UNIVERSAL REMOTE

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					 UNIVERSAL REMOTE




         Poems by
    Matthew Poindexter




      Honors Thesis
  Department of English
University of North Carolina
           2010




                               Approved:


                               ________________________
                               Advisor
                                   Acknowledgements




Some of these poems were previously published, sometimes in earlier forms:
  Dead Mule School of Southern Literature: ―Learning to Whistle‖
  ―Nostalgia‖ appeared in Best New Poets 2009 (University of Virginia Press, 2009)


Thanks to these friends and teachers for their help and suggestions: Ross White, Rachel
  Richardson, Alan Shapiro, and James Seay. Special thanks to Michael McFee and the
  2010 Senior Honors in Poetry class.
Contents




 1 Nostalgia
 3 Gum
 5 Dear Landscape with Blah Blah Blah
 7 The Mirror Chakras
10 A.D.
12 Reclamation Day
14 Past Lives of the Self-Loathing


17 Universal Remote
19 Trapping Mechanism
21 Neither Snow nor Rain nor Heat nor Gloom of Night
26 Unbirthday
28 Stephen Hawking


31 The 500 Mile Long Poem


57 Off-Day on the Haw River
58 Love Poem with False Rabbit and House Key
59 After Waking, Apples
61 Learning to Whistle
62 Eroica
67 Polar Bear Exhibit
68 Baseball
70 Off-Day on the Haw River (Reprise)


73 Notes
UNIVERSAL REMOTE
Nostalgia



Last night when we were watching Lassie,
I remember thinking, isn‘t it a shame
that dogs don‘t bark like they used to?
When Mom and Dad were kids
the dogs were always barking, and usually
that meant a person in the township
had fallen down a well. Those were the days.
Isn‘t it a shame, how no one falls down a well anymore?
I say we take a Saturday to head out on the town
with our crowbars and pry some covers off,
shrug off their concrete tops. Give everyone a handle
of Evan Williams whiskey, smack them on the ass
and shout: Have at it! Then sit and wait
for the concerned collies to come running.
But no, if you want a good old-fashioned crisis,
the wholesome kind, you have to go way back—
before they added color to the picture,
before Nader came along and ruined all the fun.
Non-exploding cars! Paint without lead! Go way back,
or to some other world, like Australia.
And even there the women scream, A dingo ate my baby!
a lot less frequently than before,
which is kind of like their version of barking.
Here, it‘s all just, woof woof—you smell
like you could get me some bacon,
or, woof woof—I just took a dump
and if you don‘t pick it up immediately,
the city‘s going to fine you.
These days, I feel like I‘m the one that‘s stuck
down in the well, and all that I can do
is tread water. Everything has the same harmlessness.
In the end, the well of blandeur is so deep
that I can‘t even tell if the dogs are barking or not.
They don‘t make barking like they used to.
Gum



Like an anti-mating ritual
or a grownup‘s answer
to the Hokey Pokey,
I do the one-footed balance dance


of a man inspecting
the bottom of his still-on shoe:
grafted to my sole
is a dun crust of gum. Step by step


it‘s grown in filth: loose strands
of other people‘s hair,
damp flakes of spit-out Skoal,
the million molecules


of goose shit trekked through
on a daily basis, adding layers
as I go. Every other step
becomes a conscious one,


uneven by a fraction
of a fraction of an inch.
A twig and stone both fail
at its degunking: I‘m forced to go
with fingers, the scabby
outer shell collecting
underneath my nails
until a too-green center


opens like an abscess,
and my world floods
with the scent of faux-spearmint.
How often life‘s terrible gifts


come spritzed with perfume.
Kretek cigarettes from Indonesia.
The cocoa body butter
I mistook for toothpaste


as a child. That time
I used a half a can
of Country Meadow Raid
before Sarah spent the night—


what was I supposed to say
when she hugged me, cooing,
―Aww, you bought me flowers?‖
Dear Landscape with Blah Blah Blah


Thank you for the lunch last Sunday
at El Rey del Taco, where we each ate
pescado frito entrées, then split a dish
of crippling self-doubt for dessert.
Doubt can be no course but the last, can it?
Thank you for telling, between bites


of fish with lime and garlic sauce, the story
of the son who became so angry at his mother
for remarrying, he burned her signed
first edition of Catcher in the Rye.
I think you'd feel a little better if you torched
someone else's stuff—just as long as it's not mine.


Thank you for agreeing with me about whom
amongst our friends would be the best
to sleep with, and who doesn't make the cut.
Thank you for proposing we make some rules
to follow in our poems: no more "Landscape
with Blah Blah Blah" in the title. No more


epistolary verse addressing inanimate objects:
"Dear Rutabaga," "Dear Pitcher's Mound,"
"Dear Food Stamp Act of 1964." My offer
to ignore the second rule—if you promise me
you'll break the landscape title one—still stands.
You said, "Breaking rules is why my life


is falling apart." "But I love to read
your landscape title poems!" I said. You said,
"I truly doubt it." I didn't reply,
just watched you sign the check, because I knew
you wanted that to be the final word.
Yet to myself, I wished the biggest mistake


we could make was to break a silly rule.
I wished the worst thing anyone had ever done
was judge their friends purely for their beauty.
If only the most hurtful crime we committed
against those we love, those who love us back,
was to burn their most cherished possession.
The Mirror Chakras



Show me something more frightening than a mirror.
               §
Show me something more frightening than a mirror
with more than one face in it.
               §
Show me something more frightening
than the floor-to-ceiling mirror
in the yoga studio, when I‘m behind
the spandex girl, the one who, with each pose,
checks her reflection in the wall
of polished glass we‘re facing.


Her first concern: that the chakra
column‘s stacked in perfect form.
The next: that I‘m not staring at her ass.
               §
Her gorgeous, spandex-covered ass.
               §
Show me something more frightening
than that same girl and mirror
when downward-facing dog releases,
and she checks her form again—


so perfectly aligned, her Anahata
humming in its holy place
above the Swadhisthana—
that she can‘t see me there,
my body clad in ratty sweats.


The chakra of the mirror
in line with her and me.
                §
It is a frightening thing,
the mirror that doesn‘t reveal
what we expect it to reveal.
                §
I am a vampire.
No, not really. It‘s a metaphor.
                §
Why has Dracula never
removed the mirrors from his castle?
After centuries of living there,


the countless would-be victims wising up
who see the absence of his likeness,
and flee before he bares his fangs.


He only has himself to blame.
                §
The spandexed girl gives in,
and breaks the chakras of herself, breaks
the chakras of the mirror, her body, and me.


She wobbles off-balance to the left
in search of my reflection in front of her.
               §
―Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.‖
               §
With her tilting left we make eye contact on accident,
then look away. I think I see her blush, but it could have been
a rush of blood to the head from doing downward-facing dog.
               §
I only have myself to blame for what gets seen in mirrors.
               §
Last week, I felt like I was dying,
yet my reflection looked as healthy as it‘s ever been:
ruddy color in my cheeks, thick and shiny hair—
nothing like a man in his last days.


However, it has been brought to my attention
that I may be closer than I appear.
               §
Towards the end of the session, the yogi
brings us into corpse pose.
We are told to lie flat on our backs on the mats.
We are told go to happy places.
No one thinks of mirrors. No one thinks of me.
               §
Show me something more frightening than a mirror with me in it.
A.D.



If I were born in China, I imagine
they would have wrapped me
in a blue blanket with bunnies printed
on it, would have given me
a lucky rabbit‘s foot to hold
in family photographs, because
I graced them in the Year of the Hare.


Yet, being born to two white kids
in Winston-Salem, I went home
from the hospital wearing only
a diaper and a tiny Magic Johnson jersey.
In the culture of their youth and love,
it was the Year of the Lakers.


And when the priest handed back
the Bible they had bought on the way
to the church, it read
―Anno Domini, MCMLXXXVII.‖


Such things overlap. Such things
come our way. So many cultures
and religions claimed me
as their own at the same time:
the Year of the Braves
was the Year of Kissing Katie Mabe,
was 1995. The Year of San Francisco
somehow was the Year of Worshipping
the Rural South as well.


But in the nation of My Bedroom,
population 1 (and rarely, 2),
where worship is most fervent
and adjacent states believe the devotees
seem cultish in their piety,
there exists only one true religion,
only one true culture, and it is now
the Year of Our Lord, Matthew Poindexter,
a year I pray is followed by
the Year of Our Lord, Matthew Poindexter,
to be repeated again and again,
for ever and ever, amen.
Reclamation Day



I come today to reclaim my grandmother‘s clothesline,
acknowledged last in nineteen-ninety-nine, when I was twelve,
when James said only trailer trash don‘t got a dryer.


I‘d never seen it so before—yet in his hurtful jab
work shirts transformed to flags, signaling WE ARE POOR
for all to see. It stopped existing then, far easier for me


to stay away from her back yard, to sit inside and watch TV
when we would visit on those Sundays after church.
My grandmother‘s clothesline: two lengths of cord stretched taut


between two poles. A decade older now, I come to apologize,
to reclaim that which I took for granted, a prodigal son
not asking for a fatted calf, but just a place to dry his clothes.


So much from youth deserves its exile on the Isle
of My Embarrassment: a ―Blame It On The Rain‖ cassingle
backed with ―Girl You Know It‘s True,‖ my penchant


for those ultra-wide-legged jeans with umpteen pockets—
complete with faux-gang logos—sagging off my ass.
The bongo drums I bought to match my RASTA! poster.
Her clothesline should never have been lost with them,
those silly fads that lack the line‘s utility. In truth, the object
of my shame was never close to being wrong:


it‘s the shame itself that‘s faulty. Let me undo
that wooden pin. Let me put that stiff and faded shirt
back on my back, and give her line less weight.
Past Lives of the Self-Loathing



               I must have been a dog, once.
I must have been a fly,
       or streptococcus. A rich boy on coke
at a boarding school, once such things existed.
               To think how old my soul must be:
       how I can barely turn my head
without seeing something
                       I despise.


          It's getting worse:
Recently, I must have been a pair
                  of plastic testicles that swung
from the hitch of a pickup truck.
       I must have been the DMV. Also, the act
  of unclogging a toilet that you yourself
played no part in clogging.
               I think I was the first incarnation
of acne all those years ago.


    And I'm sure I've been
my current self many, many times over.
       Oh self, how I hate you. Self,
       I hate you in a way that clogged pipes,
zits, and Nutz-4-Truckz
will never understand. I take great pride
                in kicking puppies,
        because I know
it hurts you in some cosmic way.


I hate the present in a way
             the past can only dream of,
and there is so much past:
Look at what little still exists
that I can't bring myself
                   to spit upon. Someday soon
     I'll be the most beautiful and kind
woman in the world. Then what's left?


In the beginning, I must have been God.
Universal Remote



The cardboard package postmarked from Japan,
those squishy mint green shipping peanut things
strewn out in piles across your hardwood floor—
I‘d never seen a grown man act as thrilled
as when you said that this would change your life:
the Universal Reach Remote Control.
You held it up: the shoebox-sized device
looked like a long lost Star Trek toy—its dials
and buttons, hieroglyphics under each—
its pair of antennae that telescoped
in some strange pattern I could never learn.


But no more need to leave the bed at night
and blindly fumble with the thermostat!
No getting off the couch to start or stop
the oven or the sprinklers on the lawn.
―This sucker even works the channels
on the basement TV from the bathroom two
floors up,‖ you bragged. ―But why would you do that?‖
I asked. ―Because I can!‖ was your reply,
before you pointed it at me and punched
a button, made my cell phone ring. You smiled.


I‘m sorry your complete command of life
could only last so long. It got too damp—
some wire on the circuit board fried out
when you were in the shower, trying then
to run the washer/dryer in the hall.
Instead, it started up the Chevrolet
you‘d parked in your garage—the dog and cat
without a place to get away—no place
for the exhaust to filter out. At least
they didn‘t die in pain. You thought it might
have been a fluke, a glitch that you could fix.
But when the Russian satellite was found
in your back yard they traced it back to you.


When Mary took the kids and left, she said
to find her at her mother‘s when you trashed
that awful thing. A week or so went by
and no one heard a word from you, until
the neighbors said they saw you naked in
the yard, the sprinklers tweaking by your feet,
alarms from cars parked up and down the street
all blaring—off and on and off and on.
Before the cops arrived and took you down,
they said that you were taking it apart,
removing levers, rubber buttons, dials,
and wires, placing each in ordered piles
around the yard. Some even said they heard
you yelling to the sky, ―Now who‘s in charge?
I am! What good is a control you can‘t
control? Now I control my own control!‖
Trapping Mechanism



I bought a Venus Flytrap from the gift shop
of a decommissioned battleship,
one moored in port for good in the Cape Fear,
near Wilmington, where they sold anything
the Third World could print or stitch a ship onto:
old-man hats with captain‘s braid across the bill,
plush cartoon barracudas, seven-dollar sets
of socks with BATTLESHIP NC in red
above the ankles. In retrospect, even leaving
with a shotglass would have made more sense,
but no—at age eight I bought a four-trap
Venus Flytrap in a plastic BATTLESHIP NC pot,
took it home, and (per instructions)
used a pair of tweezers to feed one trap
a single fat and barely buzzing fly.
Then watched that trap die. Per instructions, watered,
waited for a week, then fed trap two: watched
it blacken, shrivel, crumple up in dust.
Repeat, repeat: dead plant, dead plant.
Maybe it‘s the same as fish in bags
at country fairs, or maybe I‘m just bad with plants
like others say they‘re bad with kids. I doubt both:
how does a living thing that finds a way to live
in the armpit of this state on bugs
and brackish water, that survives through
yearly forest fires, die off with such ease?
Forget the lemon-fish, the brown thumbs:
I must admit that this is failure only
where there‘s no one I can blame.
Not myself for paying for the stupid thing,
not the half-high college kid who worked
the kitschy gift shop as a summer job,
not the people at the nursery
who grew and packed it in the cheapo plastic pot.
Not even God, that old scapegoat
who‘s used to taking blame by now
that we can‘t assign elsewhere:
sometimes, no matter what we do,
no matter how much tender loving care
we give, we‘re still rewarded with
a trapless Venus Flytrap with an allergy to flies.
Neither Snow nor Rain nor Heat nor Gloom of Night



―Go get the tire chains‖
Weather tells them, and they do.
He shaves a block of ice
off the low horizon; it overtakes the carriers
before they even get the coupons sorted.


All the mailboxes topped with snow:
those not stuck shut become
tiny avalanches when opened.
Hands and arms go frozen.
He comes home cold and quiet.


               §


               Five a.m. alarm to undertake what used to be a
               ritual—dressing for the day ahead. After checking
               weather, choose a set of regulation socks (always
               half-calf high, always navy blue). Choose a
               regulation polyester shirt (sleeves long or short,
               always ―postal‖ blue). Choose regulation shorts or
               trousers (always navy blue). If cold, choose a
               parka/sweater/jacket combination (all outerwear is
               navy blue). Choose from baseball cap, safari hat,
               and faux-fur earflap cap (all outerwear is navy
                blue). Choose shoes or boots (all black, no insignia
                of any kind allowed).


                Choice? What choice?


                §


Weather tells them, ―Don‘t get wet,‖
though it knows there‘s no escaping.
It looks like a lake
is being sieved out of the sky,
an ugly, unfine rain that covers everything.


Weather capillaries up the legs of pants,
brings a sour smell to shoes.
Fingertips go wrinkled
and then stain with ink.
He comes home soaked.


                §


                In 1887, regulations authorized the use of stripes on
                the coat sleeve to recognize long service. In 1899,
                black stars replaced the stripes. In 1955, when
                uniform trim changed from black to maroon, the
                black stars were changed to maroon. In 1975, the
                maroon stars were changed to navy blue. In 1988,
                regulations authorized that only silver stars and
                gold stars should be worn—one silver star for every
                five years of service up to 30 years and one gold
                star for every five years of service beginning at 35.
                ―Only brown-nosed bastards wear their silvers.‖
                He‘s almost made it to that first gold star.


                §


The sun bears down again, like yesterday,
like the thirty prior yesterdays.
Weather tells them nothing
that they didn‘t know the day before.


Summer—the time of year
when each of them is missing out
on something: sleep, vacation,
a Little League game. Lunch
almost always goes untouched,
sweating in a leaky Igloo cooler
kept between the crates of swimsuit
catalogs and letters sent home
from camp in the back. In this heat,
most don‘t really care for food.


Time and a half
bloats into double time,
bloats into reprimand
from reprimanded supervisors.
As if they‘d been out there
that long by choice.
He comes home burnt and angry.


                §
               One December Sunday, the snow only starting, he
               asks me to go outside and get the newspaper sitting
               in the driveway. I put on his biggest, warmest coat
               in the closet, his regulation parka with the ―sonic
               eagle‖ emblem on the breast, Thinsulation thermal
               hood, windproof face flap to cover up the mouth
               and nose. I‘m zipped and bundled up, almost at the
               door, when he stops me, yells, ―Take that off right
               now! I don‘t ever want to see you in that thing
               again! You understand?‖


               I take it off. I get the paper with a shiver. I complete
               my appointed round, swiftly.


               §


Six days a week, the Postal Service
claims they don‘t care what Weather does,
and Weather, grinning, calls their bluff, says,
‗Get your gloves and parkas. Check the coolant
in those un-airconditioned trucks.
Pray your family doesn‘t ask
how work went when you‘re finally home.‘


My father comes home. In our house,
we don‘t know snow, or rain, or heat.
We do know gloom of night:
his unwished silence at the dinner table,
saying nothing because he has nothing
good to say about his day.
He does whatever‘s asked of him
with swiftness, goes to bed.
Unbirthday



Poor you, you think, at work on your birthday—
the one day you should have the right
to go play golf, or party at the backyard spot
with Jim and Rob and Rob‘s fine cousin Jan.


For the sake of business though, you‘re made absent
from that once a year Rumspringa, drinking
decaf instead of taking shots, kissing
ass instead of women at the beach.


Catered lunch from Subway falls so short.
I understand your disappointment,
but you don‘t get it yet. Unhappy
as you are, a sadder task awaits


when the alarm goes off tomorrow.
After fumbling to button down your cuffs
(why do hangovers always make clothes
not fit?) please be ready to punch in on a day


when you are as far from special as possible.
The break room won‘t hold cake. Multi-colored
party hats will be taken as a sign
that you do not respect your job. No,
no gifts, no crown of smoke ascending
from the garish day-glo candles,
headed for the threshold and hugging
the ceiling, till it goes wherever smoke goes


to be forgotten. For the time being,
you should probably go there too.
Poor thing, if you set off the smoke alarm
tomorrow, no one will be amused.
Stephen Hawking



I like to think the mind and body hold each other up,
each completing what the other cannot do, succeeding in its own way—
poor pitchers study sabremetrics; the most unstable women
that I‘ve dated all were trained and artful dancers. These days,
Stephen Hawking can barely tic his cheek, yet when he does,
it‘s to tell you about thermal radiation with a black body spectrum
predicted to be emitted by black holes due to quantum effects.


I‘m no Hawking, though I‘ve found the more I learn the tighter
my old pants get. Buttons barely make their way through eyelets,
tugging on the fabric like dogs that almost choke trying to slip
out of their leashes. But that‘s okay, isn‘t it? When it‘s all over,
there‘s so little need to be one of the lucky few possessing both sides
of the mind-body balance. Almost all get by with less. Me—
I‘m the dumpy number cruncher, I‘m the kid with too-big broken glasses.
If we were in a made-for-TV movie, the vapid quarterback
would come to me and ask how he can pass the test on Shakespeare,
the big game counting on his play, the grade he makes. In the end,
everyone leaves happy: To be or not to be delivered perfectly
over a montage of touchdowns thrown against the cross-town rival.


Yet, this isn‘t the Disney Channel. Most of those who think
they‘re beautiful and smart soon find out: they aren‘t.
The action movie star with his megaphone, telling folks
in Kansas how his candidate of choice will maintain subsidies
on wheat—no one really listens to the party line he parrots.
They want him there because his cheeks sit higher on his face
than anyone has ever seen before, his nose looks like God
once kept it safe inside a Brazilian rosewood case, line in purple velvet.
They want him there because when he turns from side to side,
no one sees a single difference in the left and right halves of his face.
He once thought talking about Midwest agriculture made him smart,
but that pride was fleeting—he soon sees that it‘s just scripted lines,
a performance less impressive than the time he sneered into the camera,
vixen under arm, and, right before the spaceship blew up in a ball
of flames, growled, No one tries Max Justice and gets away with it.
The 500 Mile Long Poem



                I. Prologue




So few things can make a hatchback Honda CRV
exciting or inspiring, especially when it‘s coupled
with the mundane task of going to the grocery store.
See my ‘04 model: pocked with dents and scratches,
striped with touch-up paint that isn‘t quite the same
shade as the dingy gold original, something called
‗mojave mist metallic.‘ Ride of the Valkyries
wouldn‘t even save it from that sheer soccermomedness.
I know this for a fact: I‘ve tried it and failed.
Yet here I am, Wagnerless, on a quest for Pop Tarts,
queso dip, tortilla chips, half-a-dozen eggs, some beer:
anticipation shakes the parts of me that do not shake
on purpose. It is time to drive:
the stereo turned off, nothing but an inner monologue
and the white noise of thunk-thunk-thunking
roads and highways for the next 500 miles.
But who would make a worthy Muse for such an epic?
On my shortlist: Calliope and Thalia,
and if the Muse may be a man, Henry Ford
and Earnhardt Sr. Unsure of what to do,
of just how to invoke these patron saints
of the internal combustion engine, I do
what unsure people do: a little bit of everything.
Click the keyless entry twice till headlights flash.
Open door, remove phone and watch
and wallet, from self, place them in their proper holds.
As belt buckles, ask Henry for forgiveness
that the car is not a Ford. Ask the same of Dale
because it‘s not a Chevrolet. Pray for Thalia
to act as guide of lighter parts, Calliope to watch
from here till final mile. Turn the key,
fell the car‘s smooth tremors, hear the songlike hum.
                II. 15.2




Allow me to explain myself some more:
  with this odometer of miles in feet
  and lines, I really cannot say I‘m sure


just where I plan to go, or what I‘ll meet.
  (Right now, I‘m leaving Brewer Ln., my home,
  and headed east to get on Franklin St.)


It truly isn‘t all my fault, this poem,
  this hatchbacked drive. I think I‘m predisposed
  to loving all things cars—the polished chrome,


the vroom, the calendars with models posed
  in heels in front of their dark billet grilles.
  I dream of V8 engine blocks exposed


on showroom floors, the piston push that fills
  me with its fine-tuned compressed joy each time.
  Or even more, that sound when one tire peels


away before the others do—the rhyme
  of tread and tread and tread and tread, of brake
  and disk with disk and brake. Learn here that I‘m
a person with this in his blood, who aches
  with just enough white trashiness to be
  a fan of good old boys who meet to race


on Sundays. Is the place where they agree
  to end the same where they began? If so,
  then even better. See the checkered. See


Daytona, Talladega, Wilkesboro.
  See HWY. 8 in Walnut Cove at two,
  when school lets out, that ever-revving flow


of boys. The seventeen-year-olds who view
  their older brothers‘ IROC-Zs as all
  that‘s pure and good—accelerating through


each straight, paired side-by-side, so mad and raw
  inside their Chevys. See them, Friday nights,
  down at the K-Mart parking lot: their wall


of tricked-out, muffler missing trucks. The fights
  that always come from drawls of No, fuck you!
  while idle, waiting on the next green light.


I‘m not ashamed to say I did it too—
  raced Nick and Scott to King and back, and won.
  I now know too much clutch will mean a new


transmission must be bought—five grand, not fun.
  And I was at, in nineteen-ninety-three,
  the Charlotte race where Rusty Wallace spun
out of turn four and lost control, where he
  sideswiped the safety wall, then flipped his car
  and landed upside-down in front of me.


Bright sparks arced off the nose like awful stars.
  The Miller Pontiac‘s two 2s—in red
  and gold on each side of the car—were charred,


obscured by flames in those same shades. He’s dead!
  is what I should have thought. But when the throng
  of people cheered and pumped their fists instead


of going mute, my thrill did not feel wrong.
  I knew no better, then. I cheered along.
                III. Date Night
                28.5




Even if it meant that she was back
by half-past-eight so I‘d be in by curfew, nine—
isn‘t this the reason I first fell in love
with driving? An early dinner, then the movies,
or, (better, by date three or four)
skip the flick and find an unlit backwoods road,
a stopping place ringed with trees,
the headlights killed on my old, used Delta 88,
the kind of car that parents gives
their first-time-driver kid, tank-like in its build
and slowness, with a bench seat
in the back that we found worked for more
than hauling friends around.
                IV. 36.3




4:15 a.m. and still not home from work:
stopping to top off the tank
after a long shift of getting undertipped
by college kids who ordered pizzas
so they wouldn‘t have to trudge out
in this rain. On the road, lucidity
is suddenly a conscious decision, a test,
and I feel that I am barely passing.
I swerve to miss what looks at first
like a pair of bikers merging lanes,
but it‘s only the wipers as they slack
across the windshield, shattering
their long pause on the lowest setting.
I sober in that moment, and remember
an all-night solo drive from Atlanta
back to Chapel Hill—one spent
calling AM talk shows just to keep
myself engaged and half-awake.
In Commerce, Georgia, I became a man
concerned with the coming martial law
in our fine nation, dammit. Further
up the road, in Gaffney, South Carolina,
the lazy screener put me through
with my call about the giant peach
that was not a giant peach at all—
it was a secret Chinese brainwave
station shooting high-pitched frequencies
into the ether, a PRC attempt
to control our American minds.
And now, almost back, I can‘t stop
thinking of that giant butt-shaped fruit
along the interstate, my memories broken
only by the blades that wave their arc
in front of me once everyone other moment,
saying, come back to the here and now, come


back to the here, to the now, come back.
               V. 40.0




O autonomous nation of These Solo Commutes


       O geography of ribboned road where HOV lanes go unused


               O land where anyone is free to sing along to Miley Cyrus
       Or pick their nose without the judgment of others


O Switzerland of transportation
                                      O place of pacifism


       O only happy solitude that my day knows
       Those thirty minutes on the way to work and back again


I seek asylum in the safety of your borders.
               VI. SLOW
               FUNERAL
               20.6




I pull off, park on the soft shoulder of a front yard
to let the motorcade of cars crawl by. In deference,


the owner of this lawn‘s stopped too, to watch them snake
into the churchyard up ahead. Standing on his porch, he‘s left


the aerator sunken in mid-plug, Kentucky-31 bag slumped
on the stump of some long-rotted-over oak by the driveway.


I nod in his direction but he only winces when he looks in mine—
my stopping here to pay respects is ruining the parts of yard


where he thought he had finished, packing back the plugs unplugged,
killing off the grass that he could only coax to grow last spring.


What else can I do, though? What else can anybody do?
The final black sedan has yet to pass. The car that reads POLICE


in back of them is still in back of me. I‘m sorry for the things
the dead will us to do, the places that we go to let them be.
                VII. The Greensboro Anti-Odes
                88.3




In Dante‘s Inferno, the ninth
and deepest circle of Hell
is also the tightest squeeze,
most claustrophobic.


WELCOME TO GREENSBORO!
reads the bright green sign overhead on I-40.
LANES CLOSED: CONSTRUCTION
flashes the orange warning sign right behind it.


It‘s Friday, 5 p.m., and the DOT
has plans to detour me through downtown,
the gate keepers of Gate City
funneling me in, again.


                §


As a teenager, the joke was ―Greensboring,‖
walking the almost vacant downtown
on a Friday evening. I‘d like to describe it
to you in greater detail, but there was nothing
worth remembering—concrete sidewalks,
buildings wrapped in polished steel and glass,
a doctor‘s office, maybe a bank or two—
as if the city planner‘s only criteria
were ―adequate‖ and ―unoffending.‖


If something even slightly fun took root,
it would vanish in a half a year, pushed out
by rising rent, replaced by a Subway chain,
a Kinkos office. Each weekend, the exodus
resumes: students from the five colleges
packing up and going home, or really,
going any place that isn‘t Greensboro.


                §


At last count, four former girlfriends
now call Gate City home,
which isn‘t something bad—
they deserve each other, deserve
to live in Greensboro. For the most part,
I don‘t think of it, but the other day,


driving through downtown the radio
station played ―All My Ex‘s Live in Texas.‖
George Straight‘s smooth crooning
about Rosanna down in Texarkana,
or Allison in Galveston
who somehow lost her sanity.


Greensboro, I was reminded
of you and yours. I wondered
if there were any word
to rhyme with you, sad dactyl,
any way I could express in song
how terrible you truly are.


All those I can’t endure—
oh they live in Greensboro.
All the ones who were shitty
reside in Gate City.
All the women worth abhorring
now live in Greensboring.


Those don‘t seem right.
No country song is blue enough
for the loneliness of your civil twilight,
the ex‘s, the college kids
who wish they‘d saved their money,
found a job, and lived a home.
                VIII. Road side rest stop
                52.8




Someone from the DOT
must have planted flowers here:


that eighty feet of space
between the five lanes headed east


and five lanes headed west
has been ‗beautified‘—


a sea of purple somethings,
the flower‘s name as strange to you


as the radio stations in this place,
your presets out of range.


You like the view,
but it gets chopped to pieces


now and now, and now again,
by semis blowing by


from packing plant to packing plant.
One or two will smear their horns at you,
but you‘re not sure if that means
Hey, I see you, keep on trucking brother


or Why’d you park so goddam close?
Is there any way of knowing?


No. Watch them go, and wait
for the next and the next and the next.


Hope that one will lend its songlike hum
to the static on your FM band.


Listen: they doppler away down the asphalt.
               IX. Why I love my Honda
               31.9




Because kudzu is no longer the only Japanese import
the cover every inch of land that I consider home.
               X. Home to home
               88.3




I make this drive too much:
Take Fifty-four, then west
on Forty, Sixty-five


through Stokesdale. Follow Three-
eleven into town,
hard left on Brook Cove, right


on Watts, and final left
at DeHart, park the car.
Just shy of ninety miles.


               §


―—THE DOUBLE-K SALOON—
    KARAOKE                 BEER
        LIVE BAIT
            VIDEO POKER‖


The bar sign near the Belews Lake
access point advertises, outside
the barely there, somehow standing,
corrugated metal shack off HWY. 65.
Each time I drive by, I like to think
I‘m tough enough to show my face
in there. Something tells me
that I‘m not. I like to think


that after far too many rounds,
someone much tougher than me
sees the mescal bottle on the wall,
sees the larva inside,


and after buying the jumbo carton
of fishing worms, orders everyone inside
a round of beer.―Put it on my tab,‖ he says.
In the room‘s low light, the full bottles


are the same shade of chocolate
as the now wormless
plastic carton, open on his seat.
He tips well, leaves.


When you spend enough time
in a bar, or driving in a car,
a good imagination is the only thing
that can keep you entertained.


                §


Passing out of Guilford County now,
weaving down the road sewn back
and forth between Forsyth and Stokes,
I‘ve almost made it home, or to a place


called home, a house where things
once stored in the least lived-in corners—
filthy garage shelves, attic space,
basement boxes—now comes to rest


for good in my old bedroom:
Broken treadmill where the dresser
used to be. Closest floor stacked high
with tax returns. Relic software


manuals for Windows 95.
A box of baby clothes once destined
for Salvation Army, now
long forgotten. For the first to go,


home does not stay as it was left.
The pictures and the cutlery, that vase
are never left as you would like them.
That doesn‘t change the outcome though:


it is every bit as sad as it was billed to be.
                27.5




In the part about driving in Durham,
the speaker intends to reach the end
in ten to fifteen lines, depending on traffic.


He plans to go to a trendy downtown bar
—maybe Whiskey, maybe Bull McCabe‘s—
with his friend who‘s been there once before,


who claims to know the way.
But nothing ever goes as planned
in poems about driving in Durham.


The friend, who will remain unnamed, forgets
to tell the speaker how there‘s actually two
HWY. 15-501s, forgets the speaker


needed to take the other one,
almost ten miles back. In the part
about driving in Durham, night comes


too early and the streetlamps
are too dim to read the names on signs.
The fact that there are signs—
lettered, numbered ones he just can‘t read
—is infuriating. For the speaker,
the part about driving in Durham


is like going to the store to pick up milk
and bread, only to have an existential crisis
in the process. At one point,


the Durham part becomes the part
about driving toward Butner,
which is a completely different part


that the speaker hopes no one
ever has to write, one filled
with mental wards and federal prison.


What‘s most important, though,
what the speaker wishes to pass on
from the part about driving in Durham,


is the moment where he asks,
with actual panicked fear in his voice,
Where are we? and How did we get here?
                  Faulty wires in a foreign car
                  91.2


lead to dashboard gauges
stuck in normal places
when they really
should be running red,


lead to coolant
dumping on the highway
so the dark ribbon of road
has its own darker ribbon
of your doing,


lead to engine overheating,


lead to pistons
seizing in their bores,


lead to cracked crowns
on cylinders number two
and number five
which, down the proverbial road,


lead to a tow truck ride
and being told
if you’d just replaced
that sensor thar
you’da saved yerself
a couple grand
from being spent
at Boyd‘s Repair
of Winston-Salem.


But you don‘t know that
yet, don‘t even know
that faulty wires in a foreign car
(the words of Boyd himself)
have led you here,


to pulled off, parked on
the hard shoulder
of a major interstate
with hood up and flashers on.
                 Epilogue
                 88.3




I sit, my house in sight,
gear stick pushed in to PARK,
seatbelt half-slacked against
my chest and lap. Before
I turn it off, uncrank
the key back towards myself
with that same twist of wrist
that I would use to lock
a door—I hold my breath
and listen to it all:
the tiny flaring fires
inside each piston‘s house,
the oscillating mix
of pennies, nickels, dimes,
and bottle caps I‘ve lost,
the console full of them.
I listen to the strain
of power windows rolling up.
How glad I am to push
their buttons once again,
in this first week of Spring.
But most of all, I love
to hear the absence of
my tires in their still,
unmoving state. So like
the moment at the end
of every symphony
when that last cymbal crash
has died, decayed, and all
that‘s left is the sustain
of stings. I listen to
that songlike hum of car;
that B-flat major chord
of pocket change and soft
combustion engine chime.
Its lack of rubber whine:
the sign that‘s telling me
that I, at last, am home.
Off-Day on the Haw River



After a length of a lull that feels
like days the bob disappears and the barb
finally sticks—the longed-for rush
of feeling less deceived than another thing,
of hooking something sharp in a place
you yourself would not want sharpness,
of holding in your hand a sunfish
whose red-orange scales stick dry
against your palm long after
the letting go, the riverward release.


But when a catfish breaks the plane
of water you realize there is no way
to take it off the line without its own barbs
burning up and down your arms.


We get what we want, then we don‘t.
Love Poem with False Rabbit and House Key



No one buys a faux-stone rabbit for themselves:
when locked out of the house,
they reach instead beneath the doormat,
the potted plant. At my last place,
it was the loose brick in the walkway,
unwedged to find the spare
sealed in a sandwich bag.


Yet yesterday at Lowe‘s, I stopped
at shelving overrun with plastic rabbits,
birds, and squirrels, machine-molded
so their empty insides could be used
for hiding keys. Each felt too light
and looked to cheap to safeguard
everything I own, much less
for thirty bucks apiece, their paint jobs
little more than small dull dots:
some grey, some black, some brown specks
splattered on those secret holds.


But what they‘re hollowed out to harbor
made me think of you, of us.
The idea of our brass codes clanging
in your purse as you walk to church
or when you swipe your frequent shopper card
across the scanner at the grocery store—
somehow I can‘t bring myself to make a key
that‘s yours outright. For now, you‘ll find
a copy in the faux-stone rabbit waiting
on his haunches by my door. Make sure
no one sees you. Let yourself in.
After Waking, Apples



Come 2 p.m. I find two washed, still wet,
their stickers peeled and curled on the countertop.
You‘ve left them there, I doubt for me, cold and red
beside a halfway-unpacked grocery bag, while you run


yet another errand. For half a day I‘ve wallowed in your bed,
sleeping off an evening you did not partake in, wisely.
I‘m sorry I can only think of the poem where eating
someone else‘s fruit—the short one, not John Milton‘s—


means I want you. And though that same want haunts me,
I know too well that this can‘t be that poem, not yet: I have
a laundry list of wrongs and faults that still need your absolving
long before we ever get to cold, sweet, and delicious.
Learning to Whistle



Everything around me shrilled:
the splitting Bradford Pears,
hail on the tin roof.


The hay field sang
with the lowing cattle.
The middle of July,


when the sky was thick
with thunderstorms.
Taxed and overweight,


the wind was too slow
to escape even a six-year-old.
Finally, caged between


my jaws, I toyed with it—
a cat with a catch.
I delighted as it cried


each time I tossed
the air through my teeth.
Eroica

               for Samantha Swink




               I – Allegro con brio


Cheerfully animated, red hair, loudness in quiet times,
You the first consultant of my self as child.


Somewhere in that mind, cellos get the first say
After two great booms: always demand attention


Before the surest sounding answer ever offered.
On 2/5/1997 Chad Stephens called Miss Malone dumb.


The Memorizer, I call you, and you inform me:
Every phone number you’ve had, the seventh digit was three.


O full minded you; none can understand your ways
Or wonders. I‘ll trust that we are better for not knowing?


The hero from our textbook is teased as a child
For his accent, buries himself in books, excels, conquering.


The girl with thick red hair, a resident
Of Browder MHP, wins five spelling bees.
I‘ve locked myself out of the house twice this week.
My mind does not work in such a way to recall.


You do not have that luxury—what some poet
Calls, ―the quality of forgotten-ness.‖




               II – Marcia funebre (Adagio assai)


The Composer loved the Premier Consul,
Not unlike the way in which I love you—


Both you and he spent years in deserts; lost.
Both could kill and still be loved—characterized by


Intense admiration of ability.
We—the doomed to repeat European history.


Excuse me if, when I think of you, I hear
Low brasses which never stop their swelling.


Mourning – an act of memory. Each time you returned,
something old was lost. I mourned each piece of you that died.


Beaten to sleep by your father at night,
You pass the terrors by reciting countries,


First in order of GDP. Then years since statehood.
Sometimes resorting to alphabetical.
I thought I remembered Barber at the president‘s funeral
But you said it was actually movement II of Symphony III.


I had to look it up, you were right. Samantha,
I am sorry, you were always right.




               III – Scherzo (Allegro vivace)


You might be a redneck if you tell me,
The baby’s father works for NASCAR, at Bowman Grey.


Something about Myrtle Beach and high school graduation. Also,
The cocaine had been stomped on a little too much.


People with high metabolism shouldn‘t do cocaine.
An ecstasy tablet means five days sans sleep.


Door was locked, but Brigit knew the window was busted.
Let herself in. Bitch. You joyrided her Civic though—


Back when she could keep a job. Can‘t make payments now.
Back at Dollar Tree in Walnut Cove. Didn‘t try


To stab you like later. This before the coke.
Amazing things could actually get worse.


You say you have a good heart and I laugh, not because
I disagree (I don‘t), but because I know the story improves:
You assaulted the mother of your godson
Because she punched your pregnant roommate in the face.


Then knocked out her teeth, in sheer spite,
Before making a joke about her new Christmas wish list.


You might be a redneck if your pregnant roommate
Gets punched by the mother of your godson.




                IV – Finale (Allegro Molto)


Mother with child, Napoleon, survivor,
The self-apotheosis becomes self-destructive.


The First Consul, becoming Emperor,
Confirms mortality, dies in exile.


For his accent, the great leader is teased as a child.
For her crying, the girl is beaten harder.


But there is more: For unto you a child is born,
Unto you a son is given, Rejoice! Sam, Rejoice!


You who wandered off for two full years,
Tweaking through the South, passed out on bathroom floors,


The Memorizer who cannot recall the three full months
That follow graduation, whose nose almost fell off,
Held in contempt of court, about a lawyer,
Baux Mountain Road, a baby—a baby boy.


More than a baby boy: also a new life, clean.
You once were lost but now are found, and for it Sam,


A child—a hero‘s welcome. Allegro con brio.
That old part of you that died we cannot stop to mourn.
Polar Bear Exhibit



More and more often, he has the nightmare
about being Pope. Summer gets too warm
away from home: wrapped in white robes,
the daily pomp and gawking
grows too heavy, an endless parade


of visitors who won‘t stop tapping on the glass.
Last week, the staff tossed someone out
for throwing pennies at his feet.
It embarrassed him, how quickly
they removed the man, even more


the show put on to apologize for pennies.
Dense screams of fear and adulation.
Sometimes both. Eventually,
the same thing happens every time:
despite the constant fawning, no one


ever touches him. There‘s nothing
he wants more. Not even a dead flake
of their pink skin lands on his infallibility.
When he wakes, he is the Pope no more.
When he wakes, there is no end to the wanting.
Baseball



To you, someone swings, then loafs
a bit. The pitcher dawdles.
Three up, three down, that lousy song
gets piped in—Glory days, glory days.
Three pickoffs thrown
between each pitch and all called safe.


It‘s only boring in the same way
William Carlos Williams
or The Old Man and the Sea are
when, in seventh grade, the teacher
assigns them to the class
that‘s still too green to understand.


In front of us, a runner bluffs, but lags back
on a caught ball in left-center.
You see such gamesmanship as fruitless tasks.
Somehow, you don‘t even care
for mascots launching t-shirts out of cannons.


I ask you to consider the rosary of Ks
along the concourse wall,
the religious din with every added bead.
The significance seems lost.
I resist the urge to speak to you
like adults speak to children,
because I hope someday you‘ll see:
the story isn‘t about fishing.
He wasn‘t really sorry for the plums at all.
Off-Day on the Haw River



                Reprise




I don‘t care that even though
I put the losing side of my new haircut
on the roses last night, the deer
still cleaned the stems by morning.


I don‘t care that she and I sleep
almost as if married now, which is both
good and bad. The same goes
for the ambiguity in its being both.


I don‘t even care that the all-star game,
in all its false wholesomeness,
is on TV tonight, and my team might win
for the first time in twelve years.


Light is dying the sheet of river
slipping down the spillway orange
and I just lifted a small dun turtle
out of the shallows. I keep it warm


in my open palm. When it unshells itself
there thirty minutes later, the pane
of water is back to being brown,
my team is five runs down, she and I


still seem strange and the deer are hungry
again. But in my hand, something feels
more cared for than before. At least
one small wish I make gets granted.
                                          Notes


               ―Neither Snow nor Rain nor Heat nor Gloom of Night‖
The section describing the evolution of postal worker uniform adornment was based on
―Letter Carriers‘ Uniform: Overview,‖ a text published by the United States Postal
Service in 2002.


               ―Stephen Hawking‖
The scientific theory mentioned in stanza one is known as Bekenstein-Hawking radiation.
―Sabremetrics‖ is the mathematical and statistical analysis of baseball through objective
analysis.


               ―The 500 Mile Long Poem‖
The section that begins ―In the part about driving in Durham‖ was inspired by Alan
Michael Parker‘s poem, ―The Vandals‖.


               ―Eroica‖
Beethoven‘s Symphony No. 3 in E flat minor, commonly known as the Eroica
Symphony, was originally composed as a tribute to Napoleon Bonaparte. When
Bonaparte made himself Emperor of France, Beethoven scratched Napoleon‘s name from
the score with a knife, in disgust over the man‘s transformation into a tyrant. Beethoven
then rewrote the title as ―Heroic symphony, composed to celebrate the memory of a great
man.‖ The quote attributed to ―some poet‖ was taken from the notes to Robert Pinsky‘s
Gulf Music.

				
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