What I Wanted to Be

Richard Lemm

Curated by Deirdre Kessler

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A dandelion and buttercup bouquet
on grandmother’s vanity, the wasps
in the pears, the long white
jet plane’s tail in the blue-eyed
Sunday school Jesus sky, a cavalry
bugle, anyone with spurs on a palomino, a nurse
before my best friend called me a sissy.
Safe from the basements, from the closets, from the emptiness
of Grandfather’s empty bottle of whiskey.
Dr. Chesley’s hand on my forehead’s
Sahara. A voodoo doctor’s blood-red
breath sucking pins from my mother’s brain
until she acts normal again.
Second chair clarinet till I die
next to first clarinet Janet Dupree.
The brave Marine who caught the live
grenade and threw it back at the Russians
when they tried to storm our neighbourhood.
The monks who make my Anglican
church’s concord grape communion wine.
A priest who could talk directly to god.
A home run king with a crown
that would make Grandfather smile.
Great-grandmother at ninety-nine, never scared
of mice in her attic, of the dark trail
to her outhouse, of the rats in the blackberry
patch where we filled and filled our pail.
A silver bullet, deep in the chest
of the drunk driver who laid
my father to rest. The brown-sleeved
arms of St. Francis lined with birds.
The ball about to be blessed
by Willie Mays’ outstretched glove.
Great Uncle Walter who got winged
in a lumberjacks’ feud yet still chopped down
giant cedars with his arm in a sling.
Benny Goodman coming to town
to swing so hot my grandma in her hospital bed
would rise, don her pearls, mink coat and heels,
twirling to an encore that never ends.


—Richard Lemm. Burning House. Wolsak and Wynn, 2010.

Deirdre Kessler selects a poem a month by an Island poet for The Buzz.

A Gift of Island PoetryDeirdre Kesslerpoetry