POEM LII: “BRYAN ADAMS”

“If you only have one swing with the axe to take the tree down, Max is the guy to do it.”
–Lukasz Gottwald

It was said of Max Martin,
the Swedish producer,
but I submit to you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury,
that if you really want to take that tree down,
Bryan Adams is a better choice of lumberjack.

Listen to how he manages
the staggering key change of “Please Forgive Me”,
or the truly unholy bridge of “Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman”:
it’s like watching a barehanded climber scale one of those sheer faces in New Mexico,
handhold to foothold to handhold,
sixteen feet in as many seconds
making it look easy.

It’s not easy.

And therein lies the paradox
that has been biting Bryan Adams in the ass
for nigh on forty years:

Past a certain level of skill,
everyone thinks they can do your job.

Put a good-looking blond boy
in a black leather jacket and a white t-shirt,
give him some lyrics that teenagers can understand
even if English is their fourth or fifth language.
Stand him on top of a chunk of the Berlin Wall
and take his picture in black and white:
focus-grouped rebellion.
Get Bob Clearmountain to help produce it,
and later, Mutt Lange, who never met an edge he couldn’t smooth—
the real miracle would be if this shit didn’t make money.

And maybe that’s true, but it all hinges on the boy.
And when he’s been touring for two solid years,
as he did when he was twenty-five years old,
suddenly character becomes really, really important.

How many twenty-five-year-olds would fuck up after six months?
How many after eight?
How many would wrap their car around a tree,
get caught with a meth-raddled hooker,
or worst of all,
decide they want to be taken seriously?

Remember, you signed him for one dollar.

Nervous yet?

Don’t be.
Bryan Adams is a fucking professional,
and he will do his job.

Think back over the last thirty years,
or however long you’ve been standing in this supermarket line,
waiting patiently for “Everything I Do (I Do It For You)” to be over.
As many times as you’ve heard this song,
as sick as you are of it,
he’s sung it a thousand times more than that,
under rainy skies and snow,
in clouds of mosquitoes, haze of fever,
freezing his ass off or dying of heat,
and it’s been the same every time:
perfect.
Steadily ratcheting up the emotional scale,
hitting each note smack dab on the head,
workmanlike and precise as a bricklayer with his mortar.

It’s not poetry.
It’s not groundbreaking.
He’ll never be the critics’ favorite.
He’s never even tried.
He keeps his head down,
stays out of the papers,
and does his job:
making it look easy.

So hand him the axe already.
Bryan Adams is a fucking professional, and
he has got this.

POEM LI: “YOU SHOULD HAVE HEARD HER”

In that far-off kingdom,
there is a room full of Happy Woman Noises.

They are kept in lacquered boxes
and you tilt them over to hear,
like the child’s toy that moos or meows;
each one has a name.

One is called She Is Here, And Safe;
and another is Just Because We Like You, You’ve Won.

A third one sounds like rainwater tumbling down,
and it’s called He Will Never Hurt You Again.

POEM L: “WHAT WE DON’T KNOW”

Back when we were animals,
we could tell good birdsong from bad,
poplar sap from larch,
a safe root from a poison one.

A thousand scents and sounds are gone,
and with them the tiny data points they represented:

Here, the bedrock is granite.
Here, limestone.
Here, a cave holds the young of snakes.

Like the ignorant young of Carthage
after the fire,
we have no idea what we’ve lost;
we have only the ashes to tell us.

POEM XLIX: “ORIGIN STORY”

My job, as I understand it,
is to get the coffee away from Dr. Finkl
before he starts to vibrate
like a poorly balanced centrifuge.

Mrs. Finkl told me so;
they’ve been married forty years,
and he’s onto her tricks by now.
He will not set the Thermos down
whenever she’s in the lab,
but he always wants to show me something.

Amoebas in a petri dish.
Jellyfish on glass.
Once, a bit of irradiated squid.

The Finkls never had
a child of their own
so when my family came to grief
they took me in their home.
Hid me, fed me,
changed my name,
so when the secret police came
to see if Dr. Finkl was up to his old tricks again,
I was simple Herschel,
their nephew,
who had never been the same
(since the farming accident.)

I am not simple.
I never was.
I can calculate and sum,
use the centrifuge and microscope,
and understand the data he gives me.

Still, there are things he doesn’t tell me.
(If I were to be questioned,
it’s better for me not to know.)
But I sometimes learn them anyway.

Tonight, he’ll be working with electricity,
and a certain type of venom
derived from the sting of the sea anemone.

I will creep down the stairs,
and crouch, and crane,
and see.

POEM XLVIII: “TIME TRAVELER’S DILEMMA, PART II”

“If a man were called to fix the period in the history of
the world during which the condition of the human race was
most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation,
name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the
accession of Commodus.”

–Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. I

Sure, you could go back to ancient Rome,
but think of what you’d miss.

I’m not even talking about things like antibiotics
and the Geneva Convention.

Think of the little things.

The tiny intimacies that would be totally unknown
to someone born even a hundred years ago:

The cell phone’s light
glowing white through the nubbly pocket fabric
as you shimmy your jeans down over your thighs.

The orange sodium vapor lights on the freeway
hitting the exact same tone
as the sunrise beyond them.

Three cars, stopped at a light,
directionals blinking in perfect unison.