Today’s choice is odd, really. It’s kind of a strange poem I wrote back before my daughter was born. I think I was still in grad school at the time and I may have even workshopped this piece once. On the other hand, it might have never been read by anyone but me. I honestly can’t remember. And even though I’m sure I’ve never done anything with this poem in terms of publishing, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never done anything with this poem in terms of workshopping, I’ve always liked it.
Now that I think about, this poem came about after reading some of the poetry of Rick Noguchi, specifically his collection The Ocean Inside Kenji Takezo. I was having the damndest time coming up with any of the poems from this book online, though I did manage to find a PDF version of “The Really Long Ride,” which should give you a taste of what’s inside. I was instantly fascinated with the notion of writing poems about about a specific character as opposed to a characiture or almagamation of several character traits. I mean, I write about a specific character constantly; it’s the subject I was given. I guess Rick Noguchi’s Kenji Takezo simply struck me differently, and I still don’t understand why. There was something about his insistence on referring to his subject not as “Kenji” but always “Kenji Takezo” that made him both more real and more false for me, yet certainly more compelling.
Unfortunately, I only ever wrote a single poem about Herman Rothstein, or at least the character named Herman Rothstein. On the other hand, you haven’t read it yet, so maybe “unfortunately” is the wrong word; perhaps “fortunately” will be more apt in a moment.
Explaining the Rhinoceros
I watch from my bedroom window as my neighbor
Herman Rothstein sits quietly with his two boys
in the den I helped remodel two summers back.
None of them say a word as they bask in the blue
glow of television, transfixed by what I imagine
are animals, a stampede of enormous creatures
trampling an African plane, scrambling after a pack
of zebras, or maybe spooked by a thunderstorm
that hasn’t yet touched down. Either way, the rhinoceros
rip the world to pieces with their massive hooves,
and Herman Rothstein is certain to spend all day
tomorrow answering questions about the rhino:
How big do they get? Do they have rhinos
in Pennsylvania? Have you ever seen one?
That, or he’ll spend tonight shooing his boys
from his bed, both kids paralyzed with a fear
that’s silly, yet the two of them so persistent
Herman Rothstein will be forced to hear them out
before he shuts his bedroom door to the world
and is swallowed up inside the cold, dead linens
compressed against his body, crying out to be cleaned.