by Mark Belair
at the end of a dark day / at my mother’s wake / i experienced
a discordant hallucination / for by the funeral home door /
guests streaming by him / stood the short / grinning / gum-
snapping drum teacher of my teenage years / chick chicolus

of course it wasn’t him / if alive he’d be a creaky antique / not
this sure-footed / hands-on-hips / crowd-parting visage / born
of my exhaustion and grief

but the ghost kept staring at me / reveling as i wrestled with
rising confusion / so finally / admitting derangement / i spoke
to it

mr chicolus?

and i should have known / considering the theatrical / spot-lit
entrance he’d just made / that it actually was him

ninety-four years old / it turned out / and looking no different /
i swear / than when i biked to his house for lessons on his
ancient drums / his bass drum big as a washing machine tub /
museum pieces / really / from his youthful career as a
vaudeville-style drummer

chick strode up and shook my hand / without a word about our
loss / as he was too pumped by his effect on me for such
formalities / a condition i stoked by stepping away from the
receiving line / calling over my two grown sons / and chirping
to them / like a distractible thirteen-year-old/ an introduction

to this expanded audience / chick talked about his teaching
days / how he’d take four drum students to residential homes
for children / with special needs / who would clap along / with
perfection / to our purely rhythmic routine / then he talked of
the acts he played for way back when / the singers / dancers /
jugglers / and comedians he’d get laughs for / with his
bottomless bag of sound effects / i remembered their signed /
glossy head shots / mounted in his basement drum studio /
photos hopelessly dated and corny / to a youngster yearning to
inhabit the cool precincts of jazz

then even my dad and my sister / as they couldn’t help but
notice / came over / the wake a temporary house party / with
chick at the center / acting out a stream of jokes and stories /
while snapping his ever-present gum
then at the top of his game / he shook our hands and headed
out / we all but breaking into applause on his waving exit / he
never having paid his respects to my mother / who would have
smiled like the fan of his she was / and approved / for she
knew his only seemingly / cruel code

the show must go on

Mark Belair’s poems have appeared in numerous journals,
including Alabama Literary Review, Atlanta Review, The
Cincinnati Review, Harvard Review, Michigan Quarterly Review,
Poetry East, and The South Carolina Review. His new
collection, Watching Ourselves, will be published February
2017 by Unsolicited Press. Previous collections include
Breathing Room (Aldrich Press, 2015), Night Watch (Finishing
Line Press, 2013), While We’re Waiting (Aldrich Press, 2013)
and Walk With Me (Parallel Press of the University of Wisconsin
at Madison, 2012). He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize
three times. Please visit