The Next Page / 'Me First,' a new book of poetry by Ann Curran

In a new book of poetry, Mount Washington resident Ann Curran dishes on people who have touched her world. Here are some excerpts:

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Me and JFK

For Gov. David L. Lawrence

So young, so handsome, so articulate.
so Irish, so Catholic, so humorous.
Somehow we had all reached the top with him.
My first president. I went door-to-door
for him, reported to a consulate
around the corner, adored Camelot.
When I berated David L. Lawrence
for not supporting Kennedy, he said
he knew what being Catholic had cost him
when he ran for governor of our state.
I never in my heart lost faith in him
even when Camelot grew uglier
than the original. I stood sobbing
in my living room as his caisson rolled by.
His widow veiled in black, his two babies,
his brothers stricken in their morning suits,
de Gaulle and other greats moving on foot
down Pennsylvania Avenue. Crowds hushed,
still wounded by those bullets in Texas.

Me and My First Bishop

The bishop checked my report card
for the American Legion
which gave me a college scholarship
because my Daddy had ruined
his life fighting in World War I.
Now we know: no one gets over that.
The bishop said, "You got an 'A'
in logic and you're a woman."
He thought that was rather funny.
I didn't get the joke at all.
He didn't review my grades again.
The Dean of Women handled that.

Me and Franco Harris and Lynn Swann

play tennis at the same club.
Me, a B-minus player.
They, sterling Pittsburgh Steelers.
One day those Pro Football Hall of Famers
helped me win a key match
simply by being there, right on the next court
in all their good-looking glory
totally distracting my opponent.
All I noticed was two hard hitters,
but she couldn't keep her eyes
on the ball, missing my wimpiest shots.
Me and those guys with eight Super Bowl rings
beat the crap out of that ditzy dame,
and I became the Round Robin Runner Up.

Me and the Ax-Killer

agree to meet at the prison.
There is really no other option.
Me, a university magazine editor.
He, not a distinguished alum.
But in prison he blossomed, became
more than a bright mechanical engineer.
Wrote three books of poetry, seduced
a grant from the National Endowment
for the Arts, founded the Academy
of Prison Arts, even got married.
Not enough? Earned an English/psych
degree magna cum laude. My favorite:
he engineered a new door for the prison
and didn't use it as an exit.

The guards set me up in a huge yellow room.
I plug in the tape recorder. Then alarmed,
see the wire as a weapon.
Never trusted batteries. Take a chance.
He comes in quietly--a blond guy with glasses.
Quite slight. Would have had to use
his brains to survive inside.
I would guess he seldom smiles.
He certainly doesn't this day.
He probably never laughs.
Strung tight enough to break in two.

We don't get specific on the murder.
How he climbed a trellis
to his former fiancée's bedroom.
Found her sleeping, took an ax to her.
Her mother rushed in, saw the worst.
Then he begins to destroy her again
chopping with words, justifying the murder,
explaining his anger with a reason.
I'll give it--and his name--no space.
We correspond for a time.
I start to worry about his release.
Most murderers kill once, a terrible
volcanic burst of fiery feeling.
But this guy is so cool,
like a giant icicle doomed
to fall and cut through flesh.

Me and Andy Warhol

I didn't want to interview him.
A creepy old guy, hanging with weirdos.
The twisted photographer insisted.
Off we went with some purist art pupils
to The Factory and this blushing success.
We check out his workout spot with girly weights,
watch him react to the scorn of students,
conduct a brief interview on the way
out the door as he constructs a wall
with monosyllabic yeses and noes
to hide the person he is, was, will be:
an enigma all the way to the grave
on a cold Castle Shannon hillside
littered with soup cans and Brillo boxes.

Me and Barack Obama

shake hands in a YMCA elevator.
Me, a mild-mannered rabble-rouser
with a suspicious black bag.
He, a candidate for president.
We exchange pleasantries.
"I'm still debating: Hillary or you."
He opts for indirection.
"I always play basketball on primary day."
I say, "Better than bowling," inserting
my tennis shoe firmly in mouth.
He'd just lost the bowlers' vote
disgracing himself at an Altoona alley.
A silence fills the descending elevator
full of ball players and would-be protectors.
The silence breaks: "That's a low blow."

They took a chance on me that day
when the elevator opened revealing
a probably harmless gray-haired fan
with somewhat alarming luggage.
A few still stood sideways watching me.
That was yesterday. Today, I'd ask more
of them: Protect him from the hatred
that rides high in the land of the free,
home of some coward who would kill
this man to intrude himself in history.

books - opinion_commentary

Ann Curran lives at Chatham Village on Mount Washington ("Me First" is available at First Published August 25, 2013 4:00 AM


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