Thursday, August 19, 2010

Losing Peru

I simply cannot leave Peru
for a single minute.
My mind wanders while armies mass in Brazil.
What demon’s spawn haunts this child?
Takes possession of the pure and wide-eyed
innocence of youth?
He’s already filled the borders
of Argentina beyond carrying capacity,
overloaded, overcrowded
with edgy militants.
I guessed (mistakenly, it seems)
that he’d give chase
as I led my people out of tyranny,
crossing the isthmus of Central America
on our way to freedom
in the United States.
But now, left back
in Peru to mind the store,
my friends stare down the barrels
of countless cannons.
And I can only look back
from my disastrous foray in the North,
and watch while the circling dogs close in,
growling, chewing up Peru,
and South America falls
to fascist rule.

Oh Jesus.
Now Ontario’s on the move
and Iceland’s ass is hanging out.

*       *        *       *       *       *       *       *
This poem goes back quite a few years. My writing has almost always been based on personal experiences and relationships. Only on rare occasion do I write a poem in which there's an overt focus on politics or greater social issues. This is not one of those poems. Let me digress for a moment just to say that I usually hope that I write poems based on my personal experiences in which greater truths, social commentary or commonalities between individuals do in fact exist, even in spite of my intentions and motivations in the writing. Then of course there's a poem like Losing Peru.

This poem first appeared on the now-defunct website The Fulcrum Online, an online companion to Hamline University's print literary journal, The Fulcrum. On the website, registered users were able to leave comments and questions regarding each published literary work and piece of visual art. Overall, the comments on Losing Peru were positive, though most readers assumed that the poem was some sort of commentary on political strife in the Americas. 

In fact, one Christmas morning back when my son was young he received the board game Risk: The Game of Global Domination as a gift. He and I played the game that afternoon. He won. I wrote this poem just after my unconditional surrender.

Previously published at The Fulcrum Online and Snakeskin number 151.

Butling Mrs. Goldberg

I put Sanka on the serving tray,
choose a spoon from the hoard
the hag’s collected in a drawer,
pull a sheet of Bounty and fold in thirds.
I rest my load on her threadbare chair.
Mrs. Goldberg’s kitchen range is limited,
being of its time (c. 1950).
Still, it chugs on like a steam engine,
warming the cold kettle, tics and sighs.

I can certainly wait, I mean, my god,
I’ve been on permanent pause
since she fell in the flower bed,
and cracked her pelvis
as she ended the perennials.

She cried out, and
I said I’m here for you, Miss.
I’m here.

I wipe my eyes with a kerchief,
straighten bowtie and peer at face creases
reflected in toaster sheen
while the teakettle screams.
I creak back up to weary feet
and fill her mug with searing steam.
Hoisting the tray, I shuffle the long hall,
the shining foyer. I climb the endless stair.

Outside her bedroom door,
my knuckles hang in the air.
I brace against the maddening repetitions.
(Ah? Who is it?
Well, who the hell could it be, old woman?)

I clear my throat
…bought smile
…gentle knock.

First published in The Fulcrum Online 2005-2006, ed. 1

Friday, August 13, 2010

Eggs Etc.

I hear her clear her throat
just as I sit down in the restaurant with my daily news and hangover.
I recognize that sound, like a polite ghost in a cartoon
drawing Shaggy from a Scooby-snack and I scan the room.
And there she sits. Looking at me
with wide eyeholes and crooked smile
the same way she did when we kissed a while back
in Dinkytown, between the parked cars on 4th St.
while buses blew force fields to shield us
from the eyes of the fidelity police. Even before
I returned to the house that day
she was already taxiing down the runway, bag under seat
filled with her Dramamine, diaphragm  and Eurail pass.
We said no goodbye on 4th, though it was implied
and only later confirmed from some phone box in London.

Now, here I am with a hankering for coffee and eggs
and greasy beast meat and there’s something
that brought her back to the States and this same nasty diner
where she and I liked to eat after screwing in the sunbulb of dawn.
She’s still like that photo from my brainpan
but crossed with a catcher’s mitt and I know
there’s more to me than there once was,
but all that seems secondary when I find that she and I
are not only in the same country again, but even
within spitting distance. Then,
the waitress is at my table slopping coffee
into a mug and asking What’ll it be, hon?

I think it’s clear that I came here only for the eggs,
but her muffin sure looks good too.
I don’t know what to say.

First published in Thieves Jargon


I’ve a billowed even ill-spent smudgepot
near where the fishes let opaque tresses
loaf in the foxglove pith. Many marionéts,
steeped in caprice, may dance on taut string and given rein
feast on your wife’s dowry, slurp up the last
of your stew while she’s lying in her bath, lip-sippling
her third absinthe with warm water sluice at the fleshiers. 
Even I ease past your foyer swags and with a spongy tissue
lining the rind, tip the clay baby upon its drooling snout.
Unlike a foolish bridegroom eager for his flick of the delicate,
I coax out the maisonette with a swaying chamber pot,
squiggles for stitch in the plumb, while close-eyed,
my lashes slack flan as though under acid wax press
and seeming my freckled blessing skew. I cub the brass
back against the harder pew. Swaddled. My purer self
backslid into layers of woolen clothes while below
the shifting surface your wife’s submerged, naked,
shy, wide-eyed and so ill consider. Lip blue. You, black
of core and perched high over lurched and harried hoofbeat,
I’ll breathe the life back past your wife’s glaucous sores.

First published in Ditch

Lemon Poppyseed

Wiindigo’s on the move, foraging
for roots   berries   meats.
Young Ojibwe children
huddle wideeyed as elders tell
legends of the creature that walks the winter wood.

The mass of manmonster comes from the cold
when Minnesota’s Moon of Crusty Snow is
near halfpast, and Spring is still
being beaten back by biting cold.
Twigs and dryreeds glaze in drizzlefreeze.
And the hairy man comes.

The drum and flute that haunts reservation winters
crescendos early, followed by
the drawnout tinkling of shattered glass
scattering across a frozen lake.
Nourishment for wild creatures grows scarce.

Cold morning, thatched fog, crows steaming upon posts.
Wiindigo tromps from the deep wood,
crosses the meadow and enters the Indian village.

Iced walks are greased glass, and pedestrians
don’t trust their mukluks, should they need to run.
Wiindigo crouches in shadow, tumrumbling.
Sharp smell seeps from a Caribou on every corner,
hissing espresso for the queued crowds.