My Old Idols

By J. D. McClatchy b. 1945
   1955. A scratchy waltz
   Buzzed over the ice rink’s P.A.
   My classmate Tony, the barber’s son: “Alls
   He wantsa do is, you know, like, play.”
   Bored with perfecting my languid figure eights,
   I trailed him to a basement door marked GENTS
   With its metal silhouette of high-laced skates
   (Symbols, I guess, of methods desire invents).
   Tony’s older brother was waiting inside.
   I’d been “requested,” it seemed. He was sixteen,
   Tall, rawboned, blue-eyed,
   Thumbs hooked into faded, tightening jeans.
   I fumbled with small talk, pretending to be shy.
   Looking past me, he slowly unzipped his fly.
   Her voice: steeped in a rancid syrupy phlegm:
   Whatever’s not believed remains a grace
   While again she invokes the power that yields:
   Splintered timber and quick consuming flame:
   The simplest way to take hold of the heart’s
   Complications, its pool of spilt religion:
   A long black hair sweat-stuck to the skin:
   The bitter sleep of the dying: the Jew in Berlin:
   Who sent you here? the sharp blade pleads:
   Stormcloud: thornhedge: starchill:
   Blood bubble floating to the top of the glass:
   The light, from fleshrise to soulset:
   The world dragging the slow weight of its shame
   Like the train of pomp: guttering candle: her voice.
   Parasangs, satraps, the daily drill . . .
   Beginner’s Greek its own touchstone.
   The sophomore teacher was Father Moan,
   Whom I longed to have praise my skill.
   The illustrated reader’s best
   Accounts of murder and sacrifice
   Only suggested the heavy price
   I longed to pay at his behest.
   He’d slap the pointer against his thigh.
   I quivered. What coldness may construe
   Of devotion was an experience
   As hard to learn as catch his eye.
   I kept my hand up. Here! I knew
   The right answer. The case. The tense.

J. D. McClatchy, “My Old Idols” from Ten Commandments. Copyright © 1998 by J. D. McClatchy. Reprinted with the permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.

Source: Ten Commandments (Alfred A. Knopf, 1998)

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Poet J. D. McClatchy b. 1945

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Coming of Age, Love, Desire, First Love, Unrequited Love

 J. D. McClatchy


J.D. McClatchy’s poetry is marked by formal adeptness, lyrical control and a wide range of influences—including classical literature, music, and opera. Praised for their polished, erudite surfaces as well as the depths of thought, philosophy, and feeling beneath the facade, McClatchy treats subjects as diverse as Japanese history, the body, and his own autobiography. Often depicting the unsettling and disturbing realities that . . .

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SUBJECT Coming of Age, Love, Desire, First Love, Unrequited Love

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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