Entanglement

for the woman I saw this morning on the sidewalk outside a Planet Fitness, wearing jorts, drinking coffee out of a to-go cup, and smoking a cigarette.

I’ll begin by admitting
that my entire train of thought this morning
as I worked my way through elliptical,
lower body, and arms
which is where I saw you,
as I was resting between sets
seated at a machine
which is a clear violation of protocol
at all the many gyms I’ve been a member of

may be based on fallacy. You may
have looked through the glass at us
and thought haha losers in which case
you are philosophically miles ahead
of this chautauqua

but you looked so ill at ease
and seemed to be avoiding
the collective plate-glass glare
of twenty or thirty people
who have the time and energy
to work out before they go to work

and you may have felt
that we were judging you
but Martha, if I may call you that
on the million-to-one chance
that’s your name

Planet Fitness is a Judgement Free Zone
or so the advertisements say
and they have no more reason to lie
than any of the other signs
at the aging shopping center
where we work out or
could get a EASY PAYDAY LOAN
or enjoy a FARM FRESH BREAKFAST
at a diner which sits next to
the Family Drug Store Where the Customer Comes First
and down at the end,
which is what I suspect you were waiting for,
having bought foam cup coffee at the diner
and perhaps the cigarettes at the Wholesale Tobacco Outlet
there is the Independent Auto Company
which has a GOOD MECHANIC ON DUTY.

And I hope he had good news for you
or at least was truthful if he said
If you was my mamma I wouldn’t let you leave here with them brakes.

Because honestly Wilma, or whoever you are,
we’re all caught in a web of limited ways and means,
and we choose from the choices we have.
After you left I showered, dressed, and went to my office,
feeling a little virtuous and smug, like I’d gotten ahead of something.

My first call when I got there was to Verizon,
and it took me two hours to undo everything
they’d done to my account the day before.

A Term of Art of War at an Organ Recital

The phrase has pleasing (even pious)
Connotations, like
Arbeit Macht Frei,
“Molotov Cocktail,” and Enola Gay.

– From Formal Application, Donald W. Baker (1923-2002)

Deep in meditation by the end of an hour of organ music
in an old church pockmarked by manhole-size plaques
To the Glory of God  commemorating rich men’s sons
blown into the next life on the winds of war,
I note the last piece:

Carillion-Sortie – Henri Mulet  (1878-1967)

I know the term sortie as a term of art of war.
More generally it means to go out, leave
in the Middle French word sortir
and learned its meaning of
deployment from a strongpoint
by associating with other tough romance words:
salient
petard
enfilade
and
carronade
the last of which sounds pleasantly like a musical term
but which was a short-barreled gun
of the late 18th and 19th centuries
that fired large shot at short range and
was used especially on warships.

Read More »

Tracking

The new UPS driver looks like he’s been working his way down the corporate ladder.
I think he looks too old for a package car and he looks like he’s about my age
and finally: I’ve seen him looking younger.

It was 1982.
He hung an offensive nickname on me
that spoke of something I’d never even seen, much less done,
and I wore it like the proverbial badge marked Chicken Inspector
or I Felta Thi.  How mightily
we called it out when pinching female freshmen’s bottoms.
What cards we were. What utter shits.

In the synapse it takes for me to remember all this,
he has called me by that name again, laughing as
he clicks a touchscreen to note the exact time and place
the package was delivered.
I turn around to make sure my staff hasn’t heard it
and he laughs again. Hey, add me on Facebook!

The Dream of My Grandfather’s Return

My grandfather at the dinner table of his son-in-law’s farmhouse:
Saltines, sardines, turkey sandwiches, potato salad, jello molds.
The progressive potluck of his hardtack life, coming as it did
toward something like luxury.

The luxury was to sit down – all of his sons and daughters
under the roof, everyone getting along. My father telling
a story about the 1950s that everyone there
except the grandchildren lived through. Laughter.

Even in my dream I am the little man
who has to point out the obvious.
Whispering to him, so as not to upset everyone:
“Granddaddy, you’re dead.”

He gave me a disappointed look,
which I at first took for embarrassment.
We were suddenly in a field.
It could have been Egypt, but it followed the contours
of my uncle’s pasture. A sunset of the deepest indigo,
a cross in the distance.
Not the cross at the top of the church,
nor an old rugged cartoon rendition,
but two perfect lines of darkness
intersecting above the crest of the hill.
Neither one of us spoke a word.

I have never dreamed of him since.

Helping Someone Name a New Company

for Marianne Moore

We sought a short word or noun phrase which was
unique, easy to pronounce, spelled like it sounds.

It had to convey something of the business without boxing it in,
and of course not already taken: domains, twitter, facebook,
nor have unfortunate interior spellings like newspaperverts or the like.

Lacking millions of dollars worth of television
coining a word and teaching everyone to say it wasn’t an option,
which let out the synthetic sounds of pharmaceuticals:
Gornext, Lytexia, and Nambivala, to give away
a few derivative examples.

The final result has the meaningless appeal
of fruit on a white ceramic plate
and the phrase sounds finished like fine wood
when you say it on the telephone,
answering a switchboard, perhaps,
or a help desk in a skyscraper,
and you may imagine someone asserting it
and that it’s good for a webmaster to be a poet.

Oddly Specific

We may sometimes think the ones who died are the fortunate ones,
the deputy director of the regional Veteran’s Administration center
said this afternoon, to a small crowd assembled
under blue polyester awnings,
half of which was the volunteer concert band I was in.
The other half I suspected were spouses or perhaps even children
grown middle-aged themselves waiting for their fathers
to come back home from the war
with heart disease, cancer. And the stroke
of three o’clock found us standing in silence
while the local reporters, strangely beautiful and young
literally ran around with cameras to get the wreath-laying
and my friend playing taps into the paper
like they do every year to remember.

In the Details

We played Mahler’s First Symphony tonight
in a civic orchestra sort of way
but it gave aging rich women a place to
go in their wraps and
my mother-in-law sat with my wife and
said she saw horses and did ‘three-legged-dances.’

There are so many moving parts,
I said. The work has defied the best
orchestra’s efforts to play it, and
to play it, not listen to it, is to
count measures of rest after rest
and wait to come in
wait to come in.
The clarinet part is to sound
like a cuckoo and the conductor
makes crazy faces to inspire you
while his back is turned
to the audience.

The Dream of Uncle Cleo

In my dream, Uncle Cleo stands in his dead brother’s home
and calls suddenly for prayer. “When we die, let us die quickly,
oh Lord, but let us be what we can in the meantime.”
My brother loudly says “amen,” and adds
“I’m having trouble with that ‘be what we can,’ myself.”
Uncle Cleo keeps on in that calm preacher’s voice of his
about our trip, says “there’s no use to leave before daylight.”

In reality, Uncle Cleo died old of diabetes and drink,
a few body parts at a time until his final day at a VA hospital.
I never heard him pray, but he really had that preacher’s voice.
He knew what it was to ‘be what he could,’ having been a sailor,
a shoe salesman, a drinker. He knew what it was to find himself
married on a drunken weekend. His brother didn’t live like this.
The drunken marriage didn’t last the weekend, but there was
another woman who stayed with him through many divorces,
including their own.

Uncle Cleo really did live to stand in his dead brother’s home.
His brother always said he wanted to be a preacher
but died broke selling furniture instead; heart failure one
hot afternoon.  If my brother ever says “I’m having trouble
with that ‘be what we can,’ myself,” I’ll probably say “amen” out loud,
but I doubt he’ll ever say it to me.

 

published around 2005 in the now defunct web journal, The New Pantagruel

A Year Ago When You Told Us that

you were dying, I stared at you, thinking
it was one of your philosophical remarks,
served up between Schrödinger’s Cat
and the Platonic Ideal. We were eating popcorn
in the kitchen and it was just like that, you said
the worst was that telling your friends
would be like hitting a dish with a hammer,
hoping someone else could glue it back together.

This is the third of three posts in this series.

The Day Before When We

came downtown to see you,
we were cracking wise about
the hospital, but Phil was
suddenly aloof, determined
to get to your room, showing
no patience to the volunteer, a
nice-enough lady with a
metal angel pin. You
seemed old, but not enough,
sitting up with us talking
weakly about everything
but

before we left downtown we
wanted to see the museum
but it was closed. We walked
back to the station; Jenny
bought a Saint Peregrine
medal from a street vendor,
started to cry. I spent
the rest of that day
holding her hand, or with
my arm (which fell asleep)
around her on the train.

This is two of the three poems I intend to post in this series.