Ed Friedman: Four new poems ('Ideal Boy') from 'Two Towns'

Good Habits

The ideal boy

gets up early.

Light is dim outside,

not so bright inside either.

Salutes parents

bare feet knees together,

proud posture with no sassy upturns.

Goes for morning walk.

Does not wander from path.

Until sun has fully risen

it’s hard to avoid ditches and

fast-moving wild predators.

Brushes up the teeth.

Special red chili pepper toothpaste

not recommended.

Bathes daily.

Wears underwear in shower if

swimming trunks not available.


to local deities and major godheads.

Takes meals on time.

Hand to mouth,

no metal utensils.

Helps others

to second helpings.

Crossing busy access roads,

avoids careening vehicles.

Takes part in games

amicable and rancorous.

Hard wooden balls

bruise the shins and cheekbones.

Taking lost children to the police post

is ill-advised during rebellion,

tribal unrest, or slave trade.

Joins National Junior Army

only as last resort.

Pink recruitment tents

dot the green spring flood plains.

Joins in social gatherings.

Boys and boys boys and girls

button and unbutton

their bright cloth shirts,

sing many times over

anthems and hymns.

Define laxness.

Go to school and read attentively.

Blazing, all fired up,

head home, incite the family.


Bad Behaviors

The ideal boy

never sketches costume jewelry

during homework time or

pilfers baubles to draw.

Must avoid spitting near breakfast,

lunch, dinner, festival meals.

Even rotten wormy food

is politely contained.

Kite-flying barefooted

on slanted tile roofs

is unpardonable danger.

Same for catching Father

in the act of expelling

household cat litter

over public sidewalk.

Avert eyes subtly.


Bad Habits Too

The sky is overcast and faintly blue gray.

Creamy yellow stucco walls,

salmon drapery, and mouldings.

Don’t gamble wearing native shorts and shirts.

Big bugs leap off unclean vegetables.

Toying with deadly electricity.

If you ever lie down before the rolling-forward bus,

you’ll die worse than animal teasing with sticks.

Thieves are reamed regularly

for insolent infractions.

A fine way to treat others can’t be bought.

Gummed-down dinners.


Human Stages and Duties 

Ideal boys

sleep wearing little

under smooth cotton sheets,

lie awake in the charged quiet.

Preparing to lift a miniature

soccer ball from the rug,

twirl it for Daddy and

show all sides of a weird haircut.

Red tiger-print jumpsuits.

give way to swimming trunks,

three-wheeled scooters.

What’s sunset and afterglow on flood runoffs?

Henna tattoos.

Posters of our beloved pacifist presidents.

Do thoughts duel?

Looking at my portraits

I’d say so then not.

Rice ripening on time equals life or death.

For scroll inscribers and graduates

all kinds of love

pour forth among wicker furniture.

Leaning back wrist to temple

I regard the future with weariness—

now invigorated awe.


[NOTE. Ed Friedman grew up in 1950s Los Angeles. He made his way to New York City in the early 70s, where he worked on magazines, collaborated with artists & composers, played in bands, & participated in the active St. Mark’s Poetry Project community. In 1987 he became the Poetry Project’s Artistic Director, a position he held until 2003. His previous books of poetry & prose include: The Telephone Book, Humans Work, Mao & Matisse, Away, & Drive Through the Blue Cylinders.  Of his new book, Two Towns from Hanging Loose Press, I’ve written elsewhere: “There is in Ed Friedman’s marvelous new book a range of voices from the mock-naive & deeply comic ‘Ideal Boy’ to the wide-ranging & always surprising ‘Propulsion,’ a long poem in itself with incursions into both the personal & political.   Friedman emerges in all of these as a powerful & never disappointing poet/chronicler, at the top of his form & ready to take his place among the makers & movers of our time.  The work is refreshing, absorbing, & remarkably readable; the pleasure in that reading all ours now as it must have been his in the making.” (J.R.)]