Michael T. Mayo’s poems are written in the grand but plain-speaking tradition of great narrative poets like Philip Levine and Joseph Millar, two of his influences. His tight, precisely drawn portraits reflect a deep connection to the physical world and an artist’s reverence for what demands attention in everyday life. Whether jolted by the wonder of first sexual love, the quiet diligence of the honorable day-laborer, or awake to the plight of the street painter whose absence each night "is a gaping hole in the sidewalk/ a cavity in the mouth of the city.”, this poet hears the music and beholds the beauty in what we might otherwise take for granted. These deceptively simple poems herald the arrival of a genuine voice with a solid poetic finger on the complex pulse of human experience. Please welcome and enjoy the work of newcomer Michael T. Mayo.
Michael T. Mayo was born and raised in Wilmington, NC, attended NC State as a Park Scholar, and received a BS in Chemistry in 2007. After working for a year for a non-profit doing home rehabilitation in Appalachia, he returned to NC State in 2008 for a Creative Writing Degree. He currently attends school full-time and works as a security guard in downtown Raleigh. He will graduate in December and plans to marry Sarah Miller in 2010. He is in the process of applying to MFA programs for fall 2010.
Portrait of the artist as an old man
There’s an artist that lives nearby
the parking deck I patrol.
I pass by him, selling his colored pencil
landscapes and portraits each evening
on Fayetteville. When he smiles
I see he is missing a bottom front tooth.
I bought a picture, when times were better,
ten bucks for a self portrait in charcoal.
He didn’t sign his name, just the word
I watch him each night at seven
from the top floor of my deck
pack up his pictures
in an accordion portfolio
and shuffle home,
past the courthouse,
past the television station,
past the groves of newspaper stands
and isolated trees,
disappearing around a corner
behind American Bail Bonds.
Each night at seven-fifteen,
his absence is a gaping hole in the sidewalk,
a cavity in the mouth of the city.
Summer, Age 17
That summer, neck burnt, shoulders bruised
from hefting the gas blower each day,
I got my first and second blowjobs
and started smoking Winston Reds on the sly.
It was the summer I first felt that sweet heat,
knuckle deep and forearm flexed,
and saw the outstretched toes
and fist-balled sheets of a girl
writhing beside me,
her straw-colored hair strewn across the pillow
like she’d been caught in a sudden gust of wind.
It was the first summer I worked
for a man who worked hard his whole life,
and when I first knew that deep emotional addiction
to a morning cup of coffee.
It was the first time I learned of the hierarchy of work;
that even though the boss’s wife rode with us,
mowed lawns and laid sod with us,
blew streets and planted trees with us,
she sat in the back with me and Jesús and the mowers,
while Marcelino sat up front
because he had a year on her
and three on me and Jesús.
That was his seat
because two springs before, pruning a magnolia,
he fell off a ladder and dislocated his shoulder,
had it set in the ER under a false name,
and was back at work on time the next morning;
because when he used the blower
on a parking lot or cul-de-sac
he was conducting a gas/oil symphony,
willing the piles of straw and dirt to move
with a flick of his wrist.
On my first day he laughed as I struggled
with the blower– dust flying everywhere
like I was trudging through a flour mill–
and offered me this advice:
It’s not about the shoulder.
Focus on the forearm.
Flex it, see? Just like fingering a girl…
You have fingered a girl right?
Morning’s first blade of light
cuts across your closed eyes
and you just begin to stir,
but I have been awake for hours,
propped up on my elbow,
my head resting in my left hand,
watching that beam creep
across your naked shoulders
and up the nape of your neck
because I am truly, madly, deeply
terrified of you;
of eating meatloaf because it’s Monday,
spaghetti because it’s Thursday,
fucking because it’s Saturday;
of how you get sad when it’s cold
and nothing I can say can make you happy.
It will be cold for half our lives, you know.
More if we move North.
As you roll onto your side, still asleep,
your hand rubs past my cock,
half-hard for no real reason,
while, silently, I am panicking
about whether or not infidelity
is a genetically inherited trait,
and if so is it dominate or recessive?
Is it passed maternally or paternally?
Does it skip a generation?
Is it right now lying dormant in my DNA,
waiting for some trigger– some short skirt,
some tight-fitting shirt– to activate?
In the full length mirror on the opposite wall
I see our dog Trout sleeping at the foot of our bed,
but all I really see is a house full of kids
wiping their noses on the backs of their hands,
screaming for attention and hanging on my coat,
eating and shitting and puking and pissing and eating some more
so they can turn around and do it all again,
because that’s what the dog is, right?
A trial run for children.
A commitment fire drill.
In a few minutes he will wake up and annoy the piss out of us
until we rock, paper, scissors to see who takes him outside,
which I will no doubt lose, because you¬¬, for some reason,
are an unstoppable force at barely-awake ro-sham-bo.
When I put on my coat the right side will hang heavy
and I will slip my hand into my pocket, call myself a chickenshit,
and palm the box I have been carrying around for days.
I don't remember what he looked like
exactly, though I was pretty sure he had gills
like the fish he taught me to gut on the pier
where I would soon watch his ashes
cloud up the inlet like a flounder
burrowing into the sandy floor.
He slipped his grey knife into a silver belly
and pulled slowly from head to tail,
opening it up so he could slide his calloused
fingers inside, pulling out everything.
He explained to me the functions of the organs,
and showed me the partially digested bait
we had cut up together while the morning fog was still
thick on the water, all the while his jowls
flapped with each word, in sync with the gills
of that dying fish.