Poems by Richard Beban
Rules Learned from a Bottle of Liquid Detergent
Keep Joy out of the reach of children
If Joy gets in your eyes,
with water. If swallowed,
drink a glass of water to dilute.
Friday the Laundress Said
she would no longer wash my
favorite shirt, the khaki cotton
with the pocket flaps, epaulets
& button tabs that
gathered the rolled-up sleeves.
“I cannot take responsibility,”
she said, Middle European
honor at stake. Her fingers probed
the sou-sized holes at the corners
of the pockets. She clucked at the
collar, not just frayed, but after
ten years, separated altogether.
& when she held the back in
front of her face, like Salome’s veil,
the cloth revealed Salome’s mustache
& crooked yellow teeth.
“This is cheap shirt,” she eulogized.
“you can get another.” “The Louvre,”
I said, “Pompeii. Michangelo’s David;
St. Peter’s Square; Versailles buried
in autumn leaves. Four-in-the-morning
lightning across the face of a
Barcelona cathedral. A riot of pink
& purple cosmos in Monet’s garden.
A loneliness so profound on a dock
in Salerno I thought I would die.
Lunch on a sun-bright terrace
in Mediterranean Spain with two
crazy film directors & twenty-two
kinds of mussels fresh from the sea.
A week in Sylvie’s Paris bed, her yogi’s
body bent in asanas of love, my
novice’s bones barely able to keep
up, but my flesh was sighing &
I had to follow.”
The thin khaki cotton threads
pulsed under her fingers.
A slow nod, & she threw the
shirt on the scrap table, smiling,
satisfied. I left, to weave it
Richard Beban, who died in 2019, has been hailed as a “nostalgic vagabond of history, literature and family.” Carolyn Kizer said, “his poems…throb with energy and irony.” His work has appeared in 45 periodicals and poetry websites, in 16 national anthologies, and he has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He and his wife, Kaaren Kitchell, helped run one of Los Angeles’ most successful weekly reading series at Venice’s Rose Cafe. These poems are from the book, What the Heart Weighs (Red Hen Press).