by George Bilgere

Feature image: Odilon Redon. The Beacon, 1883, reworked c. 1893. The Art Institute of Chicago.

So this young couple, overweight
and seriously tattooed, comes into the café,
and each of them is actually wearing a baby
in one of those tummy-papoose things,
and they have two enormous dogs
designed to kill elk and wolves,
not sit under the table at a coffee shop,
and as I watch them smile at their babies
which are now screaming bloody murder
while the great slobbering mastiffs
begin earnestly licking their own privates,
something terrible happens to me:
it’s like The Manchurian Candidate,
when Lawrence Harvey suddenly realizes
the reason he’s been acting so strangely
is because he’s been brainwashed by Soviet agents:

I’m radiating intense, patrician condescension
at a superciliously high level, I’m sneering
with white-gloved, blue-blooded, private-schooled disapproval,
and just as my head is about to explode,

I realize it is actually my mother
who is controlling me from beyond the grave,
from the throne of her icy imperious contempt
for what she’d call white trash,

because she came from a miserable little farm
in Illinois, and was poorer than the kids
in the grubby miserable town who ridiculed her
faded, hand-me-down dresses,

and her crooked teeth, and her worn-out shoes
with cardboard plugging the holes in the soles,

which in turn made her own mother crazy
with guilt and shame and helpless inadequacy,
causing her to make my mother believe
she was better than those people,
descended from finer, vaguely aristocratic stuff,

which was the same story
my mother told my sisters and me
as she raised us, after the divorce,
on food stamps and hamburger helper

And now the vaguely aristocratic gene
is flaring up in me, and from a vast distance—
the sagging front porch
of a tarpaper shack in Illinois
with an outhouse in the back
and a broken-down truck in the yard—

I stare at this couple and disapprove.

George Bilgere’s most recent book of poems is The White Museum, chosen by Alicia Ostriker for the 2010 Autumn House Poetry Series. He received a Pushcart Prize in 2009 and won the May Swenson Poetry Award in 2006 for Haywire (Utah State University Press). He teaches at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio.

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