Traverse City Record-Eagle

February 17, 2013

Appearances can be in the eyes of the beholder

By Terry Wooten
Special to the Record-Eagle

---- — It was time for good-byes, which is always sad. I’d finished up two days of poetry performances and writing workshops in a local elementary school.

It’s hard to bond with kids through art like I do, then walk out of their building until next year, or maybe their lives. I put on my winter coat and wide brim hat and got ready to leave.

The kids got all excited and said, “You look just like George Washington! Doesn’t he look like George Washington?”

Now I’ve been told I look like a lot of people: Willie Wonka, Crocodile Dundee because of my hat, an old Jack Nicholson and Beatle Juice. Every year it’s somebody more decrepit. Soon I’ll probably resemble Ramses II’s mummy. But George Washington was puzzling.

When I got home, before I took off my hat I looked in the mirror and smiled. I don’t get it. I’m not sure George Washington ever wore a hat like mine, and our smiles are totally different.

President George Washington had bad teeth. At the time of his inauguration, he only had one natural tooth left. His dentures were carved out of hippopotamus ivory and gold. He never showed them when he smiled, if you want to call his mouth pose a smile.

The students’ comments about my appearance reminded me of a poem I once wrote about Michigan’s rascal poet Max Ellison. He traveled around the country like I do. First Kiss…is about me, and a late celebration of Valentine’s Day.

George Washington

I picked this hitchhiker up in Virginia,

and right away sensed

something was strange about him,

though harmless enough.

He said he was headed to Ohio

to visit his family,

but I doubt it.

Said he hadn’t seen them in years.

I knew he didn’t have any money,

so I bought him lunch.

Every place we’d pass,

he bring up George Washington

and wonder

if George had been there,

or what George had done there.

He was obsessed

with George Washington.

This went on all day,

until he finally got on my nerves.

I let him out in Pennsylvania.

I offered him some money,

but he wouldn’t take it,

so I used a little psychology.

I said, “Now George Washington

always paid his troops,

didn’t he?”

He nodded yes.

“Well,” I said, “I wasn’t going

to tell you,

but I’m George Washington.”

You should’ve seen him.

His eyes almost popped out

of his head.

“Now, you’ve been with me all day

and I’m going to pay you for it.

Okay?”

He shook his head yes in awe.

“Now, muster up!” I said,

and he snapped to attention.

I went to the back of my pickup,

where I kept a box of change,

and counted out twenty-dollars-worth.

I took it up

and handed it to him.

“Now,” I said, “about face!”

He whirled around.

“March! Left, right, left, right.”

And off he marched.

That’s the last

I ever saw of him,

marching down the side of the highway,

with a big smile on his face.

First Kiss at the Sun Theater

We’d been going steady for two weeks

and still hadn’t kissed.

I wasn’t bored

with her or the movie,

I was just yawning.

Stretched my eighth-grade arms

like love bird wings.

My left one settled back down

gently around her shoulders.

She quivered

but didn’t pull away.

An hour later my arm was numb

and the movie was almost over.

A pounding heart urged me on.

“Do you mind if I do something?”

I whispered tenderly.

“What!” she asked.

“Kiss you,” I sighed.

I couldn’t move in like a goldfish

with my eyes wide open.

Closed my eyelids

and leaned towards her.

Clink! My front teeth hit something.

A small piece of tooth broke off,

slid over my lip

and tumbled like stunted popcorn

to the dark floor.

My eyes jarred agape

saw her glass coke bottle

raised between us.

“It wouldn’t be right,” she said.

Wounded, I didn’t argue.

The rest of the movie was a blur.

After The End

I walked her out of the theater

to her dad’s car,

and watched her chauffeured away.

I felt like my piece of tooth

on the littered floor.