Sisyphus in a Sheepskin Coat
SUNY Jefferson
Schedule an Admissions Appointment

Sisyphus in a Sheepskin Coat

Bob Comenole
Sisyphus in a Sheepskin Coat
North Country Writers Contest 2019 Winner, Poetry

I did my hitch with Uncle Sam
and with my last paycheck nabbed
                             a fine sheepskin coat
then settled in to a flat on Vanduzee Street
down the saddle, at the bottom of the bowl
between the two hills of Coffeen
That coat: in lieu of a couch, TV, kitchen table
and half a payment on my old Jeep
which, in the end, they came for anyway
That coat: now three years worn,
toasty as an open hearth, snug as armor,
a revenant during the day, a robe at night
and the only time I ever feel truly safe is when I’m within it
Thank god this icebox city keeps its seasons brief
and drags its bitter winters large and long
where the deep freeze seems to suppress the startle reflex
My friends know me, and so say things like
“Come on in, take your coat off and sit a spell”
whenever I join them in one of the taverns
nestled between all the fruit stands and clip joints
here in the west end, the sand flats, where the locals often mistake me for a cousin, calling out
with wide smiles, “Hey ginzo! Hey goombah!”
One night, my best friend Darcy, who is not one of the locals,
said to me, “Chuckie, Chuckie, you’re a regular Sisyphus!”
My other bud Dylan cackled,
“Hah! Sisyphus on Coffeen Street Hill.
When you’re not at the top of one, you’re up the other!”
I can take a joke, which I suppose it was
                                      but at the time it flew over me
they went on talking about Skinner and Piaget
                                      as I thought of Sisyphus
condemned to roll that stone to the peak of a hill
                                      and watch it roll down again,
again and again, cursed to endless struggle
This Sisyphus
who twice cheated death
                                      as I had
whose existence was mere and meaningless,
                                      full of nothing but grim repetition
So what of the two crests of Coffeen Street Hill?
At one end of the hill: a stash of classrooms,
at the tip of the other, a jail—
next to the college, a diner
and across from the jail, a poor man’s conservatory
where I tried piano lessons,
but froze stiff every time a sharp or flat came into view
and no grit could make up for the tremors in my hands,
            so I quit
I tried guitar the following year, but flunked that too
At Shorty’s Diner on the opposite hill there was a waitress
keen on me, till she dumped me for a quarryman from Carthage
Three times I made it as far as midterms at that cannonball school
and three times dropped out of view
As for the jail, I’ve twice been a guest of the flint-nosed sheriff
So, yeah, I guess my pals had a point—
I’ve been a stone pusher alright
Maybe I need to poke a little more fun at myself
maybe I need to shed my coat
maybe they didn’t even really know who Sisyphus was
I want to get my coat cleaned, but now I’m saving like a madman
for a set of encyclopedias, leather-bound Britannicas,
with bookmarks of fine ribbon and soft flossy tassels,
retailing at eleven hundred bucks, so these days I’m practically
living off tavern breadsticks and leftovers at Darcy & Dylan’s
The 32 volumes stack up at precisely sixty-two & a quarter inches
so over to Home Depot I’ll go for a plain pine board
                             and tack a shelf up above the coat rack
And in my little three-lamp flat I’ll read and get up to speed
I’ll listen to the comfort of river and rail outside my window
                                        —and I will promise myself sleep—
for in the morning there will be frost on the stubborn stone
Next Monday’s the first day of spring registration
I’ve got all the forms
             I can see that classroom now,
                                    I will sit closest to the door