Listening RoomThe Poet Speaks

The Power of Inclination



Love is driving me crazy,
says the back of Scruggs’ wife,
her hand turning the doorknob.
She stops and tugs the end of our talk
to a new place, as if it were a skirt
rounding her ironing board.
He’s across the bed dead drunk,
she tells the x-ray boxes
and cocks her head around at me.
She steps from my room to her room,
a room without furniture —
He sold the couch last week
and took a bus to Ocean City —
where she stands by a stack of Scruggs’ beer
in front of a window, ironing.
She puts up the iron. Oh, God, I suffer
from the power of inclination.
How my body changes
and the times change, but Scruggs…
That doesn’t change
. She wears a pair of pink
drawers and a white blouse, and sprinkles
and steams her traveling skirt.
This is the last straw. If the Vets
don’t keep him this time, doctor,
I’m going to find a way to kill him
quickly, not piece by piece
like he killed me

Poet’s Commentary:

“Sometimes you hear the most important things as the patient is about ready to walk out of the room. Sometimes the most important thing is tangential. It’s gotten to from the side. I remember a patient who came at the truth this way and she used a phrase that stuck with me. The phrase was,’the power of inclination.’ And this is the poem.”

*Reproduced with the permission of Jack Coulehan and with special permission of Nightshade Press: The Knitted Glove, 1991; and with permission of The Johns Hopkins University Press: Literature and Medicine 11(1):90, 1992.

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