A Sense of Proportion

On 20th between Madison and Ferry
a line of municipal maples binds the community
to an orderly, serviceable beauty. Platforms
from which our sparrows and starlings
might decorate our domestic sedans,
perhaps these trees serve most to stimulate
the car wash economy. Today, they remind me:

unsatisfied with workaday species, my parents
nailed oranges to a post to attract the exotic Oriole.
When the birds arrived, I wondered if they’d flown
all the way from Baltimore, which in turn
evoked a hotel, gables lined
with black and tangerine, posh clientele
spackled by the vagaries of Maryland living.

By nine I could sigh, climb our single
red maple, which I imagined a national landmark.
Child of movies, I could see the tree even at night
as a kind of beacon, a singularity. White
sheen on the leaves’ pitchy gloss, bodily.
And I too would learn to feel glazed
as any creature accumulating light

cast from stars, hidden in a federation
of equivalent times, distant trains
carrying sugar, coal, whole families beyond
deserts, imposing ranges, shimmering coastlines
said to define the spirit of a people.
Far from the station, the pinpoint aurora,
a line of municipal maples bears its charge.

More by William Stobb

A Moment for Authentic Shine

This is the greatest moment of your life,
said the voice both familiar and distant, like a childhood
friend become spokesperson for a cleaning product—
which caused the many hats to turn in many directions
and one robed arm to extend.
And what after all had been passing?
The sounds birds made often seemed more cogent
than the swirl of argument, a cyclone in a sandbox. 
So much management we ought to have degrees
was a type of joke made at outmoded parties.
Still with shades and declarations
echoes of heroic solos translated out of urgent decades
while almost unnoticed, pensive tunes accumulate in the mix
like thunder clouds on these warmer days. Regardless,
names come unpinned, stars die, a closetful of semi-
recognizable jackets and hats be-speaks
the by-gone, and yet the baffling rekindling of romance
may justify the maintenance of a hairstyle.
A certain heart medication—no, I was afraid to say
a certain heart, beating in the chest of a certain girl.
To say heart in that trite way, and girl when by now she’s fifty,
and real when the elapsing of all things into void
has been made abundantly clear.  But I knew her
and she seemed real, and at thirty still childlike—
a trait adorable in women, rather of concern in men
say the conservatives but look who’s ogling 
the ballplayers around the pool table.
Any slogan invites rebuttal, and a spin into personal views
often doubles futile conversation.  One might live
consuming nothing but packaged goods and still
in that moment of late afternoon crash—
over-heated, nauseated by sexual memory,
blinded by sun, buffeted by wind—unfairly rely
on that prideful sense of authenticity
so prized in our time that it could be said to float,
invisible of course, above a century’s worth of steaming wrecks—
cloud of elemental and reckless
identity unwarranted, silver-lined illusion of nobility—
until geographies choke in the torrent,
shrines assembled from knick-knacks manufactured
by prisoner children dissolve
and in our true magical forest
blossoms wreathed by small creatures
that worked in tandem with our spirits become
as we become atmosphere.

Sam Says Everything

’s weird if you stare at it and I’m staring
at the travel graph of the Voyager craft—
the one that sailed past all our planets

taking the pictures I’ve framed of Jupiter’s
big red eye, ice geysers on Enceladus
and the spooky blue of Neptune.

A while back I emailed the childhood friend
who became a past life regressionist.
She told me life began on a distant moon

which made life seem kind of middling, to me—
side-shelved and orbiting around
whatever the real real thing might be.

One time late at night on a golf course
we kissed and she said it wasn’t right.
I still wonder specifically why. 

She replied to say a good way to go insane
is to constantly ask what’s wrong with yourself
and expect someone to answer.

She also said I thought you died
and all week I wondered if it might be true.
I’ve heard reality’s a function

of expectation, so my problem
stems from my prospect: I seem to be
clinging to the idea of a satellite

way out in the frozen night
beeping news from the motherland.
Like my own aging mother

sending clippings about potato blight,
poisonous spiders, New
Zealand’s musical theater scene,
 
and the township’s announcement
that the golf course has been sold
to an investment group out of Manitoba.

Just tell me: was it the mosquitos?
Were my lips dry or ineffective in some way?

Beep…  Beep…

                             I was just saying hello.

Beep…  Beep…

                            but I guess I would like to know…

 

                                       after Sam Lipsyte

Capitol Street Pulse

I’ve been here an hour and haven’t seen his pitch work. “Donate for Street Pulse?” in a major arpeggio and then “have a nice day” back down on the black keys.
My friend’s friend’s dead uncle, Woody Guthrie, might be patron saint of the scene: three acoustic guitarists variously perched, girl in a sequined tracksuit spinning on roller skates.
On the capitol lawn, someone’s barking loudly into the rotunda, though I think he only wants to hear the sound, not advocate for any cause.
Yesterday, police used bullhorn threats to clear a protest against police violence. The governor says he’ll print the names of anyone involved, but it’s okay:
practically everyone’s on the list. Lately in my bones I can feel tiny protestors slowing the flow of oxygenated blood—this tissue warrants no supply! this tissue warrants no supply!
Not enough little bubbles are clearing customs, and my eyelids, murderous most recently of spinach, have begun to flutter and twitch.  Beautiful
day for the Catholics picketing the nearby hospital against abortion, while recent internet searching shows nineteen open cases of child abuse against local clergy.
I almost succeed in not thinking, “it’s like they want to keep the fetuses alive so the priests can rape them later,” but not quite. I guess this is the everyday horror of thought.
At the next table, three engineering students use their big brains to sketch the circuitry of sunglasses that will project holographic movie clips in the air around our heads.
We’ll buy scenes like ringtones and illuminate ourselves with Hollywood. I’d buy the guy holding his baby in the rain shouting Good luck exploring the infinite abyss!
Street Pulse features reports and opinions on private Mars colonies with an illustration of caravans on a dusty red road exchanging cargo pants for onions. Like anyone, I’m hoping
we’ll get behind peace and love before we colonize the solar system, but I’m still noticing people’s bodies more than their sense of responsible citizenship.
Maybe it’s easier to believe in the enduring virtues of the glute rounding up from the hamstring than the Jeffersonian column in the floodlight at dusk.
On cue a jogger passes with PINK on her butt, and here’s a painting of a Dodo in a tilting frame. Google Conquers Death is the title on the next table. Somewhere in Texas
a mad billionaire schemes to start it all up again on a brand new planet, but I’m just bussing my cup and leaving Street Pulse behind. On my way to the bus stop, I wonder
if a distant descendant will someday hover over this rubble, detect and uncover the digital time capsule hologram we’ve left to run on solar in the ruined rotunda.
Good luck exploring   —  //  *  Good luck.