First Autumn Days

Once upon a time, back when I thought ‘muscat’ was what lived in the river behind the fields behind the house, there was a future that beckoned as only futures can. This particular future was mine, and I looked forward to it. Analysis would come later, with growing up and marrying and a vengeance. Now there was just the future.

The present, I got that for my birthday, didn’t fit anymore. Someone close had died and I thought it was my fault though it happened far away. I didn’t, really. Think about it. But I knew.

The sun shone anyway and right way through the forest edge where we kept losing the ball. The larger dog always found the ball and brought it back, sometimes days later, always wet. The sun burned the dew from the weeds and in April and September, sometimes October, we would tie our sweaters around our waists and go looking for nuts and birds and animals. We found muscat tracks in the mud, and travels and futures in all the house’s books, futures written so they flew past every time we looked in: Defoe, Carroll, Dickens; Dumas, Voltaire, Anna Sewell (lady authors had first names). Forests and books full of black bears seldom seen.

I met China, a missionary lady from there who came to visit one of my aunts, and didn’t think to ask her which part. ‘China’ was enough to know. Still is, although I’m conditioned now to think I should think it shouldn’t be.

I thought that I learned early that real life wouldn’t teach me much. That’s what I thought it taught me until real life intruded. Burst in. The beauty I found and find every day comes from nature itself and also as distilled into books and paintings and music. We are the distillers, we think.

We are the distillers, we think. We wonder why it is not ‘sometimes’ but ‘every time’ and think that’s thought. Like others, I turn my ‘thoughts’ to provenance and teleology, and, like them, achieve nothing that affects berries, birds, animals, or China; achieve only long tortuous sentences. Maybe China is affected, but where in China?

The stillness of Jeanne d’Arc as she lies in Rouen. That’s a future. They burned her. I know that. Usually I don’t think to ask who burned her. ‘They’ is enough to know. They used up their futures. A cloud of meaty smoke.

When the wind comes down from Normandy and the leaves turn tail and it’s impossible even for the larger dog to find the wet ball, we jump into our sweaters and think of futures in which we migrate to places we would sweat in our jumpers. Endless sand beaches occupy us but not really, considering how triste the tourists look doing the Sanibel shuffle in perfect weather all the daze of their unoccupied lives. They don’t think about it, but they know.

We turn our faces to the autumn wind. We sing of futures, and wonder why mayonnaise here, unlike back when, leaves an aftertaste that muscatel only dissipates, not kills.

Tale of the Gorgon Morgan Zola

Of course there are naked ladies in the garden.
The gorgon guards them as he has half the summer.
And we, sighting them, bicycle by as if,
if we keep our eyes averted, he will harden
till his menace, veiled, a cryptic, scary mummer,
gets mooted, and – the way icicles stiff
with frost will fracture when struck from the side –
then we pop him with our handlebars and ride
unscathed through the garden gates and, once inside,
acquaint ourselves at leisure with the ladies.
We listen, as the prettiest and the smallest
of them (she’s pleased we ogle her) explains
the rules – which are, when each of us has made his
peace, the one of us left standing tallest
may banish all the others to the plains
where they’ll monkey round to grind the gypsy organ
while he, new Zola, like the pirate Morgan
gets crowned the garden’s statutory gorgon.

P.S. It is sexist to depict the hideous gorgon
as usually or especially a female.
The reigning Morgan Zola’s from Glamorgan
and’s for a male a very hot tamale

Story Times

We don’t want facts and thought. We want a story
we believe in and can use to justify our killing
the planet while imagining we are safe.

Here’s one candidate story: soon the elite will live on Mars
and we will be among that proud elite.
(Fantasies compounded must come true.)

Here’s one candidate story: we are successfully inventing
ways to vaporise the poor and breathe the air
this releases to live forever and to fly.

Ulla

Blonde Ulla’s left her heart in Kristiansund
with school photographs in Helen’s husband’s file
under a lock he clipped one evening when she’d swooned.
She’s left the harbour lights that glare for miles
at the cheeky deep-sea vessels that they’ve mooned
since oil was found offshore. Her mother smiles
when she reads Ulla’s letters from a part
of Europe far away. Poor Ulla’s heart.

Ulla’s other parts take her to the Costa Blanca
and are themselves too much, her rivals pout.
Her brain is sharper than a custom Tonka
toy car with fins flint-sharp enough to rout
competitors. And, socially, to plonk a
leg near hers makes other girls lose out.
They’ve been men who loved her till death did them part.
There are men and women left who want her heart.

Blonde Ulla works the coast line from Valencia
to Alicante, helping automate
shoe factories and banks, intelligentsia,
and anything with cash. Her systems rate
with world leaders who experience agnosia
to all else when she speaks, and she is great
at language, and assisting in downsizing,
and, being heartless helps, ‘reorganising.’

This week finds Ulla at her own convention,
one she’s dreamed up, promoted, and now chairs.
Its theme is expert systems for prevention
of further global warming. Miguel stares
when she (he’d thought her mindless) says, ‘Encryption
of our source code guarantees, for those who dare,
they’ll own the only axe that saves the wood,
and do extremely well from doing good.’

Miguel (his English mother calls him Michael)
stares on as Ulla finishes. His trance
continues until Whap! he sees the mike’ll
give him a way to meet her. ‘Grab the chance,’
his heart berates his head, ‘Quick, on your cycle.
Think up a line to make her want to dance,
then pedal like a shaman to her side
and set your grin on Honest/Open/Wide.’

‘Your majesty,’ young brain-stunned Micky mumbles,
then, growing up, speaks on in dulcet tones,
‘Ms. Chair, excuse me, but the share price tumbles
at times like this. I feel it in my bones
that your mike’s bugged, and when the crumpet crumbles…
Excuse me, I mean criminals wire phones.
Don’t say another secret! Take the stairs
up to the ballroom, join the Astaires.’

Ulla watches Micky while she’s thinking
every Windows conference has its mouse.
But, as she notes the way his ego’s shrinking,
her inner id speaks up: ‘Don’t be a louse.
Perhaps he’s an investor, one for drinking
with and learning secrets from. Your house
of hard and software would be so much rubble
if you didn’t mix its brick with field-trial stubble.’

Miguel, who’s rich because he’s good at getting
the message while he cannot understand
the language, grins as he picks up the letting
go, the coming down, of Ulla’s band
of usually-up defences. ‘I’m forgetting
my manners and convention. Is your husband
not here? You’re single?’ He’s on cruise control
as he leads her softly to the spiked punch bowl.

Ulla, while she is not one to wallow
with anybody, customer or not,
has perfect legs that secretly are hollow.
They let her drink opponents on their twat
s. ‘You’re on, amigo. There is no Valhalla
for Vikings if they die not drinking rot.’
She drains a pint and with no backward glance
lets Micky catch her up. They start to dance…

She feels that sex, like film, the church, and fiction,
depends on skills suspending disbelief,
and she fantasises love should guide one’s friction.
Were her partner not in love, he’d be a thief
who would not miss her heart. She loves his diction
but dreams of tangos. Dancing was the chief
reason that she let him in her bower
before they’d known each other for an hour.

She wakes, amazed to see him watch her eyes
as were she sheeted, or he sought a sign.
She showers, strides the terrace while she dries.
‘If I weren’t Viking I’d not blame the wine.
I’d think his sounds not whistling snores but sighs.’
Miguel regards her, thinking she’s divine.
He sees her as an angel from above
and falls, his first time ever, into love.

Cicada Wall

There are squirrels and a wall of cicadas on this ship.
It’s so large its bow is a matter for belief
or cynicism to us on its stern.

The no-go area that the green man’s family
decreed must always surround him leaves us room
for deck chairs and depression and the chapel
we retire into for prayer when it rains hard.
This is in fact a truly enormous ship.

You might think this is about the green man. You’d be wrong.
He’s been written off so long that he has offered
to bury his own ego in the chapel
but his family says that shows too much respect.
For him. ‘You’d dis the chapel!’ they accuse.
We shall leave him in his no-go while we sail.

‘More love than I can ever want or use,’
is the cri de coeur of lost souls who abuse
the atmosphere by breathing it. Who knows?
There may be more to life than they suppose.

The ship gets underway, its cheerful wake
contrasting gaily with those that we hold
for the green man. But forget him. Underway!

The cicada wall moves with us, clever flying
if they really fly and aren’t pinned to the wall
that is in turn pinned to the ship’s port rail.

Ship bells calls us to dinner, the second sitting.
We walk through the no-go area on the way.
It has only virtual boundaries, which the green man
through piety and custom honours. Come!
He is not worth your attention. Let’s go eat.

The rain drives harder. Tall, green waves course by.
Drenched squirrels crowd past us rushing to their cabins.
The cicadas — they weren’t pinned — cut loose and fly,
their timbals clicking as the storm clouds darken.

The lounge is still and cocktails gently slosh,
the only indication we’re at sea.
I have been in smaller hotels, smaller towns.
A steward asks for bets that the green man drowns.

He gets no takers. There’s no green man on board
or, if he is, no person in first class
or second class or steerage will admit
they know anything about him anymore.

* * * * *

The green man reaches for and through my heart.
‘He’s not here, he never was!’ his children shout.

I have not been bothered lately by the squirrels.

There are dogs outside my cabin lacking muzzles.
They are fair likenesses of Satan, licking chops.

We dress for dinner: scalpel-dressed hung venison
is the first of many courses in the gauntlet
we run pursuing pleasure oh so long
that when we catch it, it and we’re undone.

The green man’s nonexistence weighs me down.
Were a shark to bite my leg I’d say, ‘You’re welcome,’
sensation costing what it does these days.

Death stalks us every day. We ridicule him
with impunity each day until he strikes
and then no more. The raven had it right.

Cicadas steal the social captain’s table.
The richest guests of whom I too am one
are as one demanding they be stolen too.

The cicadas fly the table to the wall
on the port rail of the fantail, set it down
and set it with a service just for one.

There’s ever so little here that I understand.
The squirrels comprise an adequate brass band.

Cicadas circle dreamily in lieu
of swans so far from shore. They’ll have to do.

The oldest son of the green man has no father,
to hear him tell it as he often does.
‘An old man,’ he says, ‘is an unholy bother.’

Bayou Belle Noire

The sawgrass parted grudgingly,
bowing and sighing in the airboat’s hot wind,
like an ageing racer’s heart braking on empty.
Flat-snouted bonefish boats
skimming west in the sunset
rolled half-hearted
half waves at the airboat’s wake.

The woman flexed heading the bow around,
losing two pounds in ten minutes in the late sun,
steam rising from her blue-black, lank hair.
Biceps tensed short arms muscled under fat
rendering her grace under tire
shaped back butt and candle — bookends
of over indulgent cooking.

Alligators near the shore quietly ignored
her approach until the moment day
fell overboard and drowned in the night.
Frogs took up the rant of backcountry preachers
buried as often as needed in a land
where water forgot to mind its manners.

Absent of love or any of its facsimiles,
her eyes adjusted fast and her slab hands
caught mosquito patrols phlat footed,
her bare arms flailing a dark so redolent
of dead fish she could taste its gumbo hunger.

Fish she’d stalked lay stunned or dead
in the broken-lid coolbox where she’d dumped
them during the afternoon — hard work in a haunting stalk,
poling the airboat through sawgrass hedges,
betting on the small pools of open water out of sight
from Cat Channel’s visible tides.

Flies buzzed off in the dark.
The fish they had blackened
poached in preternatural pails
of moonlight so thin it razored
hearts worse than Al Catalano
when he cut a mean figure there
in the parish before caching it
in peace, in pieces, in the coolbox.

Al waited, his hair white
among other whites, just passed-fors
each hoping to escape screened porch
to sag soft-thundering down and
hang soul-grab distance from rust pegs
that supported the coolbox door
broken off all those lost years back
when it mattered, when he used it.

Used it to hide hideous hide
and whatnot of rivals for her
tendrils, tenderness and tacit
acceptance of whoever smiled
her direction lamps into warm
heat, blew not out but encouraged
lymph light into boys’ shy places
forgotten since called up to preach.

On course to the cabin, she hesitated,
three hundred yards and four light-years
from Al, black-parched
in thin quartered light drawn back now
to conceal more than show why she
once caught his hard when it still beat
in minor-key measures each time
she entered his bar, sinister.

The bayou airboat bumped the pilings,
shaking mildew spores, beetles and breakfast crumbs
across the dank dark porch floor downhill
to meet her, landing with soft plops
heard mostly by midges. Black mud
from her boots mashed out arrival,
the only one Al had for years,
avoiding passed sentence for life.

Ripe fish raw thrown up the landing,
watery with waste from tired days
exhausted doing nothing hard,
she followed with line in right hand
and fish knife winking a greeting to
Catalano from the left one.
No words spoken, needs all long gone,
bound up tight: good taxidermy.

Al hung in his chair as he now
always would, tanned to near iron wood
by loosed elements of passion
in bayou protocols where boys
killed men to protect their rights, and girls
smooth like her retaliated:
keeping their lovers hooked, tame, tanned
where black waters ripple. Her home.

Coming soon: Caligula Unbound

The beginning of these present baleful times struck me with their resemblances to the world of the mad emperor Caligula. I began to retell his story using the phrasing of the news around us. Parallels to the modern ruling corruption threw themselves into the mix. Soon I had not a short poem but some 2400 words, and a title: Caligula Unbound. I sent the text to a dozen beta readers and their enthusiastic responses encouraged me. I thought to publish it as a paperback or as an e-book. But I dithered and some time has passed. I do want to make Caligula Unbound available to more readers. So I will soon be placing it on the WordPress Earth Tourist site at birdcreekblues.com.