At the Grave of The Fabulous Moolah


Greenlawn Cemetery, Columbia, SC

Sick of being called a poet for simply writing poetry and wandering in graveyards on sunny Saturdays like today when a wind blows off the windup of your punch, I should like to say today I am retiring from poetry, effective immediately at the end of this poem, but that, going out, I have always wanted to write a standing-at-the-grave poem because what could possibly be more symbolic of retirement than the stillness of headstones—me out walking and the dead lying down? Poetry is a silly thing, so small, and who could imagine the crowd at a poetry reading yelling, “You ain’t shit, Hastings!” the way the crowd did in Madison Square Garden, in 1989, when in black faux-leather boots you stomped Leilani Kai the Hawaiian until the announcer, clearly in love with you, announced, “She gets away with murder!” But how else to heel— to be the one every one loves to hate, risking it all for the sake of a fake, histrionic art—broken ankle, cracked rib, or even, hell, death? Except seeing now how I will never equal that, I quit. Better to sell insurance, or tend small herbs in the garden, or watch children grow old, and the reruns on television.

HASTINGS HENSEL is the author of a full-length poetry volume, Winter Inlet (Unicorn, 2015), which earned the Unicorn Press First Book Award, and of a chapbook, Control Burn (2011), which won of the Iron Horse Literary Review Single-Author Competition. The recipient of the 2014-2015 South Carolina Arts Commission Fellowship in Poetry, his poems appear in storySouth, The Greensboro Review, Cave Wall, 32 Poems, and elsewhere. He teaches at Coastal Carolina University, where he is the poetry editor of Waccamaw, and lives with his wife, Lee, in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina.