The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Roger Pfingston



In the living room I hear a man on the evening news say he’s been a meat manager for thirty years and now I’m thinking, Aren’t we all? Seventy years each in the case of my wife and me, forty-one for our son, 39 for our daughter, a tenacious ninety-two for my mother, my dad having gone out of business at the age of 86.



Roger Pfingston



after photographs of cadavers by Jerome Liebling


When I moved to Lexington...the poet

Jonathan Williams wrote me that there was

a photographer here who took pictures

of children and American flags in attics.

His name was Ralph Eugene Meatyard.

                                      -Guy Davenport


     Unlike Meatyard’s masked children

     these are the real thing, a potential

     Halloween fortune if copied well

     and rubberized. None of that cheap

     plastic crap with an elastic band

     that breaks or snaps out

     in the middle of “trick or treat.”


     Slow gradations of decay,

     their faces a tonal range of beauty.

     One with a nose like a broken carrot,

     his eyes the dumb stare of oysters.

     Another looks as if he, possibly she,

     died laughing, head thrown back,

     teeth a brilliant white like a            

     miniature picket fence

     surrounding a black hole.

     Here’s one that appears more serene,

     seemingly at peace with himself,

     head turned to one side,

     very much asleep, his neck split.


I could go on—perhaps

to anyone’s dismay—but I want

to return to Meatyard’s kids

who still had some choice

in the matter; who, when they’d had

enough, simply peeled away one face

and went off to play with the other.




ROGER PFINGSTON, a retired teacher of English and photography, is the recipient of a Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and two PEN Syndicated Fiction Awards. His poems have appeared in Rhino, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Poet Lore, Hamilton Stone Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, Innisfree Poetry Journal, Poetry East, and Ted Kooser’s column, American Life in Poetry. His chapbook, A Day Marked for Telling, is available from Finishing Line Press.



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