the museum of americana

a literary review

Three Poems by Colleen Michaels

 

Daily Record, 1943-1993

First farm boy then factory worker,
my grandfather kept a journal.
His shift sleeves cuffed over biceps,
his one small glass of Carling Black Label
rinsed in the kitchen sink each night,
the word diary not in a man’s vocabulary.

But every day, he made record
in his ruled notebooks, the year in gold
foil on each spine, the covers colored
like car interiors -burgundy, gray, and black.

Each Christmas my grandmother would
pick out a new one at the drugstore.
$1.99, then $2.50, and then $3.99.
He placed a check for her under the tabletop tree
first, $5.00, then $15.00, finally $25.00.
“For Terry – Hair Permanent” he’d write in the memo line.

Both gifts recorded in the current year’s pages.
My grandfather, a rivet maker for jeans at “The Buckle,”
was a list maker, a sorter of nails and rubber bands in jelly jars,
a keeper of weather and baseball scores.

From him I know how a man felt,
felt about bowling (two strings every Tuesday),
the cost of cigars (too much but worth it),
the shooting of Kennedy (first John then Bobby),
the polio of his only child (bus fare and leg braces),
the birth of two grandchildren (flowers bought each time).

One entry each in impeccable block print,
what you’d expect more from an architect,
a man under commission
to build something big.

 

What Frank Sinatra Worries About When Conducting Tone Poems of Color in 1956

“The big lesson in life, baby, is never be afraid
of anyone or anything,” he mutters, hiding
in some corridor of Capital Records
on the third take of a take five.
Doubling down his few regrets.

Maybe it was the Ol’ blue eyes, gone to his head
this need for instrumental color – 12 hues, operatic
moving from white to red. Both easy and difficult listening.
As chairman of the board, it feels right holding the baton,
smartish. But now, trying to conduct White and Silver
It’s all Bing’s sleigh bells over Currier and Ives.

It is hard to take the voice out of a song.
Sammy with the candy, Marilyn forever
breathy over a birthday candle flame.
But it was clear he wanted to stretch,
not lounge at the Sands pool, in a hammock
with some redheaded broad crooning
Songs for Swinging Lovers, Nice and Easy.

But a symphonic poem, a continuous orchestral section
on say, the color brown, has none of that Dorsey swing.
He’s taken off the brimmed hat, undone the tie, no one
is swooning for Gray in this studio of Hungarian composers.

He’s wishing Yellow, a difficult color to stand next to,
could be a chiffon swish, a girlish giggle,
and that the 56 crammed musicians would stop staring
while he tries to arrange her organza in his lap.

He worries that Purple, Billy Mays’ brassy interruption
is too crushed velvet, some future prince, Afro Cuban.
He tells the horn section a bad joke – something
about music between the cracks – something the
brat pack would slap backs and clink glass over.

But then in comes Red on Andre Previn’s arm.
Never a fair lady, the redhead of his dreams, all siren and satin,
the one cut that gives him the right run for his money.
She is barreling down the tracks. She’s the original Bad Day
at Black Rock, the rich score that reminds him he’s the conductor.

 

Grilled Cheese and Tomato, Three Ways

1989
Dredge your ass across the Village,
coated well in gin and tonic.
Sizzle on the White Horse Tavern’s bar.
The best way to temper the flambé,
is to order the back kitchen to bind
Wonder Bread to sweaty American – yellow –
until its edges shine like eighties pumps.
Claim the tomato addition as your best idea
in a night of bad ideas. Drown it all in ketchup.
Bring the delicious crumbs home in a cab.

1997
Ingredients: Cuisinart sandwich press, white
crockery, silicon spatula, free-range ego, William
Sonoma, Restoration Hardware, Pottery Barn.
Crated artisanal cheddar, barrels of roasted
heirloom tomato, 27-grain bread. A smug jar of fig jam.
Gasconade Kitchen Aide. Hunger, lots of hunger.

2011
This versatile recipe is a crowd pleaser and the prep work pays off.

Become a mother.
Forgive your mother.
Generously butter both
sides of the bread on hand.
Some people won’t like tomatoes, but
most will find soup an agreeable substitute.
Slice every sandwich you make on the diagonal.

 

~~ ~

MichaelsColleen Michaels‘s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in journals and anthologies including The Paterson Literary Review, Blue Collar Review, The Mom Egg, Roar, Ilanot Review, Barrelhouse, Here Come the Brides: Reflections on Love and Lesbian Marriage, and Modern Grimmoire: Contemporary Fairy Tales, Fables and Folklore. She directs the Writing Studio at Montserrat College of Art in Beverly, Massachusetts, where she hosts the Improbable Places Poetry Tour, which brings poetry to unlikely places like tattoo parlors, laundromats, and swimming pools. Yes, in the swimming pool.

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