Four Poems from The Paul Simon Project

Karen Lillis

The Paul Simon Project (NightBallet Press, 2014) is an “album” of ten poems, one for each song title on the 1975 Paul Simon album, Still Crazy After All These Years. The poems explore subjects from relationships to class contrasts to my own take on escaping a vicious “Little Town” childhood. In Paul Simon tradition, each poem reads like a distilled story. My best known work previously is my relationship fiction (which recently earned me an Acker Award in fiction), and like those stories and novels, these poems often confront the joys and dangers of attachments. In “Night Game,” a security guard for a famous academy watches wealthy prep school kids play his favorite sport before heading slowly home to his second job of tending family. In “Some Folks’ Lives Roll Easy,” a husband and wife each harbor their own misguided but passionate notion of how they can repair their struggling marriage. “I Do It For Your Love” is the portrait of a television addict whose wife decides to follow him into the tube rather than live in the house without him. In “Gone at Last,” a ring hidden, found, and lost again becomes a symbol for the lost years spent waiting for a lover’s return.

I Do It For Your Love
I looked for you on a rainy evening
Found you swimming in a channel of reruns
Wanted the hearth fire of a gas stove
Landed in the cold light of the cathode
Your eyes passed right through me
You were hypnotized by Rhoda, Nardo, Mary’s theme music
Enchanted with Bob the shrink and Alex the hack
Entranced by Hawkeye, Meathead, Arnold Horshack
You disappeared for months or years
Deep in a seventies neverwhere
I paced the floorboards
Climbed the curtains
I counted my days in yellow leaves blowing
Gray hairs growing longer, coarser
One day you reached out a cool blue hand
One night you spoke to me from beyond:
Come with me to a land of good times, a world of just fine
A place where the scream inside finally rolls over, goes to sleep
I loved you and I hated you
I cursed the divorce mom who created you
A latchkey kid for life
Pays it forward to his latchkey wife
But I missed you to death
While the house wore the lack of you
If I can’t have all
I’ll gladly take half of you
I offer my hand, pull up a chair
Turn the kitchen lights down low
Now I’m grinning my life away in the network glow
I do it for your love
Night Game
Andover, 1938
It was two blocks down–the world-
renowned Academy–and from the saltbox
farmhouse on Morton Street, it made for a most
convenient walk to work. The farm hadn’t, of course,
been a farm since Old Man Sullivan, and the Academy
wasn’t for just anybody.
It wasn’t for Harold, with his eighth grade
education, happy to obtain employment as
security guard on the stately campus. Not for
Harold, who later learns how to distill root beer,
make peanut butter fudge in the yellow kitchen and
photographs in the clawfoot bathtub. Harold who will
get his GED by age 30 and take more joy from watching
the boys play baseball than from almost anything.
He loved to watch the night games.
It was two men down–the bleachers were full
of coats and ties, and Harold off to the side seeing
how many RBIs this inning might yield. A certain fellow
steps up to bat, and sends the first pitch soaring as high
as his presidential aspirations. The outfielder who fails
to catch it knows now that he can only ever be ambassador
to the Netherlands.
Harold walks home to the farmhouse where waits his
wife, brother-in-law, two babies, and Neewah the Belgian
shepherd. Where waits a cooling plate and a sink full of dirty
dishes. Where waits rest enough to get up and do this again, for
the next thirty-two years.
He walks the long way, the arc of that hit soaring through his bones.
Gone at Last
She’s fishing in the gutters of 30th Avenue
Looking for that ring. Ring of silver, ring of blue.
Slipped off her finger between his place and
Hers, ring of departure, ring of embrace.
Ring she gave him when he left her. Disguised
As a romantic gesture on her part, even self-
effacing, braveheart. More like a covert hope
Of binding–a tether, a lasso of longest rope.
Rumor has it he wore it on a chain around his
Sweet neck, after. Ring of blue, ring of silver.
How many decades can a woman believe, across
The stretch of separation, across the ache of space,
And just what’s it like, this love she believes in? A
Blanket of stars, a ring of fire, blind alleys, sharp turns.
She’s pacing the sidewalks of 30th Street, especially the
Block between Athens Park and Louie’s lunch counter.
His ring, now their ring, a suture. Ring of blue, ring
Of seashell, ring of boardwalk trinket stand from
Southern seashore. Hold it up to your ear, hear the
World roar. Hold it up to your ear, hear it roar.
Ring of so many years ago. He came to her with tears.
Said, I’m afraid I’m a man of two hearts, and one
Of them’s hers. She closed his door behind her, but
Not before she placed that ring on his bedside table.
Ring of silver, ring of seashell. A forget me not,
A message in a whiskey bottle, a remember me
In the wee hours. Ring of silver. She heard his wife
Tried to bury it in the back of a sock drawer forever.
When he found the ring later, in the packing and the
Moving out, it was like opening an oyster to see the pearl.
Certainly an omen that their paths had come full
Circle. He showed it to her and they gasped: The
Ring. Now she’s frantic on the streets of Astoria,
She’s anxious in the aisles of the Trade Fair, did
It slip off her hand between the heads of honeydew,
Between the leaves of artichoke, among the bags
Of fresh-baked pita bread? Ring of silver, ring of
Shell. Ring of ships sailed, ring of waters shed, ring
Of oceans crossed, and back. What can it mean if
It’s gone at last, gone at last, ring of weary sailors,
Ring of sunken treasures, ring of conquered sirens,
Ring of silver linings, ring of grey skies, ring of blue.
Silent Eyes
She prides herself on watching his struggles from a loving dis-
     tance, not rushing in to his rescue, like she used to.
He can make his bed and lie in it, she thinks, but then, it’s her
     bed, too.
Her friends will comfort her, cheer her up when she lets them,
     get her drunk on milkshakes, but she does her weeping alone,
     in a room crowded with notebooks.
She calls his name frequently in her dreams, but she doesn’t
     know it. He doesn’t hear it, he sleeps with earplugs against
     one neighbor’s dogs, another neighbor’s trumpet.
She burns the crab cakes on the stove while she’s tending to
     the kitchen window, measuring Stay or Go. Tonight she is
     sorrow: no dinner, no peace in her heart.
Is this her lot, to play silent witness to the self-medication of a
     fretful husband? Anyway, no one’s asking her to stand before
     judge and jury, only to love a man–a mortal.
He’s waiting for her to speak. All this deference, all the politesse,
     it leaves him edgy and ignorant of her real intentions. He feels
     hung up on a shelf, watching her see-saw between grief and
He makes the bed, throws the towels into the washer, he scours
     every surface he can see. It gives him some level of comfort to
     put the house to rights, everything in its place.
Late in the month he gets shit-faced and shouts his heart at the top
     of his voice–he calls it man-weeping. No need to worry about
     the noise it makes, or the sense it doesn’t.
On the back porch, he watches his cigarette burn short as the birds
     turn into bats, sunset to dusk, Chapter Five to Chapter Six, one
     cherry lights the next smoke, and so on.
He remembers when she used to call him at the store, used to call
     him Baby, used to call and sing him fragments of love songs. Now
     they’re always at home unless they’re at work, no reason to call
     him anything.
He vows to take a stand before they’re nothing left to lie down for.
     She swears she’ll find the words to speak before they lose all
     they’ve shared.
She passes him in the doorway, as she’s heading outside, he’s coming
     in. She kisses his cheek, he squeezes her waist. They’re long past
     illusions, but still halfway to the city their love once promised.
Karen Lillis is a writer and small press advocate currently based in Pittsburgh. She is the author of four short novels about love and fixation, and her writing is often concerned with the musicality of storytelling. Her books include Watch the Doors as They Close (Spuyten Duyvil Novella Series, 2012) and The Second Elizabeth (Six Gallery Press, 2009). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in journals such as Boog City Portable Reader, Evergreen Review, Guide to Kulchur Quarterly, LA Cultural Weekly, Long Shot, New York Nights, nthposition, Potomac Journal, and the anthologies, Occupy Wall Street Poetry Anthology (2012) and From Somewhere to Nowhere: The End of the American Dream (Autonomedia/The Unbearables, 2015). She is a 2014 recipient of an Acker Award for Avant Garde Excellence in Fiction. These poems are from her recent chapbook, The Paul Simon Project (NightBallet Press, 2014).