Next Line, Please

Under the Dark Marquee

By David Lehman | October 25, 2016


I feel as if I have guzzled a pot of exquisite espresso in a favorite café, La Victoire in Vence or Le Rond Point in Paris. Overstimulated, because of the bounty of wonderful poems—and avid comments—that have filled the comment space of this blog since last Tuesday, when we set upon writing poems inspired by last week’s triumphant entries.

First prize this week goes to John Gallaher, whose “I Wait for You Under the Dark Marquee” is dedicated to Angela Ball:


The last show before the theater closed down remains,
like a sore throat. It was The Notebook. I’m sorry. I’d want it
to be The Walking Dead, perhaps, or Abbott & Costello
Meet Frankenstein
, for the sake of the commuter traffic
passing twice daily, but we get the world we deserve,
not the world we dream of. And now
I hold it in the rearview mirror
as a forced-perspective photograph of a model railroad town
made to look like something we could stand in
as stand-ins for all the things we kept telling ourselves made America great,
some Whitmanesque dream of talking to each other
as if to ourselves. It’s the DJ’s fault, the songs we end up with,
but then we’re the DJ, after all. How’d we forget that?
The four-way stop is dark, but it could be darker, as the marquee
still blinks a little, now and then, as I stop there, waiting for you


I love how this poem, casting its ballot for Angela Ball, concludes with a reprise of the last line of Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” the prompt that got us started.

Millicent Caliban (who tells us she “loved all six poems,” says that Angela’s poem “was the one that made [her] write”) takes the silver medal for

Under the Dark Marquee
for Angela Ball, aficionado of Noir

You cannot see me, but I am waiting with you
Underneath that dark marquee. Those gaudy circling lights
Are now all gone and we are left without a double feature.
Somewhere else a soulless multiplex has risen,
But we knew how it was to sit together in the dark,
Where we all gasped and felt the frisson
Of the fall to come. Each one of us in thrall
To death, decay, destruction.
We saw the seamy sinews of sin
Encircle the wretched victims,
And knew there could be no compensatory grace.
The films we loved were black and white and Noir.
They told us that the world was full of greed and lust:
Those streets were mean and men were savage, not to trust.
And yet, they also showed that there could be both beauty and regret.

John Findura wins bronze-medal honors for

I Remember How to Decay
for Charise Hoge

After my foot went through
The bottom of the boat
Into the blue-black water
I dried my shoe on the leaves
Of grass wrestling the shoreline
That is where I waited for you
And where you never came
Thoughts, a few, of you
Remind me to fix that boat
And like its deteriorating hull
I remember how to decay
Just like us, I want to tell you,
One syllable at a time


Honorable mention: Anthony DiPietro, whose “I Stand Naked, Rid of Rags” is written in homage to Courtney Thrash)

Battlefield behind me,
full moon above. Ahead my shadow
on barren beach, midnight
blue and white. What saved me
from this last campaign? My dark,
my light, self-worth? A way
with words, alliances,
allegiances? No, surely
not these. I was at play
within inherited wind,
discovered swaying grasses,
pine bark and leaves planted
before my mother’s
mother’s birth.

Angela Ball, Ricky Ray, and Paul Michelsen are among others who submitted superior work last week. Thank you, one and all.


For next week, what do you say we write seasonal couplets? The only rule: the second line of your couplet should end on the word “leaf,” “leave,” or “leaves.”

Each entry should consist of one couplet, but you are invited to enter as many times as you are moved to do.

Deadline: Midnight, Sunday, October 30.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

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