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Sample Poems by David Salner
In Another Mug Shot
The camera picked up
the light on the plastic
of my fake leather jacket.
Also, my hair was too long
and my mustache
gave me the shifty look
often found in mug shots.
In fact, it was a mug shot
taken in the basement
of the Hall of Justice
in 1968—or Injustice
as we called it. Now,
it’s almost December
2002, and I’m getting ready
to welcome my daughter
home from college. My hair
is shorter and my beard
neatly clipped, but the
mug shot would come out
with the same shifty look.
The change is in something else—
not in the way I look or
the suit jacket I’m wearing
instead of fake leather—
but in the background
of the mug shot. Can you
see it—the war taking shape?
It shines like a new war,
like only a new war can.
They invented the guitar—
which is simply an instrument
that can only be played at night—and songs
with words that make Arabian horses
cry in their stables. Some people
considered the Gypsies outcasts
but in fact they’re the mortar
holding humanity together—lifting
a punch line from one province
and grafting it to a joke
from a far off town, or sprinkling
a spice for pork—in one clan’s recipe—
on the lamb of a distant tribe,
or vice versa. Like birds, they weave
pieces of colored ribbon through a nest of twigs and put
a Gypsy twist on everything.
Some of their best work is accomplished
through casting a Gypsy spell. This is what
I had in mind when I asked a friend
if a certain public figure
could be bewitched into telling the truth. “It’s
been tried before,” he said—
“and just won’t work—like putting Paprika
on ice cream or sherbet—
some things are beyond Gyspy.”
The New World
I have been imagining how my grandmother
would have left Hungary, with only a sweater
to cover her bones, squinting at the sun
in the haze of the ocean, as her new husband
plays something like a guitar, but smaller.
She joins him in a chorus about a horse
who responds to the touch of a Gypsy trainer
but not the whip of the Hungarian master.
These newlyweds left in a hurry, carrying only
the little guitar and the old gray sweater.
The wind whips over the great steel decks
as she tells a joke about the subtle difference
between luck and fortune. They squint at a spot
suspended over the ocean. Even I see it—
that opal haze, brilliant with vagueness.
I helped the sexton’s son, Russell,
bury old Ginny Mummert one day in mid-April.
I remember the softness of the spring air and the hint
of manure from somebody spreading maybe a mile off.
It was opening day, and the Orioles were on the air.
We put the portable radio by the water jug
and draped the antenna over somebody’s stone,
but we couldn’t hear much except static
and the sound of dirt on the casket.
We were almost done with Ginny
when the Orioles got runners on base
in the eighth inning—so we stopped our work
and hovered over the radio, listening hard
for each crackling word. And if you didn’t know
we were pulling for Gus Triandos to hit the long ball,
you might have thought it was our gentle send-off
for Ginny. Godspeed. But the Birds never scored.