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Proust’s Madeleine

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Somebody has given my
Baby daughter a box of
Old poker chips to play with.   
Today she hands me one while   
I am sitting with my tired   
Brain at my desk. It is red.   
On it is a picture of
An elk’s head and the letters   
B.P.O.E.—a chip from
A small town Elks’ Club. I flip   
It idly in the air and
Catch it and do a coin trick   
To amuse my little girl.
Suddenly everything slips aside.   
I see my father
Doing the very same thing,   
Whistling “Beautiful Dreamer,”   
His breath smelling richly
Of whiskey and cigars. I can   
Hear him coming home drunk   
From the Elks’ Club in Elkhart   
Indiana, bumping the
Chairs in the dark. I can see   
Him dying of cirrhosis
Of the liver and stomach
Ulcers and pneumonia,
Or, as he said on his deathbed, of   
Crooked cards and straight whiskey,   
Slow horses and fast women.

Kenneth Rexroth, "Proust’s Madeleine" from The Collected Shorter Poems. Copyright © 1966 by Kenneth Rexroth. Reprinted with the permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation, www.wwnorton.com/nd/welcome.htm
Source: The Collected Shorter Poems (1966)
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Proust’s Madeleine

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