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Robert King


The Funny Traveler in Omaha


When I put up, by association of parts,
my umbrella I become Portuguese
along an Omaha street because I

bought it in Portugal, a Saturday market
in a small town, men standing in clusters
on one side of the street, the women, mostly

in black, on the other, a divided village
in separate knots, two sides for marriages
to get away from each other.

Suddenly in the market there came a downpour
and I was standing beside the seller
of big umbrellas and if it had rained

all day—and I had places to go, I couldn’t
stand around not-talking to the men—I was ready
although it only rained three minutes so I had

this large black sculpture to carry around two weeks
but now I can use it in Omaha,
light drops ticking like a dozen watches

on the tight drum-skin of my contrivance.
Let’s face it, the umbrella is comic,
the funniest amenity we’ve made.

The duck, of course, is the funniest animal,
not mallards but the children’s barnyard-book-
duck, he and she of the orange bill and feet

and the white plump decoy of a body.
The bicycle is the funniest machine,
if you’re keeping a list, because all its parts

are so visible. A car is mysterious,
or a jet, because its parts are hidden
but if you’ve looked at a bicycle you can

make one although perhaps not a good one.
An umbrella is comic because
it’s that obvious a thing. There’s also

a certain sense of self-importance one exudes
carrying an umbrella and someone else’s
self-importance is also funny

the way I am now, under my umbrella
in the fragile rain which is not like the drench
on Gene Kelly in a street in “An American in Paris,”

the first movie I took a girl to, Jayne, a Baptist, who,
when I remarked on the way home how exciting it was,
though going with a girl was the most exciting part,

said she thought it was very “carnal.” Who
but a Baptist girl would use that word? I’m sorry I left
Jayne or she left me but not really, so long afterward now,

but I am sorry I had to leave the Portuguese market
and I’m also afraid, no one else on the street
carrying an umbrella, that I’m surely

a comic figure, an old duck riding a new bicycle,
because although it shows I’m well-traveled
no one else knows that and I think of singing

a chorus or two about rain and Jayne
but (see under “Umbrella, comic”) I’d look
even funnier and to all of Omaha.


Robert King’s first book, Old Man Laughing (Ghost Road Press), was a finalist for the 2008 Colorado Book Award in Poetry and his second, Some of These Days appeared in 2013 from Conundrum Press. He recently won the Grayson Books Chapbook Competition with Rodin & Co. He lives in Greeley, Colorado, where he directs the website