Joe Benevento: “$40 Cake,” “James’s Dream,” “Accepting St. Joseph,” “Mrs. Kiernan”

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 Kiernan” are also unpublished, though the St. Joseph poem anticipates the plot of my novel, “My Perfect Wife, Her Perfect Son,” which Lee Slonimsky reviews in this issue.



$40 Cake

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

or flavorful.

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

the tax.

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





James’s Dream

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,

Isabella insisted.



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.




Mrs. Kiernan

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

another decade.

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.