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William Trowbridge

William Trowbridge

William Trowbridge’s latest collection is Put This On, Please: New and Selected Poems.  His other collections are Ship of Fool, The Complete Book of Kong, Flickers, O Paradise, Enter Dark Stranger, and the chapbooks The Packing House Cantata, The Four Seasons, and The Book of Kong. His graphic chapbook, Oldguy: Superhero, will be out in March from Red Hen Press, which will publish his seventh full collection, Tilt-A-Whirl, in 2017. His poems have appeared in more than 35 anthologies and textbooks. They have also appeared in such periodicals as Poetry, The Gettysburg Review, The Georgia Review, Boulevard, The Southern Review, The Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner, Epoch, and New Letters. Trowbridge teaches in the University of Nebraska Low-residency MFA in Writing Program. He is Poet Laureate of Missouri.



Ink black, shark toothed, slithering
sssssserpentine off the cover of my album
Peter and the Wolf, he paced beneath

the stairs in our dark basement when
sssssI’d slip down after dinner to marvel
at the old cathedral radio, with its glowing

green eye, and study Dad’s forbidden
sssssstash of 40’s girlie mags, the only
light switch a string from a bare bulb

in the center of the room, which I’d
ssssshave to reach before the wolf clamped on.
In the story, he swallowed the poor

jabbering duck alive. You could see her
ssssson the album cover, contrite and silent
in his belly. The radio picked up music

clear from Rio, rumbas and sambas
sssssfading in and out as the TV muttered on
upstairs — the green light’s gaze,

like an all-seeing eye’s, the wolf’s
sssssgreedy breathing, and me
thumbing pages in the light’s asylum

as boldface invitations from the spreads
sssssin Whisper, Show, and Eyeful
raised the fuzzy wolf hairs on my neck.

And Now, as Promised

How lousy are your prospects when you
sign on for a midnight appearance
as a headless Frankenstein monster
in an all-night Halloween film fest
at the Uptown in downtown Omaha?

But there he was, punctual and prepared,
where my chaperoned grade-school pals
and I had just thrilled to Karloff and Lugosi
in The Body Snatchers. How was he to know,
through two peep holes in his paper mache
neck and shoulders, that the first two rows
were filled with Ripple-stoked gang-bangers
from Tech and Central, game for a deep drag
of late-night nastiness. This despite two cops
stationed at each side door, night sticks
sssssssss“Gnarrrrgh,” came a muffled
menace from inside his “bloody” stump,
hobnailed boots clomping back and forth
across the stage as lightning flashed on the screen
behind him. Clomp, clomp, a job well-done,
however brief. But then, the overreaching:
down the stairs and into the center aisle.

“Unh,” he gasped as the bangers pounced
with chains and fists and boots, on stump
and torso, arms and shins, the mache piece
twisted sideways then ripped off to reveal,
before the cops descended, a balding,
bloody head and, afterwards, as medics
strapped him, shorter now, on the gurney:
that look of dazed, gut-deep astonishment
when a friendly day turns pit bull, preview
of what, so far, we’d only seen in movies.


It showed the War was as my father said:
boredom flanked by terror, a matter of keeping
low and not freezing. You wore your helmet

square, he said, not “at some stupid angle,
like that draft dodger Wayne,” who died
so photogenically in The Sands of Iwo Jima.

Those nights I heard shouts from the dark
of my parents’ room, he was back down
in his foxhole, barking orders, taking the fire

that followed him from France and Germany,
then slipped into the house, where it hunkered
in the rafters and thrived on ambush. We kept

our helmets on, my mother and I,
but there was no cover, and our helmets
always tilted. He’d lump us with the ones

he called “JohnDoes,” useless, lazy.
We needed to straighten up and fly right,
pick it up, chop chop, not get “nervous

in the service.” We’d duck down like G.I.s
where German snipers might be crouched
in haylofts, their breaths held for the clean shot.

“Bang,” my father said, “the dead went down,
some like dying swans, some like puppets
with their strings cut.” I wanted to hear more,

but he’d change the subject, talk about
the Pennant, the Cards’ shaky odds, how Musial
was worth the whole JohnDoe lot of them.


Trowbridge's book contains poems from five of his previous collections.

Trowbridge’s book contains poems from five of his previous collections.

Trowbridge's collection focuses on the fool archetype.

Trowbridge’s collection focuses on the fool archetype.