Four Poems by TR Hummer

T.R. Hummer is the author of twelve books of poetry, including Skandalon and Ephemeron.


It’s a first world problem I know, but today
    I woke up with a country western song
Stuck in my head—not even a real one, a song
    I wrote in my sleep, and not even a whole one,
But just the chorus, which goes round and round
    in Merle Haggard’s voice. Don’t get me wrong—
I like Merle Haggard. But this sliver of music
    is driving me bat-shit crazy, it makes me want
To crawl through my own ear into my brain and find
    whatever sleazy bar these two songwriters
Are still hanging out in—I know in the marrow
    of my synapses there’s a pair of them; they’re swilling
Coors Lite and congratulating each other—and beat them
    songless with the neck of a 1932 Martin parlor guitar
That just happens to be lying there (my head is full of them).
    What were they thinking? I know you can get away
With a thousand clichés in any kind of music, but did they
    have to write Some people are born to be golden/
Some people are just born to fail?
Why do I get this
    and not at least a jazz riff, or, better, a full requiem?
I forgave Merle Haggard years ago for “Okie from Muskogee.”
    In the 60s I hated that, and him, but now I know him better.
Forgiveness of all kinds is still possible. Maybe
    I’ll help these guys up, maybe I’ll buy them a decent beer
And just beg them to revise. Maybe I’ll walk out of the bar
    onto the boulevard of my amygdala, where young people
In love are actually sauntering. It looks like Paris here, or heaven,
    there ought to be a winged accordionist in a beret playing Piaf,
I should live in a place like this, and I would, but this song won’t stop:
    If I grew a halo like an angel/They’d run me out of town on a rail.


Resting on a park bench, I saw Plato
    Walking—he was a borzoi on a glittering leash—
Across the footbridge toward the exit. My first
    thought was Where on earth
Did they get that dog?
It had been four decades
    since I last saw a borzoi. That was in frozen
Montreal. I was young, of course, dreaming of lovers
    of course, whose names I could not imagine
In the narrow suburbs of my medulla oblongata.
    Just then someone shouted Plato! at the dog,
And I was thinking how clever to call a dog that,
    when the owner shrieked Ne pas chier
Sur le trottoir!
and yanked hard on the chain.
    Not a borzoi, a gazehound, canis agasaeus,
Adored by the ancient Greeks and had at great price.
    But these were French-shrieking lovers and the dog was theirs,
The woman held the chain in her hand, she was staring down a tunnel
    of light at a man slumped on a park bench smelling
Smoke, the stream beneath the footbridge engulfed in flame,
    and the bridge too, everything was burning, sulfurous fumes
Of recall rolling toward him over the grass in the shape of a man
    walking in flames, calmly adjusting his toga,
And from the other side of oblivion a chained animal howling.
The great thing is not to care too much about one’s own mind.
How pure can memory be? The borzoi wasn’t Plato, it was
    Heraclitus, such a different philosopher, such an awkward name
To shout in the snow while yanking on an ambiguous lead.


He is enormous and immediately repulsive,
    sailing down the wainscoting. I think of him
As he though I cannot verify the gender, knowing nothing
    of the intimate habits of arthropods. I place
A drinking glass over him tenderly. Magnified
    by the clear curve of the vessel, he reveals
Nothing at all except otherness, so in order to release him
    into the flower garden by the porch, I must decide
He is a ship, an oared Roman galley, bearing saffron
    for mindless patricians, propelled by slaves of the Empire,
And I am an admiral of Carthage. That done,
    we sign a treaty and he scuds away over tides
Of hostas, into the distant uncharted zone of banked
    gerbera daisies, revolting as I was when I set out
On Charon’s boat, voyaging upward from the land of the dead,
    threading my course from petal to portal, from sill to joist to jamb.


I can still see the imperious vulture etched
    on the back wall of my mind’s cave
Where he came to be when I saw him exit
    the belly of a dead cow collapsed
Like a suburb of ancient Troy in the shade
    of a black cedar. He came forth, a shining priest,
From the temple of the dead, settling his wings
    around him—sacramental robes, I might
Have thought if I had not been myself
    ignorant as the swarm of vestal flies
Attending him, lighting on his raiment
    to lick him clean. He had worshipped
Under the white dome of the cow’s ribcage,
    he had prayed as he had learned to pray:
All-devouringly, indifferent to the ants
    and carrion beetles swarming at his feet,
Exulting in the incense of his sacrifice.
    I was a child, indifferent to the ways
The dead deal with the dead until he turned
    his hieratic head and regarded me,
Considering my bitter self-taste at his leisure
    before he flexed and rose and drove himself
Through my eyes’ barrier to become indelible
    in the heretofore godless arc of my interior sky.