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.

Koninginnedag

juud wit finaal

I’ll put it this way;
two electric mothers have I known.
One I laughed and loved alongside,
on summery bandaged days, the hours a pulling, dimwit tide,
the other rushed in, also laughing, when I had fully grownAloha Gist MN circa wter paper

Now in a grassy eastern park
the one sleeps in a laughing mom’s well-earned repose.
I’ll dream her on a quiet night and laugh anew,
and remember her love of life and light, and you
who, as I hurriedly type, take coffee and croissant in a rumpled bed
absent your Sunday clothes.

Love is all around
as the crummy poets never fail to say,
but, look, it’s a fact: the sunshine falls in a radiant sheet,
a confectioner’s glaze to make a mom’s day circle unbearably complete,
and where the bright light drapes down, it clings like syrup today.

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.

Looking Back at the Surprise Attack

Jupiter II!

Tiptoeing past my middle-passage afraid of rousing (or worse, arousing) whatever cloaked figure awaits the creak of a floorboard or the sound of a stepped-on garden rake levering up to thwack my beak, I am nevertheless confident in the New Day. May it bring an Elysian lawn chair or the romance of slaughter at the disputed Hot Gates.

Startled by the flying beige flag! Yes, teens, my decline and your prom are coincident, this bit of manufactured magic acquires a seam once the liquefied plastic is blown in and all the Wonder of wonder bread is its balloon-daubed plastic bag. Einstein fires a bullet in a car traveling 800 feet per second per second, and another per second thrown in.

I know exactly where you are: the sweaty, temporal nightmare of roiling youth and feeling good, when Elton murmured from my Panasonic ball and chain like a man singing through a hangman’s hood.

So, yeah. Speaker tech and outerwear? Much later the radio “sounded” better. But we lost through that advance the letter of the law; Gilbert O’Sullivan stands down and in sweeps Ke$ha. We threw it all away for a pair of fancy-pants.

Really now; imagine actually waking one day, Samsa-like, to find you are an older man with sudden dappled paws. And I don’t mean “Perhaps”. That happened to me. Hand-backs shiny with Arbus cross-hatches and arranged spots like those that trouble the failing sun and indicating the same collapse.

The microwaves turn back around and the heat-death of All This sees God tiredly lifting the latches again, this time to let it all back in, tired energy pouring homeward from near and far, as was expected all along. “The day is done! Lamplighters, would you please snuff this dim embarrassed star? And turn up the stereo one last time on Billy Joel’s ‘Zanzibar’! Jesus, what a song!”

Star light, Star bright, the star our God turned off tonight, I wish I may I wish I might be delivered of this overbite. No more to burn the petals or leaves, and buh-bye melanoma. O teen you have some insufficient inkling but you won’t grow comfortably into this weirdness any more than I will return to pinrail and glory in the wings of Oklahoma.

But I I I I…I have the plucky interiority of a 30-something and have retained, against every expectation of my own childhood certainties of decay, a sense of timelessness, and now see kids glance sidewise at me several times a day.

I used to shiftily spy on ‘older adults’ with whom I would periodically be trapped, utterly trapped and panicked, my expression naked with dread. “Kid” (I’ll say); “as strange as you think growing older is going to be, I’m here to tell you that your untested powers of imagination are not up to the task of painting that picture on the inner walls of your earbud-deafened head”.

Now it occurs to me that, in the space of some individual year, no way of knowing which one, in a future whose approach I only guess (not a calendar year, but I’m supposing about 1 year of adventurism from a stem to a stern, more or less)

I’m likely to unravel like a ball of yarn, my sensory nonchalance, this thoughtless unenlightened physical well-being of my middle passage will be cruelly undone, my spirits in flight like foul bats from a foul barn.

An inexplicable, sudden cascade of cancers, renal failures, plummeting bone density numbers, aortic blockage, and x-rays that cause my doctor to breathe hard and raise his hand to his mouth – a melting pilgrim’s cornucopia of disintegration as my architecture takes the express line south.

That will stun me! Stun my hapless fa-mi-lee! Clusterfeck of bewildering setbacks and teary, faux-philosophical internal and external monologues (arms waving around like those of the over-earnest Branagh), hug the wife and kids and step onto that ceremonial last banana.

Questions, I have but a few; could we have been less murderous as our cowboys headed west? At the top of the Space Family Robinson’s flying house what’s that little bubble do?  This is what I have to look forward to.

Visionary thinking, an aching frame, every day the same sustaining pill. Don West and the older Robinson girl? Not Penny, but Carol or whatever? Thanks to Captain Robinson’s intransigence and the finally distracting Alpha Centauri mission itself, they never got together, and now they never will.

song for us

pugmug

When he boarded he saw in his familiar annoyed periphery the Beautiful Teenage Typical, already looking off with her studied thousand-yard stare, her paralytic nonchalance. ‘Yeah, I’m Beautiful. It is my misfortune and I can’t unlearn it now. I have seen it in the helpless puppy eyes of the boys since fourth grade recess, where it startled me at first.  I’ll have nothing to do with you now but a masked drinking in of your helplessly flung gamma.’ But he brought his iceberg zeal to the demonstration, as he had done for a lifetime, since Lisa devastated Tony. He took his seat and opened his book without looking up. If you are beautiful you have been furtively glanced at enough already. This will be for your own good. I can see it on your expression of studied indifference. Rewarding you with even a glimpse would be pouring gin down the neck of a furniture-smashing golem. Awkward girls and boys with dated hairbands and tucked-in shirts bought off the wrong rack, they are the prize, you are the wallpaper. Your carefully arranged, traditionally attractive sphinx-face is as thrilling as a spiral notebook. I’m still on fire, still on fire, I believe you broke me that day, and in the many days after that day. In Mrs. Petrie’s third grade lunch line at Clark Elementary in Cheyenne we waited in blanched sunlight and you told my penurious friend Tony, my quiet buddy with the always-mussed hair and worried expression, the farm kid, you said that of all the ink-clumped mimeographed recipes shared through our weekend assignment, his was the worst. ‘We tried your Breakfast Cookies and they were awful.’ Tony looked down and away, horrified. He’d worn the same checkered shirt all the previous week, the hem shiny and frayed with wear. Your macabre attack was an air horn in a stilled chapel. My scalding blood sprayed into my head and I saw stars. What did she say? Someone can say that? I looked sideways at Tony, his eyes brimming, and I crushed my beige circular milk ticket in my shaking right hand oh god! oh god I could have killed you, Lisa! I could have maimed you! In too many dreams that year I lunged at you, madly clawed your beribboned hair, your self-satisfied little face, your beautiful little ferret face with its cheekbones and haughty forehead. If you’d taken a shot at my mom’s Angel Food Cake recipe at that moment I might have torn you like a phone book. Rage at all the well-built assholes who criticize our Breakfast Cookies! ‘Well-Lisa-we-tried-your-cake-and-it-was-terrible!’ I bleated in cracking girl-voice, a Tourette’s attack that seemed to gush from someone else before I knew I was saying it, I could not believe these goings on. And you said ‘Ha ha! My recipe wasn’t for cake, liar.’

what if he’d known

crespuscular Gotham

He struck out in the direction of home
the hushed scuffed aisles of the grocery store
first he pulled his red car out of his colorless garage
the grey junk hung and jumbled there
said he was going for cereal and a razor
there is no depth to plumb nor glyph to puzzle over
he really was going there for cereal and a razor
Raisin Bran Crunch and a Schick with aloe
he started up his dumb red car and sailed away
heart-racing, unbridled, stars a-twinkle
and switched on the little radio

How to explain and why to explain
it’s been years since he needed the company of men, or man
years uncounted (about 20) since he could endure
the vibrant chatter, the cutting blank
the bright self-ignorant line right down the middle of everything
commercial jingles and artistic gestures
Lichtenstein-dumb and warm with the glow
of puny self-satisfaction, an ossified frieze
ecclesiastical complaining gets one nowhere fast
that there is nothing new under the sun goes unmentioned
he just wants the puppets to see the strings
and say a word or two not hauled up from a khaki past

One afternoon he stares through a streaked windshield
and longs. California sun strikes the glass like a match.
wind-blown families people a littered seaside lawn
mingle easily as phantoms, and as without form
picnic tables, happy summer sun, bovine cliques and claques
a beachfront birthday party for another tween
his untenable terror of the other grown-ups there
roots him to the bucket seat
all this tired glow, all this roseate gift, the dizzying chances lost
look at the fools, what news can they bring
professional guys with graying temples drape their arms and laugh
seen through an arc of wiper smear opaque and bright as frost.

a cloud of gnats in summer air

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a cloud of gnats in summer air
transfixed I watch them gather there
they do not spin and will not toil
these laggards make my blood to boil

night birds invade a fragrant clearing
their evensong offends my hearing
the pines a twilight belvedere
o humvee smash me out of here

a millipede, a leaping stag
the crawly one will make me gag
the other one I’ll tranquilize
and give him beveled glass for eyes

school of fish in a mountain lake
I pray thee lord their souls to take
I pray then give the flesh to me
I’ll slit them till there’s naught to see

the lord hath given us dominion
rear sight elevation pinion
trigger guard, extractor spring
lift up our hearts in firing.

a fox asleep in honeyed sun
awakens my vacation gun
the violets hearing no report
are painted by my day of sport

unlettered man on jungle path
I offer you a bubble bath
some Western Civ will salve your soul
and see you to the Super Bowl

a velvet dark has fallen full
as lovely as a tractor pull
the fire throws a wondrous light
that underscores your underbite

Let’s contemplate the vault of stars
and ravish all our candy bars
this night we dream, the world renews
a bear craps in our hiking shoes.

Alchemy

Alchemy Crucible

That morning I drank for about an hour and a half and thought about Brenda; the manner of her death, or the moment of her death. I would put it all in a box. It would need to be light enough for me to lift. On a sunny Thursday afternoon, Joel’s knockout of a wife had been clubbed like a ham hock and thrown thirty yards by a refrigerated produce truck sliding through a yellow.

The broad bug-flecked plane of the grillwork saw to it that she would neither roll nor sidle past nor sashay around the frank inertial cruelties that wreak such easy havoc in these settings.  Witnesses describe the contact as hammer-blow-like.  Brenda arced obediently through shrieking summer air, following the famous immutable laws.  She would have been, by then, a worthless husk.  Witnesses describe a flapping rag doll the size of a human being.  She hit the asphalt half a block away and rolled like a stunt dummy.  The Bible says not to expect thanks for doing what’s expected of us anyway, but sometimes the brute ingratitude from on high is too much for the rational heart to want to bear.  There may be a dark and bemused comic mind somewhere, perhaps just drifting, like Donovan’s Brain, in a puff of ether.  It can conjure a plague of frogs and can execute a man’s wife by seeing her tossed like garbage, powerfully, into a row of decorative roadside bushes. Brenda negotiates a horizontal flapping pirouette, quite violently, into the bank of dirty pfitzers. Again again again. That’s the picture I see.

She was somewhat hastily buried two days later, on Saturday, but first the coroner had fixed the cause of death, which was one or another kind of trauma.  The funeral had been brief, nearly perfunctory, in accordance with what Joel assured us would have been Brenda’s wishes in this contingency. Almost exactly halfway through the ceremony, Joel fell down in complete silence, sprawled, like a vaudeville drunk. Those who rushed to help him found Joel’s expression blank, though not slack. The muscles of his face were prone, his mouth was agape slightly, his eyes were aimed skyward and dry.  He seemed about to say something. But the face didn’t move, and was mask-like, something to me at that moment as disorienting as the focused, intense stare of the dead. Trying to get Joel on his feet was like trying to hoist a corpse, or, again, a stunt dummy.  So we just held him where he lay on the wet ground, three of us on our haunches.

The following Wednesday morning at around nine I sat at my kitchen table.  I’d had a shot of scotch and was preparing to have another.  My kitchen serves as a dining area as well, and there are two enormous windows. My smallish back yard and patio were beautiful to see. Sun fell all over the place. The oak shivered restlessly in early breezes. Two red birds the size of flashlight batteries stair-stepped down from somewhere overhead in a controlled flutter-and-drop descent and alighted on the brickwork. I dribbled another shot into the glass.  The phone yelped like a Tourette’s patient and I banged the shot glass against my teeth. It was Joel.

“Stop me if you’ve heard this one!” he managed through a kind of ongoing guffaw. It sounded like he might be laughing with food in his mouth. What could this mean? Why did it have to mean anything? I flashed on a snapshot-like image of myself sitting almost forlornly under a demure little reading lamp with a book on my lap, and I thought for that instant I might burst into true hysteria.

“Joel.”

“’I’ll never dance with another’. Here’s a kid writing a line like that. But he did dance with another.”

“I know.”

“He went on to dance with another.”

“I know it.”

“Aren’t you something. My wife was butchered in traffic, you know. Remember Brenda? Remember her? Her body did not come apart, so there is that to be grateful for.”

“Well, ” I murmured experimentally, the booze encouraging forays into terra incognita I hoped might yield some traction, something to arrest the helpless sliding and careering. “This life is a kaleidoscope. You always said so.”

“Yes, yes. The box of chocolates. A dimwit in a crew cut selecting chocolates from a box.”

I reconnoitered. “Why don’t you come over here and have a drink with me?”

“And if I accept?” he replied with the sudden and disorienting air of a dilettante shooting his lace cuffs.

“I’m asking you to accept.”

He seemed to think about that. Then,  “No. I’ll see you Monday.”

“Monday –“

“At work?” he yelled.

“You’re going to back to work? You…you can’t. Not yet.”

“Man lives by bread alone,” he managed, through what sounded like a yapful of bread.

#

We’re slapped into stunned tears by startling and unearned cancer diagnoses, see our loved ones raped and murdered, lose limbs and senses in horrific leisure time accidents involving hammocks, oars, mowers, kitchen utensils, sporting goods. We bear personal witness to spirit-breaking tortures and massacres and mop up the viscera with both hands. An hour or a day later we are immersed, impossibly, in the full-bore asininity of the workaday. The limned fluorescence of the ordinary seems almost to holler. The clock on the office wall ticks like a rude farting idiot, ergonomically calibrated office chairs reach out with their thalidomide arms, promising comfort. Our little fabric cubicles assume the aspect of veal stalls; they are tenderizing us by preventing any meaningful movement. Staple removers begin to enrage the senses and one is tempted to gales of laughter at the sight of an office colleague standing expectantly before a fax machine, arms slack. The small trash cans yawn extravagantly and everything thrums with the unstoppable and banal energies of the river we are all famously borne down.

No one was more terrified than I when Joel entered the 10 o’clock Bettany triage . The recent and reportedly irreparable travails of the Bettany account were shining Grail-like at the far end of the small conference room; Stone’s laudable PowerPoint presentation of everything the team was dismantling through its ineptitude. When Joel entered unceremoniously and without a knock, a kind of suggested gasp befell the room. He was clean-shaven and hustled by with the ordinary alacrity of a well-rested but tardy office drone. He was wearing an unfamiliar necktie whose motif was visible even in the near darkness. As he made for his seat at the long long table crowded with suddenly bowing heads, I saw in a cinematic flash the timeworn and culturally predictable drama about to play out; the newly minted existentialist waving his arms, gesturing grandly, if crazily, at the explosive lack of meaning we marinate in daily. The stupid glowing PowerPoint and its pitiable suggestion of technology’s triumph of over whatever vagaries haunt us, the perfumed carcasses in their carefully chosen shirts and blouses. What a fat slow moving target is a marketing meeting to a newly minted existentialist! Fish in a barrel are more elusive than the ghastly nebulae of emptiness that sink down around the heads of assembled marketers in a meeting whose sole aim is to conjure the means to move unneeded product; a sleight of hand whose terminus is dust. Look at these heads, these sideburns, breasts, earrings, pearls, shoe tassels, wristwatches, collarbones, etc. See the swollen eyes and cleft chins, all the phantoms killing time as the river bears them away and away.

But Joel took his seat without fanfare and aimed his face at Stone’s glowing cartoon. A stylized seismographic line reached a summit then headed back down to earth, and Stone, after a pin-drop pause at Joel’s entrance, indicated this uninspired symbol of failure with his laser pen.

“Here. The drop is precipitous,” Stone breathed with stagy disappointment, tracing the jagged nosedive with his little red beam, clearly enjoying his moment. And why all the sneaking embarrassed glances, tipping and bowing and peeking over at Joel in the darkness, dipping their dumb little heads to sneak a look? What do they hope to see? What suggestion of the Next New World do they hope to glimpse in the person of this bereaved tick-tock man, my Joel?  Isn’t there something that ought to be said by someone in the room? Something on this occasion that might trump even Stone’s laser? But there is no right way to acknowledge this stuff, no standard way to die or to remark on death, no template for tactfully leaving this plane, or for referencing absent acquaintances who have done so. All these accidents and murders and so forth, in all the world! All the throbbing clocks that are suddenly or slowly made to stop ticking, in the cities and villages, in beds and forests, out on the open sea, on carpeted living room floors and in the monoxide midst of traffic. Living people are as various as the accidental and premeditated acts of physical congress that produce them, but the dead are all the same. There is a kind of magic in that transubstantiation. Is that why we imagine the dead as roaming phantoms? Transluscent ectoplasmic tatters of visible energy gracefully negotiating the winds between the stars? Supernature has its allure, but it’s been all but proven that there is no wind up there but solar wind, which blows everything away from the sun and its light.

“Joel, your comments,” Stone was saying, and at that I felt my complexion flare. I imagined Joel driving downtown alone in the after-work dusk, windows down, his thinning hair blowing. He is looking for something or someone, a friend, two friends; driving among and past the alleyways and shadowy declivities of the city, the shop fronts and hanging electric works of the place, civic light fixtures designed with love and a sense of grandeur, I imagined, by excitable men and women with pencils behind their ears. And for what? But a moment in the sun is no less enjoyable for being merely a moment, as they say. Joel took Stone’s gauntlet without pause.

“The ROI on the Bettany debacle is a stinker,” he said evenly, not looking up from the table where he had flattened his palms, as if in the throes of analysis. “Largely because we failed to speak to the target in any comprehensible language. If we refuse to talk to our constituencies in the vernacular they use in addressing each other, we’re climbing up our own asses.”

“Our own asses,” Stone mused, thoughtfully. He cocked his head in a gesture of frank reproof. “Joel, I admire your coming here today, but it’s too soon, I think. If I may say so. You need to be here, but now is not the time. You are jumping the gun.”

“Why.”  Joel’s response was absent the interrogative lilt that would have indicated actual interest in what Stone had to say. “Why jumping the gun.”

“Because I say so,” Stone offered without pause, in his own haste to have done with this episode retreating to the humdrum hierarchies of the office. “You’ll break yourself this way.”

Joel looked up at Stone and squinted appraisingly. “Because you say so?”

“Joel – “

“Your say-so, Stone.”

Then he turned to me to speak, and I recoiled. “She loves you. Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

And at that Joel sprang noisily out of his seat, and he is hanging there still, his necktie a crenellated ribbon frozen in time, forearms reaching out of rolled-back shirtsleeves; strictly business. And the stars wheel and the solar winds gust and eddy through the firmament and the angels, all of them, are blown to heck by the tumult.

Something in the Kitchen is Dying

Something in the Kitchen

I

Something in the kitchen is dying,
or some floral freak just outside the open kitchen window
is exploding with that fragrance that is
so often confused with
a putrefaction theme.

Gosh, the sweetly stink is overpowering.
It’s either the rotting clockworks
of a buffalo’s open,
savaged trunk in the third
day of full sun, or an impossibly delicate little
blossom or tendril,
waving its pheremones around
and hoping for the best.

II
While trying to
extricate the turkey dogs from their
slimed little space-age baggie,
my hand is bathed
in the unidentifiable
charnel house fluid
that pools in the plastic wrapping
like something essential.
Um….uh…(sighs)…
Ah! Sweet abattoir that is life!
Thank Goodness for French.