Packing the Elbow: Three Linked Poems of Thirty Lines

By | 1 September 2013

Thirty Lines for Dora

An actual reply is a kind of thanks—for taking the time to make it, etc.,
very much taken if appreciated—but I think this reply isn’t actual,
isn’t addressing the glitches that make the simple difficult: she reveres
arrangement, applauds the symmetry of a dainty doily, you mourn
your moodiness. Both are bamboozled. Not that the screens, so-called—porch
latticework with its wooden planters and painted pots; three lacquered
panels folded across the corner of a messy dressing room (silk garter, pink
panties, striped tie, spittoon); tight white sheet reflecting-projected-
image: a little man with a newspaper in his lap asleep in a little wooden
rocker beside a canvas cot in a little brown house under a dark moon (cat-
with-head-in-milk-pitcher on stone stoop)—aren’t arranged how you’d prefer.
Inadequacy would be the word. Bad, another. The search, so-called, closes
one of its kin—prior or parallel—on the order of panes. The flaws, the sum
of these odd misbehaviors—of problems of aura, of linkage or lumping,
instability, crumbling or crumpling, of the quirk of having to break
one part to fix another—is what irks me. A cameo works (it’s here!
it appears!
) but as if the phantom flick from the phantom quirt of a phantom
charioteer arriving unannounced by balloon from the sandy grasslands
of a distant isthmus’ windswept steppe; or the sudden cry of a herdless
camel driver thrown from the deck of a foundering whaler and washed
incongruously ashore at our feet. A rock is solid, superior on the face
of it—come scramble across me—no need to know “up front”: as you go
each nook unfolds. That’s the “aesthetics” of it, the part I’m reacting to
when I say it’s poor or thin, when I denounce what it “means.” I’m only here
for the view, but I keep my own counsel, draw my own conclusions
(“make shape,” “form take,” judgments, opinions, convictions, positions);
always there are, always seem to be, ways to work around them. Should
there be? need to be? Should there be always? I may do everything I want to
and still be unhappy. I may be the best of any ilk out there and still not be good
enough. I may only take when the command is given but still be greedy.

Thirty Lines for Pépé Le Moko

“These” as “this” didn’t. The question is what “as” what
“did.” And when. I’m not asking for a vision, as if to appear
to myself on a muddy path in a foggy forest one evening
in the form of the messenger, feather in a felt cap, and with a wink
and a sneeze (gesundheit!) and a wave of my long brown cape,
coded note exchanged in a harmless handshake, I disappear
into the falling darkness through the fern-filled cleft in a mossy
boulder behind which, balanced rods-in-hand on the bank
of a babbling trout stream, a girl in galoshes and a boy in rubber
boots are about to catch a fish. No. The plainer the simpler,
like the habit begun in dirty little London flat of dusting
before bed; or an artless whim one morning at the bar of a musty
hotel—flickering fluorescents, pressed tin ceiling, paint-
clotted fleurs. (We’re having a brandy on a damp Saturday.
Ssshh.) My problem has always been one of use. My hat,
for example, never seems surprised that I wear it, and I may,
in a similar way, be nothing more than a note on a napkin lost,
maybe, through a hole in a pant pocket, split in bottom of wet
paper sack—not surprised to be so; as comfy blown into the stony
craw of a dry sandy draw as ever I am in my “jolly green seat”
(pet name for squeaky chair at dented writing desk). But even if
the so-called strength may be the so-called tone, the remaking
isn’t in the guise of a prior image. Guise is prior, is as a manner
prior, is at first what’s most visible but later proves less deeply
scored than those that came before. What I’m saying is: since
there are no murderous bumps—that bumps are not murderous
there are no problems that “boil o’er,” that coax the “only
sometimes” close enough to see the other landscape, the one
where it isn’t. For instance: I keep beside my bed a wooden rod.
When I speak it sounds like me, when you speak it sounds like you

Thirty Lines for an English Cucumber

As I was waking out of attending to where I was—listening, watching
(a small crowd on the steps of a splashing fountain, a yellow bird
on a green bough, a rubbery worm inching over the root of a flowering
plum tree, the setting sun sifting through the copper-colored bun
of a beautiful girl in a long brown dress softly sobbing over her boyfriend’s
bewildered shoulder)—well, these are the beats, and long overdue.
And who, just as he was, stood there fuming? Alone. Alone, seething,
raving, stewing. And I couldn’t help but think how much the fool
he was. I was galled—there was no one in the world to look me full
in the face, no one to bet to see me with my back against the wall:
tennis ball in hand, fresh haircut, one boyish dimple, blue hoodie,
dog whistle, canvas shoulder bag, untied shoe; shouting at a goose
shitting on a golf green. The point is, I resolve—faint figure on fuzzy
horizon, fuzzy smear on misty bathroom mirror
—into a tart “blend,”
a “smart” loop, “a pile of lots to do.” (i.e., I forsake more than I partake.)
Duration is a compact but permeable, pliable, sometimes friable fringe
in time around an object—trim beard on bony jaw, tassel of prairie grass
(chewed shaft circling molar-to-molar-to-roof-of-mouth)—and things
beyond, beyond continuing, things that are a beyond, are a confidence.
They tend. (Nothing a direct sense.) And with each flow more worry—
but more gorgeous talk too. It calls for seeing “my take” (share of common
cutpurse) as a given, my own sour puss as a kind of walking counsel.
And I walked for tomorrow, it counseled me to (sally forth! follow
your nose! go with hope!
), as if it were merely the crest of a rolling
hill—trout stream, birdsong, hayfield, windmill, meadowlarks, red
barn—crested on my way to the next; no greed, no empty congratulations,
no empty pauses, no cowardice, callousness, complacency, guilt, blame,
shame, indolence, hypocrisy, boredom, dishonesty, no cowardly
close calls, no shams, cant, pretense, fraud, no false promises, no false
causes, no forked tongues. I took it at its word, its sweet deceitful word.


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