Once, when we were new, a plate of seafood
crashed to the kitchen tiles and became the first scallops
some of us had ever tried, scraping away
the broken to save the unscathed,
we chewed briny mouthfuls
of gritty sweet meat swimming
in a sniff of garlic and white wine, thinking
nothing ever tasted so good,
as that moment passed into sounds of clinking silverware
and carrying-on, while Perry Como sang overhead,
imploring us to learn the mambo’s to and fro,
a lesson we’ll soon take to humming
in a heaping world that needs us to believe
we can be oceans, pushing waves
toward a shoreline we can’t see,
the worn down, far-off places of ourselves.
“The World Feels Small after Shaking Hands with Bruno Sammartino”
How comforting, Milgram’s six degrees
of separation between any two people,
residents of a winding venue
in the widening web of our relations.
And on a slow night at the bistro, servers play
the Kevin Bacon Game for hours, connecting random celebs
to the onetime Footloose actor,
the center of the universe for those who dabble
in relative distance and fame.
I’ll think of this as I shake hands
with the legendary pro wrestler I’m waiting on,
only two degrees from Schwarzenegger,
three from a Kennedy, five from
Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles.
And when the Irish writer tells me about showing
Arthur Miller the sights of Belfast, all I’m interested in
is this link to overdose and assassination. The closest I come
to conspiracy—a New Orleans barstool where Oswald once sat
and a shady landlord with mob ties.
Over the years, I’ve found myself sweating beside others
in hot restaurant kitchens. A few of them will succeed
at murder, suicide, or dying in their sleep.
A strange pride wells up when I come across
their names in the paper.
So, I stand two degrees from Jimmy Snuka,
three from Andy Warhol, four from Edward Teller,
and consider the misfortunes of some I’ve known—
the girl who jumped from a bridge,
the boy who died from a jealous lover’s fire—
until I’m linked with a friend
who panhandles after losing his sight to a mugger outside
It feels like rubbernecking.
From Scraping Away: Poems. Used with the permission of the publisher, CavanKerry Press. Copyright © 2020 by Fred Shaw.