The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


David Kirby

A Brilliancy


I’m rushing back and forth as the party gets underway, yanking corks
            and putting out little sandwiches and and chopping ice and cutting limes
            and slathering pepper jelly over the brie, which is when one guest

asks for an actual glass instead of the plastic cups the other guests
            are sipping their wine from in what appears to be perfect contentment,
            a second asks for a type of mineral water I don’t have, and a third asks

for a type of beer I don’t have and wouldn’t have even if I’d known
            she wanted it, because life is too short for bad beer. What else is life
            too short for? Everything except itself. Then there are the brilliancies.

In chess, a brilliancy is a spectacular game featuring sacrificial attacks
            and unexpected moves rather than sound play. Earlier, when I was out
            buying the cups and beer and mineral water that don’t seem up to

my guests’ high standards, there is a lady panhandler at an intersection,
            and when the lady in the car ahead of me tells the lady panhandler
            to get a job, the lady panhandler says, "Go fuck yourself, bitch,"

so I slip her a couple of extra bills when my turn comes;
            I like my panhandlers with a little backbone. So that’s one brilliancy
            right there. Another is when Hannah Arendt and her mother,

Martha Beerwald, hot-step it out of Germany in 1933 without visas
            or passports and make their way to Carlsbad, on the Czech border,
            where they are taken in by a family whose house straddles the two

countries, making it possible for the ladies to leave the one country
            by walking in the front door of the house and enter the other
            by walking out the back door and eventually find their way

to New York, where Hannah will teach and write lots of books
            and live the life of the monied intellectual, meaning someone
            who can traffic in ideas at the very highest level but also hang

out with Paul Tillich, Mary McCarthy, Randall Jarrell,
            Robert Lowell, W. H. Auden, and both Trillings and, as far as
            that goes, order a beefsteak instead of a hamburger sandwich

whenever she goes to a restaurant and drink a martini cocktail instead
            of a glass of the second-cheapest chardonnay. If I’d just had
            a little more time at that intersection this morning, I’d have said

to the lady in the car in front of me, Madame, evidently you are laboring
            under the outmoded assumption that your mind is an engine
            and that you need to let off steam occasionally lest it explode,

which was fine in Freud’s day, whereas now we think of the mind
            as being like a computer that you program through your thoughts
            and actions, so that if you continue to scold other people and shake

your fist at them, you’re just going to end up with an angry computer.
            I’m wondering if a brilliancy in chess is the same as throwing
            the hard six when you’re shooting craps, because if you throw a six,

which is almost next to impossible to do, you win everything.
            Probably that’s what you should do, that is, drive through life with
            a nice calm computer, but when you have to, pow, throw the hard six.



David Kirby

This is Where It All Takes Place


             At the shoe store, I say, Do you have those Rockport work shoes
that look good but have the comfort soles? I'm on my feet a lot,

                   and the salesperson says, Where do you work? and I say,
At the university, and she says, In the dining hall? and I say,

            No, I teach poetry, and she says, Isn't teaching just sitting on a desk
and talking?
and I say, Not the way I do it. In my sophomore
                    interdisciplinary honors course on public intellectuals, 15
of 15 students checked “excellent” for “overall instructor rating.”

            Damn skippy: I taught the hell out of that class. I taught that
damn class so hard I lost weight. What is teaching, though?
                    Good teaching, I mean. My friend Luther tells me that when
he wanted to quit smoking, he saw an ad for a seminar on breaking

            the cigarette habit through self-hypnosis, so he goes to the Days Inn
and pays his $35, and in walks a guy with a shiny jacket and lots of
                    pomade who says, Mah name is Howard Fleming, and ahm here
to teach ya to quit smoking though self-hypnosis. Tomorruh,

            ah want ya to look in a mirruh, and ah want ya to say, Women
don’t lahk me. Ah am not a success at mah chosen profession.
                    Ah do not dress well. Ah am overweight, and ah eat all
the wrong things. But today, ah quit smokin’—forevuh!

            Luther got a workbook and a cassette tape which he gave me,
and on it you can hear Howard Fleming saying, Remembuh—
                    self-hypnosis takes place in your mahnd.
In that documentary
about poor doomed Amy Winehouse, Tony Bennett says,

            Life teaches you how to live it, if you're lucky enough to live
that long.
You’re right about that, Tony. Just remember,
                    it all takes place in your mahnd, as the ancients have been
telling us for centuries, though it sounds better coming

            from Howard Fleming, doesn’t it? It is not actions but opinions
concerning actions that disturb men, said Epictetus, yet who knows
                    where he got that from? A commoner,
a slave—someone who spent a lot of time thinking, though, thinking big.




DAVID KIRBY's collection The House on Boulevard St.: New and Selected Poems was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2007. Kirby is the author of Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll, which the Times Literary Supplement of London called “a hymn of praise to the emancipatory power of nonsense.” Kirby’s honors include fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. His latest poetry collection is Get Up, Please.



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