Untie, Chuck Molten, the sailor’s knots
Of your thick hands and—from the pocket
Of your lemon-yellow ski-jacket—throw
Out again the wrinkled dollar bills to pay
For coffee in Fresno’s Olive Tower Café
Some lost day in the 1980’s of my youth.
You will be surprised (young yourself
Again in your heaven of singing, winged
Harley-Davidson angels) to receive
These words. Find them now in the pocket
Of that yellow jacket and know them:
The prayer I pray not for but to you.
Remember me, then, the kid that morning
When café was empty and Olive Avenue
Shimmered with rain. I was nineteen,
Home from Interrailing, certain I had to be a poet,
Sure that morning I could not write
Another poem. “Sorrow”—
It was my favorite word: big and loud
And written like a pair of bass-knuckles
Across the page. “I’d cross that one out,
If I were you. This here “melancholy too,”
You said, leering down through those
Thin-glassed, grandmother’s spectacles.
“Those words aren’t ugly enough for a poem.”
You can’t write a poem till you’ve written
Uglier than that. You gotta’ write ugly.”
“Write ugly.” I remember your mouth grinning
To those words, your eyes disappearing
Under the accordion skin of your forehead.
In the back of the café, Steve, the owner,
Stood over the stove in a flash of grease fire,
And the wall behind you showed
One wandering roach descending
To indoor-outdoor carpeting, motley chairs
And sun-burnt tables conspiring emptily.
I remember, and I pray that you do too,
Chuck Molten, though we only spoke
That one time and never again. Remember
And in that heaven where you find yourself,
Take this for your psalm, written ugly
And in thanks for many crossed-out words.