Good Turns


Out of stock

poems by

Don Mager

Poetry book, 110 pages, $17 cover price

ISBN: 978-1-93090-704-1

Released: 2001


You will say it is a scorpion sting—
that defensible
It is not.

Nor is it anger’s companion
declaring its banner,
its scarlet warning flag.

If you let it in
its acid on your hand
burns up through the veins
to the eyes
until you see a spiteful world.
Every side.


The hands are at issue, boy, aren’t they? So young,
precocity of line, it simply
dazzles, like a choirboy’s ethereal
song breathing us out into angels,
but already, what matters is what hands know,
what hands do. Here, this first self-portrait,
almost before the notion to draw a self
had made a home in the western mind,
a boy’s mere face faces us—slightly deflected—
as if it were not assured enough
yet, to drink eyes into eyes—or is it we,
unprepared, precocity’s gaze too
delicious in its enchantment? its menace?—
this pubescent Medusa—and it
strives already to hide the fiction it tells.

Mein Vater, dash it
all, I will undo
you in all things. Teach
me all you know, teach
all, so I can out-
grow, out-do, over-
reach, surpass, triumph!

Faced before your mirror, boy, to draw from life,
you lose one hand and sketch the other
badly—a gesture that points. Or does wagging
a finger, busy to scold yourself,
already make reflection, a reflection
on one’s self, as well as of? The hands
are the issue. But the finger uselessly
aims, like a raised stylus—awkwardly
drawn—drawn twice—as if it were yearning to be
turned back down upon the parchment where
it has been so much at home—rapt and so con-
testing—pressing undulant lines across
a barren field, furrowing parchment to portrait,
a young harvest, ripely fecund,
as it alone knows already how to do,

for beneath the buttoned felted cap, it has
layered lines upon lines upon lines—
hair lapping flames at the felt-soft cheeks. Silver
point pressed, these curves and swirls flow with
reticence and generosity, like a
child who performs a dance he knows well.
Will ease like this again be so nonchalant
ever? The fullness that is thirteen
—threshold—child, apprentice, boy—the almost man.
The lips are firm but not hard, the cleft
of the chin like a peach fold, but the arching
nose lets the face be not just pretty,
not sweet, although sweetness and ease fill the sleeve
and belie an apprentice’s smock—
hours of drill and erasure and error.

Don’t look, mein Vater,
for your stylus, I took
it. Some say stole, but
it will be mine when
you die. The velum
parchment—took that too!

The puff around the steady eyes, boy, shows us
about looking—close looking. Eyes and
hand must learn to work together, almost a
single organ. Indeed a learner
has made this, to show what he has learned, but here—
we have not sufficiently taken
it in!—the eyes look out beyond the frame, not
at us who view this half-drawn boy, nor
surely at the boy who draws himself
drawing. What space do they search, seeming
also to say that steadiness might erase
the memory of mirror from whose
deep recess they had emerged? Their openness
is their guile—drawingness of drawing
—unselfconsciousness of self—they call to us

“look” but refuse to look back. Look, hair is like
feathers, plated and swirled, look, almost
flax, sun blanched, wind lifted, spread to be beat
and spun. Look too, the chin’s peach-down curve
whispers of blush as if russet were almost
to emerge from the dry point and flow
up and across the utterly beardless cheeks.
And yet the finger is badly made,
its hand stuck to the cuff as if arm, elbow,
shoulder, torso were busy elsewhere,
the hand somehow left behind sadly to wave.
But of course the eyes too have no place to go.
And look again, this half-boy floats on the page
—leaf on still water—and as his eyes
look out, a large unanswering silence sweeps back
from some vanished point. As we watch them,
they have been changing slowly into glass.

Do not be jealous,
old man, forgive, for
I can’t help myself.
Be glad, mein Vater,
that I am your son.
I bring you no shame.

First Program

Good evening. We welcome you to A Man In A Room Making Couplets. This evening we will teach you the form of the couplet that some regard as the most traditional and formal. We prefer to call it a container, because stress is uneven in English. Only the most contrived verses fit perfectly the meters of traditional prosody. That is not our intent. We will place words for you inside the container such that we contrive a natural effect. Tonight we will show you the open rhymed couplet. (pause) First you must decide how open you wish your couplet to be for the degrees between end stopped exact rhyming couplets and loose enjambment couplets are almost infinite. If you leave your choice to chance we cannot guarantee satisfaction. Your pleasure will be impaired. We will situate enjambments at the ends of lines and place full stops internally. Our rhymes will be close but not strict. In order to avoid choppiness, we will situate at least one trisyllable in each line. We advise you to do this too for despite what some claim, single and two syllable words do not assure a fluid line but quite the opposite. (pause) We ask you to assemble your writing tools and to remove distractions: television or loud music. Clear your mind by closing your eyes. Take several deep breaths. (pause) Remember that the iamb is a concept in relativity, the second syllable being heavier relative to the first, but the five beats of a line are never of equal weight. Remind yourself always that you work with words that come to us out of the conversations of the world. Do not place your trisyllable words in the same position in each line. (pause) We imagine that our couplet might be a poem’s opening lines; there is no reason, however, for it not to fit as well elsewhere. Now is premature to decide. (pause) Place your first trisyllable near the beginning of your first line. We picked the word violet. Choose now whether it will be preceded by one or three syllables. No more. If you choose three, as we have, avoid three separate words. You want your line to glide into the softness of violet, not march upon it. We begin our line with beyond. Of course, you are free to choose an almost infinite number of alternate words. Each sets violet in a different light, a different poem being thus offered. We picked undisturbed for our three-syllable word in the second line. This proves a remarkable choice. We place it in the latter half of its line. Where violet glides without disturbance into a speaker’s mouth from lip, upper teeth, tongue to front palate, finally flicking lightly the mid-palate, undisturbed is a disturbing cluster of gestures for the mouth to get out. Furthermore, the word itself acknowledges its disturbances and seeks to negate them, but can’t. Its utterance opposes its own claim. You observe therefore two very different trisyllables upon which our couplet balances. This is why rhyme is so essential. Without it, we loose leverage. We are out of control. (pause) For rhymes, tonight we give you the slant pair when and sun. The subordinating word when assures the enjambment of which we earlier spoke. (pause)

Beyond the violet that rises when
the night is undisturbed, a torrid sun
is inching day toward us.

Did you see the weight given to us? Did you see? Where might the next couplet not go? Thank you and good night.


Emma Mae starts her day early, even
before the school busses run. Robed in her old
terry, knee socks and houseshoes, with her coffee
she sits at the table facing the sunrise
and phones each of her grands—eleven of them now
in seven cities. In three states. Good Morning.

Each voice is her proof that now it is morning
and that night’s slow drift of memories, even
the fond ones, is at last done. That now is now.
The favorite one, Martin, is thirteen years old.
“Is that you, Granny, sounding like wind?” Sunrise
fills the trees. His cracking voice teases. Coffee

braces her, its bitter tang, as good coffee
should. How many years, she wonders, each morning
greeted by the same joke?
On the grass, sunrise
streaks long sharp shadows. Enough’s enough. Even
Emma Mae wants to shout back: You think I’m old,
boy, I’m not; I’m dying. This morning, right now,

I’m facing it alone. What’s the big joke now
anyway, boy.
Abruptly she jerks, coffee
streams over the table, splashing down on old
tiles, scalding her knees. You ready this morning
for school, boy, got that homework done, even
the math?
Her voice halts, waits. Then: Is the sunrise

there so gorgeous you want to cry? Is your sunrise
enough to take your breath right out of you?
the cracking voice protests: Granny, I ain’t even
know what you’re talking about,
while the coffee
soaking her lap gets strange and cold. This morning
Emma Mae begins to laugh, and like an old

devil, slams down the phone. I’m right, I’m not old,
and the way shadows streak the grass, the sunrise
does sort of take away your breath. The morning
is good, so there! Brings closure to night’s drift. Now
the devil in her wants to let the coffee
stay, the stain to streak the floor with an even

sheen like silk, even to brew a fresh pot, her mother’s old
mug, and out on the stoop to sip the fresh coffee at sunrise
like her mother did. But now her devil just says: Hi there, morning!

SKU: 978-1-93090-704-1 Category: Tag: