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Arthur Russell

The Picture on the Cover 
of My First Book of Poems


I want the picture on the cover

of my first book of poems

to show me 

and one other person,

one of us holding the camera 

and the other one behind him

and to one side, sitting

on the rail of a low fence

around the stairs to the basement

of a brick housing project

wearing no shirts

with tanned chests

and one of us 

with bleached blond hair 

in bubble curls

on top of his head 

cut closer on the sides 

and balancing

on the fence rail with two hands 

one of which you kind of

see his knuckles close in 

to his thigh

and his heels hooked 

on the lower rail, with a big smile,

both of them with big smiles,

and the other one, holding the camera, 

a little less handsome, but cute too, 

in a simpler way, 

with shiny apple cheeks

and the shorter, darker hair

lying flat on the top of his head,

and the sun is in both their eyes


and one of them will be me.

My Mother’s Lovers

Walt liked to drink Scotch 

and make broad generalizations

with his arm slung over the back 

of the couch and his legs crossed. 

I hated him in boxers in the hall

coming out of her bedroom, 

but I still recall that slung-back arm 

when I order Scotch in bars.


Gary Stokes fawned over her.

On our way to the market to pick up

her pineapple cottage cheese, 

he told me he’d never had it so good.

At a party, I saw him come up behind her 

to touch the sleeve of her black knit dress

with his fingertip, which calmed me.


Mom and Melvin, my daughter and I, 

had dinner out, and Melvin ordered 

a whole lobster and several glasses of wine.

Super slowly, he sucked the claws,

broke open the tail, plied the mini-fork, 

wiped his buttery hands, sipped the wine, 

and laughed when we teased him 

for eating so slowly.  


In her eighties, she dated Vikas, 

from Jamaica, Queens, who’d passed 

his newsstand to his sons. Once, 

when I was there, she massaged his feet, 

popped his toes and applied the cream,

then put on his socks as he watched TV.

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