It’s all you: train whistle, rain through woods, the pace
I quicken when you become a branch breaking right
above, advice I take—to never mind, just trace
a new path beside the hemlocks, but beware the bite
of oaks. You’re the reason I’m running in the first place,
the jacket hanging in my closet, bespoke, too tight
for me, black cashmere with onyx buttons, brown cones,
green needles in the pockets. You’re the trace of silk,
the truce, I mean, the silken truce, unsettled bones
near the coyote’s den, the meal made mother’s milk—
the castoff pelt becomes my running suit, the stones
I carry keeping me aground, castle to your Rilke,
yours still, despite the totems loosed at me,
Stag, Cougar, Bear, Boor, some outrun easily.
TED WILLIAMS, MEAN PRIEST
I stand with my team as the corporation hymns
are played. I’m brute speed today, I tell myself.
–“Roller Ball Murder,” William Harrison (1937-2013)
Every time I see that statue of Ted Williams
signing the little boy’s autograph outside Fenway
I think first I might die of disgust, wither like a lab-rat
piloting saccharine, but then I remember my mentor
Bill Harrison, tough-loving old Texan, who tried to cure me
of earnestness but revealed his own suffering
from something so extreme it nudged the seed
of its opposite, how he and his buddies crowded
and gripped the batting cage west of Dallas, spring of ‘47,
BP before the World Series rematch,
and Ted G.D. Williams whacked the backstop fence
with his bat, cracked the slowest kid’s knuckles,
shouting what became Bill’s favorite sentence:
Fuck you, kids!
Ah, Bill, the true priest
of Ted Williams, of grace and choler,
beauty and rancor and just plain
meanness, we loved you like Mr. Chips
as played by Steve McQueen
written by Jean Genet. But straight.
And meaner. Dialysis, deathbed,
at last Bill said, You’ve come so far, Hennessy.
Emptied warm pitcher dregs in my glass,
suds dried up the sides. To say so little.
A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A WEAPON
Oleander leaf. Bougainvillea, hornet’s nest.
Wind from the southeast, refinery smoke
and Gulf mist. Hiss of the boat-tailed grackle,
the anhinga, ibis, laughing gull. Jellyfish sting.
Hibiscus seed. Mobile highway, the Alabama
coast. Virginia creeper. Five-fingered ivy. Blast
of Tordon K or chlopyralid. Kudzu killer.
Trojan horsefly. Horseshoe-crab tail. Horse-kick.
Japanese beetle sleeping and feeding, the heart
of the rose. Rosehips and honey steeping
in sun. Sundial in a lightning storm. Sunburn. Shrimp
paste and soy sauce. Switchback, morning glare. Tick.
T. Gondii microbe, toxoplasmosis’ single-celled
pathogen. Fish-shaped, lead-eyed swimmer coaxing
rodents to cats, the migration back to feline
intestinal track. Gravel bed, spawn, reset.
John Hennessy is the author of two collections, Coney Island Pilgrims and Bridge and Tunnel, and his poems appear in many journals and anthologies, including Best American Poetry 2013, The Believer, Poetry, Fulcrum, The New Republic, The Huffington Post, and The Yale Review. Hennessy went to Princeton University on a Cane Scholarship, and he received graduate degrees from the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Arkansas. In 2007-2008 he held the Resident Fellowship in Poetry at the Amy Clampitt House. Hennessy is the poetry editor of The Common, a new print magazine based at Amherst College, and teaches at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.