The Murder of a Beautiful Theory
by a Gang of Brutal Facts
My students have a Chekovian theory they ascribe to.
They believe there should always be someone standing
behind the door with a gun, reminding them there are
less fortunate people. She is comfortable in a difficult
world, but wants to know if the author implied that the
baby died, or even if there really was a baby to begin with.
"Was there really a baby, or was it something else they
were talking about?" Martha asks. "It wasn't a baby, it
was an idea," George pontificates. Make no mistake,
he is a practicing Hemingway. When he sells his first story
he will buy a shotgun. She grows indifferent and thinks
how her mother loves the things she writes and has her first story
taped to the refrigerator and how relative all this might be
if you believe that someday you will do great things in this world.
She writes her assignments on 3x5 index cards like John Shade,
to ignite her own pale fire someday. A young man in the back
of the class stares out the window and dreams. They ask, finally,
what I believe. What was it really all about they want to know,
dragging me into the fray as if I know. "Was it real or an ideal?"
someone asks from the back of the class. Outside, along
Commonwealth Avenue, people pass holding up umbrellas
and newspapers to cover themselves from the rain. I think of
someone I knew a long time ago and listen to the rain hit the window.
"What do you think?" I say to them. They already know what to think.
I look over my shoulder to see if there is a gun and I wonder if this is
the third act already. You knew it was going to end this way, didn't you?
Soldiers of Misfortune Contemplate
Surrender Come Winter
We are soldiers of misfortune, you and I. Winter soldiers.
Don't cry. Why do you always have to cry? We are
unqualified failures at life. You hardly think so do you,
Mr. Buzzy Pants? Well, tell me this. Wasn't it you who hired
a band of pygmies to play at the wedding, because I wanted
a small quartet? That was you, wasn't it, Mr. Fuzzy Wuzzy?
And wasn't it you who ordered a pizza delivered during
your father's eulogy? I never met the man, but they say
he was grand. You know these aren't things we should
quibble about, as if quibbling is what it's all about. It can't
be denied. It is all there before us like any number of pins dancing
on the head of an angel. And yes, wasn't it you, Mr. Boo Boo Plinker,
who bought a Braille copy of Lolita and spent hours alone licking
the dirty parts? How on earth can you say we were cut out for this life?
We might just have well been cut out of gabardine. The fruits of
our labors have all rotted and can I tell you this Mr. Ticky Tacky Toes,
I am no better. Wasn't it me who accidentally proposed to a display
window dummy, thinking she was simply mute? And then the
embarrassment of having her run off with a cigar store Indian,
leaving me waiting at the altar, altered, waving goodbye to my future ex.
No. No. Let's both confess. To crimes of passion and hope
We get life, or something close to it. We are soldiers of misfortune
you and I. Our weapons rusted. Our boots worn thin. Our supplies
running out. And the battlefield lies ahead of us. It's no use looking
through that empty toilet paper roll and pretending it's a telescope.
You can only hide beneath the player piano for so long before
the sour notes drive you crazy. Outside the shells are falling
or is it snow. I don't know. I 'm afraid to look.
©2005 by Jack Conway
Jack Conway's newest book of poems, My Picnic With Lolita and Other Poems, was published by North Country Press. His poems have appeared in Poetry, Diner, The Antioch Review, The Columbia Review, Rattle, Yankee, The Norton Book of Light Verse, and In A Fine Frenzy: Poets Respond to Shakespeare, among others. He is the author of the nonfiction book, American Literacy: Fifty Books That Define Our Culture and Ourselves, published by William Morrow . He served as a writer for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and teaches at Bristol Community College in Fall River, Massachusetts, and the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth.