Poetry by Sheryl St. Germain
Selected by Louisiana Poet Laureate Jack Bedell
A Perfect Game
—after Robert Hayden
Sundays too, I tell my son, your grandfather drank—
at the bowling alley between strikes and spares and
claps on the back.
I loved to watch him make the approach for his shot:
how serious, how attentive to his posture,
the placement of his hands, his eyes never
wavering from the pins, the ball sent on its sure arc,
hooking into the head pin at just the right angle
for all to fall down. Often, in the early years,
he would bowl a perfect game, twelve strikes
in a row, no matter how much he drank. Somehow
drink and skill merged for a time into the poetry
of a flawless act. Sometimes we would drive with
to tournaments far away, fear gripping us as he
back home, barely avoiding the crashes he would
in the future. Time passed, he bowled fewer strikes,
and his trophies migrated to the hall closet,
piled up one on the other, so many forgotten
bodies: bronze statues of the same faceless man
with the golden ball, his name plated at the bottom.
Before he died he met me for dinner
one last time, hands trembling,
voice quaking, almost incoherent. He couldn’t eat,
would only drink cup after cup of black coffee.
I was still a child. What did I know,
what did I know, of a father’s Stygian alleys,
of drink’s guttered offices?
The Grief Committee
One is some sort of cleaning woman
constantly sweeping and dusting,
straightening chairs, moving the furniture
around. A pile of what she calls
rubbish lurks in one corner of my heart.
Her vote is to wipe our hands of it all,
empty out every spidery space,
get on with it, throw it all out.
Another sits in a farther corner at a small desk
doing mathematical proofs and equations
over and over, if this, then that, she scribbles,
x plus y equals n, heroin plus benzos equals death,
meth plus alcohol plus asthma equals death,
if only x had not happened, if only y
this plus this still equals this, this subtracted
from this still equals this, this divided by this
still equals this. It is still a mystery; she must
start all over again.
In another corner skulks a crazy woman,
hair unbrushed and matted,
dark circles rimming her eyes. Fingernails
bit to blood, she’s mad with sorrow.
She will have nothing to do with the cleaning
of houses or the doing of sums.
Originally from New Orleans, award-winning author Sheryl St. Germain has published six poetry books, two collections of essays, and co-edited two anthologies. The poems above are featured in The Small Door of Your Death (Autumn House Press, 2018), a collection of poems about the death of her son from a heroin overdose. A collection of essays, Fifty Miles, will appear in 2020 with Etruscan Press. She directs the MFA program in Creative Writing at Chatham University in Pittsburgh.