Ectoplasm

The layman’s term for ectoplasm—that’s what
the cool girl-woman with the Audrey Hepburn hair
in the tight black dress says to the guy in the suit
who leans in close to hear her, as they glide past on
their way into the room at the party where the cool
people hang out with other cool people, wearing the
still faces of the cool, knowing, you think, things
you cannot even imagine, and never ever saying
the layman’s word for ec-to-plasm.  They look like
they’ve been imported from some exotic place where
nobody is ever surprised by anything, but what do
you know, you’re fifteen, and not the worldly person
you expected to be putting on your first pair of
stockings, like slipping into a new body, exquisite,
being loved by those stockings till you realize they
are just the first of encumbrances and bindings still
to come. These cool people don’t look, they gaze, and
when they gaze at you they make you not exist, your
college boy date knows these people, but he’s not cool,
if he was cool, he wouldn’t be here with you. Why are
you here, your reckless friend out in the car with the
other college guy doing who-knows-what, it’s like
every double date she will talk you into, and it’s only
the second date of your life, your dog wouldn’t let him
get out of his car when he showed up, then that
disappointed look from daddy when he looks at you
now and your mother wishing you’d just go away and
saying so again just yesterday, you wish you’d go
away too.  Ectoplasm, what a disappointment when
you look it up later, it’s not anything, you look up
layman too but you already know from the way the
cool girl said it that it means lowly and uncouth, in
other words you, so unlike these sleek girls in black
supernaturally untouched by this Mississippi heat,
conversing, murmuring, sipping the cool drinks of the
cool, not the sloe gin and 7-up your friend is knocking
back in the car and will be throwing up in about an
hour on some gravel road. This party starts to feel sort
of like church, which makes you want to say damn
over and over, just another place where you don’t
belong, you’d rather be dancing in your room alone or
watching Star Trek or throwing sticks for the dog.
Twenty years later, you’ve been some places, you’ve
had plenty of cool, you’re back home, it’s two a.m.,
you’re in one of those not-exactly-nightclub clubs, the
kind without a fixed address, and there’s a goddess
singing the blues, singing like there’s some enormous
feeling inside her that’s going to kill her if she doesn’t
get it out and every word is pulling that thing out of
you and all the people you’re standing with here too,
the only thing in the world is this voice kneading this
pain.  When the set ends it’s like you’ve come out on
the other side of something you thought you’d never
make it through, the whole room is hollering praise
and gratitude.  Everybody takes a break, the smell of
pot comes in from outside, somebody has put a cold
beer in your hand, now the room’s not full of sound,
you’re just looking around, and there they are, current
incarnations of the cool people from that party when
you were fifteen, arrayed around a table in the middle
of the room, performing cool but looking also a bit as if
they wonder how they arrived in this place of mortals
with our mortal inconveniences like falling in love with
the wrong people over and over again or fucking things
up when you are trying hard not to.  When you see that
skittish ethereal mist rising up from their table and
hanging in the air above them, you know what it is:
ectoplasm.

Supernatural

dover fairy crop grainy midtn 2 tint 2

It started, as all such things purportedly start, on an otherwise ordinary day several weeks ago when someone’s border collie transformed—without warning—into a moderately good-looking man with whom that someone began spending all her time all over the house engaged in what the local paper referred to as “questionable activities” until someone discovered what was going on when she didn’t show up for work three days in a row (like, why did it take three days to start wondering) and a relative of hers who is a policeman was convinced, probably without very much encouragement, to kick open her locked back door and inspect the premises.

Then an encampment of demons—membranous wings and leathery codpieces and brassieres, the whole bit—suddenly sprang up in the fields and pastures just outside town, alarming farmers who attempted to spray them away with huge hoses and failing in that took up their pitchforks—yes, pitchforks—and other rustic implements and attempted to no avail to chase them Continue reading

Freeze

It was late so Pap made Jen throw the fish out in the snow and Pap said for the 100th time oh ho ho we don’t need no freezer course come summer we will need a freezer but ain’t this just the best life we could possibly have and he was saying this outside and I heard Mam inside fixing dinner it always sounds like she is throwing pots at the wall when we are outside and she’s alone inside but when we go in there she is just glued there like always steam coming off the stove her with a spoon in her hand and sometimes fanning herself with her apron. It’s so loud when I hear it outside one time I looked around after everyone was asleep and sure enough there were some dents in the wall and all the pots were dented but maybe all those dents and things were already there and how anyway could she be doing that and then we don’t see anything like that show about the poltergeist the family hears all this noise and then when they look nothing is out of place.

So anyway we have the same cream corn and peas and the same fish every night and every night they look exactly I’ve looked like what we had the night before. Of course Jen and me we don’t eat fish we have a system it disappears off our plates as soon as Pap starts a fight with Mam and they aren’t paying attention to any of us it disappears into whatever we have a boot a pocket a paper bag and then one of us slips out and buries the dam things where Mam and Pap won’t find them. One day we couldn’t get out Pap was making us play cards so he could win our allowances back like we’d have anywhere to spend them anyway and the next day before we went out Mam found what we hadn’t eaten in the laundry basket where we put it till we could get out all she said was I know what you are doing. I know what you are doing. Just like that. Not pissed off though I guess she would be sad if she could still be sad. Mam we said we. Don’t say a word she said and then went on sorting the clothes like she does every day.

Anyhow. So the next morning Pap was all excited rousted us out of bed made us all get dressed even Mam and Tom who still hasn’t talked and he’s four and Pap said come look what the fish we caught done done we went outside and Pap said it’s like magic ain’t it and there were the fish down from the trailer all in a line standing on their heads with their tails up in the air. Jen turned her head away and I knew she was crying. Jilly was all excited and said how’d they do that Pap how’d they do that and Pap said they were acrobat fish that like to stand on their heads and flip around and then Mam said it’s more like they want to show you their behind and Pap raised his hand up like he was going to slap her and then started laughing and said he was just kidding then he sent Jayjay inside to get the camera and traipse down there and take a picture of the rest of us standing up at the trailer looking down at the acrobat fish and it seemed like forever before Pap would let us go inside and get warm before we went out fishing for the day there are never enough fish for Pap and we never do anything right and I hate him.

When we were in bed that night Jen whispered real loud to me Why’d he have to do that to the fish isn’t it bad enough we kill them I hate Pap and I said that I hate Pap too. Jen said she wished the next morning when we woke up we’d look down there and see Pap frozen on his head with his f—-n feet in the air. I said don’t talk like that it might come true. Oh Jen said you’re just afraid that if it happened we’d have to eat Pap piece by piece night after night with the cream corn and peas. No I said if it happened then the fish would come back and eat Pap and maybe eat us too. No she said Only Pap.

Don’t say it I said it took me a long time to get to sleep I kept hearing these scrambling and tapping kinds of noises outside but it’s just the wind. Then I dreamed that we went in to dinner and all those fish were sitting at the table all of them like the table was surrounded by fish and they were looking at that big platter Mam uses for turkey at Thanksgiving and there on it was Pap’s head steaming a little with the look on his face that’s always there when he slaps one of us except Jilly he never slaps Jilly. One of the fish looked at me and in this strangling kind of voice said Eat up. And then all of them were hollering Eat up eat up eat up.

 

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image: “Frozen walleye pike kiss the snow in Mille Lacs, Minnesota, 1959.Photograph by Thomas J. Abercrombie, National Geographic.http://natgeofound.tumblr.com/post/57795083277/frozen-walleye-pike-kiss-the-snow-in-mille-lacs”

Little Wheel

Something different in inhabiting
space when you hunker down, the escarpment
of things to hold downhill all knowing or

to expedite escape, a night closed up
like a house or the hand that catches you,
the net that trips you up, impediments

bearing the wear of your mind, we must say
its little wheel gone back and forth and round,
now there’s your only mojo all worn down.

Scrap

This ancient scrap
just tinder for life’s roar
inside your head the freeway
guns patrol, no need to scour
the world for portents.
So much you find protects
indifferently, your own undoing
everything you loved.
Who would have thought
what’s left could have such drive,
to pace the house and disregard
each frantic missive,
the tyranny of what goes on
when you’re not there.
So caught off guard,
so intercepted
by this flagging imposter,
this figment, this
scrap.

The Chapter That Can Never Have a Number or a Name

In retrospect, I realize that something Mamaw Rennie said to me once–apropos of nothing, of course–was never far from my mind for all the long months I sat with Matu when she was sick and then when she was dying: “woe to the mother who dies before her children have reached the age of appreciation.”  Having obsessive and superstitious tendencies of thought, I often wished that Mamaw had not said it and I had not heard it, for it would often just plop onto the racetrack of my mind and zip round and round.  How can woe come to a dead person, I would wonder–were we not supposed by our religious teachers to enter into a state free of the sufferings of life?  Then I would wonder with the kind of delicious horror with which one wonders such things whether instead we entered a bad-joke afterlife when we died, an afterlife in which all the things we try so hard to evade or recover from in life would settle in permanently, an eternity of woe or loss or psychic injury, the kind of injury, say, that betrayal inflicts when it not only destroys whatever present happiness you have but also eats backwards eradicating a past which has become a lie anyway, but I digress. Continue reading

Odysseus Sends Postcards to His Wife

Calypso’s hair comes down for me:
copper points of light, the pins
and ornaments. Small sacrifice am I
for the kindness of those fingers
impatient, pulling icons from her hair.

The smoke coming up from the harbor
obscures the lines of her face.
She bends her head over
and hangs like a silk in a marketplace.

She makes a cap of her hands
to ask questions.
Night follows night:
I lean my captured face
hard into the rack of her body.

Rain makes a river to the shoreline,
makes the boatless ocean broader still.
My darling, I want to put my teeth
into the space between us.

Calypso sleeps,
her fingers knotted in her hair.

©1983, 2013

This is the part where no one

This is the part where no one stands up or
someone does but can’t think of what to say,
tongueless bell—see, like that: all the words
already used up. We leave, who knows where
we go or where we’ve been when we return.

Who will stand up for us? No one at those
impromptu concerts of the past where the
things we thought we knew approximate just
about anything else–stars, lace, something
that flew out of someone’s breezy red car.

That’s what you get for listing off to the
side, it taking forever to get out
of bed or creep down the block . Nonetheless,
If you were here for an eternity,
you could wear this old slow rock away.

This is the part, isn’t it, where you call
your own bluff and don’t confess to the
particular things you had in mind, the
part where you discover someone’s
silence wasn’t the reserve of deep thought.

The god who strolls in this garden we tend,
has some bad news about the weather plus
a few things we’d forgot we’d done or not.
No use in that was then—it runs down
into the earth for ages, this stacked ruin.

What did anyone feel in any new
place with all the dead underfoot, living
much as we do except for their patience
and obdurate good cheer, except that we
love them as we do not love each other.

Even in this late limning of our hearts,
the abandonment procedures require
amnesia about the part where we were
staking listless roadside trash and our
future—already aflame—barreled past.

 

 

 

Annunciation

Before it happens, she’s wrapped in her sheets, books
disarrayed in the cabinet behind where
she leans toward the book on her knee, looking
perhaps for some line half forgotten or
searching for a spell to make him love her till
she can’t stop shaking, or perhaps some recipe
to make this sudden nimbus go away or
to undo the volumes she’s swaddled in. And
here’s the angel fumbling with the door, his skirts
so heavy he’s squat, he’s going to tie her up
with that banner of words, he’s going to make her
sorry she ever left her bed for that book.