legs spread wide on the backseat of the Buick, the ten bucks lifted from the Cohoes Theater's ticket box, the curse when my mother strutted off the porch- my eyes lifted now and then to the six stone angels standing guard about the gold tabernacle that was His temple, the gold door swinging so easily on its three gold hinges I did not hear a creak or groan, just the rustling of wings in there and a silence that shone, and me, all eyes and ears at that hard rail, trying to muster some spit, trying not to let on. The Disappearing Trick You've vanished again, somehow moved from the seventeenth row, thirteenth stone in from the road, snow flakes blown horizontal across the wide sweep of the dead while I stumble in cold feet, cold hands hanging onto the plastic wreath I intend to clamp to your grave and tie secure with the thin green threads, but you're nowhere to be found, gone, just as you'd drifted out that back door on Olmstead Street into twenty below, jacket open, no hat, no gloves, only khaki pants and white socks glimmering above cheap boots that let any weather in, only the house of cards left trembling on the kitchen table beneath that dim moon of a bulb, the star-speckled linoleum gleaming as it creaked, me turning in a circle as though you were hiding behind me- expecting the sudden tap on the shoulder, the sudden hand-brush through my hair- not believing anyone with such rings and keys and jangling coins could so quickly, so silently, disappear. Pear Tart The mother called every day for a week to ask this or that for her son who was dying of leukemia just discovered last month- my wife the triage nurse with a soft voice that said Yes, just tell us what you need, we can send someone- till that night we sat on the patio of Wassergass eating crab cakes and sliced tomatoes fresh from the garden, our glasses brimmed with Merlot that shimmered and reflected the sun-setting sky where first the barn swallows and then the bats cut their zigzag paths, when the telephone did not ring and we munched little squares of the tart made with homegrown pears we'd scooped the bees from, their wings so sticky with sweetness they plummeted to the ground where the birds came to peck at them.


Excerpted from The Disappearing Trick by Len Roberts Copyright © 2007 by Len Roberts. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Washing the Steps     3
My Old Friend, My Daughter, October, Wassergass     4
I blame it on him     6
I Can't Forget You     8
The Silent Archangels     10
The Eternal Present of the Ancient Chinese Poems     12
Cover Girl Sparkle     13
Flicking     14
Receiving at the Kneeling Rail     15
The Disappearing Trick     16
Pear Tart     17
Pitching in the Aggie     21
A Room for Jesus     22
The Right Dress     24
The starlings fill the trees     25
At the Breakfast Table with My Seventeen-Year-Old Son     26
Car on the Road, Late July, Wassergass     27
Letter to HC in the Hospital     28
Missing     30
Fireflies at the Cohoes Drive-In     32
The saints always     34
Card Game     36
Indulgences for the Dead     39
In the Expert Valet Clothing Shop     41
Another Lent, die purple shrouds     43
Trying to Read Han Shan     44
Limbo, Wassergass     46
Poison Sumac     47
Lucky     48
Suet     50
Bullfrog, Wassergass     51
Sequence     52
Sleep-Eaze     54
The Chasm     59
Four-Way Switch     60
The Ninth Circle, Wassergass     61
I keep repeating the name of the concerto     63
Letter #3 to Carruth about the Heron     64
Hanging Tinsel     66
Snowflakes in Hell     68
Considering Aunt Bea's white Toyota Celica     70
Right after Mass     71
Inside the dim kitchen the rosary     73
Window Candle     74
Heaven's Gate     77
Our Son Leaves His Miniature Japanese Sand Garden Behind Because There Will Be No Room in the Dorm     79
Compensate     80
The Failed Trick     81
My Father, Setting the Line, Sunny October     82
Monitoring Impulses     83
Sister Aquinas, Questioning     85
Peaches in Pennsylvania Late August     86
What does a man who's 55 say     87
Window of Our Soul     88
Dinner with My Son, Casey Lynn's Diner, Hellertown     90

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