fix my brother you goddamned bore

pat and snow

universe, omniverse, reversible four dollar belt,
you bore you bore you bore you bore
great endless room, bales of fire
holes to nowhere, mystery moons, rocks with rings
synchronicity, curved space,
twelve million miles a minute
doesn’t sound so fast when you put it that way
maybe the whole thing is phony
not wondrous, phony
just another car wreck
the physics of flying glass
“a comet is a ball of ice”
will you just shut up
does that look like a ball of ice to you, moron
don’t you ever say that again
don’t you ever dare say that again
mystery mystery mystery mystery
now we’re made of swarming dots
greek atomism in an un-ironed smock
elemental bits surrounded each by a void
says it right here
“surrounded each by a void”
wouldn’t you know it
when you go looking for them
the bits are nowhere
no wait they’re everywhere
where are they right now
we are not made to know
the table stops your hand from passing through
that’s enough
not for me it isn’t
I’m looking for my swarming dots
they comprise us, shouldn’t we be looking for them
then you find one of the dots
platonic singularity
its theme is uncertainty
thanks for nothing
no wonder ancient statuary looks so pissed
the machine is on tippy-toe and dizzy
my doomed little brother got arrested
why did you call the police
will he always have a sharpened chicken bone
jammed into the roof of his mouth
why did you call the police
you care for him, oh that’s it
sic the machine on him
he needs the tuned machinery
of a pummeling institution
i’m afraid
i can’t pull back far enough
to reduce this to inconsequence
all this awe and mystery wheeling around
giant clockworks with singing dolls, caesium, noble gases
why are there underwear sales at Nordstrom
what has that to do with the curvature
what has that to do with the archangelic blossoming
why did the chicken bone
penetrate my little brother’s hard palate
he was maybe three
why did you call the police
I don’t want parity or justice
i just want a machine
approximately as merciful
as it is fucking huge and stupid

 

pulmonary

life as we know it_frankenthaler

flirt – helen frankenthaler 1995

air is drawn into us by a fluttering membrane
an autonomic bellows
okay, a tympanum of muscle
a muscle-floor, honestly
it bisects us longitudinally
keeps the sub-basement below the belt where it belongs.
vein-threaded muscle-floor distends and relaxes vertically
so? so the careful admixture
(nitrogen. and oxygen!)
flows into diaphanous skeins that depend,
like two weary undershirts,
from a forked hanger.
what we breathe is borne downstream
into the body’s countryside
by river and burbling brook
sometimes by a silver
thread glinting through reeds
this year’s Intelligent Design
is a nesting doll of grief and wisdom
you will inhale a gnat
taking that life inside your own
though the gnat-horror of this intake
is likely not experienced as poetry
nor is there any evident design ingenuity in the episode
when that mechanic on the aircraft carrier deck
sanguine in his jumpsuit
got sucked into the fighter jet nacelle
was glory given to McDonnell Douglas
with upturned palms and murmuring lips
not that we know of
but when men are sucked into engines
the talk does turn to vessels
this is the murmuring lip talk
“we are but vessels…”
the gnat is herself a vessel
brimming with the busy ur-citizens of this comic romp
the cells are likewise jammed
with mitochondrial filigree and magic jelly
but here we’ll stop the regress
before it gets disgusting
or so wondrous we slide distractedly off the interstate
the grinning overweight boob
with the unshaven chins and kind eyes and ear buds?
who always boards babbling and laughing?
today he’s accompanied by a beautiful, unblemished young girl
he sleeps heavily against her, his bear arms
movingly clamped across her torso
his paw clutching her right shoulder
hard to describe
he’s leaning sidewise and half-twisting
the angle is awkward, supplicant and shameless
a drowning man’s embrace
but you’ve heard that one before
her eyes are glassed with moisture
the whites darkened, Bergman on the tarmac
she stares straight ahead like Bergman
occasionally kisses his forehead
she seems about to weep
she’s beautiful and inexplicable
he awakens blinking like an enormous grizzled kid
she speaks to him
in a high, impeded register
hollering around a swollen, unanchored tongue
stammering indecipherably
her brain fibre compromised.
she is just so beautiful.
this is not a reasonable realm
but a room-temperature cauldron
or an entrapping wind tunnel
whose swirling spicks and specks
we grossly misapprehend
with each buffeted breath and gesture

lost and alone II

Christina's World by Andrew Wyeth

Christina’s World – Andrew Wyeth 1948

i see a long journey
a pale ribbon of road, as Nevil Shute wrote
i’m stumbling along its shoulder
my age confounds me
i am not what I expected
Arrow of Time defeats our predictions.
are you what you expected
you’d better not be.
i said you’d better not be.
i wish you’d tried harder
and I wish I’d tried harder
how can I tell you to try harder now
i can’t because I’m a phony
when my jaw moves you hear a dog barking
this morning an unshaven guy and a wall-eyed woman
spoke loudly at the bus stop
coherently but loudly
the guy wore a camouflage baseball cap
in a jungle he would be loudly visible
but for the area above the squamous suture
the wall-eyed woman appeared to have
pinned her hair up in the dark,
or angrily or vengefully
or while running for the bus
these careless choices haunt us
wrong turns don’t always shatter bone
often the denouement is a sly flattening
a doctorate in the next room
who laughs till he cries, for instance
all the day long
meanwhile our bland nuclear furnace
describes a Euclidean arc above us
a prancing ass we have to crane our necks to see
and then we’re blinded by it
celebrated fire dips out of sight
rises elsewhere
serenaded by poorly programmed songbirds
with blank expressions
ma’am make of the dawn what you will
write your crappy sonnet
your daybreak is a coordinate on a circle.
there I said it.

chain gang

chain gang water glass

green grow the lilacs
and there’s a bright golden haze on the meadow
of what consequence are these floral allusions
when the chain on the closet light snaps
it’s gonna take me weeks or months
it’s gonna take me a year at least
to fix the goddamned chain
i’ll have to go to the hardware store
and buy a replacement chain
which is actually an annoyingly packaged kit with screws
and inscrutable plastic bits.
I’ll have to savagely cut the hard plastic with scissors
then after all that standing on a chair, sighing,
arms raised and tiring
rotator cuffs or whatever aching with the effort
after all that
what will the reward be
you guessed it
a closet full of over-familiar shirts
bathed in the bland yellow light
of staple removers and scuffed baseboards
and numbing chit chat
look how lovely our clothes look
when glimpsed in shadow
I’m sure we can live without a closet light 
for at least two years
let’s give it a try

extravagance

 

Herald by Franz Kline-1954

Herald – Franz Kline 1954

My visiting mother-in-law
brought home from the grocery store a pack of powdered donuts
proffered with an air of majesty.
She has been chased by foreign armies with knives
has survived godless privation.
Even in peacetime her country is besieged by water.
It attacks from the air and of course from the sea.
Earth’s most precious resource is a murdering blunt instrument
as wide as all you have loved.
It tickles the top of the little sea wall then roars in
as if affronted at having been held at arm’s length,
wildly smashes your sturdy town aside in a fit of explosive chaos,
scream and splinter and mayhem
and domesticated animals crying out in their various languages. Uncontained water swarms the huiskamer, inundates the meadow
smugly occupies the lungs of your loved ones.
In the soaked and sunlit aftermath
apologetic colored weeds
hesitantly spring up through the frayed wreckage,
a crummy bouquet from the embarrassed drunk who beat you last night.

This water issue and the Big War
have given my mother-in-law’s country an angle on powdered donuts.
When I’m visiting, she will return from the village grocery
with an air of muted delight.
In the canvas bag with the rounded hothouse veggies
a demure little packet of powdered donuts six in a line
viewed through die-cut cardboard and cellophane like a museum window,
crown jewels on an ermine-covered cushion.
How to tell her?
She’s been here many times. I shouldn’t have to tell her.
My country is also surrounded by water,
through topographic whimsy we do not abide in a declivity.
We’re high and dry.
Foreign armies would have to march for thousands of miles
across the ocean floor to attack us.
We are not besieged.
We are a gigantic, swollen isthmus, comfortable and dazed.
We don’t eat donuts here, we take them like aspirin.

 

 

who do you think we are

bad-paving made good
we’re all of us warm,
doomed little torches;
or bitches, depending
on the day’s cosmological demeanor.
under the covers we’re alive, though
falling to the pavement we’re alive, though
taking our hits at scrimmage we’re alive, though
hurl us through the windshield; we live!
with blackened eyes, yeah
and uneven laughter.
but here comes the sun again,
elephantine footfall in the hallway
our daughter bursts out of her room in the morning
like a force of nature.
count the days if you want.
an arbitrary number, our living days
you (dear) give off warmth in waves
I can feel the waves, almost peristaltic
your biological life
the cellular processes make warmth
it comes off you under the covers in waves
machined and purposeful
when my mom passed the heat left her by degrees
but quickly.
what’s the hurry.
the big soup tureen hastily reclaims our ingredients
this is not a vacation
but a slinky running down the stairs
alright already
spend caloric heat as we burn down
alright alright already
burn down through all the days
we scarcely take notice of them
in 200 years or less
we will never have been here.
yeah yeah so we lie here in the morning
burning down and radiant
burning down and down to nothing
skin changing, eyes changing
telomeres work their dissolution.
thermodynamics will preserve our stuff
but not this hour of lounging under covers.
this long hour transparent as a neutrino.
it’s really all we’ve got,
more than enough.
it’s much much more than the Big Bang owes us.
I hope you remembered
to make the coffee last night.

T-Bird of Happiness and Crashboat

T-Bird Tragedy and Joy

Oh, and here comes the holiday season like a runaway Edsel, excuse me. It’s always a little surreal how suddenly it shows up. Another year? Really? Is that Jack Frost nipping at my nose or the taunting, flicked finger of the Grim Reaper? “It’s almost Christmas!” the little ones yell with unbridled glee. Yes, you tiny, careless immortals; it’s almost LAST Christmas. How’d the year pass by so quickly? Just a week or so ago we were throwing ourselves into the ocean in full-tilt escape from the brutalizing heat wave that we were sure would set the mountains on fire. Now, a couple of puny rain squalls later, the inevitable “fall” weather sweeps in as an almost reluctant little cold snap, and we Santa Barbarans respond by excitedly dragging on our pea coats and diaphanous, utterly useless Donna Karan scarves. We swoop our gossamer “winter” accessories around our room-temperature necks like NY hipsters or movie actors, turning up our collars and stamping our feet as if to shake the snow off our galoshes, we’re so giddy at the change of seasons and the prospect of candlelight and mulled wine. It’s the one time of the year you can gulp Tramp Juice from a soup-bowl sized mug without the other guests remarking about it behind their sleeves. The whole demeanor of the town changes

“Ooh, it’s a little chilly, isn’t it?”

No, not really. But let’s live it up. We get maybe 80 of these. It’s time to get about the business of Holiday Cheer. And what’s not to love? The city workers begin dutifully stringing the lights up along State Street, great arcing stars making of our downtown a glowing arbor. Suddenly the shop fronts all have paper snowflakes in their window displays, faux-Victorian carolers hunch and yell in close-harmony at every street corner, the chill evening air takes on that seasonally pleasant aroma as the town’s fireplaces gently surrender a fragrant bouquet of crackling cherrywood, and frightening soot-covered chimney sweeps flash-mob the rooftops with mad, high-stepping dance routines. Chim-Chimney, Chim Chimney, Chim-Chim-Cheroo, if you damage my ridge vent I’m likely to sue. Soon enough that strangely phallic Christmas Rocket erects itself near the Arlington Theater, they throw some lights on it and we’re off and running.

But first…ah, yes. First there is Thanksgiving to get through, the weird, uber-American ritual whose most famous visual expression remains that nightmarish Normal Rockwell painting of an aproned matriarch proffering a slain and naked bird; recumbent, belly-up, beyond embarrassment (the bird, I mean), its truncated little wing-arms relaxed at its sides, its formerly strutting legs now stiff and shortened and dressed in paper anklets. In the iconic painting, which like most of Rockwell’s stuff is meant to embody and crystallize the rubberized American Soul, the homespun Ma and Pa figures stand at the head of a table crowded with strangely leering family members in da Vinci-like attitudes of conversation, but strangely feral; all teeth and eyebrows and clasped paws. It’s an unnerving work of art. In the upper left-hand corner of the photorealist painting is a grinning boy with a slightly reptilian expression, and seated beside him a little sister figure likewise stares down the length of the table like a drowsy viper. In the lower left of the painting a man is laughing maniacally at the empty air, displaying a scary set of choppers, while a sunlit pear with a suggestion of humanoid countenance looks balefully up at him from a bed of grapes. In the lower right corner a man’s haunted eyes stare back at the viewer. Even for the diabolically exacting Rockwell, it is a strange and unsettling hymn to the Holidays, one of the most singularly dread-inducing paintings this country has ever produced. What did Rockwell call this thing? Freedom From Want. My alternate title, you ask? Horn of Plenty Heebie-Jeebies.

But Thanksgiving means well, and however cynically plasticized and oversold the “gather and be thankful” vibe is this time of year, however much it is leveraged by the Commercial Sector to brace us for the aptly named Black Friday, all doubts fly up the chimney with the cherrywood smoke when you start mingling with family and friends in closed quarters while through the windows brisk, happy breezes stir the trees and foliage in blanched autumnal sun. As hard as the numbskull forces of human avarice try, they can’t completely wreck Thanksgiving. They can’t strip away, for instance, my hard-won memories of my mom coming over on those Thanksgiving mornings.

Per the yearly ritual I would have dropped in on my mom’s apartment at Villa Santa Barbara the evening before to remind her of our Thanksgiving breakfast the next morning. She would inexpertly and comically disguise her uncertainty as to who exactly I was, and we would have our usual bemused summit for a couple hours, watch the home movies for the several-hundredth time, bat the same over-familiar questions and answers back and forth. I’d long since stopped being maddened by mom’s endlessly repeated questions, and came to be charmed by a universe that oversaw our elderly parents exasperating us with the same ninny repetitions they’d had to suffer when we were mindless little non-stop blabbermouths. Fair play.

The next morning, Thanksgiving morning, I would stop in to nab mom for the drive over to our place and explain our Thanksgiving date all over again. “Hey! What are you doing here? And who are you, again?” She would laugh nervously at her own question sometimes, but she knew in her core that I was on her side, that we shared something. “I’m your son, mom. Jeff?” “Right!” she would laugh again, making comic gestures of dismissal, still not quite believing it. But she would grasp my arm, dance me into the elevator and veritably skip from the Villa Santa Barbara lobby to my car parked on the street outside.

We would take the long way to our place, the miraculous, palm-lined, ceaselessly stunning Cabrillo Drive, the unlikely Pacific sparkling off to the left like an over-earnest special effect. At our condo, mom would be greeted like royalty, Judie and the kids rushing her at the door. Mom’s face would be simultaneously aglow and bewildered, Judie’s Dutch broodtafel likely adding to her dislocation as it featured breads and cheeses and sliced meats and hard boiled eggs. This isn’t what the Indians and Pilgrims ate, is it? I can clearly picture mom sipping delightedly at her mimosa as the rest of us blab away in conversation she only half follows, her sated half-smile turning to each of in turn as we speak, her expression a sort of uncomprehending exaltation in the moment. She didn’t know I was watching her watching us, her indefinable love and gratitude shining like an aura. She’s gone. This year will be our second Thanksgiving breakfast without her, and I’m unspeakably grateful for the sometimes harrowing 14 years we had her in town.

Sometimes after Thanksgiving breakfast we would flop onto the couch and flip through a photo album, one of the weird old ones I’d known since childhood. It had a dissolving, nautically-themed cover and stiffened pages to which the fading photos had been sloppily fastened an eon ago with now-opaque squares of yellowing scotch tape. I’d seen all these pics a hundred times or more growing up. When I was a kid I was bored silly by the album (as by everything else to do with my parents), all the black and white snapshots of laughing men in government-issue khaki, lots of pics of my mom – the beauty, the dreamer – now an 89 year-old with failing faculties and loose-fitting flesh. Of course as I grew older I became forensically interested in what the album held, particularly a photo of my dad, now long gone, as a 14 or 15 year-old. Wonder of wonders.

And here was a curling picture of Crashboat Beach, in Puerto Rico, 1956, at the foot of Ramey Air Force Base, that particular stretch of sand and surf a scene of so many storied parties and languorous afternoons during that time, my parents, Bob and Aloha, drinking and talking and laughing with Air Force chums and wives, a rough circle of lawn chairs, the men leering comically at the camera and hoisting cans of Falstaff beer, my dad there with a can in each hand, his smile-worn dimple catching the late afternoon shadowfall just so, his black curly hair already hinting at the premature gray that would soon compel comparisons to the actor Jeff Chandler. In the fading picture the seated women are wearing scarves over their hair, and Capri pants, and beautiful bug-eyed sunglasses. Just a lovely thing! Their legs are crossed, they’re all laughing with their lady heads thrown back, happy yaps aimed skyward forever. The men and women and the kids present are all turned toward the camera in a posture of hilarity (one! two! THREE!). Over the sea, in the sky behind the party, a single towering cumulonimbus cloud boils straight up into the sepia sky with frozen, explosive force, and mom has her feet up on the lawn chair and is hugging her knees. Though her face is turned away, the flesh is seen to follow the smooth cornice of her jawbone where it meets her neck, cleaves as snugly as the velour skin of a new love seat. Unlike the rest of the gang, she’s looking away from the camera and out to sea.