‘Bad Fame Is Better Than No Fame,’ Says Denver Poet

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Photo: Martin McGovern
Denver poet Martin McGovern's first book of poetry is "Bad Fame."

Life can be both beautiful and horrific, and both fill the pages of “Bad Fame,” the first book from Denver poet Martin McGovern. Much of his work is set in Colorado, from Pueblo to Greeley. McGovern teaches creative writing at Regis University in Denver. "Bad Fame" is a finalist for a Colorado Book award. The award winners will be announced May 21.

Three Poems From "Bad Fame"


Out the shaganappy of Colorado Highway 50, 
                      past Damon Runyon 
           Stadium and the steel-mill lake,
slag-pocket, second home for petulant 
                      boozers, past 
           the Greenwood Inn’s music 
still playing into morning for fourteen-
                      year-old boy-men
           slow dancing with divorcees, 
past fields of radishes and Italian farmers
           as thick as Chevys, past pink, 
                      purple, robin’s-
egg-blue slick coats of Mexican shacks
           and the goat-cheese shop, 
                      its parking lot
full of black cars rumored bigwig Mafiosi’s,
           past the wrought-iron gates
                      and heavenly angels
guarding Roselawn Cemetery with marble
           swords, past the blue-jeaned
                      groundskeepers joking
as they put away their shovels, past 
                      all this scholia
           to the canopied gathering 
and my ten-year-old, acolyte, altar-boy self
                      giving up cub-reporter 
           daydreams, home-run daydreams, 
but not looking at the bronze casket he’ll
                      get ten bucks for 
           helping lower and not looking either     
at the protandric priest’s smooth-shaven jowls
                      or the blanket of flowers
           rising from the lawn like phosphorescent
anger, but watching, instead, a bee
                      abandon the tea roses
           and circle that black blossom of 
the widow’s veiled face as if her tears were 
           pollen and the bee could feather
                      its legs with grief
and change it—can grief ever change?—into honey.

This Is the Library Straight down from the Train Room
This library is for children, and the train room is, too.
We had a train room in our house when I was nine. 
My brother built it. It was sort of square. 
But it was in the basement, and it opened onto a bigger room—
you could close it off, though, with one of those bamboo curtains, 
you know? My brother made it, the train room. Why, yes he did. 
He knew how to make things, my brother. He could make trains, 
and—you know what?—he could make bridges and towns, too. 

And I put people in them. And yellow lights late at night, 
and gravel and green grass during the day, and families and filling stations
and switching stations and train cars that were chock-full of stories
about madness and jubilance. You might break your heart, you know, 
        having a train room.

You might learn how to live—how things are, the way stories are, made.

The Rainbow Diary

It’s summertime. Let’s go everybody. Everybody ready? 
A family packing for a trip, three boys, their hair cut 
in burrs, the mother holding a camp stool and looking 
at the oldest boy who’s looking at the middle boy who’s 
looking at the youngest while they duel with fishing rods 
and the father looks at the mother. Will they catch many fish? 
How much will be spoken? How much will be left unspoken? 
See the youngest slit his thigh with the fish knife? Watch 
the middle boy, his hand severed by the outboard and drifting 
like a small shoe toward the lake bottom. Is the oldest losing 
an eye, the iris snagged like a rainbow trout? Is the father 
driving their car, with all of them in it, into the river? 
Is the mother whispering prayers? How much love can they kill? 
How many fish can they catch? How many will they throw back? 
How many will get away? See the car fly backward from river 
to road? Such a home movie! Watch the boy’s hand turn and swim 
back to its wrist and join—how the skin sutures itself!
They’re teasing over dinner. No furies, no sudden danger. 
What about hope? What about the blue and yellow and orange 
pages of the mother’s journal? “Today, dear diary, another first. . . .”

Reprinted from "Bad Fame." Copyright © Martin McGovern, 2015.

Used by permission of Able Muse Press.