Joe Benevento writes: “$40 Cake” and “James’s Dream,” will be part of my forthcoming book with Mouthfeel Press, “The Cracker Box Poems.” “Accepting St. Joseph” and “Mrs. Kiernan” are also unpublished, though the St. Joseph poem anticipates the plot of my novel, “My Perfect Wife, Her Perfect Son,” which Lee Slonimsky reviews in this issue.
The cake was as beautiful as the fancy
place I bought it from.
Maybe I should have bought one
soaked with Kirsch or rum.
This one was not moist or dense
This cake was corporate dry,
its frosting heavy without nuance.
My children who live near the fancy
bakery so wanted it to be better.
My children felt embarrassed for all
the money I had spent on a mediocre cake.
It wasn’t their fault; I had insisted;
I had longed for an exceptional, big-city dessert.
The cheese Danish my daughter had bought
for our lunch at home was better.
The cakes any one of us know how
to scratch at home always better.
The cake cost $42+ if you count
My disappointment, my chagrin:
one cannot affix a price.
We still ate the cake;
it took two different meals to end it.
The memory lingers, a bitter after-
taste, like unsweetened chocolate
In it I was married to Isabella Rossellini.
We had a bonny little boy and a small dog.
The dog we bedecked in a Star Wars outfit.
We all lived in Pittsburgh.
James had a factory job.
Isabella and I opened our home to all,
a certain center for good
fellowship, food, culture
I had a favored, dark green wing-back chair.
I told James I’d never had a nicer dream myself.
I shared with him the real time I was a finalist
for a teaching position at the New School, just
when Isabella was taking a few classes there,
how I didn’t get the job or ever meet her.
I told James how touched I was by his
surreal regard for me,
so high it could posit my happy marriage
to a woman so beautifully and carelessly refined.
I told James, though, I’d never dress my dog
in any sort of outfit, most especially
not a Star Wars get-up,
unless, of course,
Accepting St. Joseph
Let’s imagine Catholics are correct,
so that Mary’s virginity lasted past
the delivery of her Messiah son and extended
into “Blessed Ever Virgin” status.
Let’s also imagine Joseph was no old man
when he married Mary, as some who try to assuage
his celibacy assert (though even if: a young nurse
complained to me once about her elderly male patients because
their physical desire was “the last thing to go.”)
Let’s acknowledge then that if the nonchalant belief
of well over a billion present day people maintains
Joseph spent his whole adult life without conjugal
visitations then this miracle of abstinence is enough
by itself to have made him a saint.
Already he had calmly taken
the word of an angel (in a dream, remember)
to not abandon his pregnant plighted wife when
he had never laid a hand on her. As if it weren’t enough
that caretaking and protecting the son of God never
made him rich or powerful, then just think about being
in the same household with a really warm and caring woman
who even if she were only half as comely as a young Olivia Hussey
still must have been a constant torment. Sure, it’s easy to say
it was worth it: revered saint, churches and cities, rivers and aspirins
named after you, even an Italian bakery pastry, faithfully filled
with yellow custard or cannoli cream each year on your March 19th
feast day. And of course there’s that eternity in paradise benefit,
but, after all, lots of guys who were free to have sex with their wives,
(or even with other people’s wives so long as they repented in time)
have their own places in Heaven now, plus Joseph had no way of knowing
about the rivers or the pastries to come. What he did know: if you want
to be a saint whatever God wants has got to be delivered, and that saying
“Thy will be done,” is one thing but actually meaning it quite another.
Joseph had to accept his wife was made pregnant by a Holy Spirit
and then stay by her side (though not too close) for the rest of his earthly life.
I still don’t know how he managed it; I’m still not sure why I want to believe it.
My fourth grade teacher at St. Teresa of Avila
loved the first poem I ever wrote, “If I Could Fly,”
encouraging me to further verbal flights, the only
kind open to a working-class kid like me, who
wouldn’t need to check any suitcases for at least
Mrs. Kiernan put all our first poems together,
a mimeographed miracle of purple-blue copy
just so we could imagine ourselves
with a book of our own someone besides
our mothers would be willing to read.
“If I could fly I’d fly so high,
that I might even touch the sky,”
my poem began. I remember every word
of it almost sixty years later, but only last
year, while teaching a unit on form poetry
did I startle myself realizing the opening lines
were perfect iambic tetrameter, two words
that would have gotten me a beating back
in the old neighborhood.
Now, though, I can share my knowledge
with many who won’t mind learning,
knowing how much a good teacher
can help his students uncover the patterns
of their own future flights.
Joe Benevento, longtime poetry editor of GHLL, has published multiple books of fiction and poetry, and retires this year from forty years at Truman State University.