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Scott Whitaker

ON SUMMER NIGHTS WHEN

Cocked at an angle, the radio’s antenna frames
The candlelight, which becomes theatre on the apartment walls.
The shadows could be anything,
Strangled lovers, entangled branches, or daylight
Flickering out as night wrestles in,
But for now they are candle throws
And a woman rolls on her side to look up at them,
And hums the melody ballooning from the salt-box radio,
The sweat on her thighs already lifting into an aura
Around her body, her lover long in the shower
Leans and lurks beyond her sight. She supposes she should dress
And prepare for dancing, but instead listens
To the lone radio as the music loops and lopes, loops and lopes,
Circles back to bass, and strikes drum again.
Desire dilates air, and the music makes it sound as if the whole world
Celebrates in dark alleys, on a night when
One’s body is more than a body, but an invitation to touch
The angle of the radio’s antenna looks like the frame of a roof,

Like the skeletal frame that rises above the stage floor and into black.
The frame which is a roof and not a roof
Inside the theatre two windows down
Where the music from the radio wavers
Loops and circles and strikes
And goes unnoticed because
At this point in the rehearsal no one wants to be there,
The director, fierce and raw, nor the actors
Who sweat under the gels. Not even the characters want to be there,
It’s too much,
The heat and wet night, and the tension of the Loman house.
The stage manager daydreams of her new lover’s fine mouth,
And casts herself beyond the building, well into darkness
Where a pair of hands twist her body, and
Like the director, stares into the floor,
Waiting for the actors to awaken among.
The snack wrappers, coke cans,
Ripped off hose, and
The limp cigarette packs
That appear, in shadow,
To bury themselves into the floor
As if they didn’t want to be found,
To instead become a mosaic
Of our appetites
And live on forever like stars beneath their feet.
Even here the radio lacquers space, the music
Recognized now on the drowsy stage
As another day comes undone

Beyond the walls,
Beyond the curve of her thighs,
Beyond even the loping satellite passing through
The house of the twins.

The sloppy piano continues its drag and crawl
Out of the speakers to kick against a brownstone
As skateboarders rattle and box their boards, scrape their wheels,
Their cigarettes a jagged line of Christmas lights
That promise soft dark, that wink
In the beer bottles passing from one hand to another, to another
As the music loops and lopes, loops and lopes,
Circles back to bass, and strikes drum again.

On a night that’s all about escaping skin,
And learning to live in it
As the skein of bedding is pulled tight between her thighs
And the aura about her settles into a white chocolate glow,
She watches her lover dress and dash cologne about his throat
And next door the neighbors begin their ritual, their voices lap
Against the air as they comb their hair
With the radio cutting and fading out, and coming to life again
And it feels like the street lives in a giant mouth, hot and damp,
And dark, the ache for teeth is welcoming
And the urge to be swallowed irresistible.




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PUT TO GOOD USE

Steady under feet she is after years of hard tides
And winds hurricanes rip each year, even and steady driving;
It is surprising she hasn’t buckled, nor dented,
As many do when such tempers are exacted along the swale.
The tin needs new paint, the oars a sanding,
And the anchor crackles with rust, yet the flat bottom
Lives past the old man’s bones which speed to dust,
But are recognized in the cut and whale of his grandson’s chin.
How like ripples that spread in wide ellipses,
How like ripples that return in tide, the boat,
Returns to tender fish, to mark the pots,
To speak the language of brightwork and chine.
In spring when on saw horses, sitting in crabgrass
One expects to find a body, reposed and steady,
Scraping rust for the last slip into the bay,
But it’s empty, and the polished seats shine up
A greasy smile that asks nothing but to be used
As it was made, to bridle the waves
Steeled and forged in its skeletal frame.

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THE CARTOGRAPHER’S MISTAKE

A true story.

It went unnoticed for the better part of 1983, until
Sally Schoolteacher prepped her geography lesson
And discovered the Eastern Shore of Virginia

Had been wiped out, not by sea, or a hurricane spider,
But because the cartographer had annexed
The Eastern Shore of Virginia to Maryland.

What if the map were a will to power?
Who would collect those payments at tax time?
What if there had been an election? How would the people

Know whom to vote for? And the children,
We must think of the children who would discover
That they belonged not to the Virgin Queen

But to another woman, much less desirable
And to add insult to injury, a quick phone call revealed
The cartographer to be from Virginia, the scandal!

And it got Sally Schoolteacher and her class discussing
The landscape of a map, and how accurate are those
Nooks and crannies deep in the coastline skin anyway?

How can one measure the edge of a land from a desk
Under a lamp, with a hot supper churning in the guts
And a half-bottle of wine simmering on the noodle?

Explain this, to me, Mr. Cartographer, Sally cried.
Forget the science, the art. Explain to me how the world
Is measured so easily with ink, and so savagely with the heart?

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UMPIRE SCHOOL IS A MIRACULOUS PLACE TO VISIT


Umpire school is held in a biosphere
Populated with beer and soda-pop fountains alike.
You will never find it.
Don’t bother
With maps.
You need a boozy sense of direction
To hear the hired frat boys who yell into megaphones
As apprentice umps gauge strikes
Fired by modified cannons.
And if that wasn’t enough
Distraction, the bodies of skimpy-clothed girls
Tease, and tempt
With their long blonde swallows.
And the players
They hire for Umpire School
Come from Leavenworth, Mecklenburg, and places full of steel.
They swing the bat with chains wrapped around their fists,
Their links rip
Into the ump’s mask and neckflesh.
Or better, they swing the bat at the ump, just
To make sure he’s paying attention.
It’s all very scientific.
The catchers make fun of the rookie umps,
And tell the worst lies about their wives.
The base-runners test anti-gravity shoes,
And jet-packs,
And occasionally run barefoot.
Oh it’s a marvelous place for a Saturday afternoon,
Bring the kids,
But only if they turn to thugs
Once they’re doped on sugar. If they misbehave
You can pay an instructor five bucks to fling them into the arms
Of the rookies as a base-runner hooks into a slide.
The biosphere is filled to capacity with sunlight and breezy beams.
Sometimes
If you’re lucky, and only if
You’re really lucky,
A superstar will show up, to play and challenge
The rookie umps. But that doesn’t happen, everyday.
Bring the family, bring your friends. Write them early
For tickets, and maybe they’ll tell you the secret to finding it.
But seriously, don’t forget
The beer, it’ll save your life.



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About the Poet

Scott Whitaker has published short stories and poems in over two dozen magazines such as Frigg, PIF, Places and Delmarva Quarterly.  He has also been anthologized in Ride: Bicycle Poems, forthcoming from Pudding House Press.  Finishing Line Press published his first chapbook of poems, The Barleyhouse Letters, in 2005.  He is the recipient of an NEA grant for his musical adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. Mr. Whitaker resides in Onley, Virginia.