A Really Good Story

by David Kirby

Alex Weiss, the guy who books bands, walks into the cafe
           where I am eating with my son Ian and says, David,
and I say, Alex, and Ian says, Who’s that,
                      and I say, that’s Alex Weiss, the guy who books bands,
but what I don’t say is that Alex is a hero of mine,

because one day I had stopped at the corner of Monroe
           and Call behind a carload of morons in baseball caps,
and Alex starts to walk across the street in front
                      of them and when he gets even with the front bumper
of their car, the head moron hits the horn

just to make Alex jump, which he does, though
           to my amazement he sort of twists in mid-air
like a ninja and lands facing the morons
                      and shoots them one of the most excellent cobs
I have ever seen, a cob being what we called a bird

in Baton Rouge, Louisiana when I was a boy
           and a term my son Ian and I use in our private language
and which refers to, not the slipshod limp-finger
                      arrangements you often see these days,
           but the classical configuration of steely middle digit

and the two on either side tightly curled
           in rock-hard scrotal perfection, a menacing,
                      up-the-poop-chute ideogram of eye-popping rage,
and that’s exactly the kind of cob Alex Weiss is pitching

these morons, only it’s even better than that,
           because while he is doing his mid-air ninja twist,
he’s waving his arms around like a bodybuilder
                      getting ready to strike a pose and when he lands,
his extended arm is pointing the way God’s does

when he’s jump-starting Adam on the ceiling
           of the Sistine Chapel, only Alex Weiss’s arm ends
in this excellent cob he’s made, and his whole body
                      is quivering slightly with the tension of the pose,
as in Got it, nailed it, bite this, you dirtbags,

and the morons are clawing their cheeks with rage,
           they can’t believe a skinny guy like that
is cobbing them off right in the middle of Monroe Street,
                      and their car is rocking up and down as they fight
each other for the door handles so they can get out

and murder Alex Weiss, the guy who books bands,
           but just then the light changes and I see my chance
to get in on the tail end of the fun, so I hit my horn
                      and lean out the window and say Hey, get that shitcan
out of the road, and the morons scream and beat their hands

against their heads in impotent fury, and the driver
           flips a . . . bird at me as Alex Weiss steps off as though
nothing’s happened and goes his way, probably to meet
                      some band he’s booked. Now maybe two years later
I see Alex and this girl in line in front of me

at the East End Deli, and I say, Alex, and he says, David,
           and I say, You know, Alex, you’re a hero of mine,
and he says, Hmmm?, and I tell this story, and the girl
                      is going, Alexxx! partly in reproof but partly proudly,
and Alex is saying, I don’t remember this,

and the girl is going, Alexxxxx! and Alex is saying,
           I don’t remember any of this at all,
but it happened, guaranteed—I’m not saying I don’t lie,
                      but I don’t lie in these poems. The only thing is,
do I want to tell Ian this story, because at 16

he has already got his man’s body and is starting
           to get ideas about what a man does and what it means
to be a man and all that bio-philosophical horseshit
                      boys have to go through before they realize
that none of it makes any difference anyway,

and I certainly don’t want to suggest that
           he ought to go around answering every provocation
every baboon offers him, because, in circumstances
                      that would have to be only very slightly different,
those morons might well have boiled out of that car

and grabbed Alex Weiss and yanked him to pieces
           and scattered his parts all over downtown Tallahassee.
On the other hand, it’s a really good story,
                      and Ian’s head seems to be screwed on the right way,
so I go ahead and tell him, and, predictably,

he almost chokes on his andouille and crawfish pizza,
           saying, Really, Dad, really, auk-hargh-hrssh-hargle,
and just then our protagonist comes back through
                      the cafe where we are eating and says,
David, and I say, Alex, and off he goes down the street,

and I go back to my veggie muffaletta thinking
           how nice it is from an aesthetic standpoint
for Alex Weiss to be, not some linebacker,
                      but the guy who books bands and is skinny to boot,
because what would be the point if he too

had been a big dumb-ass? And just then I remember
           that when Ian was four or five, I used to read him
fairy tales, and the one he always wanted to hear
                      was the story of Thumbling, the child of a poor peasant
who says to his wife, How sad it is

that we have no children! With us all is so quiet,
           and in other houses it is noisy and lively,
and his wife sighs and says, Yes, even if we had
                      only one, and it were only as big as a thumb,
I should be quite satisfied, and we would still

love it with all our hearts. When the little guy
           comes along, he has all sorts of adventures
and even makes a lot of money for his parents
                      because he is “a wise and nimble creature,
and everything he did turned out well,” and not only

did this become Ian’s favorite story, but when
           I got to his favorite line, he’d say, Read that again,
and I’d say, he was a wise and nimble creature,
                      and everything he did turned out well, and Ian
would suck his thumb and smile and look off dreamily,

and I could tell he was thinking of the many benefits
           of being wise and nimble when he grew up
and all the fun he’d have and the rewards.
                      That’s a good story, too, isn’t it?
David and Goliath, the tailor who killed seven

with one blow . . . they’re all good stories.
           Nothing like a good story.
Once a coach said, Is your boy smart?
                      and I said I think so, and the coach said,
Good, then he won’t have to be tough,

which is not true, because, after all, an aphorism
           doesn’t have to be right, just sound right.
I’d say be smart first and then only as tough as need be—
                      you know, we really need every good story
we can lay our hands on.

David Kirby is the Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor at Florida State University. A Johns Hopkins Ph.D., he is the recipient of five Florida State teaching awards.

from My Twentieth Century. Reprinted with the permission of the author.