Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Mom & Dad

In most cases of picking up a book of poems for the first time, my own experience at least has shown that some of the poems in that book are going to impress, some stir feelings to an unexpected level and a few of them leave me unmoved and perhaps quick to turn the page. More than most other genres, poetry is a dicey realm threaded with quicksand on the one hand and thorny barriers on the other, and while it surely isn’t meant to be that way, some poets have a knack for leading us around the complications and taking us to those unexpected levels. George Bilgere is one of them.

George Bilgere has published five collections of poetry. His most recent, The White Museum was awarded the 2009 Autumn House Poetry Prize, while his third book, The Good Kiss won the University of Akron Poetry Award in 2002. Bilgere’s work has garnered numerous other awards, including the Midland Authors Award, a Pushcart Prize and the May Swenson Poetry Award for his 2006 collection Haywire. His work has appeared in Poetry, Ploughshares, the Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner, the Best American Poetry series and frequently on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac. The poet is a resident of Cleveland, Ohio where he teaches at John Carroll University.

Bilgere has a special genius for shaping eloquent lines from everyday moments that seem small yet resound with near frightening significance. The two poems below are from his third collection, The Good Kiss. Each in turn is a wistful yet tinged with pain memory of parents, reminding us that life is not always a scene from Father Knows Best or Ozzie and Harriet.

I would like to write a poem
About how my father taught me
To ride a bicycle one soft twilight,
A poem in which he was tired
And I was scared, unable to disbelieve
In gravity and believe in him,
As the fireflies were coming out
And only enough light remained
For one more run, his big hand at the small
Of my back, pulling away like the gantry
At a missile launch, and this time, this time
I wobbled into flight, caught a balance
I would never lose, and pulled away
From him as he eased, laughing, to a stop,
A poem in which I said that even today
As I make some perilous adult launch,
Like pulling away from my wife
Into the fragile new balance of our life
Apart, I can still feel that steadying hand,
Still hear that strong voice telling me
To embrace the sweet fall forward
Into the future’s blue
Equilibrium. But,

Of course, he was drunk that night,
Still wearing his white shirt
And tie from the office, the air around us
Sick with scotch, and the challenge
Was keeping his own balance
As he coaxed his bulk into a trot
Beside me in the hot night, sweat
Soaking his armpits, the eternal flame
Of his cigarette flaring as he gasped
And I fell, again and again, entangled
In my gleaming Schwinn, until
He swore and stomped off
Into the house to continue
Working with my mother
On their own divorce, their balance
Long gone and the hard ground already
Rising up to smite them
While I stayed outside in the dark,
Still falling, until at last I wobbled
Into the frail, upright delight
Of feeling sorry for myself, riding
Alone down the neighborhood’s
Black street like the lonely western hero
I still catch myself in the act
Of performing.

And yet, having said all this,
I must also say that this summer evening
Is very beautiful, and I am older
Than my father ever was
As I coast the Pacific shoreline
On my old bike, the gears clicking
Like years, the wind
Touching me for the first time, it seems,
In a very long time,
With soft urgency all over.

I can see her in the kitchen,
Cooking up, for the hundredth time,
A little something from her
Limited Midwestern repertoire.
Cigarette going in the ashtray,
The red wine pulsing in its glass,
A warning light meaning
Everything was simmering
Just below the steel lid
Of her smile, as she boiled
The beef into submission,
Chopped her way
Through the vegetable kingdom
With the broken-handled knife
I use tonight, feeling her
Anger rising from the dark
Chambers of the head
Of cabbage I slice through,
Missing her, wanting
To chew things over
With my mother again.


  1. For a slight moment I thought you had written the poem "Cornbeef and Cabbage" as I remember our mother's cigarettes burning away in the ashtray. By the way......I really miss your daily posts.

  2. Oh, yes, I like this guy. I like this guy very much. Based on those two poems I will now search for a copy of that book. It is my type of poetry: accessible, evocative, quietly humming along until a phrase lays you low, and seemingly always about the larger meaning of everyday things. Did I say I like this guy?


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America