David Tucker

Self-Portrait Using the Word “No”

No more television.
No more television?
No more television,
 You have screwed around all day long, neglected your family, your writing, your chores,
watched nothing but football,
lying on the couch like a fish on the sea bottom. No more McDonald’s either.

No more McDonald’s?
No more McDonald’s,
 you’re getting fat,

your heart hums in the morning from the junk you eat.
and no more staying up late.

I love staying up late,
 I’m afraid I will miss something.
No staying up late, it’s bad for you,

you wake up like a crazed cyclone,
barely making it to work, nerves pounding temper flaring, cursing your job.
Staying up late is out.

Who’s talking to me?
I don’t like you, Someone.
And while we are at it, no more Jack Daniels.
No way I give that up.
I love the clatter of ice cubes in those heavy glasses.

No more Jack. You don’t know how
to just have a social drink,
you drink to get drunk,
you’re already borderline alcoholic. No more Jack.

But all these things make me happy.
No more being happy. Look what it does to you.

Dear Beth

Do you remember that old guy,
who kept his television going all day in that
noisy building where we lived in
Philadelphia for a few months, years ago?
We had just arrived in town, the paper
was putting us up while we looked
for a place. His game shows murmured through the
walls so clear we answered
the questions as we ate. A round
of applause for the housewife, who had just won an
Oldsmobile, cheers
for the soap opera star stopping by
to show Oprah the new baby.
The President’s cousin dropped in and
the bowling team that won the lottery.

After a few hours of the same channel,
we’d begin to think our neighbor could be dead,
that maybe a heart attack had taken him
or he’d been electrocuted by his toaster,
then we’d hear a faucet running, a yawn, a spoon
ringing, something like a song. A retired clerk
of something, I guess,
a math teacher, accountant, or dentist.

We never knew his name, but didn’t he
always wear a yellow bow tie, looking half
dressed up and for what
we asked in a kind of wonder then.

Who was he? We often passed him, remember,
as he pulled a creaky shopping cart down the hall,
nodding a half smile as he opened his door
and disappeared in the rising sound of applause.

David Tucker’s book, Late for Work, won the Bakeless Poetry Prize, selected by Philip Levine, and was published by Houghton Mifflin. He also won a national chapbook contest held by Slapering Hol Press, for Days When Nothing Happens. He was awarded a Witter Bynner Fellowship by the Library of Congress, selected by Donald Hall.
A native Tennessean, Tucker has read twice at the Library of Congress and three times on NPR. Ted Kooser selected two of his poems for American Life in Poetry.
A career journalist, he supervised investigations for the Star-Ledger newspaper and edited two Pulitzer Prize winners.