Two poems by Kurt Luchs
The other night I went to a party
where most of the other attendees
were retired or headed there fast.
They spoke contemptuously of their jobs
and longingly of the imagined life of ease.
One man, a metallurgy teacher
at a technical college, was only months
away from retirement. “I don’t see
my students as students any longer,” he said.
“What do you mean?” I said.
“I mean I picture their empty heads
as blocks of wood, and I see myself
putting them into a vise and twirling the handle
until they snap,” he said.
“You certainly are overdue for a long rest, Tom,”
I replied, moving on while keeping one eye on him.
I met a woman named Grace who was in
the business of trying to impart computer skills
to senior citizens with dementia. I said,
“You have chosen a difficult but noble path.”
She looked at me as if seeing me for the first time,
which in fact she was. She leaned
closer, put one hand up to her mouth,
and whispered, “Most days it’s all
I can do not to smother them with a pillow.”
“Of course,” I said, backing away.
“I understand completely.” Another woman
was sobbing quietly in a dark corner
and saying over and over again, “My name is
Abigail, my name is Abigail.” I shook her gently
and said, “I think we’ve established that, Abigail.
What else do you have to say for yourself?”
Her eyes would not meet mine.
“I was an accountant,” she said, “but what
I really loved was making pottery. I quit my job
so I could spend more time doing what I loved.
I bought a kiln so big I could barely get it
into my basement. And now I don’t do
anyone’s books, and I don’t make pottery
either. I just sit watching the flames in the kiln,
trying to think of a reason not to crawl inside
with them.” When she finally looked up at me
I realized she must’ve spent some time
in the kiln after all because she was nothing
but a skeleton dressed in charred
and smoking rags. The eye sockets in her
skull were black and hollow. As my own eyes
adjusted to the darkness I saw that everyone
at this party was a skeleton. Everyone but me.
I quickly grabbed my coat from the closet
and made for the door. The hostess stopped me
and said, “Where are you going? The party’s
just getting started.” “Too much excitement
for me,” I said. “Besides, I have to get up
for work tomorrow.”
The House of Memory
Last night once again I walked
in the house of my youth,
not quite our family home
as we were never really a family
and it was never really home.
In later years we had it painted
an arsenic green, but when I return
to it now it is always
the filthy white I knew from the first.
When it comes into view
I begin to weep. The people within
were torn down long before the house was.
Yet some of them are still standing
after a fashion, and so too
is the house of pain,
the house of memory.
To remember is to suffer.
To forget would be to lose yourself
and everything that made you.
Caught between these two imponderables
I tread the vanished floor and run
my fingers over the cryptic
graffiti on the walls:
“Ours is not to reason why,
ours is but to flip and fly,” and
“No smoking even if you’re on fire.”
Soon the only people who know
what these words mean will be gone,
and where the house of memory
will be then, no one can say.
Meanwhile I walk in it,
knowing I have left it
but it will never leave me.
Kurt Luchs (kurtluchs.com) has poems published in Into the Void, Right Hand Pointing, and The Sun Magazine. Sagging Meniscus Press published his humor collection, It’s Funny Until Someone Loses an Eye (Then It’s Really Funny). His poetry chapbook, One of These Things Is Not Like the Other, is forthcoming.