Three Poems (April 20, 2011. Issue 27.)
The Crazy Bob Chronicles
I. Radio Parts
You don't remember that night of cocktails
at the wharf bar and after, the climb up, up the stairs
to the roof, to look at stars from your tenement on the hill,
city and sea spread below, Jack Daniels flowing?
You were glad I hadn't worn my cute skirt
and strappy heels, that I went like a treehouse
tomboy, cursing and giggling, the blinking red
lights from the towers framing us, two crazy kids.
You said radio waves controlled us—the government,
from the aldermen up to that smoked-ham-of-a-President—
in on it. You painted the town with your conspiracy
theories, starring in some mental institution tragicomedy,
a film noir of searchlights and chimney stacks. Some
listened: your neighbor, Dog Face, who smoked Gitanes
in a Betty Page haircut, who could quote Kerouac on demand,
and admired my pentagram necklace—you should know,
she wanted me. But you, with all the dismantled radios,
messages from aliens who would destroy the city, strewn
about your room, how I miss you. Tonight I stand under
the stars, another cigarette between my fingers, smoke curling
into question marks, wondering if they ever let you out,
if you're back on the meds. Or not—suspecting that
everything is tuned into it, as you tear into another
plastic housing, chasing voices, chasing ghosts.
II. The Witches' Hammer
You were the only person I ever knew
who owned a copy: the infamous, the foul
Malleus Maleficarum, given to you by Dog Face,
who said it brought nightmares, her pagan heart
thumping terror every time she passed her bookshelf.
Now it sits on my own, next to the Diagnostical
and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. I still can't
believe you gave me this rare tract, this handbook of murderers—
your nervous twitch, your wide eyes. Its raggedy, yellowed
pages spew forth Christian evil; Kramer and Sprenger,
two sick dudes. The day I picked you up from the clinic,
you were crumpled and pale, grasping your amber bottle,
having met all the criteria for paranoid schizophrenia.
They had located your Crazy: a third nipple, an odd-shaped
birthmark, witness accounts of you curdling the milk
of a neighbor's cow—your voices, devils in the seat
of your brain. Five hundred years ago, you would
have burned. Now Risperdal is your Green Miracle,
they say. The tremors will start later, as will anxiety,
insomnia; the exorcism of a little pill unbearable.
They'll take away your sharp objects, your belt,
speak of shock therapy. Kramer and Sprenger
tell me: For he was once possessed and had to be put
in chains, and everything had to be applied to him
which is customary in the case of demoniacs.
We drove away that day, to a green pond
by an ancient cemetery, where mood invoked
storm. Do you remember, Bob, that I was not
afraid of you, that I swore under the snarling sky
and boiling thunder to fight your demons?
III. Country Boy
Respite. Enchanted by sunflowers,
vegetable gardens, and the potent salve
of herbs, you say you can live
out here with me, far from doctors.
I think you are putting on weight.
My cranky old neighbor likes you,
gives you a dull, rusty tractor blade,
talks about the Great War with you.
It's like having another kid, and I have
to call you in for supper, where your
meds wait beside the lemonade glass.
It's a summer of windchimes,
chickadees at the feeder, skinnydipping
in cold rivers, lazy barbeques.
We climb mountains at sunrise,
fish the lake at dusk. And I know,
from your tousled hair, boyish
grin, you are happy. You are
normal. It occurs to me that
I'd better save these moments but
the only picture I take, of you
and a fish at sunset, water dripping
from your line, I will send in a frame
to your hospital room a month later.
IV. Martyr Complex
Begin with the best of intentions.
Do not leave your lover terrified
and twisting. Smile brightly
and maintain a positive attitude.
Be the only one who cares.
Visit on a regular basis. Bring news,
crossword puzzles, shaving cream.
Comfort him in his room and feel like fucking
Christ. Keep looking for a loophole.
V. Bartering for Dog Face
After catching Joe Murderer
and the Motherfuckers over at the Wharf
Rat, I walk into some skinhead rage—Hitler's
Children—at The Snakepit, just as their lead
singer cracks a beer bottle over some chump's
skull. The mosh pit's packed, a surging
mass, an angry centipede wearing hundreds
of Doc Marten's, slick with sweat, stomping.
It's been two years since I met Bob in here,
an all-girl punk band, the Killer Barbies,
screaming in the background. He was
hollow-eyed in black leather, trailed me
into the bathroom with coke after flirting
over shots of JD. I had no idea he was
any crazier than me, no idea when he hiked up
my miniskirt later that night, we would fall into
the shadows of the valley, into a warped landscape
of love. I sit in the corner we always skulked,
order a shot of Jack for old times' sake, when Dog
Face walks in with two others through a strobe
of bodies. There's a greasy, groomed man, another
girl. Dog Face looks through me with glassy eyes:
those voluptuous curves, now planed—garter belts,
torn fishnets, face a heavy mask of makeup. Her pimp
parades her down the gauntlet of bar, stops, makes her
twirl like a puppet for a fat man with a turtleneck
and Van Dyke. I cannot hear, but understand gesturing
as they barter for her body and hell, probably
her soul. I'm not supposed to see this, three stools
away: A small, white packet gets palmed from one man
to the other, as Dog Face stares into the distance. As the fat
guy takes her to leave, I see her ragged nails, bruised hands,
and I can't take my eyes off them, for these were hands that
once caressed my neck, tried to pull my face into their orbit,
and even though I never played that way, it doesn't mean
I didn't love her. A scuffle breaks out on the floor,
as gladiator-sized bouncers rustle two drunk skinheads
out the door like rag dolls, ridiculous Swastika,
Iron Eagle tattoos flashing over fish-white skin,
and when I turn back, Dog Face and her fat man
are gone. Gulping down another shot of JD, I imagine
that, up at the state hospital, Bob is better off, shuffling
in slippers and pajamas, doing crossword puzzles
in a sunny window, already forgetting about the rest
of us, this shit life he could be living. Oi! Oi!
bellows the lead singer in the red stage lights above
all the bouncing bodies. I clasp my soul a little
tighter to me, swig my liquor, and head into the salty
harbor evening among the junkies and prostitutes,
throat burning, heart cracking just a little further.
Weeping, she has knelt beside the coffin, knelt
upon the pew, gone home to bow like a Geisha,
opening the flower of her mouth to accept
the hairy member of her husband—the day's
last quivering communion wafer. Always,
the ragged joints of subjugation, bending,
scraping, against the carpets and wood,
cement, and earth, like they were born
for it, as each time it got harder and harder
for her to rise. This could be seen as early
as childhood: sitting quiet with dolls
at her father's feet as he yelled
at the TV hockey game, empty beer cans
piling in cairns around the ratty recliner;
and later, at teenage make-out sessions
in dark-paneled basements, her body folded under
as small as possible beside the couch, waiting
for the boy to come down and pin the cruel
angles of himself against her. She felt big
like a bear but made herself small
like a fawn, and this continued for decades
until one day on the phone when the stars were right,
her animal anger roared up and she cut the father out.
Next she left the husband stupefied in the kitchen
as the kettle screeched holy hell, and driving
past church on the way out of town, flipped off
the bird, double. Now she stands unfurled with a wild
air, stomps around in three-inch heels, and if men
want her they have to beg. So what if it didn't happen
that quick and simple. It still happened.
No One Says a Word
Sunday at the gun range. I've just switched
from a Glock .45 to a rifle, loading thin, shiny
30-30s into the chamber. The late September
air floats with dandelion poufs, the sun drugged,
golden. There's eight of us in ear muffs,
lined up under the kiosk, various firearms
splayed on the table. We're a small
army, and this is clean, American fun—
our focus, our will, the only church
we understand. I hit the paper dead-on,
at 50 yards, kickback reverberating
down my skeleton, raise and aim
again, the small muted explosions
of the others no distraction. It's an orgy
of shots. Again, I nail my target, maintain
my stance, when I notice fluttering
out of my right eye. A Monarch, with its trick-
or-treat wings, skips right past us, climbing,
falling, zig-zagging through our line
of vision, dodging bullets, on some sort
of suicide mission, or showing off its circus-
sized balls. One by one, down the line, shots
stop, and all of us—men in camo, gangly teens,
serious women—watch, our guns raised
but silent, following as the butterfly takes a good
minute to reach the other side. Since it's Sunday,
we continue to blow shit up. No one says
a word. We don't even look at one another.