Sunday, January 30, 2011

Cry Uncle

Everyday somebody's telling me to put
my hands up, somebody's telling me
to put my hands in the air.
I can't tell anymore what's a threat
or what's an exhortation,
but I'm generally inclined to do as
I'm told and so I spend
much of the time I spend by myself,
which is much of the time,
moving around with my hands up
and my hands in the air,
which are really, it occurs to me,
the same damn thing.
Either way, it makes me feel
oddly liberated and captured
all at the same time, a hostage
surrendering with a combination
of ecstasy and relief.
If we are to submit to forces
greater than ourselves,
let us dance our way into
the arms of our captors,
our hands up and empty
of all weapons but joy,
and with the secret understanding
that there really are no forces
greater than ourselves.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Watching The Words: The Relay

Screwing my weight on tight
Wasting my eyes on small type
Running from left to right
Still respectful of borders
The letters sporting as best they can
Within the pasture of the page.

I long for a landscape where the words
Can run all day and clear out of sight
And where I can sit on a hill
And watch them go until whatever
Story they have to tell disappears
And is lost to me but continuing
Somewhere to be continued carried
Along to the next reader in the relay
Who will just have to imagine for themselves
The parts of the story they have already
Missed just as I will somehow have to
Find some way to invent my own ending.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


It was when I said that I didn't recognize you
without your glasses and you said you'd never worn
glasses that I first began to entertain the suspicion
that I really didn't know you. I mean, really didn't
know you, that we'd never laid eyes on each other.
Accustomed as I am to awkward moments,
I've nonetheless obtained no mastery over them,
and so I heard myself saying, "Why is it that
every song, including some really lousy songs,
reminds me of you and not in a good
way, but in a way that breaks my heart?
And why is it that every time my phone rings my
broken heart skips a beat in the expectation that it
might be you? You know, calling finally to apologize?"

In my memory I could swear that at that moment
you raised a thumb to the bridge of your nose
to secure your glasses. "Apologize for what?"
you said, as if you were actually curious.
And when I hesitated in answering --there were
so many possible answers, so many possible
worlds-- you said, not, I think, unkindly,
"Should I wait while you manufacture some memories?"
God bless you for that. Even after all those
years, even as your eyes seemed to be straining
behind your glasses, even as you were looking
beyond me at something up the street,
even as you checked your watch and investigated
the chirping of your cell phone in your purse,
you were seeing me clearly.  Seeing me as
you and only you have ever truly seen me.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Another Evening With Scratch Galligan

I gave my dog, Fergus "Scratch" Galligan, a mustache for Christmas. It is a fine mustache, but I had my fill of it earlier this evening, and made my feelings known.

This evening I have other fish to fry, as I believe the expression goes, even as I remain uncertain whether in fact I am using the expression in the proper context.

The fish I have to fry are not impressive fish --not by any means-- yet they nonetheless must be fried. Once upon a time I spent my evenings feeding words into a rock tumbler; these days whatever words I can rustle up are tossed half-heartedly into the Fry Baby. When these words are sufficiently crisp I mix them in with the Galligan lad's rations.

Galligan is inordinately fond of even the most pedestrian words, and uses even finer words to describe them: Scrumptious. Savory. Delectable. I will hear him utter these and other such fancy words between bites. Often he will continue to smack his chops with genuine relish for a good fifteen minutes after he has dined.

Oh, yes, Fergus Galligan is indeed a fancy fellow, a gourmand of the banal. He will pronounce a bowl of prepositions and the scrawniest imaginable epithets, "the most toothsome repast in recent memory. On my honor, sir, your fried words have enriched my kibble experience tenfold."

Often Galligan will don his mustache as he digests and ruminates over the words he has just eaten.

I am, of course, gratified to be able to serve up such easy satisfaction with the increasingly dreary collection of words that I dredge from the increasingly long nights.

My dear Galligan never fails to surprise and delight me, even in the bleariest days of mid-winter. Galligan is, as I may or may not have previously mentioned, a Chilean Dasher, one of the rare dog breeds to have appeared on the Endangered Species list. At the time he came to live with me, at seven months of age, I was led to believe that he was one of only five surviving Dashers in the world. He was then a refugee, rescued from seismic debris and transported to the United States for safeguarding and study. Even this arrangement did not work out as planned --at least initially-- for the poor fellow. Twice before he came to me he had been placed in other homes only to have his custody rather hastily relinquished. The reason for this, I was told, was that Galligan was rather too spirited for many conventional domestic arrangements. The Dasher comes by its name honestly, and my lad is the swiftest of hounds, long-limbed, and a world-class leaper into the bargain. This is not a dog you want to present with the challenge of a fence.

I have had few problems, however, since taking responsibility for Mr. Galligan. I quickly discovered him to be an excellent conversationalist, an agile thinker, and a most reasonable fellow. These are not, of course, traits that the average person is eager to recognize in a dog, and I was somewhat astonished to learn that none of the boy's previous caretakers had ever attempted to converse with him. And where there is not attempt at conversation, you'll understand, there can be no reasoning.

If ever a dog was starved for conversation, it was Fergus Galligan, and in me I like to believe he found his perfect match. No subject is out of bounds between us, thank heavens. I once asked Galligan why he was not given to the humping I have previously experienced with other dogs. He shuddered quite violently and replied, "Such behavior is unseemly, sir, and beneath a Dasher. Your legs, and the legs of your visitors, as well as your pillows and general upholstery, are safe from me. I assure you I am as chaste as a monk."

Some moments ago, as I was reclining with a book and Galligan was reposed on the sofa, he raised his head and stated that he should like to hear some music featuring the French horn.

"Heavens above!" I replied. "Where do you get such ideas, Galligan? You, a dog, asking to hear French horns! Those words I'm feeding you must be giving you queer notions, old fellow. I'm not sure that, even were I feeling so inclined, I could dig up any recordings featuring French Horns."

After a bit more in the way of discussion on the matter, Galligan suggested that he may have learned the term from one of the holiday carols I regularly sang with him during our recent Christmas revels. I found this astonishing, as you might well imagine, and it wasn't until a good deal later, after Galligan had retired for the evening, that it occurred to me that this was an even queerer business yet.

"French hens!" I shouted to Galligan in the other room. "The words in the song are 'French hens'!"

A moment of silence followed, and I assumed Galligan must have been sound asleep. After a brief interlude, however, his voice --measured and a bit sleepy, yet characteristically undaunted-- carried to me in my easy chair: "What I requested, sir, was not French hens, but French horns. I remain certain of that fact. And I beg you not to trouble my sleep with any more of your foolishness."

Friday, January 7, 2011

My Sweet Lenora

No question, I was sweet on Lenora, but the girl loved only rain and pretty little birds and the goddamn flowers of the field.

She was one of those dreamers who liked to wax poetic about things, including those things I just mentioned, but not exclusively those things, not by a long shot. Oh, lord no. Lenora had some serious longing for the world. I believe she might put it that way, or even some way a good deal fancier than that.

She read poets who talked about trees and the moon and dying voles --I think they were voles-- and other such things, and these poems would make her gasp. The color would rise in her cheeks and I could almost feel her precious heart fluttering from across the room.

Often she would insist on reading poems aloud to me --a fair number of them were about birds, and many specifically about long-legged birds standing so quietly (poised was I believe a word commonly employed) in a marsh as either darkness fell or the sun began to make an appearance. I tried to listen intently to these poems, because that's what love will do to a man. And though I am surely no professor, if I had to say what I took away from the poems Lenora read to me it would be the message that at any given moment every damn thing you can imagine might just be up and fixing to die.

"Life is short," I would say, nodding my head.

"Life is precious," Lenora would say, tears sometimes welling in her eyes. "Life is so, so precious and rare."

"Well, I don't know as it's exactly rare," I might say, but only if I was starting to feel like I'd had a bit too much poetry to eat.

Lenora was a fetching gal. I'll be damned if she wasn't. And she had a view of the world that was comely as well, even if I did often find it difficult to square with my own. She was almost more adorable than I could stand, the way she would stir that strawberry powder --which I was pretty sure was carcinogenic, an opinion I shared with her-- into her milk and blow the mess full of bubbles with a red plastic straw.

I have to pause, God help me, after conjuring such a memory.

Eventually, however, my sweet Lenora and I had a conversation in which she admitted that were she forced to choose between subtracting a single homely tree or bird from the world or parting ways with me, she would choose the homely tree and the bird. Smitten as I admittedly was, that was just more batshit-crazy nonsense than I was willing to put up with. It just flat-out was, and when I said I was going home to Sioux City to see if I could get back my old job dealing blackjack, she let me go.

A lot of years have gone by now, though, and I've had plenty of time to wonder if maybe I shouldn't have tried just a little bit harder to be a different sort of man. Every few months I'll get to pining, and I'll type Lenora's name into the internet, even as I know damn well that she doesn't exist in that world and never will.

Still, I like to imagine that she's out there somewhere, on her knees in the wet grass, crying out my name as I'm crying out hers. What about people? I sometimes say to Lenora in my head. Sometimes I shout it out loud. What about love, little gal? Aren't them things precious too?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Everything Was Stolen From Germans And Made By Slaves

Scolded by Emerson.
Shamed by Schopenhauer.
Drugged by German poets.

Lord of nothing,
suckled from a she-wolf's teat,
locked down in a hovel of words.
Bad light. No invention. Inoperable.

Eyes conquered by the rearview mirror.

I might have liked you
if I could have heard you,
but your voice was on the other
side of some great divide.

The giant goes with me when I go.

Under my diaphragm you will find
a nest of young rats.
Be careful with your knife.
They are hopeless things, but harmless.

The world is full of judgment days.

This, though, is the hour of the carp
and of the dying flies.
No compensatory spark flares across
the neutral dark.

Call the crows. They will surely be
interested in this. And let some intrepid
astronaut among them carry these
ashes back to the stars.

In the ruins of the garden,
night with its black snout
follows the trail of blood
in the fresh snow.

Once, out of wild dreams a boy awoke
to discover that his tongue had turned to stone.
From the distant village dull bells
were pealing and darkness was advancing
swiftly on the chaos of his heart.

Let us pray,
and at least pretend
as if our lives
depended on it.