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I have been reading and admiring the tough, quirky, and lucid poems of Kevin Pilkington for over a decade. Mostly urdan, they are plain spoken but jazzy, even sometimes jittery, in their rhythnms. They have the pace of a man walking briskly down a city street, intent on getting where he's going, but with every faculty alert; looking this way and that, eyes, ears, nose, etc. all tuned to what's going on around him. Pilkington is unafraid of direct emotion in his poems- his speaker is always open and vulnerable. But because his rhythmns and tropes are so vivid the poems never cross the line from true sentiments into mere sentimentality. This is a poet unafraid of being understood, who will not hide behind becorativeness or the oblique. Read these poems alous and you will hear an authentic and quintessentially American voice speaking to you. Kevin Plikington has published widely in magazines (Ploughshares, Poetry, Ne York Quaterly and is the author of two chapbooks, Reading Stone and On the this Quiet Hill. He lives in New York City and teaches at the New School for Social Research and at Sarach Lawerence College. -Thomas Lux


You take a seat
at a table
in a diner on Third
and order breakfast
from a waiter with tattoos,
who trained his arms
to keep the eagles on them
from flying away.
You pour cream in your coffee
and by mistake
stir it the color of a woman you forgot
then gulp it down
to forget her all over again.
When the waiter brings a refill,
you keep it black
to make sure
this cup you'll want to drink
instead of kiss.
The weather report over the radio
doesn't predict the salt you shake like snow
over scrambled eggs the color of cabs.
Car horns outside
make you pick up your knife,
lean out the window,
and dip it into the street
to spread some traffic jam across your toast,
and to help rush hour along.
After you finish,
you walk out onto the sidewalk
and look at the city.
It's gray,
the color of ash on a good cigar.
So you reach over your head,
rip off some sky,
roll it and light up.
Then head across town
blowing the rest of the day
into smoke rings
you can stick
your finger through.


I've been here long enough
to know when it rains all day,
the express will pass through Fleetwood train station,
if midnight is on schedule,
and rattle the town dry.
White fences picket
around homes on Grand Street like teeth.
When the weather is bad
the entire street goes on grinning.
And if sky is just something else
this town holds over my head,
I think of a girl who years before
wore a sweater with rhinestones
sparkling like stars
that were always in reach.
No one ever leaves here for good.
Even those who went off every war
and were killed,
came back marble
on the memorial
the town carved
their names in.
The churches here never get things right.
Steeples rip clouds open
causing more rain than we need
and the angel outside St. Paul's,
who lost a chip of wing,
looks more granite than Catholic.
With so little to believe in
I wouldn't spend another day here,
except I know the 24 Hour Diner on Main
sells so much coffee every night
it keeps getting the sun up.


(Watch Hill, R.I.)
-for my father

The Ocean House Hotel
looks too big for the hill
it's been sitting on
for the past one-hundred years,
but lets the roof sag
like the spine of an old
plow horse, so it can squeeze
in between July and August.
On the patio, I take a seat,
order a drink from a waitress
with icing on her nose and watch
a ferry drag
a long white ribbon out
to Block Island, a piece
of land that looks
shorter than my arm
but with a bit more muscle.
I have a great view
of the coast, spreading
its shoreline open like a lover
the ocean can't seem
to get enough of.
Sailboats are pushovers
for wind and the Montauk
lighthouse keeps blinking
with something caught
in its beam.
Years later, the waitress
brings over my drink
that's strong but still weaker
than the sun. As I take
another sip I see my father
walk up from the beach
where umbrellas grow like
mushrooms in the sand.
He's leaning on his cane
the way all of us
have leaned on him for years.
His right side stiff
from last year's stroke,
each step a limp.
I wave until he sees
me, then wait and help
him into the chair next to mine.
I ask if he wants something
to drink. He shakes his head
no since most of his speech
was lost and now there are
new words and sounds he knows
I have never heard before,
and only my mother can translate.
As he stares out at the view,
I realize for the first time
that I admire this stretch of coast
because it has the look I have always
found in my father's eyes.
It has something to do
with the acceptance of water-
the forgiveness of sand and stone.
We both sit quietly. After
a few moments, I say,
Beautiful, isn't it Dad.
He turns to look at me,
nods his head, smiles and says,
Magis, and I smile back
knowing exactly what he means.

From The Roof

Rain makes streets
shine like the gifted child
you plan having
with the next woman
who won't let you go.
You can make out
a church that lost
its steeple to fog
and St. James
to the neon sign over
the hotel three blocks away.
A ghost climbs
out of a factory smokestack
on 9th, grabs
the first wind it can
and heads uptown
to haunt lungs.
You notice the river
is still wet from the storm
last week, and know
today's rain will just
give the tide another excuse
to get high again.
To help the congestion on 8th,
you lean over
pull off a line of cars
that looks like adhesive tape
then stick it on a cloud
moving in the same direction
across town.
As soon as you watch them float
out of sight,
a truck parks in front
of your building
right below your chin
with its radio turned up.
But by the time Elvis
reaches you, he thins
into Gershwin.
Over to the right,
you can see the fish market
that closed when the river
turned brown and old tires
became the biggest haul.
The biggest catch now
are the whores who sway
in front of it, even if there isn't
any wind.
Before you turn
to look uptown,
a customer walks over to one
to see what's caught
in her fish nets before
reaching into his pocket to buy
an hour or two by the pound.

Originally published in the December 1993/ January 1994 issue of Boston Review

Copyright Boston Review, 1993–2005. All rights reserved. Please do not reproduce without permission.

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