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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, April 27, 2017.
About this Poem 

“‘Close Encounters’ began as a therapeutic exercise—an invective written to an ex-next-door neighbor who was unwilling to acknowledge my presence as anything other than a threat. But during revision, when the actual healing took place, the poem’s tone and audience changed. It never ceases to amaze me, the anodyne that is poetry."
—Marcus Wicker

Close Encounters

I was a real cute kid. Ask anybody. My father
likes to tell a story about a modeling scout

who spotted us out midday shopping
at the Briarwood Mall. Imagine five-year-old me,

all sailor stripes & junior afro, doing a full pull-up
on the magazine kiosk: Got any Keats? No doubt

something I’d heard watching Jeopardy
with granny, but it mattered not

to the tickled pink lady. Oh, you’re just soooo
sweet! What a cutie-sweet! she decreed, handing dad

her flowery card. It wouldn’t stop there.
My 10th birthday, whole neighborhood invited,

I strutted down the stairs in a white sports coat
like, Look, folks. In case you’re wondering,

I’m the host! My mother told Mrs. Holbrook
He was born full-grown with a briefcase. As I’m sure

you will be, little sewn seed, undone. Future me.
Dear son, the defacing starts much later.

After desegregation sparks the awkward clutch
of Coach clutches on campus busses, but before

the riots in Baltimore. It started a few days before
I turned thirty, Invisibility. Home from teaching

the sons & daughters of Indiana farm hands
it’s ok to write poems, same briefcase slung

tired across wrinkled linen, you’d have thought
I accosted her—Maria—when I stooped down

to pluck my mother a pair of magenta tulips    
from her own thriving garden, & she shrieked

Why are you staring at my lawn! Maria who
used to slide teen-me a twenty to occupy her

daughter in the playpen while she grabbed
a bottle of Bordeaux from the basement

before the real nanny arrived. She must have seen
straight through me, into the distant past, alternate

reality when your grandparents’ neighboring
residence would have been a servants’, & I

in that moment, for the first time, unsaw her.
As primer. A kind of manila cardstock 

I’d failed to imprint. Son, sometimes this happens.
It happens in gated spaces when you look like

a lock pick. See the 44th president. Scratch that.
It happens in gated spaces, as the lone

locksmith. & if I’m being honest,
the happy way things are going between

me & E., you may well resemble him.   
Don’t count yourself precious. Truth is,

too soon, you will bend down to rob a few
bright blossoms from your own land &

look away from the earth
to make certain you haven’t been ogled.

This phantom guilt applied to a nape
through the eyes of every blind Maria,

here’s the key: try not to let it die.
Now run to the closest mirror, quickly

remember how sweet the fleeting love.
 

Copyright © 2017 by Marcus Wicker. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 27, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2017 by Marcus Wicker. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 27, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Marcus Wicker

Marcus Wicker

Marcus Wicker is the author of Silencer (Mariner Books, 2017). He teaches at the University of Memphis.

by this poet

poem
June 18, 2015
 
So I’m at this party, right. Low lights, champagne, Michael
Bublé & a gang of loafers I’m forever dancing around
 
in unduly charged conversations, your favorite
accompanist—Bill Evans behind Miles, ever present
 
poem
& anyway, what good is the metronomic
one-note canon two house sparrows cant
aloft, between, the pine privacy fence,
if not to simulate estrangement?
 
Watching them watching me, I think,
First impressions are so medieval. O, to be
the provincial drawbridge damming
a ramshackle interior, or the
2
poem

Always the sun first
then the doe sunning, the stag
running toward the doe, wherein

this ramshackle causality
a taste for flesh buds
at birth—when mouth clasps

to breast—quieting
the gut’s ache, not hunger
for touch. If you don’t believe

touch is a famine
fed by

2