“Living Right” by Jeffrey Franklin

Jeffrey Franklin


Where I come from, what they call “living right”
most often means no liquor and no sex
except what’s sanctioned by the state of marriage,
and only then with hurried indifference,
plus regular appearances at church.

Only men need worry about living right,
since women got themselves or had been stuck
minding the store of moral goods and notions
and, as far as men could tell, forgotten how
to live wrong. And so naturally such men,

resenting women for the only power
left them to exercise, and guilty too
for their aversion to living right, wrested
a counter definition from the margins
of socially acceptable behavior,

according to which they failed to love the children
the women had, in their minds, forced upon them,
and took to the woods, where they might exercise
a purgative prerogative to kill
followed by heavy drinking, during which—

and usually while pissing side-by-side,
gazing up at a bleary moon together—
they’d in an epiphanic gush concur
that this was—goddamn right!—living right.
So, this morning when our houseguest said,

“You folks sure know how to live right,” I paused.
Surely not the Southern brimstone version,
and not its virile doppelganger either;
not the living right that characters
in films affect—and their actors imitate—

of smoking fifty-buck cigars, driving sports cars
faster than the speed of self-inflation
until the cancer or the smash-up gets them;
and not the New Age fix of cheating death
via a regimen of fitness training

punctuated with rewards of tofu
braised in Thai spices, though I admit
we had served him miniature vegetables
stir-fried in ginger sauce the night before.
If what he meant was wine for taste and laughter

shared among friends, love-making not as often
as once we did, though still intense, less hurried
if sometimes silly, sometimes reverential
on a Sunday morning with the kids still sleeping
for close enough to church, all regulated

by a love of work, the sum of which puts us
halfway between the Buddhist Middle Way
and middle-class protesting conformity,
then, hell, let’s share a fifty-cent cigar
and go for a spin in the station wagon, honey.

from Rattle #34, Winter 2010

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