Poetry: Requiem for the Duke of Paducah by Mark Parsons

Requiem for the Duke of Paducah

My parents were millionaires
When having a million dollars meant something
My parents were penniless, beaten and broken under crushing debt
My parents were entrepreneurs
When being an entrepreneur didn’t mean being a capitalist
Because everybody was a capitalist
My parents were white trash, cracker tornado bait
My parents were iconoclasts
Who taught their children to kneel down before no man
My parents were social climbers, terrified of giving themselves away
Being found out as rustic simpletons
My parents were green berets raising an army of flinty-eyed survivors
My parents were tastemakers in God’s country
If God hates refinement and taste
My parents were mad scientists
Who bred their children in test tubes
Assembled their spawn from the refuse of charnel houses
My parents couldn’t see the forest of their monstrous offspring
For the trees of each child’s multitude of shortcomings
Every one of which defects needed prompt corrective attention all the time
My parents lived in fear of social embarrassment, were slaves to the opinions of their peers
Who were all millionaire anarchists
My father dressed my mother in furs
After 20 years of working her to the bone
He browbeat her in front of the children, he put her on a pedestal
He used a belt on us if we disrespected her
My father just wanted a little love from his wife
Who was frigid and wouldn’t let him touch her
My mother henpecked my father, kicked him out of their marital bed
Because she couldn’t stand his curling yellow toenails
Overgrown like vulture talons
My parents lived in separate parts of the house
My parents still loved each other after 30 years but divorced
Because their monstrous offspring reminded them too much of their youthful hubris
Their mistaken belief that they could do it all alone
Knew better than the so-called experts
In the fields of child-rearing and education
Especially education public schools by that point
Well down the path of social engineering
Elements of political correctness, multiculturalism
Having irrevocably crept in
According to my parents
Not to mention bussing
What a nightmare my parents and their well-heeled friends lamented
My parents were primitives, wore homunculi around their necks in glass reliquaries
My parents cut the ears off their enemies, who were legion
In the small town where we lived
My parents gambled on riverboats
My father carried a derringer and wore a pocketwatch
My mother spoke the Queen’s English and wondered why
Her children couldn’t be more like the Duke and Duchess of Windsor
Lamented the fact that her husband was a brute, a primitive
My parents survived being struck by the same lightning
They used to bring cadavers to life in the attic
Before naming them
My parents buried bodies around their swimming pool
My parents voted for Reagan
My mother lied to her children about how she voted in 84
My mother lied to her children about everything
My mother had a healthy relationship with her children
My parents didn’t trust the government
My parents worked for the CIA
But didn’t lie to their children about this
My parents believed knowing was fun
My parents bred high-maintenance pedigreed show dogs
That had breathing problems
And were incontinent
Everywhere in the tastefully appointed upper middle class west end house
My father bought my mother
2 miles from the flood wall along the river
And which my mother devoted herself to decorating in an ivory and gold color scheme
With Far East accents provided by Chinese trunks, silk screens
Pottery and jade from pre-revolutionary China
Sent to her by her aunt
A Grande Dame
When the phrase still meant something
Who married a man there before the war
And then escaped with him to the Philippines where they became hoteliers
The Philippines also ending up occupied
The aunt and her husband interred
But it doesn’t matter
My mother’s certain her son will get around to liberating the islands
Sooner or later
And singlehandedly revive a once-vital trade relationship for the importing of coconut oil
A victim of the trade embargo and the post-World War II propaganda
About “bad” saturated fat and “good” unsaturated fat
My mother was a bitch
Chow and Boxer mix that attacked anyone who got too close to me
Including my mother and father
My mother never cheated on my father
Thus had no sympathy for him
Was never satisfied
No matter how successful in business he was
Complained because her Buick wasn’t a Mercedes
Not even after my father worked his cock off
Literally did she stop complaining
Complained because of what he had sacrificed for his job
Which of course wasn’t a job, was a small business
Which of course demanded sacrifice from everyone
Just like the Vietnamese family that owned the only Chinese restaurant in town
And just like the Vietnamese family my parents were refugees
From the war-torn country of West Virginia
Who re-invented themselves as moneyed sophisticates in a bargetown
My parents crossed the Ohio River at night in rafts
To sneak into Illinois and smuggle cigarettes back across the border
My parents were militaristic
My parents were anarchists
My parents were militant in their hatred of following orders
And in their contempt and disdain for those who did
Follow orders, obeyed without question
Except for their children
Who were expected to obey and revere their parents with fervent unquestioning obedience
Except for the times when my parents wanted to see
A little grit, a little sand in their children’s character, a little character
In their character
Even if it was bad character
My father liked McEnroe and Connors
My mother like Borg
But for the times when he didn’t travel with his parents so they could watch him play
Like Connors did
Which was every time Borg played
Until the last 2 tournaments before he retired
Which he lost
Finally coming back down to Earth
My mother pretended like she didn’t see Connors’ dominating mother
Who raised her son for one thing only
And that was for her to live through, like my mother
Who was like every mother with her son
Living vicariously through him
To the endless private mirth and amusement of my father
Who liked watching Connors play on Sunday morning on TV in the living room
If only to rub my mother’s nose in it, in his understanding of her
Warped and unhealthy relationship with her son
The two of whom he suspected had more than just an emotionally incestuous bond
But physically as well
Bud Collins cheerfully oblivious and
Chirping about what was then
In those pre-Oprah days not looked upon with the same emotionally evolved disgust
Such a domineering mother and son relationship would now engender
My parents taught their children to respect the God in every man
My parents taught their children to look down on no man
No matter how humble
And if there were no God in man
Then so much the worse for him
Hopefully he had a nice suit
My parents wanted to see fervent histrionics from their children
The better to intimidate their enemies
Who would be legion my parents were sure
My parents criticized their children for having no demonstrable emotions
My parents taught their children to care about someone or something
Is to be vulnerable to its destruction
And thus to care about no one and nothing
Save winning in a world where only the weak and ill-formed, plaintive and sniveling survive
If not thrive, if not prosper
My parents lived in caves, under stairs, always in the closet
At the end of a dark hall
My parents were nomads, lion tamers, dueled at 20 paces with flintlock pistols
My parents taught their children family is inviolate
Family secrets stayed family secrets
Skeletons in closets stayed in the closets
My parents went to church
My parents laughed at God and Man
My parents knew which way the wind blew
Even when they knew better
My parents knew better
There was only one rule in my family
My parents were right
And if they were wrong
See rule number one

Mark Parsons' poems have been recently published or are forthcoming in ExPat Press, Dreich, Cape Rock, and I-70 Review.