I could never grasp
(no matter if I cleaned all
nits from my poems daily)
She’s so much
to so many
— how does she
divide herself up
into discrete lovable
and loving bits for them?
the deep . . .
He carries his head in his hands,
yes, a cephalophore.
One of the Fourteen Funky,
also called nothelfer.
Look that one up.
Go ahead, take your time…
Want a link? a hint?
14th Century Rhineland:
plague: the peasants needed
intermediary heroes and heroines,
the church hagiographies obliged…
This hazel-eyed, bearded head, its edges rusty,
is held facing forward at about navel’s height,
pours forth an undaunted massing gush
of often-intelligible words, most easily misheard
by anyone in attendance as he stumbles along
— recouler pour mieux sauter from time to time
the headless body stumbling (a thumb accidentally
in St-Denis’s good right eye, yes, why would it not?)
hurting his lip and mouth when dropped…
Unnhh. The head, were it not a saint’s head
(and rolling down a grassy slope)
would toss a mild oath toward
the peasant owner of those cumberhands.
Above the turbid orange evening sky,
from his elevated post on a woodless ridge
a boy tending animals hears a muffled shriek &:
“S’il vous plaît, retirez mon doigt de mon œil.”
“How many people would you say
have had their nipples tickled
by their own eye-lashes?”
Of the Fancy Four and Ten,
I dare say no more than three.
(though a truly expert halasana pose,
in hatha yoga, could come close)
And now you will ask
what did that headholder
rant about as he wandered
Montmartre so long ago
And now you will ask
why tell us about him or
any of those hideous god-whacked
folks called Saints,
— or was it yesterday –?
I was a small child
I was a tiny baby
I fell in the crib
I fell from the bed
They gave me milk
But I wanted cream
I, I was the prince
with no uncertain dreams.
I told them I was the prince
and they had better well
you know get into order
and buy me stuff and
praise Jesus too yeah
sure, if you want
(easy, this, in the pre-guilt time).
I was a dour, old child
staring long time
at the easily imperceptible
movements, skies clouding up,
— one day’s sky
unclouding itself into
a perfect phrygian blue.
Another day all fog all day
and schoolrooms lifeless.
Wondering about death when
death’s symbol, a solitary Alabama housefly
walked with ease, unbrushed,
across the waxen cheeks of
my first inanimate humanbody
“Dead,” they said. “Dead?”
“Dead.” Unmoving. Immobile.
Watch the fly crawl unbrushed
across that waxy facial surface —
was that really a dead man,
a dead MacCann? No way.
It did not look real and most
the fly was not
Today I feel I am ready to die.
Yesterday — well, it was Sunday afternoon —
I was ready to live. Readiness is a state
I try to maintain at all times. But now…
Now the dark falls
and I truly can say
I hear death calling my name
screaming it rather loudly,
“Come on home,” says death,
in a voice just as natural as can be,
amiable and prepossessingly persuasive:
“Come on home, my friend,
It’s where you’ve always wanted to be.
It’s where you were in the beginning
as it is now here in the end, voici!”
Now the dark slide,
the failure to get psychic traction
as though the imagination’s core
stood spinning, almost without
equilibrium on top of a slippery
pile of film several cubits high . . .
(the remnants of everything one has seen
–advertent and inadvertent
–consciously and half-consciously
on a screen since the time you were born
O my bobble-headed baby, from Elvis movies
in Panama City to bombs exploding in Baghdad, 1991)
I am quite ready to die.
Today would be okay.
I might rather live, were
there deep incentives, but
I swear to you folks, I see none.
That which interests me
interests no one else and that which
interests everyone else
is of little interest to me.
So, Diogenes, put on some clothes.
Crawl out of that four-foot concrete pipe.
Kick those mangy dogs out of the way
(they only follow you for coprophagic reasons).
Meander towards the edge. Go on.
Images of your bodiless head will circulate
in the noosphere if not forever for a good long while.
Video footage will be preserved of the head rolling,
the hapless headless body hunting, sightless,
whacking into tiny trees as it searches…
[A day just before or maybe just after Christmas, 2007. It is very difficult to remember for sure. A person, it might be me, it might be a being that seems to resemble me — a spiritually skeletal creature, possibly frightening — that person drives into downtown Birmingham, Alabama and picks up from Abanks Mortuary the ashes of that pitiful being’s only son. I give a very polite man a check for $991.00, borrowed from my father. Put the seat belt on the box in the back seat. “You gotta always put on that seat belt.”]
After many sludgy days, the afternoon of the Ryan’s memorial arrived. My wife and I pulled ourselves together, suppressed the depression, drank coffee, were bathed and dressed. I think we spoke semi-coherently to most people who came by. Earliest, around eleven, my friends from work drove up, four of them bearing money. I knew they had to leave soon so I kept making jokes about the place shutting down if they did not get back, and they did move on.
But then here was a yard full of people all of a sudden – a great many of my relatives – and then here we were trying to squeeze into my painfully small little house, which I saw as a hovel now – but I shoved that one aside and chose instead to focus on the compassion each person seemed to be feeling toward my family.
Here came an old yoga teacher, old girlfriends I hadn’t seen in months, years, Ryan’s friends wandering up for a hug, a consolation and brief chats. The sun almost behind the hills, silhouettes coming out of everything.
After dark, we built a fire. People talked about Ryan, spoke of how happy he was that last day. Others were searching the deep leaf-piles for wood, but eventually they ran out and the fire died down. Everyone went home.
Someone should have said something – made a statement of some kind. It probably should have been me. But I just sat beside the fire and leaned my head back to stare up at the stars – there he is, O’Rion, the archer aiming.
My eyes felt raw, the corneas jagged and taut. The anxiety drugs proscribed by my doctor might not be working.
I believe I spoke to everyone, told them my wife was strong and would be okay, thanked them for coming, said I would see them soon, thanked them, hugged them.
Even as the days around the holiday jangled past irrelevantly, and as our grieving minds staggered back repeatedly to their painful memories, the tongue to the tooth-cavity – there came at one point this feeling of actual relief.
“You know, now, don’t you? that it doesn’t even matter if you die, that death is nothing to you now. If someone points a gun at you you’ll laugh like hell.”
“We are invulnerable now. Nothing can ever hurt like this hurts.”
He watches his breath
it’s just after daybreak
icy quiet here where he sits
on a stump with a back
like a nature-made chair
masses of light brown leaves
grey on grey
brown on brown
the man’s pale blue shirt
the grey metal of the gun
his eyes peering about
moving his neck as little
as possible — still-hunting
on a Saturday before Christmas
1938, trying to get some extra meat
for the stew Odessa’s gonna make
maybe a wild turkey if he’s lucky
but he hears no turkeys
he looks up at the sky
above the leafless skirl
of up-reaching limbs into
another grayness and there
are — he raises the .22 —
he hears his breath, holds —
two squirrels inching
along a strong unwavering
one about to drop
headless & dead
as the sound cracks
across the valley
the Devil’s Gap
Odessa, washing vegetables
back at the cabin, smiles faintly
at the distant gunshot
Chris’mas might be alright this year.
Where did those boys run off to?
Another crack of gunfire
She dries her hands
and stands looking out
the front door
Bob was among the cohort that does this sort of thing.
He woke early, before dawn, and it was one of those autumn mornings so close to the chosen time of his death that he felt he had to call Lavinia.
–I’m gonna go buy a gun, Vinnie. Down at that place next to the Dollar store. Soon as they open.
–Aw, Bob. Not again.
–No, this time I’m gonna do it. Things are just at a–at a nadir.
–A nadir. Where did you learn that word, Bob?
–Bobby is a dog. He’s eighteen years old. Why’d you give him your name anyway? What fucking time is it?
–But he’s my only friend.
–What about that girlfriend of yours? Can you hold while I make some instant coffee?
–She doesn’t seem to care anymore. One day all bright eyed and we are in love, next day she’s off with some 50-year-old plumber dude who wears his cap backwards and has five NO FEAR signs on his pick up. Which is a brand new Dodge Ram 2020, by the way. And I got nothing but the Duckmobile.
–Well, that happens, Bob. We womenfolk get tired of what you asshole men say and do. God knows you study cars too much. We get tired of it a lot. You bore us with your sex. Some of us take longer to weary of you than others and some of you have qualities that somewhat reprieve you.
–Well. Nice speech. What sex? Is your coffee ready? I’m still gonna buy the gun. Or a hose pipe.
–You can’t use a gun. You are physically incapable of discharging a loaded firearm, Bob. And it’s — how many times must I tell you? — it’s either a hose or a pipe, but it is not a hose pipe?
Lavinia hates making food. Let the men make their own goddamned breakfasts and suppers, she says. Barely recalls caring about meeting men, and thoroughly invests, daily, if not nightly, in amnesia for all the other fathermuckers (as she likes to call them) of her life. She consciously forgets males. She eats out at various vegetarian spots as much as she cans and eats Campbell’s Bean with Bacon soup and crackers otherwise. Her income is precarious on certain months. She lives now in a little house overlooking the eastern valley of an old industrial valley — railroads here, interstates there, old U.S. highways guiding the rest of the slugs, because that’s what they were, right, because who the hell else would stay in such a town as Lavinia’s? Her house was half brick, half wood, tiny, ensconced in silence and overgrown hickory trees.
Lavinia is writing a self-help book. It has an obscene working title and involves anecdotes about “the men she had known, and not known, in her life.”
Lavinia has several cats, but she lets them run wild. They all are named the same name: Cat. Bland but works. One cat, a somewhat blind tortoise-shell female who does not answer to that appellation, stays inside while she is working on her book — the others chase chipmunks, tease local hounds and look for other spicy additions to their diet, discarded sushi being their favorite.
When someone asked, Why don’t you keep the cats inside? Lavinia was vaguely enraged at the question and said, How would you like it if someone did that to you?
Lavinia goes into town to get a few supplies from time to time. She calls it Shankytown but that is not its official monicker. There must be ten Dollar stores here and about eight title loan shops interspersed with fast-food chicken joints and the occasional hardware or auto parts store — but the once-thriving vape shops fade now, like business flowers gone dry.
A ‘burg anyone would want to leave as soon as they got old enough to drive out of it — of course, she was born in Mobile, Alabama, not here. She told people the town sat in a valley and she lived near a wide, rather wild creek which could flood the town but the reality was much creepier, and less precarious than what she let on, as was her life when compared to the extremely rare texts she sent to her friends (and last remaining relatives).
Big 50 coming up for Vinnie in a few weeks, but at least she has no friends who would want to celebrate that number’s attainment with her. Plastic black crows in the front yard. Fuck that shit. She was so tired of life, at this point, Lavinia told herself as she took the curves of Highway 22 toward town.
She’s been shucking friends for decades, it seems. Where did they go? You could look them up. They could look her up, she once realized. And decided at that point — and for creative reasons — to drop almost completely off the social media map, or was it a more a creative playscape, a place where we chose our words to describe our realities, each and every one of us, and each of us lied, to some degree, as we took our doctored photographs of ourselves and then our porno-food shots of fabulous meals and our wonderfully backgrounded vacations and described the foibles of boyfriends and girlfriends and screamed about outrageous political occurrences and — Listen to me! (she told her inner witness) I sound like some crankified old woman. What’s wrong with me? What do I need?
Cat food, for sure.
She has a trail she walks every day, in unfashionably cheap sneakers she’s owned for decades. It appears to be a dilapidated mining trail overgrown with ragweed, but her daily walks have made a sort of path through it all. It’s near a pipeline and is very straight. Often there’s the disconcerting smell of the odorant they put in the natural gas. So we know if it is leaking. Worst thing is running into a spider web with her hair as long and curly as it is these days — one spends moments trying to determine if the mother spider lodged somewhere near one’s crown chakra — what a disaster that might be.
Arachnasana, the pose to get spiders out of your hair.
The walks garner about 5000 steps and keeps her legs feeling strong. She doesn’t much care how they look and never shaves — for whose hairless fantasies would she do that now? There was not a razor in her house.
She thought of a man she knew who so loved dogs that he let one kill a cat. Her cat. “It was an accident,” he said. “They shouldn’t have been left together. It was just a proximity mistake.”
Yeah, thought Lavinia, like me and you. He wasn’t around much longer. Nice guy otherwise, as a representative of a population of dickheads. Wore his cap backwards, had a swaggering gait.
But this one particular morning, numinously undepressed for the first time in it seemed weeks, Lavinia saw two snakes twined together in front of her on the thick grass. They swirled together, serpents without color, wove their way vanishing into the underbrush.
Smiling her only smile. Fighting or fucking?
Wait, wasn’t there some old ancient myth connected with this vision — oh no —
“Tiresias,” says Lavinia and now she laughs outright.
Jhon the writer, over Ethiopian coffee, told Vinnie, “The bad things about love…love is a bad thing.”
“You did a bad thing?” She was half-interested in him but knew it would end in a vapid cloud of byebyes.
“No! Well, no more than usual for October. But . . . where was I — the bad things about love are twofold. One is that it so often arises unrequited. That gets complicated. There are marriages where I’d guess love was unrequited by both parties. Yet they stay together years and years and years. People fall into adulteries, natch, in such loveless relationships…”
“Are you a lawyer?”
“No, I told you, I’m a writer of fictional characters.”
“But you could also be a lawyer.”
“That would make me that famous writer Jon Gnasham. But I am not he.”
“Okay,” shifting in her seat, “so what is the other, uh, bad thing about love?”
Wistful. “When you get used to feeling it either toward someone, or feeling it expressed toward you, when it goes away, you get pretty depressed. Life ain’t much worth living. Who is there to share things with? You’re alone. Like in your room as a little kid.
“The love drug is gone. Love spoils us, you are saying.”
“Something like that I guess. It makes us gentle-hearted at times. You want it to come back.”
“Even if the other person never cared for you (or, at best, only as some asexual friend they could call up and borrow money from in a personal economic crisis) — if you were madly in it for them — you’d — ”
“You’d probably do anything. Your love (even unrequited) still exists and wants to be expressed. You can’t help loving them even when your love is painful to yourself. How twisted is that.”
“You gotta break the attachment.”
“Right. Break love. But is love just an attachment?”
“Damn this is some good coffee. I’m wired.”
She wakes (dreams of skulls) at 3:33 a.m., legs a-thrash — freezing since the blanket with Der Schrei der Natur embossed on it had been dragged to the floor by two chilly felines — her mind blasting, like some demented cerebral alert, one sentence over and over. Were Vinnie’s brain a screen (who’s to guess consciousness itself isn’t such a screen?) the lower-third chyron that morning ran thus:
<<Lavinia Waters to Phil Schram: You shall not see me again>>
This was what she wanted to say to him at their lunch meeting. She could lie in bed there and see the whole experience that would occur in a few hours downtown at Liess Place, predict the conversations, even guess what his immediate reply would be. “You’re coming with to Apathyfest next month, right, camping?” And she’d nod no.
There was no better time and so it was the perfect time to snap this whole unrequited wishwash wanker out of her life. Tell him today or wait? It was assumed that he’d pop out with that usually winning (by large margins) smile of his, one corner untwisted:
O Really?–much as if she had said, “I am going to have fried aardvark toast this morning.” O really? Aardvark toast? God damn it, she said aloud into the dark room like Eddie Harris says God damn it in the song, “Compared to What.” I should put it on.
She imagines the smell of the coffee she was about to get up and brew, struggled to escape her inner dialogue and the bed.
He does not listen. Men do not listen. They look and their ears exist but they never really listen to a woman, they are waiting to speak, that’s what that expression is: patience far from understanding. Still waiting.
“You won’t see me again, I’m tired of this shallow relationship of ours, byebye!”
“So what brought this on?” She was sure this phrase would occur, and that she would meet it with silence. He would continue to fork the salad into his mouth.
He would say nothing about Mendum’s Mandalas, and his new squeeze, the curlyhaired lady who wore an LBD to work every day, to sell mandala paintings at the mall. Lavinia’s imminent replacement — well, we know this guy, he fucks everybody, so they’ve certainly done the bad thing by now. Scratch that imminent.
Many times, in multifarious ways, the bad thing that is the good thing.
“You won’t see me again after today.”
“Is this because you found Mary’s underwear last week? Whoever said we were — ”
“You won’t see me again after this lunch.”
“This is all you’re going to say today,” he mutters in her imagination. “Well fuck me.”
“You won’t see me again — ”
“So who pays the bill?” He’s angry now, probably texting the Mandala store.
She already had the bill on the table, in her imagination.
The sun would not be up for awhile. She fed the cats and made coffee and had one half of a cigarette, first in quite a long while, sitting dejectedly on the back porch in her robe. Summer’s time has certainly gone, leaves are falling, rain is about to descend from a west-moving front. She does not cry.
How many of us are really just
running out the clock? waiting
and scheming and then — shock
How many of us are really just
running out the clock?
working every day like a watch
awaiting sudden death
running out the clock
awaiting those onrushing clouds of doom
watching big colored screens in comfortable rooms
off on vacation in a lobby of white
flying to the Bahamas, gonna see the sights
but we’re running out the clock
we’re passengers, not pilgrims
we’re touristas to Nada