Lice: Ode to Schuyler

John Repp

His phrase “starry lice” just stopped me cold.
My lice looked coal-black or, if contemplated
in damp fluorescence, tick-like in their fearsome
stillness-not-stillness, the starry Antarctic itch
a blue fire till the bored Indian doctor peered,

nodded, then scribbled an order for what I realized
long after the elixir had loosed in a parasitical cascade
those asphalt dots into the toilet was Agent Orange.
Had I known, I would have begged a gallon
because all that matters sometimes is that something—

anything—work. For years, I thought myself kin
to the friend who ate, drank, slept & smoked dope
as the acrid mist wet the jungle he did his best
not to fight in. Alas, five beers into a Pitt Tavern night
in 1986, three friends & the bartender put me right:

I’d doused myself in diluted malathion, the rashes
Don flaunted as we dug his root cellar not my fate,
nor the rest of his suffering, just the chagrined
memory of pissed-off phone calls, the hunt for source,
the silly need to confess an episode of sexual comedy

Don would envy or hate if he hadn’t vanished no one
knew where or when. Were he alive, James Schuyler,
all puckish discernment, would chuckle at my gratitude
for the poem that plunked me in the laundromat
where I inhaled the aroma of sterilized sheets.

A native of the Pine Barrens region of southern New Jersey, John Repp has lived for many years in Erie, Pennsylvania. His latest book is Fat Jersey Blues, published in 2014 by the University of Akron Press.