stop pulling that goddamned dog

stop pulling that goddamned dog

man’s best friend
is an expensive afghan hound
afghan may mean drone strikes somewhere
here in the u.s.
afghan means a sleek-looking hound
at the end of a grasped leash.
aw look at the doggie
look at all the doggies
aw man’s best friend
you can’t have a dog
you’ll never take the dog out for a walk
aw yes I will, I promise
and even if you do
it’s an idiot’s game
man’s best friend spends every minute
straining against the leash
does anyone notice that?
man’s best friend wants to run
sniff pee-pee at every bush
make a little pee-pee himself
and take off running again
“whoa, that’s a tall order
i want a best friend, sure
a loyal yes-companion from the ranks
of the docile lower animals
but this is man’s dominion
we made it to the top
climbed here with our thumbs
where the hell are your thumbs, little doggie
thought so
you’ll be at the end of my taut leash.”
he doesn’t know he’s an afghan
and the pricey Shih Tzu’s id is indistinguishable
from that of the three-legged living rag
that nervous guy sold your neighbor
the Shih Tzu looks at the three-legged rag and thinks
that’s me
not bad
not bad at all
i like
the dumbass Shih Tzu doesn’t know from dominion
it has been bred to walk from room to room
“interesting breed. what are they for?”
to walk from room to room
none of these best friends know what they are
they just want to screw each other
and eat and make pee-pee
like us
is that such a big deal
you get to do that every day
or nearly every day
can your best friend
maybe take a crack at it, asshole
loosen that leash.
I said loosen it, jackass
i will knock you down
aw look at him strain
aw his little face
he doesn’t know he’s a prisoner
you dog wants to run
aw man’s best friend
he wants only to run!
but after maybe 30 self-congratulating minutes
you’ll be fatigued from hurling the slimed ball
in its plastic “Lower-Animals-R-Us®” claw
let’s get back to the condo
and leave our companion alone
back to the kingdom of pain, I mean man
back to a blanket in a basket
and a synthetic Purina snack of glued brown powder
shaped like a cartoon bone.

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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.

not with a bang, but with a bib. yes.

145929814.4CYco4c4.Sh2157HSTfinal

Some nights I’m possessed of a demon energy and I’ll iron a shirt, or two shirts. Other nights we sprawl and dawdle by lamplight and parse the dumbbell universe, a clear and present accident whose wit is often hidden from us, and whose largely inexplicable machinery has the charm of a tipsy blabbermouth mechanical engineer at the office bowling party. When I’m interested in hearing about Poisson’s Ratio you’ll know it, because I’ll be walking away at speed. But you can’t walk away from the universe. It hovers, a leering omnipresence. It doesn’t seem to know it is but a homely, if enormously complicated, machine. You don’t get magic just by adding more gears. The magic is in the wakey-wakey, and that’s us. But the Divine Milieu (as the howling emptiness of space has been called) is an immeasurably vast gulf of envy, and manages to choreograph our desperately fleeting lives into episodes of spirit-killing flapdoodle. You have the Hubble Deep Field over there, and over here you have a grown man masturbating into a cantaloupe. Same system, same entropic hoo-ha, and so on. How? Reality is a batshit sandwich, that’s how. What majesty we can muster is derived from our being able to eat it without blanching. I’m nowhere close.

Dave and I meet one evening at the Famous Fish Warehouse or whatever it’s called, a few blocks up from the beach. It’s one of those enormous restaurant/bars the size of a NASA hangar and tonight it is thronged and seething, the dank air tumescent with excited human congress. The World Series is hollering out of a dozen enormous screens hung about the place, the panicky-sounding, midrange hubbub of the gathered mob in here not unlike that viral Russian recording of the inadvertently-penetrated caverns of hell. Whole families are laughing with mouths full, throwing their heads back so that oral cavities become upturned, toothy vessels of sludge. And we’re supposed to eat around all this eating. Dave strolls ahead to our table, unperturbed.

The scene is alive with the twenty-something species to whom this loudmouth Breugel is a first home. The carefully unshaven young professionals and players lean in their dozens with hunched and easy panache over long glass-littered bars, they jostle and confer and grasp each other, neckties half-undone in front of the bathroom mirror, their short, upswept power hair shifted back on their scalps to show grooveless, Shatnernesque foreheads. They have vivacious but normal-seeming girlfriends and wives for the most part, though once in a while a guy will turn up with a date whose chest looks as startlingly swollen as a new contusion. A lot of the celebrants are wearing backward baseball caps, which on a good day are a thorn. Those that don’t wear backward baseball caps wear those stylish form-fitting club suits that seem carefully arranged to look like unbuttoned after-hours business dress. A few of the guys are sporting the Squashed Insouciant Beanie, the ubiquitous outlier symbol that crushes and droops a little at the apex, suggesting bohemian disarray. The look doesn’t really speak in this environment because everyone knows real Bohemia doesn’t watch televised sports, and so the beanie crowd look like fakes, and they are. The backward-cap guys and after-hours faux-business-dress guys are in their element, though. They make easy eye contact and chit-chat with bartenders and waitresses, and they all look like some version or hue of Ryan Gosling or Ryan Reynolds.

The baseball game has everyone excited. I mean scarily, phenomenally excited. The buzzed young guys and their significant others are wearing the collective ‘fuckyeahtheWorldSeries!’ mask and high-fiving each other, the men jerking their heads around and yelling incoherently every time one of the doughy millionaires onscreen swings a bat or jogs a little across the televised grass. All these wired guys are sporting Establishment tattoos and heroic eyebrows and are laughing loudly. The “I’m here straight from my important job in my unbuttoned suit” guys laugh angrily, like Billy Baldwin or Tom Cruise overplaying drunk because some acting coach somewhere told them that a drunk Young Turk looks at his gathered posse and angrily whips his hilarity-contorted face from friend to friend while laughing. “Haw!haw!haw!haw!haw!haw! haw!haw!haw! oooh shit, man! Haw!haw!haw!haw!haw!haw!” Their girlfriends or wives could be the nameless and merely competent actresses on endless and interchangeable Law and Shooting shows and limply ironic internet ads; lookalike, neutrally beautiful young ladies with radiant curtain-hair like polished rayon and cackling, nose-wrinkling support laughter accessorized with a possessing paw fastened determinedly on the tattooed forearm of the backward cap.

During this last game of the World Series (all the games of the World Series, really. All baseball games, that is), doughy muscular men, some tallish and paunchy with a mullet-mustache set, throw the little white baseball around and occasionally sprint in expensive panic with their big fannies jumping. When they aren’t called upon to move they can be seen dramatically standing stock still in the outfield, waiting for the little white ball to drop like a speck of cotton from out of the arc lighting. Often the live feed will show a moth or gnat or other innocent fluttering around out there under the lights, unaware of the Moment, and sometimes the wealthy outfielder will drop an incoming ball after having waved away his colleagues, “I got this!”, and when he drops the thing which it is his massively overpaid job simply to catch and hold onto, he’ll chase after it with electric anger, like it’s the ball’s fault, and he’ll pluck it up and throw it towards home plate with all his strength and it’ll usually get about as far as the pitcher who will snag it out of the air and then strut around with angry eyes, clutching the little ball and looking all around. The whole affair is wrought with oddness and ceremony. All the while the “after hours business dress” phonies (there, I said it), and now even the backward-cap gangs in the restaurant are yelling and slapping hands and drinking and laughing and cavorting “haw!haw!haw!haw!haw!haw!haw!haw!haw!haw!”, jerking their angrily laughing faces around to aim and fire their humorless barking at each other. Their potent little drinks have tiny colored straws in them.

Despite my misgivings I find myself wishing I were one of them. As I get older the desire becomes incrementally stronger and, I would suggest, more perverse.  Why didn’t God make me a guy who understands the appeal of sport-spectating and occasional boozing and loudness, a regular guy who can lose himself in this tumult and tribe-think and freeing conviviality, back-slapping with a group of like-minded men and dissolving like a drop in the placid Testosterone Sea? Down another quantum pathway I would’ve played sports in high school and pumped iron, had The Stones on my bedroom wall and not a stylized cartoon poster of big-hipped Elton John peering like an elf from underneath a top hat, I would’ve had one of those thick paperbacks of sports statistics on my bedside table next to my State Championship trophy, and would have followed my dad in his daily brow-furrowed examination of column after column of tiny numbers in the Sports Section, two guys following the stock index. Instead I sat by my Tensor lamp and pored over the beautifully bound and illustrated shiny hardcover of the complete lyrics of Bernie Taupin (thanks, Diana), surrounded by my Revell spaceship models and sketch pads and other such you’ll-never-get-to-first-base folderol. So on nights like this, and they are few, I fall into brief fits of a very potent reverie. Looking around in wonder at the backward baseball caps, I almost say aloud “how did I miss this boat so completely?”

Three guys at the table next to Dave and I are ordering drinks and being handsome and successful with their shaded jawbones and parted hair and general enviability. Enviability is a state, if not a word.  I spy on them in my peripheral vision and occasionally with one of those bold direct glances which, if intercepted, can be quickly reframed as admiration of the exposed duct work and celestially arrayed, dessicated starfish overhead. They’re watching the TVs with interest but no particular fever while they wait for dinner, chatting and laughing normally, holding their hands in Rodin shapes before their mouths as they cant their heads and exchange confidences, as men do in parlors and mahogany-paneled private libraries.

I turn back to Dave and we continue our conversation and about half an hour later I glance over at the guys at the next table and I gasp and I feel my face getting hot. Their dinner has long since arrived, it is lobster, and these three recent exemplars of mellow male reason and coolness are wearing enormous bibs which fasten snugly around the neck and cascade down and over the knees like the drop cloth on a picnic table. In the center of each bib, right over the solar plexus, is a grinning stylized cartoon lobster. I can’t tear my eyes away from these nitwits, and if they’re stupid enough to don gigantic fucking bibs in a mixed gender restaurant, they’re too far gone to notice my staring anyway. Did I not get the memo about the bib thing? I glance around and no one is staring at these vibrant clods.

To my utter amazement the Three Baby Hueys, now tipsy and blinking slowly, their little freak arms reaching with difficulty out from behind their expansive plasticized bibs, begin making time with the black-haired, classily-pierced babe waitress when she comes to check on their inebriated lobster-destroying process. From what should be the genital-shriveling humility of their bib status, they blearily regard her with naked lust and start coming on to her! The guy nearest me actually leans out toward her and struggles to free his bib-ensnared ass-pinching arms. It’s just awful. This is not Robert Pattinson standing around at The Cape in an Alpaca sweater with a hip little bib like a necktie, hoisting a Heineken and laughing at the lobster held aloft in his left hand. This is three grown men made idiotic by their decision to put on enormous castrating bibs. And before my stupefied eyes the hot waitress receives the bib-guy’s advances and warms to him. She is flirting back. SHE IS FLIRTING WITH THE BIB GUY. This is the world I can never join, the world I can’t even comprehend. It moved on without me when they were handing out membership cards. While I was timidly romancing the trombone player in marching band, the high school hotties who couldn’t even see me were just biding their time, waiting for these louche drunks to put on their huge fucking bibs and excite them.

“Dave, check this out,” I whisper urgently out of the corner of my mouth. “These guys are wearing bibs!” It’s less funny to me than fucked up, especially now that I see the waitress warming up. Dave is everything I am not and knows his way around, writes articles for Oracle, is built like a championship swimmer and takes business trips. He haunts the cocktail lounges of Manhattan when he is called there by his urbane, yacht catalog-perusing corporate masters. He glances over at the drunken flirts in their man-bibs and turns back to me.

“Yeah,” he says. “They ordered lobster.”

8th Grade Science Outrage

handandatom

Back to school night
slumbering parents sag through rooms
look brightly at each other, wrinkling noses
then drop masks
plop into plastic saddles
their asses stir to remember
in history the teacher exults
“the kids didn’t mind the Mayflower!”
frightening me badly
in maths the teacher
is lanky and thick-haired and cheery
wearing a lanyard and i.d. badge
like a classified scientist
thoracic concavity and blousing shirt
conveying underfed youth
a distance runner
at the spring dance
in his excited kid voice he says
“we’ll study exponential variances.
So, geometry.”
I bark a weary laugh
look around at the parents
jaws open, dogs awaiting a tossed mercy-snack
worst is Physical Science
eyes bagged and non-responsive
grups looking tiredly at their iShit
the teacher is a former materials engineer
wonderstruck by her subject which is
the Crushing Vastnesses, plural
our real-time embrace of the growing void
things are moving away from each other
as one would expect in an explosion
but accelerating as the mess blossoms outward
teacher talks about kids finding passion
she calls it “their passion” like everybody does
a common mistake.
the dead are unmoved
occupy the eternal moment daintily moving fat hands
over phone screens with pinkies extended
“We’ll study what makes up the atom,” she says.
The Atom!
they stare at her through draping eyelids
my blood leaps like a synapse
I attempt to stand
I can’t wrestle myself free of the school desk
with its sanguine pencil groove
and perpendicular tubing
heads lazily turn
I’m momentarily constrained
unable to free myself I begin shouting
from a semi-crouched, prostrate position
legs held fast by gunmetal
“Oh! Are you bored of the Atom!
Space is a windless field of rocks!”
So self-righteous, I later realize.
Possibly being dumbstruck
is not a sound measure of spiritual wholeness.
We go home and microwave mini pizza
the first greedy bite fastens a scalding flap of cheese
to my hard palate
and I scream o god how I scream

exodus

birds march grandly

bright blue-breasted bird
with a laughable mohawk
jumps from branch to branch
to branch to branch to branch
to branch to branch to branch
to branch to branch.
stopityouidiotcantyouseewhatyouredoing!!
up the worn steps i go
as mechanically as the jumping bird.
i carry an outsized valise
that worsens the climb.
gears turn
a breeze dutifully blows
trees waver and rustle.
not fooling me!
Minutes are on the march,
a dusty endless column of the dispossessed,
they trudge along with their carpets and pans
one turns to me in passing
and says matter-of-factly
“your village is emptying
and there is naught to do.”

i saw your first wife on the bus

i saw your first wife on the busI saw your first wife on the bus.
she was wearing
an ill-advised mustard yellow
cardigan
the color of an organ
in a textbook.
And she looked forlorn.

Not only that.
When we were idling
in the university circle
she looked, as I saw it,
longingly out the bus window
as though she both
hoped for and feared your appearance,
your bounding down the steps
of that grand-looking building
where your department lives
and where you
take your good fortune
utterly for granted,
as you always have.

Oh and as we approached
our small town airport
I looked out and saw two incongruent
contrails slanting up
from behind the mountains,
looking really postmodern
and painterly in the squishy setting sun.
One of the contrails was a little older
than the other
and had begun to blur.
I’ll add here that the cars
arriving and departing the airport parking acre
shouted ‘impermanence!’
despite the accompanying aggregation
of airplanes and air foil
technology there.

Well, I saw your first wife on the bus.
She was wearing
an ill-advised mustard yellow
cardigan
the color of an organ
in a textbook.
Of course she had those
goddamned ear wires hanging down,
and of course she looked forlorn.

another museum evening

Ganymede_from_Pioneer

By lamplight everything looked strange
in the usual way a city evening brings strangeness
the streetlights flicker on and the trees,
stirring with the nighttime’s collective ennui,
look like museum exhibits in the purposeful incandescence.
Stella said, suddenly and declaratively
employing the certitude-percentile of a kid,
“I’m 99.9% sure there is other life out there,”
and went on to explain she didn’t mean disappointing life,
but life with legs, hopes, homes;
humanoid and approachable.
“If space goes on forever
there can’t be just one life,” she intuited with upturned eyes.
It seemed, and seems, inarguable. If not mathematically
then otherwise.

We walked along and I thought only momentarily of a true thing
– we are aliens ambling across the surface of a planet
a world floating in empty space, just like in the movies,
suspended from nothing and surrounded
by visible and invisible gases and clouds and rays,
girdled in weather, and space bolts in eternal apogee
and all the colors of the stupidly broad photonic spectrum,
most of which we’ve not been given to see.

We were headed to the liquor store for popsicles.
They have the best selection there for reasons I’ve never understood
nor particularly pondered with any effort.
Possibly it’s to do with the reformed boozer’s
increased craving for sugars.
We walked quickly across the dark street
away from the dangerous crosswalk
and its checkered promise, my hand on her back.
Periodically gusting, the evening wind
threw clattering dried leaves over the pavement.
The sound was definite, light and musical; polite applause.
I was going to say something
and Stella said “I love that sound of dry leaves being blown,”
and within 12 minutes or so we had our confection.
I chose fruit and she the frozen Oreo.