Kathleen Rooney


Cento XIII

I have a fearful hangover from too many orange blossoms,
but will see if I can subdue this typewriter anyway.
                                             I should know better.
I have been working like one possessed & have done
a couple of new canvases since you were here.
Hope this productivity keeps up; it makes all the difference
between the manic & the depressive, as Santayana
once remarked to Bud Freeman.
                                             Yr. last letter came at a time
when I cd. really use it: Don’t think I wrote you
that I was ill a while back & in the hospital for a brief stretch,
but quite okay now.
               The lacerating effects of middle age are dreadful,
God knows, but seem to me to differ only in kind
from those attending birth,
                                                                           adolescence, etc.
For the last ten days or so I’ve been waking up
with maddening regularity at the crack of dawn,
wide awake & alert as Broyard at a showing
of pornographic movies.
                                             My mind is batting on all eight
& there’s nothing I can do but get up & work.
I suppose it’s because I’m so damned snowed under
with things I feel ought to be done; but by midafternoon
I am slavering for a Spansule.
                                                            What the routes to wisdom
along this particular terrain are I wish I knew. The trick
of repeating, “It can’t get any worse,” is certainly no good,
when all the evidence points to quite the opposite.
Hope that things are going better than passably for you
in this attractive world of ours,
                                             & in particular that those dexedrine
tablets I gave you made for a pleasanter, saner, & more euphoric
Thursday, after you left us here a long time back.


was a long time coming.
Yet, finalized, it stuns:

the manhole cover that flies
up & breaks your jaw.

Kids they never had, in-laws
he never saw, become a past

whose vastness he’s only now
recognized. He never thought

of himself as the kind of man
who would have a first wife.

But there she is—his shade,
his failure. & there she’ll be,

for the rest of his life.


Robinson’s pretty sure,
but can’t confirm—

he’s never had enough.
Tough to get the week-

end off, but he’s done it.
Stuffed himself aboard

the evening milk route
plane down to L.A.

He’ll see his parents
in Santa Barbara,

but he won’t stay
with them. Sunset.

Sky alight. Butane.
His mother waiting.

Her name’s Sarah.
He calls her Sadie.

Infantilizing as ever,
though she’d never

realize, with her basket-
ful of fresh-baked

cookies. These days,
he’s awake 20 hours

at a stretch. Tomorrow
he’ll let her take him

for a shot of penicillin
for his sore throat

& bronchitis. He’ll light
up a Pall Mall as soon

as they step outside
& she’ll be appalled.

He’ll borrow his father’s
car, ride to Hollywood.

Spend Saturday night
in the garage of friends ,

avoiding the couch,
so they don’t notice

his wakefulness. Do
a little business. Fly

back to San Francisco.
Robinson doesn’t

believe in luck. Doesn’t
know whether struggling

makes you more free
or more trapped.

Takes a Nembutal.
Falls into his own bed.

Fitful & twitching
like an eyelid.

Amid rain that stops,
then starts again.


Cento XIV

               Had any interesting dreams?
I am discouraged, indeed, about my own dream-life—
repetitive & moth-eaten—so tiresome
I’d give a good deal not to have them any more.
                              Still they come:

               The party had a peculiar quality of horror
I shall not soon forget—John’s place—magnificent,
               but something strange about it.
Knocked at the door—no answer, ajar. Yelled,
               but the house seemed deserted.
cocktail glasses turned over, with spiderwebs in them;
               beds unmade.
               Soiled clothing littered the floors.
In the kitchen the sink was full of
               rusty knives.
In the icebox, butter turning green.
Something dripping in the basement.
               Went down.
               Found it half flooded.
Discovered a faucet running & turned it off.
                              Prowled around
rather prepared to come upon a corpse or two.
               No one, dead or alive, was about.
                                                            Finally left.

               I believe you owe me a letter.

Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press and the author, most recently, of Live Nude Girl: My Life as an Object (University of Arkansas Press, 2009) and Oneiromance (an epithalamion) (Switchback Books, 2008). Her prose collection For You, For You I Am Trilling These Songs is forthcoming from Counterpoint in 2010.

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