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The Look of Genius

by David R. Cravens (October 2013)


an awkwardly tall Kentucky storeclerk

torn pants too short

mosquito-riddled shins

drills ragged troops in an old straw hat

several sizes too large

 

years later waits

in tattered size-fourteen slippers

looking out the window

at an unfinished Washington Monument

for a man

who

(pants tucked into muddy boots

and smoking a cigar)

walks unshaven into the Willard Hotel—

rain drips off his old slouch hat

onto the guestbook

 

deskclerk looks up with an air of disgust

says “we may have something available—

upstairs”

 

in the voice of a man who’d held funeral

for his girlfriend’s pet canary

he takes the cigar from his mouth

says “that’ll do” and signs his name

 

the clerk

(name lost – for history forgets such people)

turns white and near swallows his tongue

     

in baggy Chaplinesque pants

uncombed hair

and dirty sweatshirt stained with tea

(and pipe-smoke)

steps a man from the shoulders of giants

 

in his pocket – small wads of paper

on which to scribble equations

for he’s found

“they come to me without warning”

 

after telling a parable to guests

explaining time as a fourth dimension

he takes a sip of tea

“once you accept the universe”

he says – and smiles

“as something expanding into infinite nothing

which is something—

wearing stripes with plaid is easy”

 

his wife walks in to remind him to change

from his worn corduroys and open shirt

for delegates are on their way

from von Hindenburg

 

he nods absently and continues talking

 

returning – she berates him again to change

“if they want to see me” he replies

“here I am—

if they want to see my clothes

open my closet and show them my suits”

 

wearing sandals

shawl

and homespun loincloth

“a seditious middle temple lawyer

now posing as a faqir”

strides half-naked

up the steps of Buckingham Palace

for tea with the Queen

and King George V—

when asked if he’d worn enough

he replies

“the King had enough on for both of us”

 

and the captain of the Pilar

in a sweaty guayabera shirt

wipes engine grease and fish-blood

on dirty white shorts

sipping rum from a coconut

he trolls for marlin

and thinks of Carlos Gutierrez

alone in the same situation

then

for some reason he thinks of lions

playing in the white sand of an African beach—

for those who alter history

do it not with fashion

 

 

Author’s note: This poem refers to Lincoln, Ulysses Grant, Einstein, Gandhi, and Hemingway.


David R. Cravens received his undergraduate degree in philosophy at the University of Missouri, Columbia and his master’s degree in English literature from Southeast Missouri State University. He was the recipient of the 2008 Saint Petersburg Review Prize in Poetry, the 2011 Bedford Poetry Prize, and was a finalist for Ohio State University’s The Journal William Allen Creative Nonfiction Contest. He teaches composition and literature at Mineral Area College. He has published in numerous poetry journals.


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