Thursday, February 7, 2008

Addiction as Ecotone - Part 7 - Ron Slate

Light Fingers
- Ron Slate

Feather duster in a child’s grip

swished over bottles of Old Grand-Dad

in my father’s liquor store,

my hand hovering briefly

above rolls of coin in the cash drawer,

other objects stolen from local merchants –

a magnifying glass,

a hi-lo thermometer, an Indian rubber baseball,

novelties, candy, cigarettes:

If you wouldn’t give me what I deserved,

what you seemed to promise,

then I would take it from you.

The splendor of scissors.

The consideration of a rubber stamp

“for your attention.”

At some point, after the accumulation

of the objects of desire,

and later, after they became unforgettable,

beyond understanding and useless,

this is when I looked back and saw the boy

making a daring effort to be part

of the family’s sadness.

All of the grief that preceded me –

war, fire, the destruction of culture,

the powerlessness of parents,

the compensations of shameful inward lives –

this, I perceived, is simply what it means

to be human. So now there is nothing

to wrest into myself,

for myself.

But there is the spirit leaping with dread

and exultation, demanding everything.

And the old cunning.

When Mrs. O’Brien suggested that Joseph,

her son, and I go to see his priest

about our common venal behavior,

my mother, a Holocaust survivor,

threw her out of the house.

I returned to my favorite pastime:

a book of sleight-of-hand tricks,

small objects, all objects, vanishing.

Ron Slate founded The Chowder Review in 1973 (where he was joined years later by Floyd Skloot). You can read his Poetry Foundation profile here. "Light Fingers" comes from The Incentive of the Maggot, which was awarded Bread Loaf's Bakeless Prize (judged by Robert Pinsky) and nominated for the 2006 National Book Critics Circle poetry prize.

Ron says about this poem: I dimly perceive a link between poetry and petty thievery's sleight of hand. It cheers me to think there may be a trail of crumbs (or hastily discarded booty) leading from my adolescent hi-jinks to my adult pullings-of-wool-over-this-and-that. My favorite god is Hermes, the trickster, god of the business transaction, too. I must be obsessed with the topic after all, because my new poems include some shady dealings and even a little felony.

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