Bobby C. Rogers
Meat And Three
Any excuse to knock off work. We love this joint, with its sweet tea and pepper sauce,
cornbread in a basket, plate lunch and pie. There's a portrait of Bob the owner
over the door: Eat or we both go hungry. We seat ourselves, connoisseurs of the authentic,
two theologians met for lunch, self-aware, detached. We've grafted any number of theories
over the ahistorical interpretations branded on us in our youth, word-woven and layered
the way the untheological talk around us is plaited into the restaurant's comforting noise,
stoneware striking stoneware, rattle of ice, laughter as coarse as a surform tool
shaping hardwood stock in a vice. We add some noise of our own: Unamuno
and Messiaen, presence in absence, sketch study, line readings, our choice
of three vegetables jotted down by the waitress who calls us hon'. The braying
air-conditioner in the wall is as calming as half-awake liturgy. When you're this hungry
it's not even slumming. "That which is only living," Eliot wrote somewhere
in the Quartets, "can only die." We look around this dinful room and tell ourselves
we know the difference. The books we have read assure us it's the books we have read
that will save us. Ketchup on the chicken livers-call it comfort food, soul food. Yeah,
I'll have the pie. Neither of us would say it aloud, but maybe the world is a heap
of miracles, one on top of another. The table of plumbers laughs as one, a laughter
they attempt to fend off but fail. If miracles are to mean anything at all, they'll mean it
here, where they might raise an eyebrow. What's not miraculous about meringue half a foot tall,
airy and sweet? We only order it to have an excuse to drink another cup of coffee, a reason to kill
another few minutes while the last of the noon crowd clears out of the restaurant, making it
more like the rooms we absented, which are silent and will stay that way even when we return
to switch on the desk lamp, our work right where we left it, laid out so carefully, but still just words
darkening a page. I'll have to look at them a long time before they turn again to sounds on my ear.
Burning the Walls
I took the torch to work today, the site
on Circle Street, that tall frame house you dreamed
we'd someday live in. Remember the Sundays we drove
through neighborhoods finding dream homes?
We don't do it anymore. We hardly get up
from the kitchen table and never speak of
the thirty-year note or moving from this shadeless street.
I paint the houses we looked at and could tell you
about their insides. You say I don't make enough
for my effort. Does anyone? But this is work
I understand. I can follow the repetition
of long brush strokes, the governed paths of the roller.
Everything I know is just motions now
and the getting through them, how you say goodbye the same
each morning, leaning to not touch
my painter's whites that hide a million spatters,
how my hand always finds the same place
on your shoulder, the other hand
the same place on the enameled door frame.
The house on Circle Street had to be burned.
Have I ever told you why that is done?
Paint builds up. Twenty years of exterior oil base,
every new coat a little less even
until it has to be burned from the siding, and you start over.
If it's done right it is all new.
You would be amazed. I've taken off paint and found wood
still green. I swear to God sometimes
you can see the pencil marks
left by the carpenter's helper, the black stamp
of the Weyerhaeuser tree. The nail heads
will be gray and shiny. You can count the circles
each place the nail was driven too far
and the hammerhead struck.
You say we never talk and you know nothing
about what I do or how I feel about it.
I will tell you this. I spent all day
on an aluminum ladder. My hands are shaking
from holding the propane torch and keeping the flame
the right distance away. The paint doesn't blaze
at once. It wrinkles like apples on the ground
and slowly a bubble comes up, the first oxygen
getting beneath the paint. Then it burns.
-from Paper Anniversary
BIO: Bobby C. Rogers grew up in West Tennessee and was educated at Union University, the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, and the University of Virginia. His book Paper Anniversary won the 2009 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize at University of Pittsburgh Press. He is Professor of English and Writer-in-Residence at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. He lives in Memphis with his wife and son and daughter.