John Repp



Another Soldiers’ Home Poem

They’re all dead Joe says, his dogs’ nonstop squeal-yelps for now
melodious as the swallows that with an easy, elliptical speed
even someone as phobic about personification as me must call “joy”

will soon strafe the twilight grass. Impossible I say, though not one
of the jokes or workingman’s shrugs Manny & I shared have survived
the forty years that mean nothing when my friend & I talk

or fall silent at his kitchen table. I have a thing about being seen
as the down white guy, but I still think Manny—Puerto Rican?
Cuban?—dug me for me. I love to dig & be dug & despite decades

feeding myself on ink & keystrokes & the failure so far to strangle
a single sycophantic idiot, love the tattered bootstraps with which I yanked
my way up all those invisible ladders, or so I can still just about

bullshit myself. Manny gave me everything the old soldiers got,
ladled gravy over pot roast & potatoes whenever I asked,
fed Joe, too & all the reportedly dead denizens of the maintenance shop—

broiled chicken, biscuits big as fists, pea soup & Italian bread,
peach pie, huge slabs of chocolate cake. Joe doesn’t remember but says
If you say so. I do since I dollied cases of creamed corn, peas

& pearl onions & helped Manny rack them. Mother & The Platypus,
impossibly dead. Kenny, Bud, the two Jimmies, Sam. Manny pinned
a paper chef’s hat to the bright blue do-rag snugged down to his eyebrows,

& had my back when I wouldn’t sign off on a quarter steer
gone bad. May I always remember to lie well enough to convince Joe
& you, beloved reader, that in the cacophonous kitchen

thirty years bulldozed, I feasted like pasha or don or even Hoss Cartwright,
kneeling between butcher block & cooler, alert for the super, happy.



In an Armchair With One Dry-Rotted Leg

I read Proust, thinking “I, I am an intellectual!”
Congden had grasped my elbow as we strode
past the card catalog, me waving at Suzette
in frayed work pants & sneakers, blind to all
but the Woolf she held, Congden intent to square
my shoulders facing the Merleau-Ponty sure
to cut a track through my cerebral forest,
dredge the river, prod the trout to jump
in the blackened pan, Phenomenology of Perception
unveiling du temps perdu so I could empty myself
of all but the trees strolling past the train
on the way out of Paris, page after page
of Swann’s Way dissolving into my cellular brew.

Congdon & his Camels, his cable-knit sweater,
his perfect goatee, shaggy tonsure & dusty shirt
forsook twenty years later family & books
to live out his years in a Pennsylvania yurt
(said David) or a Shaker-esque settlement
outside Marquette (said Val) & now lies dead
in Vermont (says the headstone) not far
from the shelf long since ash off which
he pulled the book that freed me to feast
in the French countryside I hadn’t known
how to love, a prosperous & fecund land
lying northeast of my right shoulder,
from which I have not yet exiled myself.



October Cold Rain Refusing

Hot this month, cold rain refusing to break loose.
Nice to think rain can decide or forget or hoard

crimson leaves till one morning that may not come,
damp heat factitious as the swollen parotid

or the high-C shrieked a full eight bars, whisper
becomes roar in seconds, dust mud under the dead

peony. Nature’s will & perfect discernment a necessary
cliche, nothing idiosyncratic about it— “The universe

revolves around me!” as we say in our house,
joking at the human—or at least American—

need to think the Purpose from primordial
bacteria to now the satisfaction of our hunger,

knowing perfectly well the universe doesn’t know
from revolution. Meanwhile, eating has never yet

stopped, but you don’t need an alimentary canal
to know that. “Tomorrow is promised to no one,”

goes the cliche, but it’s necessary fun not to believe it.



John Repp grew up near the Palace Depression in Vineland, New Jersey and has lived for many years in Erie, Pennsylvania. His latest book is Fat Jersey Blues, published in 2014 by the University of Akron Press.