“We’re never single-minded, unperplexed,
            like migratory birds.” Rilke, The Duino Elegies

“Everyone ought to read Rilke,” a friend said,
and I’m trying,
but I get distracted,
begin flipping through muted TV channels
and land on Entertainment Tonight,
pulse of pop culture.
Britney’s on.

Last week I tried Chekhov again,
but couldn’t get interested—blaming a bad translation.
But I should read Rilke,
because in the world of poets,
the Britneys, Lohans, and Paris Hiltons
scarcely appear.

I wait until the camera cuts away
from Britney’s strut and jiggling cleavage,
then switch the TV off.

My wife of 50 years is breathing
through a clip up her nose
in a bed down the street,
her body tangled in plastic tubes:
drains dangling from her surgical wound,
a catheter, its bag half-full, drooping yellow on the bedrail,
intravenous sacks dripping into her port,
and the steady beep of the monitor.

Outside my window, cars
hiss and honk in the rain;
an occasional siren;
a semi downshifting on the distant freeway.

I don’t want to be here
in this unfamiliar town.
I don’t want to be here
doused in the odor of the last traveler’s Marlboro’s,
my Bud cans circling a remote
anchored to the stained bedside table.
I don’t want to be staring
at the chrome sprinkler on the ceiling
or the spray of black dust above the heater.
I don’t want to read Rilke or Chekhov or even Kafka
and I can barely get into ogling Britney.
So I take a Lunesta and switch off the light.

From around the frayed edges of the closed curtain,
comes the pulsing neon aura
of the Vacancy sign.


~  ~  ~

ThomasF. Richard “Dick” Thomas has nine collections of poetry, including Frog Praises Night (Southern Illinois University Press), Death at Camp Pahoka (Michigan State University Press), and his latest book, Extravagant Kiss. Co-editor of Sin Fronteras Journal/Writers Without Borders, he has received a number of awards and grants for his work, including two Fulbright Awards to Denmark and a Michigan Council for the Arts Award for his poetry.  He is Professor Emeritus of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures at Michigan State University, but now lives in Las Cruces, New Mexico, with his wife, Sherry.