Alabama

(Unpublished) #Poem: “Reading Kenko”

I wrote this poem in the summer of 2006, on the day after July 4th . . . which would be the 5th. It’s a little different take on the holiday, seen through the lens of a young father whose child has kept him up most of the night and who would like very much just to read and relax on this “holiday.”

Reading Kenko by Lake Martin on the Fourth of July 

The baby woke up
early, despite a late night,
crying from gas
caused by eating her first lady peas.

The family is fussing on the dock
about who will go on the boat ride
and who won’t . . .
More crying

from more kids. Coolers crash with ice
and cans of beer. No bottles. They break.
How is it possible
for men not to rejoice

each day over the pleasure
of being alive? [1] Kenko’s words are here,
but he isn’t, and it’s America’s birthday.

We’re drinking in her honor. People
are coming over later, but
no one will mention
Enlightenment, because

we’re attached to our worldly things:
boats, flip-flops, fishing poles,
lake houses, iPods, air-conditioning.

The next-door neighbor no one ever sees
calls to ask if we want some free gasoline—
Of course, we do!
and I think I hear America
gasp, deep in suffering.

We are celebrating you, America, with
our engines coughing in your face,

as we ride on water so choppy
it makes me want
to vomit my ham sandwich
and just go back home.

[1] from #93 from Keene’s translation, Essays in Idleness  (ca. 1330-1332) by Kenko

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