A Poem About the Mind
I wanted to write a poem about the mind,
But all I could think of were rain-slick sidewalks,
Traffic lights, and Chinese restaurants, the old-style
Cantonese-American kind, with bowls of stick-like
Fried noodles on every table. Then I wanted
To write a poem about cities, but I’d lived
In too many to pick out one or two. I remembered
Lightbulbs and the smell of auto exhaust in San José,
Of coffee and tacos al pastor in La Condesa,
Of cheese counters on the Upper West Side,
Smells of fish and gasoline on the Miami River
At night, water splashing against the dock. I wanted
To write a poem about the body. I thought it might
Be easier. But I didn’t know what it was like to be
Alive in someone else’s skin, to get up from the table
Somehow differently, walk with an unfamiliar
Movement of hips and legs. So, I started
With what I do know, how we move
Together in bed, pressing against each other,
Suddenly without names or faces, without arms,
Hands, buttocks—less conscious than the sheets
And mattress that bear our weight. I wanted,
I told you this, to write a poem about the mind,
But like that one-armed monk in the Zen
Story about Bodhidharma, when I looked
I couldn’t find it.
Seven Mile Bridge
How much sorrow does it take to fill a gas tank,
To get in the car and drive south to the Keys,
Where land stops and the sea writes epitaphs
In the sand each morning, stretching the horizon
To a fold of blue paper? It’s not the dying that’s
So hard. It’s leaving all that behind. I had
A client a few years back, a machista who came on
To any woman he met. We’d talked over coffee a week
Before I got the text. He—I won’t use his name—
Was just out of the hospital, waiting for a transplant.
He was thin and said the strokes made it hard
To remember, but he still stopped a woman going by,
Joked about the dog she was walking, made her
Laugh. He needed to go back to court, modify
Child support because he wasn’t making any money.
His hair was dark, not dyed, and he didn’t look old.
But the skin had hardened and collapsed around
His eyes. He knew he wasn’t what he had been,
What he still wanted to be. There’s no reaching
A deal with loss. You just get in the car and drive.
George Franklin is the first prize winner of the 2023 W.B. Yeats Poetry Prize. His most recent poetry collections are Remote Cities (Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, 2023), and a collaboration with Colombian poet Ximena Gómez, Conversaciones sobre agua/Conversations About Water (Katakana Editores, 2023). Individual publications include Cultural Daily, The Decadent Review, Solstice, Rattle, Another Chicago Magazine, Verse Daily, and New York Quarterly. He practices law in Miami and teaches writing workshops in Florida prisons. His much-neglected website is: www.gsfranklin.com.