Impromptu Meeting in the Falklands
O Columbo, Columbo, a little less art:
We know you can see to the bottom of the heart.
I knew it was going to be a bad day
when I came down for breakfast
and found Lieutenant Columbo in my living room.
His feet were propped up on my coffee table
and the smell of his cigar was everywhere.
He was thumbing through my copy of Rilke
in the Stephen Mitchell translation.
"This Maria's a terrific lady, Sir," he said.
"Real classy. She reminds me of the Missus."
I asked if there had been a murder.
"Oh no, Sir, not a murder," he said.
"I didn't say murder, Sir, definitely not
although a number of people are dead.
Just old age, Sir, quietly, in bed."
I asked if he had come about the turtles
the ones I put in a porcelain pan
thirty-eight years ago and left by the furnace
till their odor crept up the cellar stair
and nearly gave my poor mother heart failure.
"Turtles?" he asked, letting his bad eye go blank.
"Ah, you've been reading Lowell, Sir," he said.
He rubbed his skull. "Turtles are nothings.
You can do what you want with them. Go
ahead. Torture them. Paint their shells red."
I asked if he knew what happened in the sanitarium
when the madwoman came stark naked to my bed:
How I pulled her to me and felt her crazy breasts
until the attendant came and led her back to bedlam.
How she shuddered and rolled her eyes in bliss
proud of her defiant nakedness.
"Columbo! I was only sixteen!" I cried.
"Columbo! I was lost in a dream!" I sighed.
"My nerves were a-jangle with insulin shock
and not knowing what to do with my adolescent cock..
Columbo! I'm innocent!" I lied.
"I know you've been under a strain, Sir.
It's the poetry, and staying up too late.
It's this Rilkee woman, with her Angels, Death & Fate.
It's this Yeets fellow." He winced. "It's Walter Pater.
Don't be like Liddy, Sir. Avoid that 'gemlike flame.'
I'll let you rest a while and come back later."
I knew if I did nothing he'd turn at the door
and nail me with one of his shitty questions.
So I cried like Faust as he stumbled down the hall,
"Lieutenant Columbo! Don't go! I confess!
Come back. I'll burn my books! Let's play chess!"
"I'm just a detective," he said, eyeing Steppenwolf,
"and don't know much about this Herman Hessee.
What I do know pretty well is baseball, Sir.
And do you know what's bothering me? These poets
who left the stadium before the game was over:
Sylvia Plath. John Berryman. Anne Sexton.
You're familiar with their work?
Now why would they do that, Sir?
Do you see my point? It's messy."
"Maybe they were bored with the game!" I cried.
"Maybe they were tired of watching pitchers spit
of scoreless innings ... of raw drizzly weather …
of fans egging on players stranded at third:
'Steal home now—and get a head start on forever.'"
"That explains it, Sir!" he said, hitting himself on the
head: "Boredom! Or what do the French say? Ennui?
For who would suffer through a pointless game
if he could leave his sorrow in Candlestick Park
get a jump on traffic and be home before dark?
But something's bothering me …"
(he was rummaging in his coat):
"Can you tell me, Sir, how you explain these?"
Hard evidence at last. He shoved it in my face.
Three tickets to the World Series.
"The World Series, Sir! The hottest seat in town
and climax of the whole damned season!
I'm trying hard to buy this boredom theory,
Sir, but the Missus says it's a pee-pee poor reason."
"Columbo," I said, "I'm going to level with you now
—and fuck you, if you don't believe me—
The Giants were losing, losing real bad
and every time they had a chance to turn it around
Dave Dravecky stepped onto the mound to pitch
and his arm fell off.
"Now get the hell out of here, you Dumbo."
The Lieutenant's cigar exploded
with an elegant fart-like sound
I watched him choke and cough
fight for breath, twirl around,
then suddenly: no more Columbo.
I sat there trembling, half-hoping he'd be back,
wondering what the hell he was really after.
I turned on TV but the picture stayed black
and I heard terrestrial laughter.
Poems by David Alpaugh:
A California Ad Man Celebrates His Art
The Man Who Loves Better Homes & Gardens
Impromptu Meeting in the Falklands
As We Watch McNeil-Lehrer
TIMES TEN: An Anthology of Northern California Poets