Richard Merelman

Civil Inattention

(after Erving Goffman)

Suppose her eyes meet mine in the veggie aisle:
She’ll pinch a yam; I sniff the chives. “Erase
her gaze,” convention states. The same ordeal
prevails in lobbies, stairwells, anyplace
where–should I approach–my friendly smile
would bend a norm. What keeps me in the chase?
A passing glance every once in a while?
The pranks of Lady Luck? At last, we’re face-

to-face. The crowded elevator throws
us closer than ever we’ve been. We share
each other’s space. I cannot stop my toes
from nudging hers. She does not budge. I’d swear
she brushed my sleeve. But how am I to know?
The air is dense. She flips a lick of hair;
it glows all gold. I put my breath on hold
until her blush becomes a signal flare.

We’ve broken every rule that hides our moods;
perhaps we’ll breach the wall of solitude.

Arrayed………..In Time………..And Place

the poor………….who wait………..for bread

wait on…………..wet days………….in lines

that stretch………from curb………..to church

kitchens…………..they smell………..yeast rise

they slump………..against………..brick walls

they wait………….to taste………..fresh loaves

and while………….they wait……….they give

reasons…………….for why………….they came

to be………………waiting………..some will

speak of………….war wounds………..others

blame bad………..parents………….big banks

a boss……………..themselves…………at last

the poor………….break bread………..and eat

like those…………who dine………at spas

on yachts…………in suites………..the rich

who are…………..not made………..to wait

Making “Classics 101” Relevant

“Only connect”
E. M. Forster

“Mythical Creatures of Greece” could enliven my freshmen. I breathe hard,
lecture in hand; in my heart, hope I can dazzle the class.

Left on a desk in the library stacks was a treatise on centaurs.
What could be better for vexed minds in the heat of their teens?

Brawny yet sinewy stallions from hooves to their withers, the crude brutes
never relented in bloodbaths. They were bred to be dead

strong; from their skulls to the heft of their flanks, they resembled the fullback
taking the course on a team bet. With the light in their eyes

fired by virgins of Lapith, these archers attempted a gang rape.
Beaten, they halted, their heads dented. They drank to excess,

rather like students. (I aim to be funny; we’re famous for bar brawls.)
Chiron embodied the centaurs at their zenith. He taught

Jason that leaders of merit would rescue the humble from cruel kings.
Chiron implies that the centaurs were a mixture of traits:

“Bestial Humanists.” Maybe the brightest can rise to this insight,
even perceive what my phrase means, its connection to us.

Artists have painted the savage and civilized halves of the centaur
seamlessly joined in a fraught life. I invite them to talk,

wilt as the moments slip off to the exit. A vegan unwraps dried
olives. The girl in the last row, who is newly tattooed,

comments on vampire movies. The boy with a face like a carp yawns.
Coughing increases. A pall hovers. The hour dissolves.

© Richard Merelman

Richard Merelman has published poems in Main Street Rag, Common Ground Review, Stoneboat, Measure, Loch Raven Review, and Verse Wisconsin among other journals. His “Me at 93 in Assisted Living” won a Certificate of Award in the Helen Schaible International Shakespearean/Petrarchan Sonnet Contest in 2011. His “Civil Inattention” won an Honorable Mention in the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets 2012 Triad Contest. The Imaginary Baritone, his first book, appeared in 2012 (Fireweed Press).

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