Feeling Squeezed at the Grocery Store I Conclude that the Propensity to Ignore Pain is Not Necessarily Virtuous, but Continue Shopping and Gather the Ingredients for Ham Fried Rice because That’s What I Cook When My Wife is Out-of-Town and I’m Not in the Mood for Italian, and Dammit I’m Not Ill, Merely a Little Inconvenienced, and Hey, in the 70’s I Played Football in Texas, and When the Going Gets Tough…
I answer work email in the checkout line. Drive home, take two aspirin.
Place perishables in refrigerator. Consider collapsing in bed. Call wife.
Let in dog. Drive to ER, park. Provide phone numbers. Inhale. Exhale.
Repeat. Accept fate and morphine. Ask for lights and sirens, imagine the
seas parting. On the table, consider fissures and cold air, windows and
hagfish. Calculate arm-length, distance and time. Expect one insertion,
receive another. Dissonance in perception, in reality. Turn head when
asked. Try reciting Kinnell’s “The Bear.” Try again, silently this time.
Give up. Attempt “Ozymandias.” Think of dark highways. Wonder about
the femoral, when and how they’ll remove my jeans. Shiver uncontrollably.
The events in this poem took place six years ago. A lifetime ago. Life is good.
I am thinking of a place I’ve never seen or visited,
much like Heaven or Jot ‘Em Down, Texas, but with better
beverages and the advantage of hindsight and seasoning,
a glance back or to the peripheral, with a side of memory
and sliced, pickled jalapeños topping a pile of imagination.
And how do we so clearly remember what never occurred?
That book I read in 1970 was first published three years
later. A drowned childhood acquaintance ordered a beer
and sat next to me at a party in college. The open fields
I recall from the garden walls in France, where homes stood.
If only we carried with us slide shows or grooved vinyl
to trace back our lives – photos and recordings of those daily
remembrances – detailed notes indexed on cards, or data
embedded in our palms and accessed by eye twitches.
Would such evidence improve our lives?
Which filters shutter moments and thoughts, twist them
into balloon animals we no longer recognize? False
accusations and convictions aside, can we trust what we
know to be true? That oak stands where it has for four
decades. I bleed when cut. The sky still leers above us.
“White Mules and a Column of Smoke” was drafted during the August 2016 Tupelo Press 30/30 challenge. I am grateful to Natalie Butler, who sponsored the poem and whose photo inspired me.
Though my tongue withers from disuse and
drought, I taste from across the sea astringent
smoke and the progeny of a hundred bullets
buzzing by like misguided insects through
the theater of the dying, and I question how
pride and greed, hubris and fear, unwind their
cords to detonate these differing yet tangled
lines. How to fathom such depth of mistrust?
The Christian paints her door frames azure, a
Muslim carpets his tile floor, the Jew panels his
walls, yet among each, various segments clash,
and all of their houses implode. I feel nothing,
yet shiver throughout the sun-blazed afternoon.
Then I consider the structure of zero, whether its
body contains or extracts, negates or compromises,
hollows out duplicates within duplicates, exorcising
with a blade so sharp as to peel away memory from
those it crosses without the faintest murmur. Gone.
Erased. Banished to never having been. I neither
breathe nor digest, but I absorb and recall. How do
you so willingly forget history? This post determines
my destination, but not my destiny, not tomorrow’s
promise, nor the returning birds and faith, the long
nights, their stars, their deaths, the following days.
“Scarecrow Questions” first appeared here in February 2016.