2 Poems

Poetry / Ross White


:: Multifunction ::

Let us celebrate designs which yielded
sofabeds, printer/scanners, reversible jackets,
sporks, all the ideas hatched to serve 
two masters with a single motion, every item rolling
off an assembly line to replace two others.
The modern condition won’t allow
us to merely do one thing well.
A great third grade teacher will soon be plucked
from the classroom and tasked to be principal,
because inspiring students to trace a hand 
and discover in its outline a turkey
obviously means you’re a candidate
for budgeting and facilities management.
Doctors end up running the hospital,
inmates the asylum. And some do it beautifully,
find the soft skills were there all along
like tines hidden in the smooth bowl of spoon.
Others manage just well enough
not to cock it up. But what of the sad sacks
who can’t adjust to spreadsheets,
who sit in Monday staff meetings numb,
who dream only of dioramas or laparotomies
or the quiet padding of a cell?
Kiss released “I Was Made for Lovin’ You”
in May of ’79, four earnest guys in face paint
proclaiming a single function was plenty.
I know Paul Stanley sang the lead
but imagine those words rolling off a tongue
as long as Gene Simmons’s. You could stretch
the phrase until it became tension wire.
You could send a funambulist across
carrying his pole. While he’s up there,
he’s only got to focus on one thing. 
That’s the whole point of the tightrope act.
But Kiss fans hated that song.
They hated the whole album—ironically,
because Kiss was folding disco in
to their hard rock sound. There’s the rub:
you won’t survive unless you grow,
but no one wants to have to watch.
Of course there will be fumbles, failures.
What foal ever stood without stumbling?
Which painters covered their early canvases
in perfect brushstrokes? You’re just supposed
to botch it and biff it and bollocks it
and blow it and bungle it and butcher it
in private. Get a room. Rent a studio.
Ascend the stairs to a remote corner
of a clock tower. Build a hideaway,
a hush-hush lab, a shed not far from the edge
of the woods. Head to the basement.
Perfect it in secret. No one wants to see
how the sausage is made. Pretend you left
the factory as handy as the new sofa sleeper
or North Face puffer jacket. Knife,
scissors, corkscrew, ruler, bottle opener
all in a handy red sheath. What grace. 
Not me. I’m backstage staring into the vanity
before the big show but none of the facepaint 
glows me up. I’m the colt who wishes
he was back in the womb, the paint brush 
that would rather just soak in water.
I’ve spent mornings behind the principal’s desk
at a failing school, dreaming of picture books 
and cotton ball snowmen on paper plates.
I’ve spent afternoons blundering in boardrooms,
wishing I could sew a single stitch.
I’m in therapy, being asked to love myself.
It’s a lot to ask. I was made for lovin’ you.

:: Daybreak: This Could Be My Year ::

I lay my tongue over the morning. 
Through every vein, glistening berries
ripen—platelets singing hallelujah,
ready to close the wound if new day
cuts too close. Dew leaves the blades
of grass as if in rapture. I steel myself
to return to stardust but perhaps
the creek won’t rise today, as it hasn’t
so many days before. Maybe deer
darting from the yard will stall
and stare me in the living eye again.

From the writer


:: Account ::

I  think all the time about this lyric from “Jack & Diane,” the song that was omnipresent in 1982: “Oh yeah, life goes on / long after the thrill of liv­ing is gone.” I have, for years, assumed that the tone was mourn­ful, that “Jack & Diane” was a depic­tion of the kinds of kids for whom high school would be the apex of their lives. Recent­ly, I learned that Mel­len­camp said, “It has the spir­it of peo­ple who think that the sun ris­es and sets with them, and the world is here for them, which it actu­al­ly is.” That last part is so crit­i­cal. The world is actu­al­ly here for them. It’s here for all of us, while it’s thrilling and long after. I’d been think­ing of poems as either cel­e­bra­tions or laments. They’re so often both. 


Ross White is the direc­tor of Bull City Press, an inde­pen­dent pub­lish­er of poet­ry, fic­tion, and non­fic­tion. He is the author of Charm Offen­sive, win­ner of the Sex­ton Prize for Poet­ry, and three chap­books: How We Came Upon the Colony, The Polite Soci­ety, and Val­ley of Want. His poems have appeared in Amer­i­can Poet­ry Review, New Eng­land Review, Ploughshares, Poet­ry Dai­ly, Tin House, and The South­ern Review, among oth­ers. He is Direc­tor of Cre­ative Writ­ing at the Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na at Chapel Hill and co-hosts The Chap­book, a pod­cast devot­ed to tiny, delight­ful collections.