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George Franklin

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.





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