Jump to content

The Idea of Usefulness at Snyder’s Bar (1965)

Recommended Posts

This one I wrote when I was fifteen. I suppose it's typical of poetry written by children of alcoholic parents. Each year, about this time, I rework the last five lines, which are the only lines of the poem that have evolved. If you need happy verse, this one won't help.

The Idea of Usefulness at Snyder’s Bar (1965)

Bi Janus

No warmth on my palm

sliding over the wood table,

where sawdust is the unction

for a child’s confusion.

At the right hand of a beer

John Joseph sits in conversation

at the bar with an archangel

who keeps his glass full.

The pucks slide without

the friction of our hands held

tight when walking with Dad

to the tavern for quality time.

The silence of that progress,

his guilt heart-locked and leaden,

fashions my rough desire

to find my use in his life.

Would I be useful if flesh

were stripped from me

in a sky burial

and my thighbones

were wrought flutes?

Link to comment

Good Heavens,

My folks were all alcohol addicts and I never wrote anything like that at 15...but then I had other things on my mind.

I am constantly amazed at the diversity of individuals who react differently to similar situations.

You convey deep impressions of a childhood that escaped me and yet were somehow present because of my own father's absence.

It is really a quite beautiful poem.

When I was 19 I wrote a prose poem for America's loss after President Kennedy's assassination. It's long lost now, but for some strange unfathomable, unrelated reason, your poem reminded me of the despair I felt at the time.

Link to comment


My mother, the sober one of the two parents, was a nominal Roman Catholic. For a time, when I was nine and ten, I was fascinated by church ritual, including last rites, so I learned the word unction. Fortunately, I fell in among Buddhists at age nine! My mother, in infinite wisdom, ditched my father when I was eight; the poem looked back from the age of fifteen at trips to the bar with my father when I was six and seven. My father swore me to secrecy about the visits to the bar, and I kept the secret until well after the divorce. Secrets are often an important part of the lives of children with alcoholic parents or parent.


Link to comment

At the right hand of a beer

John Joseph sits in conversation

at the bar with an archangel

who keeps his glass full.

'Too much effort' ? Whatever amount of effort you took to produce that stanza was well worth it.

Link to comment

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...