Write Ugly

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.

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