POEM LXI: “TELL THEM BORIS SENT YOU”

It is Halloween
and I am about ten years old.
My parents have taken us to a party
with several bonfires
and a haunted house
and a barn for dancing.
It is dusk
and the moths are starting to float in the air
before a purple and dusty green background
of jo-pie weed and wild onion.
The flames snap and send sparks spiraling up.
The children, in their costumes,
school like fish.
The adults duck into a black plastic teepee
made of industrial sized garbage bags
from which the intense scent
of weed is emanating.
The “Monster Mash” plays from the dance barn.
And inside the coat room,
past the mountain of galoshes
there are shelves
floor to ceiling
stacked three deep with pies.
Strawberry, rhubarb, and peanut butter.

POEM LX: BRING THE LIGHTNING

At some point in the development of any adult Jewish consciousness,
it’s going to dawn on you
that Yahweh is a real asshole.

Jealous, wrathful, insecure,
a seething monster God,
prone to fits and rages
and the occasional genocide
when he doesn’t get his way:
you’ll realize, at some point,
that loving this nightmare is impossible.

Don’t worry.
This is normal.
Judaism has room for this realization.
In fact, it encourages it.

If you live long enough to be an old Jew,
you won’t give a crap about God.

He’s the spiteful,
angry maniac in the sky,
a toddler throwing thunderbolts–
most old Jews don’t talk about him much at all.

And any rabbi who hasn’t given God
the finger, double-barreled,
isn’t much of a rabbi at all.

Instead, you’ll find them intensely interested in
what you do. How much you pay your employees.
What kind of time they get off work when they become parents.
How much you give to charity.

The real, quantifiable work of being a good person
of helping other people
putting bread in their mouths
and shoes on their feet.
Decency measured out in flour and water and salt.

Hospitality becomes a very big deal.
Food, even more so.
Go to our houses, you’ll see.

It’s cause we’re from the desert.
It’s cause our dad was an asshole.
It’s cause we don’t believe in reward and punishment.

Just the right here, right now.

So, could you eat?

POEM LIX: “DEER IN HEADLIGHTS”

Where there’s one,
there’s a dozen:
my mother taught me that.

She said, it’s frequently not the deer
you just dodged that gets you;
it’s the one you don’t see, following behind,
who slams into the darkened side of your car,
shattering your window
and traumatizing your toddler in the backseat.

To a deer, a car is not one object;
it’s a series of lights, with dark emptiness and safety between,
and when they run full speed into the side of your car,
they are trying to beat the second, red set of lights.

Which doesn’t help when you have a bleeding, thrashing deer halfway out of your Jetta
and a screaming toddler
and the knowledge that now, you have an entirely new ordeal with an insurance agency to deal with.
But which may, later—much later—breed a sort of understanding between you and the deer.

The next time you are playing Frogger,
guiding tiny Frogger through his maze of blinking lights,
you’ll remember it,
and smile.

POEM LVIII: “FARM EQUIPMENT”

There is often no telling what it’s for.
Driving along behind something with thousands of saw teeth blades,
mounted in pinwheels on what appear to be great colanders,
it is impossible to fathom how the thing actually functions
much less what crop it harvests.

Whatever it is, it’s clear
the thing could take your arm clean off
just for looking at it funny,
and so you stay well back,
even though the driver is doing nineteen miles an hour
and would be easy to pass.

And while you hang back,
you invent elaborate lies to tell your daughter, who is bored in the passenger seat.
The machine in front of you becomes a chipmunk pulper,
a gnome harvester, a soul reaper for a very efficient rural Death.
Your daughter is looking at you, horrified.

Well, fine, you tell her.
You come up with a better answer.
And she says, Mom, it’s for corn.
As if that were self-evident.

No end to the young’s attempts
to make their elders behave properly.
By the time your daughter learns
to enjoy her imagination,
you’ll be down amongst the mole people,
waiting in the earth
for the coming vibrations
of the astonishing, whirling Resurrection Day.

POEM LVII: “THE JOB THAT ISN’T YOURS”

“… if it works here, I go and try and sell it over in a real country.”
–Lars Mikkelsen as Charles Magnussen, “Sherlock”

I found a magazine
written only for the sellers of pizza.
Wall-to-wall articles on new ovens
and point-of-sale software
and the ever-increasing liability of teenaged delivery drivers.

Nothing so fascinating
as the minutiae
of the profession
which, thank God, isn’t yours.

The History Channel
realized this
and promptly gave us
hour after hour of programming
about pawn shop owners
and ice road truckers
and people who work on fishing trawlers.

Not so many shows on claims adjusters
and testing proctors.

We like watching people who work with their hands
in heat and cold
and if they’re a few rungs down the economic and social ladder from us,
and boldly festooned with tattoos,
so much the better.

We can enjoy the fantasy of freedom from the cubicle
the thrill of imagining what we’d pierce if only,
while feeling smug and safely satisfied
that while we are warm and cozy here
(here in our gated community
here above our two car garage)
that they are probably freezing in a trailer somewhere downhill from a K-Mart.

Nothing new about it. Dickins gave us the same kind
of juicy details:
what it was like to sweep out a chimney
to winnow for rag and bone
to work for a thief.

He didn’t know,
and we don’t either,
but we like to pretend,
to wish ourselves out of our problems
and into someone else’s for a while.

Meanwhile,
a round of dough flies like a thrown falcon from the hands of the pizza boy.
The ice road trucker sees a farther crest of world than we will ever know.
And the pole dancer,
alone in the quiet smoke scented room at last,
endlessly rehearses her moves,
cycling through them like a litany:

handshake grip,
claw grip,
twisted grip.

POEM LVI: “LINDSAY LOHAN”

In the old days,
St. Theresa, or Lida, or Lilith
played this role.

Vessel for pity and scorn,
an object both of lust and derision,
a goat with its back dripping red.

We used to have sculptures
and now we have reality TV.
The dynamic is precisely the same.

Observe her trembling lips,
her overflowing eyes,
her exposed breasts.
(Theresa’s were cut off,
and Lindsay’s grew overnight.
We stare all the same.)

I’m told Jesus once cast a demon out of a woman;
the demon needed somewhere to live
so it went into a herd of swine
who threw themselves off a cliff
because what was in them, was bigger than them.

So it is with Lindsay.

She is bigger than herself now
a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day float of her
pulling her down a street lined with eyes,
pulling her with tethers and hooks,
pulling her towards that cliff.

Watch her go.

POEM LV: “APPLEWOOD BACON”

Apple
burns different from
oak
burns different from
poplar
burns different from
hickory.

There are people who say they can tell between the air of burning fruitwoods,
can taste the difference in meats cured in their smoke.

And it’s true that smoke depends
on what’s being burnt,
–you wouldn’t want to put a piece of pine into your stove,
not unless chimney fires and creosote
are your idea of a good time–
but the primary appeal
of applewood bacon
is its name. Round and red,
plump and juicy,
autumn in a single phrase.

No one markets pearwood bacon
(though odds are it’d be as sweet)
because pork and pears do not sit cozy together
in the imagination.

But cast your mind back,
to those burnished still lifes from the past
where a brace of dead rabbits,
ankles daintily exposed by a yanked-back jacket of fur,
hang with a decorative string of figs
over the muzzle of the gun that shot them.

Or the ones where fish and oranges share a single platter.

Think about peacocks, reassembled over a bed of quinces,
ducks in a cascade of winegrapes,
all the many combinations of fruit and flesh.

Now ask yourself:
Doesn’t applewood bacon sound good right about now?