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Gene McCormick’s poems can generally be characterized as narrative dramatizations, written in a clear and accessible populist manner that blends storytelling with thought-provoking literary precision.
“To me,” says McCormick, “a poem is the distilled essence of a thought, a moment in time, or, rarely, a philosophical inclination. The narrative in my short stories and poetry reflects people at work, people at play, and people at life. The superstructure is wrapped around daily existence and sensitivities, the opportunities and challenges we face as a matter of being. At that level, what I have to say is significant, but the primary intent of every word, paragraph and poem is to provide storytelling entertainment while, if the reader is receptive, provoking a thought or two.”
It was Henry Miller’s conviction that people read “to be amused, to pass the time, or to be instructed,” and he personally read “to be taken out of myself, to become ecstatic.” His more poetic literary cousin, Charles Bukowski, has said that “there is nothing wrong with a poetry that is entertaining and easy to understand. Genius could be the ability to say a profound thing in a simple way.” The issue of genius aside, there is little if any of Miller or Bukowski in McCormick’s writings, but the same principles apply.
For many years McCormick concentrated on creative non-fiction and work-for-hire and only recently has begun writing and publishing poems and short stories. “Hemingway said that in order to write about life, first you must live it, and I’ve tried. He was also always looking to achieve what he called ‘one true sentence,’ an objective I understand, and I suppose the ‘tricks’ of poetry had always put me off: the forced rhyming, metrics, other structurally imposed limitations. To me, and I know this is a gross simplification and mis-statement of the art form, a poem that rhymes and is gimmicked with unnecessary capitol letters and line count and spacing is akin to playing Scrabble, Anagrams or other word games. When I felt comfortable writing of thoughts and moments in a free form style, then poetry gained its appeal as a literary form, in part because of the heightened drama and awareness it offers the reader.”
A sampling of current writing follows.
Nights On The Town
A little slow, they say, they say he
is a just little slow in the head,
can’t hold a simple job in retail
because he is uncomfortable asking
people for their money though he quickly
learned how to operate a cash register
so how slow could he be?
He likes to re-visit Walmart, sitting in the
leased-out deli area with the small two-top
plastic tables once a brilliant primary color
but now dulled by time, usage and
commercial cleaning solvents.
Popcorn, Icees, sub sandwiches and all flavors
of soda are on offer but he usually has the
$5 meal of the day with a Diet Coke.
Holding the straw about twelve inches above
the plastic lid on the soda he stabs it down
hard, aiming for the lid’s perforated circle
(about a third the circumference of a dime),
plunging the straw into the drink. Cool when he
is accurate, messy un-cool when his aim is off,
Coke splashing onto the dull blue table top.
All the while he is talking Walmart talk with
the girl behind the counter: weather, TV, stuff.
(“This place needs a jukebox. Did you hear
one of the Everly Brothers died?
Don’t know which one.”)
Sometimes he has a deli dinner on Saturdays
while watching young families come in for their
weekend entertainment, young parents letting
their kids go crazy in the toy department, running
up and down aisles—a family night out without
the cost of a movie or a babysitter.
Later, walking across the parking lot, he heads
downtown, about a half hour walk, and there
are always girls in tight jeans or slacks
to follow to make the journey seem quicker.
Seventy-Two Degrees, Partly Cloudy
Leaning across the table she crooks her index finger
and softly runs it across his cheek, which feels to her
a bit more sunken than the last time they met..
She: You’re losing weight.
He: For Christ’s sake, you’ll be knocking over the drinks,
he answers, brushing at her hand, Let me read the paper.
S: Are you trying to lose weight?
S: Well, you look thinner.
H: I’m not. Let me read.
S: What’s so interesting?
reading about the
S: What about it?
H: Actually I’m reading the baseball scores.
S: Who won? You know I hate baseball.
S: Don’t jiggle your leg. The table’s shaking.
S: You look ten pounds lighter.
H: I’m not. Yankees won. Mets lost.
S: Your collar is loose on your neck.
Cocking her head from side to side, studying him
as best she can around and over his newspaper,
she tells him he looks better with some weight off.
H: Your hair looks nice. Is that what you’re fishing for?
S: I’m going to order. Are you ready to order?
H: For CHRISSAKE…
And Butterflies Go To Die
Grabs an apple—red--from the bowl,
grips it as though it were a baseball,
flips it once, twice in the air
only half looking at it while rubbing
the back of his neck with his free hand.
After two tosses he takes a reckless bite,
deep, to the core.
(It’s a young man’s game, tossing
and chomping from a near-ripe apple…)
Discards it, forcefully throwing the
once-bitten fruit against a near-corner wall.
It hits the left corner and ricochets
to the right leaving juice splotches
on the flowered wallpaper, landing
on the hardwood floor in three pieces.
Heading outside to his pickup, he is
still chewing a mouthful of apple.
And the air is black, quite black.
The place where butterflies go to die.
They don’t die in woods or jungles;
jungles gone dead long ago.
After forty days they die
in a place with black air.
Their wings waft once then fold.
Other People’s Possessions
Sitting on a straight-backed wooden chair moved from the kitchen table to the living room beside an open window facing west, the sitter’s face is half-hidden by an evening shadow rendering features vague if not unrecognizable. Hands clasp, unclasp, clasp, feet flat to the floor.
A book lies open, facedown on the hardwood floor. Next to it, a tipped over glass.
From outside the window, a sound; it’s nothing. Nobody is looking out nor does anyone look in. Just rain tapping the sill. In the far corner a bulging cardboard box of unpacked books, red, blue, green, all colors. Years of dust has collected on the top books.
In five hours it will be Wednesday. In eleven hours, daybreak.
Originally priced at two dollars, designated by a yellow peel-off sticker, lengthy negotiation wasn’t required to buy the chair for a dollar. The early Saturday morning weather was overcast and getting cold with a possibility of rain or snow, and the idea of having to move all the estate sale furniture out of the front yard and back under cover was unappealing. It is not unlikely the chair, an unremarkable yet sturdy dark brown armless piece made of solid wood, could have been acquired for fifty cents, but a dollar seemed a fair price. It would be put in the kitchen, in a far corner, to help fill up the sparsely furnished room. It didn’t match the chairs around the table, but would be a repository to hang a jacket, place a book, set a bag of groceries, and it only cost a buck. When the woman managing the sale bent over to carry the chair to the buyer’s pickup, he could see all the way down the inside front of her scoop-neck sweatshirt.
Winter and snow came in a few days but the front yard was barren.
May To September Summer Romance
Used to be, summers past, mid-day refreshment
meant leveraging a stamped-on metal cap
off a slim-bodied clear-glass bottle of
Orange Crush, improvising with
whatever passed for an opener,
and draining it in one gulp.
Compared to a bottle of caramel-colored
Diet Pepsi or Diet Coke, non-diet, no-caffeine
Orange Crush is a succulent assault
just about too tasty to swallow.
Complementing the flavor, the twenty fluid ounce
plastic bottle is south-of-the-border festive
compared with dark-cloud-grey designed
containers marketed by goliath competitors.
Give Crush props for its see-through plastic body,
modestly if only partially concealing content
with an upper body peel-off wrapper
illustrated by an orange slice squirting
refreshing droplets like rays from the sun.
Bright orange bubbly translucent ounces
show through, unlike opaque bottles of juices,
for Orange Crush contains zero natural juice,
its ingredients including:
high fructose corn syrup, citric acid,
sodium benzoate, acacia and estel gum,
yellow 6, salt and additional makings
sounding unpalatable yet blending
into lively swallows of lip-and-tongue
staining orange coloring (along with
270 calories per bottle).
The ensemble is topped with a
jaunty green plastic screw cap which seems
easier to twist off than Pepsi or Coke.
Tipping the bottle back—it has a concave
lower body for a sure grip—
to drain the last drops of orange,
thirst is quenched
and the hell with 270 calories.
Tuesday Is Trash Day
Because it has a short, strong spring,
every time someone pushes through
the screen door it slams twice:
bam, then bam again, bouncing off
the door jamb emphasizing a
coming or going—one of the few
things around the house that
works well, if at all.
But her, her leaving…
Saying goodbye to her was like
taking out the trash and the hell with
the screen door banging twice.
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