How to Get Over Your Second Wife Jan with Class
You want to know what a man does/
In a shanty town like this after dusk?
Without a gal like his second wife Jan barking at him/
About everything he does or doesn’t do?
A free man/
Planter’s Punch in one hand/
And little Carlos fashioned me a cigarello ashtray of mango rind, God bless him.
Large plantation style porch to sit on/
And you can almost hear terrific Negro spirituals.
Jan knew what she was getting with me/
Mysterious, like a deaf person /
Or Dick Cavett /
when he would do voice over work.
And now I’m free/
good Christ above.
Myers Coconut rum/
Bite of my loco grande appetizer/
Lady Bonito, I’m sailing solo/
and I don’t owe you an explanation.
So I ding dong up some doper type of/
word play to let the night rumble:
Tick tock cuckoo clock/
I’ve got the gumption/
to drink an ocean/
Missy Ping Pong with the backrubs/
I’ve got a very classy boat/
to make it on/
don’t get mixed up with less of a man/
And something Carlos makes with Melon Liqueur/
He calls it Deadman Dick.
Perfect, but then Consuelo Sr. takes my keys and.
tells me I missed the last marina shuttle to my mooring
Look, I know I’m stewed/
But my rental car’s a premium/
Drives itself with a computer/
I was crocked when I pulled in here/
but never mind it, you dumb stick.
Now get me a goodbye drink/
Goodbye to my second wife Jan/
Hey, get that little number/
with the full moon tan/
to drop me off at the marina/
and I’ll swim.
I’ve got a classy yacht with towel warmers on it/
You think I’m in pain?
You think I’m ruining seven monogrammed/
imported dress shirts by getting tears on them?
Dan Kennedy's Poetry for Monkeybicycle: A Look Back
Dan Kennedy's poem, "How to Get Over Your Second Wife Jan With Class," marks the end of our little series of poetry and criticism here at MonkeyBicycle, and so it seems appropriate to cast a short look back, over our shoulder, to see what it was we just passed, the way a motorist might look back in his rearview mirror at roadkill.
How did we get here? However they came to Kennedy (and do we really want to know?), his poems all came to me in the same way, which is to say unsolicited, and by e-mail, while I was busy with something else. Sometimes it was a note from a friend, sometimes it was on-line bill pay, but in every case I was interrupted by a flash of light and that annoying sound key from the "jungle" menu on my control panel — that low echo that is either a tropical woodpecker going to town on standing deadwood or a frog expiring in the heat — and suddenly I would find myself blessed, but also burdened, by another of Kennedy's poems. There was always, in the forwarding e-mail from Monkeybicycle web editor Matthew Simmons, a faint suggestion of flattery hidden in a polite request — the shading of pixels into words that said: "Hey, would you like to review a poem?"
I said yes, this ride began, and what a ride it has been. I've been Robin to Dan Kennedy's Batman, the great man's lesser-known protagonist riding shotgun, the guy in the sidecar who stumbles out of the ditch after the accident, sooty and smoking but O.K. If this were a movie I would lift my goggles and the audience would laugh because my face would look like a raccoon's.
More to the point, there has been an energy in these installments, a sense of literary purpose. I think I speak for all five of us reading this when I say that Kennedy's poetry speaks to us. I speak for us in saying that Kennedy speaks to us. It's been a dynamic of Kennedy speaking to us, and me speaking for us about him speaking to us. Everyone seemed to be talking at once, but one voice rose above the chatter to proclaim: "Hey, these poems are actually pretty good. They are funny, but also sort of sad. This guy wrote a book? Maybe I'll check it out."
That, anyway, was the voice I heard. Maybe you heard something else. But like the work of Billy Collins, you can't quite write off Kennedy's poetry, because what would you be saying then? Poetry can't be funny? You don't like being faintly amused? I once read a Tolstoy story about a Jesus who rode the waves. A motorized, self-propelled, ocean-going Jesus, with the beard, the flowing robes, and the little splash of foam around his feet. A hilarious cartoon image from the Mr. War and Peace himself. That's what I'm talking about.
My view, in other words, is that there's a good chance we'll see these poems again. Maybe on Slate.com, or in a small collection published by an independent press, someplace in Brooklyn named "Tarantula" that operates out of the attic of a corner head shop. These poems are that good.
I should also say that Kennedy's latest poem, to which I will now turn my laser-like attention, came with only the subject line of the forwarding e-mail as its introduction, and that subject line said only, "Probably the last poem ever." The words brought a stark feeling home.
The last poem. Ever. Probably.
It was like a secret note, but in code instead of lemon-juice, decipherable with intuition instead of a toaster. A mystery clue in terse script, hinting at something as dark and unfathomable as the success of the Da Vinci Code.
In making my way through the poem I saw what Kennedy meant. For Kennedy has written, for this last installment in our series, an epic. It was an inspired choice, a fitting poetic form for this last exit on the wide slab of turnpike that is Kennedy's art.
Every epic, of course, must take on a subject of mythic proportion, something bigger than the poet himself, something, indeed, emblematic of the poet's age. The launch of a thousand ships to retrieve a stolen beauty, say, or, in Kennedy's case, the lament of a Caribbean vacationer unable to escort a local prostitute to his yacht because he's been pounding the sauce all afternoon over the loss of his second wife.
Kennedy might have gone for something larger. I think Danica Patrick's thrilling near-victory at Indy this year would have been a nice choice, but at least Kennedy picked a universal story, something common to the experience of every American male over the age of 40. If Kennedy's deft combination of third-world vacation travel and frustrated sex tourism didn't speak to all of us, it probably spoke to P.J. O'Rourke, Henry Kissinger, and Christopher Hitchens.
Layered in the setting we find the loss the poem describes. It's the loss of love, the loss of a soul-mate who might have made one's journey to the stars less lonely. The poem is shot-through with the feeling that all is not just vanity, but vanity piled on top of futility and further soaked in pain. It's a kind of marinated vanity, you might say. Kennedy's protagonist is doomed by his failings, and the poem awakens us to the realization that the world only takes its time before bringing us low, and that after waiting so long only to become swift victims of its cruelty we dare not beg for mercy. Because Big Daddy World doesn't like that. That's how cruel he is. Cruel and mean and you better not even ask why.
Every epic ends with the hero's death — it's sort of a requirement of the form — and Kennedy does not disappoint. We leave his Fallen Man begging for a lift to the marina, where he'll attempt to reach his yacht in a drunken midnight swim. Of course he won't make it, and thankfully that last stanza — that might, had Kennedy bothered to write it, have attempted to describe the murky water lit only by the crescent moon, and the desperate splashing of a drowning man - that last stanza is absent from the page. That absent stanza speaks more eloquently than Kennedy could have, more eloquently than any poet could have, any poet but Yeats. Yeats, actually, was pretty good at this sort of thing. "Turning and turning in the widening gyre," the loosing of the blood-dimmed tide, etc. That guy could write.
But Kennedy, too, knows something about death. That it isn't glorious, but pitiful; that it doesn't bring dignity, but something unbearable and fragile, that we never want to name. There is a reason we say, when someone goes, that it was a shame.
In closing, I'd like to go out on a limb and say that, despite the ruthless grilling I gave him on these pages, for which I half-expect he'll try to have me killed, I liked Kennedy's poems. They were amusing, but also spiked with pain, an entertainment that stuck with me. You can't really feel sorry for Kennedy — guy lives the rock star life in New York. A million women come and go. Take you for all you're worth. You know it. — but you can feel sorry for his poetry. And that, I think, is how Dan Kennedy would want it. As he says himself, in his last poem's closing lines:
You think I'm in pain?
You think I'm ruining seven monogrammed/
imported dress shirts by getting tears on them?
Dan Kennedy is the author of the memoir Loser Goes First (Crown Books). He also runs the website reallysmalltalk.com, and if
he isn't working on a novel, he should be.
Sean Carman is one of many big-name contributors to the forthcoming anthology Stumbling and Raging: More Politically Inspired Fiction, edited by Stephen Elliott (MacAdam/Cage).