AMERICAN INCIPITS

Ishmael

“You shall call his name Ishmael, because the LORD has listened to your affliction. He shall be a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him,” Genesis 16 11-12

I fathom that there’re names that could be worse…
Some years ago—it doesn’t matter when—
I found a dearth of dollars in my purse.
Land-life was strewn with spider-webs of sin.

I thought I’d sail about the water-world.
What better way to circumvent the spleen?
It’s quieter than suicide. Unfurled
were whale-white sails. I wanted to feel clean.

When I detect a grimness round my gob:
a damp, drizzly November in my soul;
or when I pew up with each mournful mob
at Tom or Dick or Harry’s funeral—

when I commence to displace peoples’ hats,
or find barroom pugnacity a sport,
it’s time for more aquatic habitats.
Thus on Pequod I sailed out of the port.

 

Huckleberry Finn

The Widow Douglas took me for her son:
She’d modify my manners, morals, dress…

This indoor cloister is fit for a nun
but not for me. I love the wilderness.

I’d rather live a life out on the run:
a rogue in rags; I have more fun with less.

 

Nick Carraway

When I was younger and more vulnerable
my father gave me fatherly advice:
“Son, do not judge. You’ve had it awfully nice.
Be understanding and amicable.”
In consequence, I’ve made a slew of chums:
Ingenious chaps who’ve moved my intellect.
But also bores and jokers, squares and bums,
when staidly looking back in retrospect.
I had this weird proclivity to please;
they called me “Mayor” in that college town.
She’d bat her eyes; I’d buckle at the knees.
I couldn’t sleep if she evinced a frown.
To flappers and great Gatsbys, I was drawn;
nigh Kings and Queens, I played the placid pawn.

 

Reid McGrath lives and writes in the Hudson Valley Region of New York.

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5 Responses

  1. Amy Foreman

    Reid, I consistently enjoy your poetry! And this time, your use of alliteration stands out– a fine example: “were whale-white sails. I wanted to feel clean.” . . . “She’d modify my manners, morals, dress…” Very nice, as always.

    Reply
  2. Joseph S. Salemi

    “Huckleberry Finn” is especially nice, since it maintains a clear ABABAB rhyme scheme throughout. You’d be amazed at how many poets can’t do this.

    Reply
  3. Reid McGrath

    Thank you both for your kind words. I can hardly think of two better poets to comment on my poetry. Since I pretty much compose all of my poems verbally, alliteration comes almost too naturally. I sometimes feel the need to tone it down. I’m glad you liked them though. The last line of ISHMAEL could be better.

    Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Try this instead:

      “Thus on the Pequod I sailed out of port.”

      It smooths out the meter by starting with a dactyl rather than two trochees.

      Reply
  4. J. Simon Harris

    I really love all three of these poems. You’ve captured these characters perfectly, and your language is very fluid and natural. Makes me want to go back to read these American masterpieces again.

    Reply

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