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?

WORD XXXVI: OSCAR WILDE

Algernon: “Have you told Gwendolyn yet that you have an excessively pretty ward who is only just eighteen?”
Jack: “Oh! One doesn’t blurt these things out to people. Life is a question of tact. One leads up to the thing gradually. Cecily and Gwendolyn are perfectly certain to be extremely great friends. I’ll bet you anything you like that half an hour after they have met, they will be calling each other sister.”
Algernon: “Women only do that when they have called each other a lot of other things first.”

–Oscar Wilde, “The Importance of Being Earnest”

POEM LIV: “MUTT LANGE”

It’s easy to tell a song he’s produced.
Just as Spector had his Wall Of Sound,
Martin his prim parlor notes,
there is always a tell that Mutt is at the controls.

First, there is a hook.
Then, there is another.
Then, another. Yet again.
Still one more.

Then the lyrics will begin.
They’ll never be too specific—
specific doesn’t pay.
But they will be raw with longing,
rife with meanings doubled and tripled back on themselves
like pink taffy being yanked through the machine,
glossy, fat, and ocean-salty.

Instrumental solos will be brief,
and the modulation will hit you like a tire iron. There’s no time to catch your breath:
suddenly,
you’re back there on the soccer field,
smelling mown, wet grass on prom night,
looking at the glowing lights of the gym.

You’re alone,
and in love,
and tender all over with the aliveness of both.

The night is soft,
and the music says it’s happy, happy, happy,
but there’s an undercurrent of sadness there,
and it yanks you away like a riptide.

POEM LIII: “A MADNESS ON ONE SIDE”


“They were trying to evacuate Manhattan because nobody knew what was going on [...] there was just a madness on one side, y’know, and wanting to help people on the other side.”

–Herb Jones, engineer of the Mary Gellatly, talking about his experience on Sept. 11th.

When one side of the brain goes offline,
the other tries to help,
rewiring like a frantic telephone operator
on a smoking switchboard.

The body steers itself in circles like a broken boat
one half drooping, going blind,
the other half pedaling, struggling to see.

I spoke to a woman on a plane once:
garrulous, rhinestoned, self-tanned and taut,
a bartop stomper in cowboy boots and silver jewelry
with a smoker’s laugh you could hear
from the back bathrooms.

She was visiting her grown son for the first time since
her catastrophic stroke.

We spent a whole flight laughing over
the struggle to apply eyeliner
when you’ve had a stroke.

The struggle to make yourself understood
on one of those hellish automated voice recognition systems
when you’ve had a stroke.

The struggle to get a stewardess’s attention
when you’ve had a stroke
and then laughed so hard
that you’ve spilt orange juice on your shirt.

One side of the world attacks the other.
The switchboard lights up
and the helpers rush towards the chaos point
where blood and gases mix
and a greasy contrail of ash and paper
worms its way down the Hudson.

Small comfort,
that we should retain our laughter
our brave exterior of rhinestones and self-tanner.

A sparkling bit of glitter
caught in the murky weeds below a sluggish river
the black box signals its persistence
sends its insistent message
like a heartbeat on a monitor:

I am still here.

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.