My Father’s Song

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Raymond Carver once wrote in a poem of his own, “Make use of the things around you.” The poet behind “My Father’s Song” and “For Buzzy” makes use out of such universal themes as melancholy and loss and guilt and brings forth the “thinginess” of those singular experiences in such a way that I believe that both the brother named Buzzy and the trombone-playing salesman father not only lived and breathed fire and song but that they continue to live - they have been by the poet reclaimed, if not saved, here on the page.
— Poetry judge Peter Markus is author of three books of short fiction: Thte Moon is a Lighthouse, The Singing Fish and the soon-to-be reissued Good, Brother.

My Father’s Song
Tom Schusterbauer, West Bloomfield
Grand Prize, Poetry

Monday through Friday,
he was the salesman.
A 1954 two-door Ford,
robin’s egg blue,
stuffed high and forlorn
with sample cases
and cardboard-leather satchels.

Along the back roads
of Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio,
he was the tri-state man.

Sad, sleepy towns —
Flint, Elkhart, Toledo.
Not quite second-rate hotels,
fading carpet,
stooped and nicotined elevator boys.

Thin slice of life.

But on Saturday afternoons,
three or four highballs to the wind,
he wielded a battered old trombone:

Against the silence of gone dreams,
against the crippling images
of long distance phone calls,
B-girls, and boozy Catholic guilt.
Against the crackling tin
of local radio stations,
bird shit and bugs
drizzled across the windshield.

Gone dreams.
Gone dreams.

A thinning flannel shirt,
pleated brown pants
(shiny in the seat),

Whiskey and water, sweating circles on the coffee table,
two Lucky Strikes, smoldering
in an amber ash tray.

Hair mussed.
Eyes liquid.
Lips thick with Seagram’s.
And the deep, loose, plaintive whine
of a tarnished, unyielding trombone.

Melancholy —
If ever a word meant anything.
If ever a word was right.

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