Craig Cotter

The summer I was 17

transistor radio tied to a belt loop
on a ladder

painting Pete and Carol's house
Rochester, New York

I liked Hey Jude best.

When I got to the dorm
still 17

asked my roommate from Detroit
who had a lot of records,

Who does that song Hey Jude?

It was September 1978.

He smiled and was silent.

“Have you ever heard it,” I asked?

“You're kidding, right?”

                —for Ron Slottke

Tag You’re It

I've been in a zone since 2005—
I can't write anything bad.

My writer friends suffer,
drink, whine, complain,
and try to write literary theory.

I just had my 127th poem published this year.

They seem unable to relax
into their talents.

They wonder what large groups of people think,
assess trends.

Children play tag
around a plastic table
at the Boba House.

I liked

being a child
of the '60s.

These are Michigan memories.


We felt
we could do anything.

could take us anywhere

(Art not so much


A man from NASA
in our gym

lit a piece of solid rocket fuel
held with tongs.

Flames leapt 20 feet.

He then dropped it in a beaker of water.
It continued to burn

and quickly boiled away the water.


I won a hockey stick
signed by the Detroit Red Wings.


Michigan bumper sticker:

                                JESUS SAVES

Daryl Cox always won The President's Award
for Physical Fitness.

It was signed by Johnson,
then Nixon.

And it was easy for him.

We’d wonder if anyone else might win—
Daryl was a given,

and cute.


His brother Brian
had a 194 house paper route

(Detroit Free Press).
Their father was a pipefitter.

I'd ride my bike along with Brian
because he was cool and older

and I was soon to be a full-grown mo.

Brian had a two-foot length of lead pipe
tied to a bar on his bike.

He called it The Magic Wand.

When dogs attacked him on his bike
he'd pull out The Wand

and begin swinging
as he rode.

He had no problem laying pipe
across an attacking dog's skull.

This not only always stopped the attack,
but the dog wanded never attacked Brian again.

He’d memorized the 194 places
his customers wanted their papers—

in the mailbox,
through the fence on the back door step,

inside the front screen door,
on the low brick wall beside the garage.

His tips were high
as his memory was perfect.

He gave me the route
one week in November

when his family went to visit

I got one day of training.

I didn’t know how to take notes
and didn’t have that kind of memory.

By the second house without Brian
I knew I was fucked.

I put the other 194 papers
at the front door

of the small brick box houses

of the assembly-line workers
of Pontiac Motors.

The complaints were loud,
tips plummeted—

Brian never asked me to fill-in again.


In 4th grade
The Beatles split.


The San Gabriel Mountain aren’t mine.

They remind me of breaking down in Albuquerque
after a bad tank of gas in Texas.


A bog of cars
slow in all lanes.


Thirty years ago a geography prof at Michigan State said,
“Michigan is in a structural basin.”

A Good Run

The dreams left
not going to happen.


At the creepy grocery by the projects
bought 5 pounds of bacon,
a gallon of nonfat milk,
half-and-half for Mano's coffee,
4 boxes of kleenex,
5 cups of yogurt
and The National Inquirer
to read about Ed McMahon's painful deathbed lament.


Enough pills
to do the job tonight.

Chug them with milk
curl up in bed.


When Mano gets home from work around 6 p.m.—

he’s moved back in for the week
afraid of ghosts while Ian's traveling—

she’ll get over me quickly.

Craig Cotter was born in 1960 in New York and has lived in California since 1986. His poems have appeared in Caliban Online, California Quarterly, Chiron Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Court Green, Free State Review, Great Lakes Review, Hawai'i Review, Ottawa Arts Review, Poetry New Zealand & Tampa Review. His fourth book of poems, After Lunch with Frank O'Hara, is currently available from Chelsea Station Editions. In 2019 his new manuscript, ALEX, was a finalist for the Tampa Review Prize.
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