Thirties Movie

Father’s nasty-proud, Mother’s vain,
Sonny’s an alcoholic, and Sis is a flirt
who teases the chauffeur. She’s long engaged
to a weak-chinned junior partner in Dad’s firm
who, when he calls on her in tennis whites
is growled and barked at by the family dog.
Sis too’s in whites—a short, short pleated skirt
the shirtless gardener eyes as he clips the hedge
around the court. Meanwhile, inside the mansion,
the comic butler nips whiskey on the sly
then tops up the bottle’s level with tap water
before he serves the drinks at cocktail hour,
which may explain why Sonny’s so morose—
he’s drinking more but feeling it much less.
Or could it be because Dad’s just refused
to up his allowance to cover his gambling debts?

Outside the gates, Clark Gable’s whistling by—
or maybe it’s Cary Grant, or Jimmy Stewart—
hands in his pockets, fedora tilted back,
as the family dog bolts out into the street
chasing a tennis ball but gets scooped up
a whisker away from death by the handsome stranger.
Sis runs outside, pretends to scold the dog
as she takes him from the arms of the handsome stranger
whom she invites inside to meet the parents.
The junior partner offers a reward
for saving the dog he wishes had been flattened,
but the stranger won’t take money from the rich.
He won’t take father’s offer of a job,
refuses Sonny’s proffered flask of scotch,
and backs away from Sis’s puckered lips.
What does the stranger want? He wants it all,
and, in 80 minutes, he’s going to get it,
but first he’s got to prove he can’t be bought,
unlike us suckers drooling in the dark,
dreaming that we’re Cary, Jimmy, Clark.

Richard Cecil has published four collections of poems, the most recent of which is Twenty First Century Blues.  He teaches in the Hutton Honors College of Indiana University.