Ed Trafton turns from the shimmering water
of Shoshone Lake to the first of fifteen tourist coaches,
pulls the black silk neckerchief up the bridge of his nose,
plants himself in the road and says, “Please step out
and come this way.” Black is so hot. “Drop your valuables
on the blanket.” Maybe the neckerchief isn’t necessary.
“Kindly take a standing seat and witness the convention.”
“A rather elegant man,” one woman confessed. “Steady
and calm, with a lovely sense of humor and a smile
that made his watery blue eyes sparkle. The kind of man
who might make a good president.” “Watery blue eyes?”
Ed wonders, his reflection in the mirror. “City councilman
or senator but president?” “Polite,” the woman added.
An elderly lady dropped her purse, which exploded
scattering bills, coins, a comb, and playing cards
over the dusty earth. The horses stamped their feet
and switched their tails to drive away the flies.
Someone coughed. Trafton bent over to gather up
the fallen valuables, the last card—jack of hearts.
“There madam, you keep these,” he said.
“You look as if you need them more than I do.”
“Gallant,“ the first woman went on. She laughed
and the air freshened, invisible birds began to sing.
As each coin or watch or earring hit the earth,
dust rose around the lodgepole and limber pines,
covered the water. Seeking clarity, coaches start
ten minutes apart—Old Faithful to West Thumb,
the horseshoe bend where they stop for the view.
But they can’t see what’s to come, coach after coach,
the blanket disappearing under the mound of treasure,
Mr. Trafton lightly touching each horse to send it on its way.
A young woman asked for a photo—“by the blanket.”
Other travelers pulled out their Brownies and lined up
beside the beguiling highwayman, the click of shutters
louder than the cicadas chirring in the dry grass,
pine resin rising with the heat, men fanning their faces
with hats or the news of the day—AUSTRIA-HUNGARY
DECLARES WAR ON SERBIA. Could be a joke—he was
so friendly and the water, lapping at the shore,
made that chuckling sound that says nothing
will change. It can’t be real silk, Trafton thinks,
tugging at his face, wouldn’t be so scratchy, people
milling around, the sun rising, the hills falling away,
the geysers and mudpots, and Shoshone Lake
coated in dust, still blue below the point.
Copyright © 2016 by David Romtvedt. This poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.
Man shaped out of mud And made to speak and love— Let's stick in him a little whisperer, A bucket with two holes. Let's give him the Great Deceiver, A blood-stone. A church with a vaulted ceiling Where the White and Blue Niles meet. A dog who cries after dark. Everyone has a heart, Even the people who don't. It floats up like a beached whale in the autopsy. The heart has no sense of humor. It offers itself piteously like a pair of handcuffs, And is so clumsy that we turn away. The past Is a quarryful of marble statues With heads and genitals erased, But the heart is a muscle made of sharkbone and mutters, Resting place softened with hay Where all the cows come home, finally.
Copyright © 2012 by Monica Ferrell. Used with permission of the author.
A few feet away in fuchsia, wings are inferred. She signs the air with herself so fast the whole benediction is visible, then gone, & when I look around she sits resting on the line among plastic clothes-pin—synecdoche, metaphor, or just a sense of humor? Air's ampersands, seahorses of the aether, Thomas Morton believed they live on bees, & Loranzo Newcomb, thinking to taste their nurture, went about inhaling the essence of trumpetvines. This one's an ounce emphasizing the grossness of chickadees, hinting at the design of the Concorde that used to boom out over the Atlantic each morning around 8:30, & so quick she has few effective enemies. If extremes truly contain their opposites, she & I have at least that in common, along with a life among the trees.
Copyright © 2005 by Brendan Galvin. From Habitat. Reprinted with permission of Louisiana State University Press.
When I bend back to gaze at the satellite convulsions, I am an aqueduct for twilit rain. Quite literally I stand in the littoral zone: a lens--no an aqueous humor, my feet on the land below the high-water mark, my hand a glazed waver: hello light-purple lights, hello red spots, you've beaten the stars out tonight but you're struggling with the atmosphere, ain't ye? Over centuries the river became not a river: Lethe's end crept together--self-scavenging sea snake--& the middle filled with water--morphology dubbed it a lake & now the moon swims in it & the moon orbits it & the moon tidally tugs on it. The moon is a satellite in a fit of paroxysm. One minute past, I emptied an aluminum can of dull opiate to the drains to wash down my antipsychotics & then Lethe-wards slunk I. There must be this wire shaking loose in my mind, an unattended firehouse, a spasmodic filament attempting to cool the baby planet but lacerating precious gray matter. Thought leaves no vacancy for memory-- I forget & forget the rules, the thirst an auger, rain only whetting it, I bend & lap some lake up, tongue it, suck the silty mammary right where a light from the firmament meets it. I keep forgetting the rules, a Ptolemaniac with stars & suns circling me; I keep missing my cues, can't arrange the particles moments are made of-- and it's all good!--because when I bend seriously back & peep at the satellite convulsions I am a sluiceway for night rain. If I love at least I love aptly, terminally, like a man who loves his dinner until he's done with it, then settles to the couch to easy pixilated dreams (bounced off, yes, satellites, & beamed into a pale dish). And still, even unfettered by history or hope, the world does not seem shocking--simply something to fly a canvas balloon around, to dig a hole in. To climb into. To allow to fill with water, perhaps it is raining, perhaps you dig below the watertable; it gushes through the dirt; your bath is drawn & in it are drawn (sputniks & stars) maps & charts with which to constellate your body. Connect the dots. A little ladle with four handles--a tiny light strobes in the cup, in hot convulsions of distance, bleats of temporal ignorance, synapse of morse but no code, blood but no pulse, the stream but no mouth or source.
From Radio, Radio by Ben Doyle, published by Louisiana State University Press. Copyright © 2000 by Ben Doyle. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
There are more women than men in the nursing home and more men than old doctors. Staff doctors visit once a month. The few old men do very little but sleep. Two or three of them occasionally gather outside in clear weather for a smoke, which is allowed them. I suppose those in charge feel that it can make no difference now, and it brings the old men a little pleasure. I sit and chat with them sometimes. Perhaps "chat" is a bit too lively a word to describe what passes for conversation during these puffing sessions. A lot of low grunting goes on. There is one old man who is afflicted with bone cancer and who says, in high good humor, that his guarantees have run out. He was a travelling salesman in women's wear, and still remembers how much he loved women. Many of the women have become little girls again. They carry dolls about with them, mostly rag-dolls, I suppose so they can't injure themselves when they squeeze them. To see these toothless, balding old ladies, frail as twigs, clutching these dolls, is heartbreaking. Oh, to love something! It's still there. It has been in them since they were little and had dirty knees and bows in their hair. Some recognize me now, and, when I give them a wave, they wave back. It's a wonderful feeling to make contact, but it is difficult to tell how much they know. The care-givers are kind and efficient. They are mostly young, and apparently try to imbue the old with some of their zest for life, but of course the old know all that already--or knew and have forgotten it. I wonder, can the young reverse their situations with the old and see themselves looking up at such fresh faces from the vantage of bed or wheelchair or walker? I am too young to join the old here in the nursing home, this metaphor (or is it the tenor of a metaphor?) for the last days, but I am too old to feel the buoyancy of the young; so, at least for the context of the nursing home, I have arrived at yet another awkward age. After visiting my mother, who is only partly present, I go out and sit with the old men and have a smoke. We hope for clear days.
From The Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 76, No. Three, 2000. Copyright © 2000 by E. M. Schorb. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
What's funny about this place
is us regulars coming in with our different
accoutrements, mine usually the little void
of space I call honey, days
I can barely get through I'm laughing so hard,
see? In the back a woman squeezes oranges,
someone presses the fresh white bread
into communion wafers or party favors.
In the window the chickens rotate blissfully,
Sometimes I flirt with the cashier, just improvising,
the way birds land all in a hurry on the streetlamp across the street,
which stays warm even on cold nights.
Guillaume says humor is sadness
and he's awfully pretty.
What do they put in this coffee? Men?
No wonder I get a little high. Remember
when we didn't have sex on the ferris wheel,
oh that was a blast,
high, high above the Tuileries!
Copyright © 2013 by Catherine Barnett. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on October 7, 2013.
I was well towards the end Of middle-age before I Realized I loved saying Disgusting things but didn't Really myself much enjoy hearing Them. They Go to the heart of life, I realize (I think Everyone recognizes this), Since almost everyone Can agree: Life, so Generally disgusting. But no one really Wants to hear That much about The disgusting (except, Perhaps, those who have frozen Significant portions Of their senses of humor In the fifth grade, as I have). Those of us who love Verbally bringing up The disgusting Incessantly Are usually prevented From ever holding Truly executive positions In any organized Situation, but there are, Looking around I've noticed, Plenty of us Placed somewhere In middle-management. We are the ones Managing things "On the ground," As they say, the ground Which is also where, I can't help but bring it Up, most beasts of the field Leave Their ghastly deposits.
From The Executive Director of the Fallen World by Liam Rector, published by the University of Chicago Press. Copyright © 2006 by Liam Rector. Reprinted by permission of the University of Chicago Press. All rights reserved.
for Jane is to be one to the one closest to you who shares the air & other elements right there next to you two bodies wrapped in darkness among millions of other bodies wrapped in darkness & smoke war bloodshed & chaos voices rising out of the dirt one to the one without whom one wouldn't be one who saves one when lost in regions of the past raging at bygone constellations pursued by a swarm of angst gnats who saves by her sight & sound & touch to notice that gravity's strong on this planet notice there's a half-ton of apples in that tree notice cricket jumping on cedar branch feline humor magpie elegance in sum this world born not so long ago with maybe not that far to go still roaming the contradictory corridors of a universe or two wind turns pages then shuts book he looks up she looks up from piano keys hold that frame
From Notes on the Possibilities and Attractions of Existence, by Anselm Hollo, published by Coffee House Press. Copyright © 2001 Anselm Hollo. Reprinted by permission of Coffee House Press. All rights reserved.
The night attendant, a B.U. sophomore, rouses from the mare's-nest of his drowsy head propped on The Meaning of Meaning. He catwalks down our corridor. Azure day makes my agonized blue window bleaker. Crows maunder on the petrified fairway. Absence! My heart grows tense as though a harpoon were sparring for the kill. (This is the house for the "mentally ill.") What use is my sense of humor? I grin at Stanley, now sunk in his sixties, once a Harvard all-American fullback, (if such were possible!) still hoarding the build of a boy in his twenties, as he soaks, a ramrod with a muscle of a seal in his long tub, vaguely urinous from the Victorian plumbing. A kingly granite profile in a crimson gold-cap, worn all day, all night, he thinks only of his figure, of slimming on sherbet and ginger ale-- more cut off from words than a seal. This is the way day breaks in Bowditch Hall at McLean's; the hooded night lights bring out "Bobbie," Porcellian '29, a replica of Louis XVI without the wig-- redolent and roly-poly as a sperm whale, as he swashbuckles about in his birthday suit and horses at chairs. These victorious figures of bravado ossified young. In between the limits of day, hours and hours go by under the crew haircuts and slightly too little nonsensical bachelor twinkle of the Roman Catholic attendants. (There are no Mayflower screwballs in the Catholic Church.) After a hearty New England breakfast, I weigh two hundred pounds this morning. Cock of the walk, I strut in my turtle-necked French sailor's jersey before the metal shaving mirrors, and see the shaky future grow familiar in the pinched, indigenous faces of these thoroughbred mental cases, twice my age and half my weight. We are all old-timers, each of us holds a locked razor.
From Selected Poems by Robert Lowell, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. Copyright © 1976, 1977 by Robert Lowell. Used by permission.
There's a happiness, a joy in one soul, that's been buried alive in everyone and forgotten. It isn't your barroom joke or tender, intimate humor or affections of friendliness or big, bright pun. They're the surviving survivors of what happened when happiness was buried alive, when it no longer looked out of today's eyes, and doesn't even manifest when one of us dies, we just walk away from everything, alone with what's left of us, going on being human beings without being human, without that happiness.
Reprinted from Front Lines by permission of City Lights Books. Copyright © 2002 by Jack Hirschman. All rights reserved.