POEM LXIII: “MERCENARY.”

Tiny redneck,
attracted beyond reason to weaponry and rough men,
especially the kind that smile as they place guns in the hands
of a tiny girl,
encourage her to put a big hole in something.

She joined up right outta high school
got sent to Afghanistan,
where her talent for locating some road between the potholes and the ruts
of the tribal regions
brought her some acclaim.
It was a talent which would not have distinguished her in Missouri,
but in Afghanistan, it made her valuable.
She missed green,
but there were other kinds of green here,
and when her tour was over she signed up with the private security group
that most all her buddies were going with.

Shootin’ what needs shootin’, she called it,
and it kept her hand in,
kept her going to exciting places at the ass end of nowhere,
anywhere they ain’t got no air conditioning, was how she put it.

And pretty soon, she realized that she didn’t like air conditioning any more,
hadn’t missed TV at all,
couldn’t sleep without a wide-awake man
sitting over her with a gun.

Wasn’t comfortable being comfortable any more.

Invigorating thought,
that war could be a happy home,
albeit one that traveled around the globe and never came to rest.

It was sort of like making your campsite in a forest fire;
you had to keep moving,
but you never got bored.

POEM LXII: “CRUSH CITY”

You never realize it when you’re on the outskirts.

You take one wrong turn, you’re not paying attention,
and the autopilot takes over.

Suddenly you’re in downtown
Crush City.

Everything is New Wave
Everything is painfully pink.

No one sleeps or eats enough when they’re here;
the coffee could wake the dead.

The city grinds its gears on the color of his eyes
the tone of her voice
the little way he joggles his sneaker heel
the squareness of her knuckles.

Nothing gets produced, though everything is consumed
It’s the First World, basically,
Los Angeles eating its own tail
and we would all live there if we had the chance
even though it’s a miserable place to be,
everyone inside says so.

Only place worse, is everywhere else.

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.