“Dead people don’t like olives,”
I told my partners in eighth grade   
dancing class, who never listened   
as we fox-trotted, one-two, one-two.   
The dead people I often consulted   
nodded their skulls in unison   
while I flung my black velvet cape   
over my shoulders and glowered   
from deep-set, burning eyes,   
walking the city streets, alone at fifteen,   
crazy for cheerleaders and poems.   
At Hamden High football games, girls   
in short pleated skirts   
pranced and kicked, and I longed   
for their memorable thighs.   
They were friendly—poets were mascots—   
but never listened when I told them   
that dead people didn’t like olives.   
Instead the poet, wearing his cape,   
continued to prowl in solitude   
intoning inscrutable stanzas   
as halfbacks and tackles   
made out, Friday nights after football,   
on sofas in dark-walled rec rooms   
with magnanimous cheerleaders.   
But, decades later, when the dead   
have stopped blathering   
about olives, obese halfbacks wheeze   
upstairs to sleep beside cheerleaders   
waiting for hip replacements,   
while a lascivious, doddering poet,   
his burning eyes deep-set   
in wrinkles, cavorts with their daughters.

More Poems by Donald Hall