German Punctuality

I write several different types of poems. I even write sonnets sometimes. The one below is a narrative poem, which to some isn’t a poem at all. It’s prose broken up into lines. Maybe. But sometimes a thought or event is best expressed that way, and and why deny a thing its most fitting suit of clothes? This poem, I think, would’ve lost its essential truth and comedy dressed up as any other thing. It was first published a few years back in Mr. Jack Marlowe’s Gutter Eloquence, but I have since reworked it a bit.

German Punctuality

I was the last one on what I thought was the right bus.
I asked the driver to make sure. He said something
that in English sounded like “crossing.” The only problem
was he was speaking German,
and I’d just taken up the language. I asked him again.
He scratched his forehead just above his nose.
He repeated himself angrily. I still didn’t understand.
I tried to simplify. “Sooo, Leipzig?”
“Ja, ja…” he said.
“Danke schön …”

I sat down a few seats behind him.
I kept an eye on him in the rearview mirror.
Above his head there was a digital clock with red numbers.
It was 6:03. At 6:05 the bus was scheduled to depart.
At 6:04 he grabbed the top of the steering wheel
with both hands
and peered at the door with his sharp vulture’s eye.
At 6:04 and about 30 seconds he began pummeling
the gum that was in his mouth,
his jaw working more furiously than ever.
6:05. BANG! He slammed the door shut, pumped the gas,
went tearing around the bend.

I looked out the window. There was a guy running
alongside the bus, his necktie streaming
over his left shoulder, a briefcase banging
against his leg,
one arm frantically waving.
He kept a pretty good pace with us all the way
to the end of the parking lot,
but then we took a sharp left onto the main road.
Fuck him.
He was a couple seconds late.

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Henry’s Suicide

I thought of this the other night while having insomnia. Had to dumb the formatting down for the sake of WordPress, but you get the idea.

Henry’s Suicide

Beard thatched and pitchforked,
wet eyes like a whipped dog’s, when he’d read
he’d be drunk and would take you on his back
flying through dim-lit halls of Chinese
medicine and bulletcases and childhood fear,

along rivers of spawning salmon and pools
of bog filling with light,
circling the Bodhi tree, low comedy
water-slugs chewing roots, the flower raving,
a blue-gray song,
the dodging of dread shapes and mosquito
swarms and TV antennae.

Stopping for a quick nip of frozen
daiquiri at some strip club
or pastor’s house in Roswell or Nairobi,
and upward you’d go,

two souls clasped and silhouetted
in a pinkish backdrop of scallop shell moon,
gliding over transmission tower wires
and watery-bright streets, plunging
the moist plum tree
mist and descending

invariably onto the Washington
Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis
where he’d let you off his back,
clip his wings. Goodbye, sir, & fare well,
he’d say. And leap,
leaving you to wonder,
like genius always does.

Clärchens Ballhaus

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I’d just moved to Berlin and barely spoke a word of German and she barely spoke a word of English and we were sitting at a table at Clärchens Ballhaus trying to communicate through the kitschy background music and the stomping of feet on the dancefloor and the laughter and talk of the people around us. Helga was her name. I got that. She was somewhat plumpish, with dark curly hair and a round face and a little upturned nose. Not really my type, but I was just out of an eleven-year relationship and desperate, and an ocean away from anyone I knew, and besides I was drunk and so was Helga. She was drinking a tall glass of gin and tonic filled with ice. I was drinking a glass of red wine, and we sat there looking at each other, our words truncated and muddled, both of us growing frustrated. Finally, I dragged Goethe into the picture. It was really the only thing I had. I told her he was my favorite German writer, and she said she didn’t really like him so much, but she loved Schiller. “Oh, yeah?” I said. “I like him too, but I haven’t read much of his stuff.” “I fucking love Schiller!” she said. She said it a few times, pounding the table with her fists, her drunken eyes beaming. Her drink then toppled over somehow, and some of it spilled on her hand, and some dribbled on her leg, but most of it went pouring into my lap. She apologized, stood up, straightened her dress, ever so nonchalantly grabbed my glass of red wine and headed down the hallway for the bathroom. I waited for her to return. For about ten minutes I waited, and then I just started feeling like an ass, sitting there drinkless, looking like I’d just wet myself, knowing she wasn’t coming back. She never did, and I blame Schiller.

1993 Was a Bad Year

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Memoria

Deep in the Black Forest, I stumble upon an old birch tree
with the initials of three people carved into the white bark: MD BS AW 1993.
That was 24 years ago, but it seems something out of another life.
I wonder if they even remember coming out here. I wonder
if they’ve kept in touch. I wonder what I was doing the day they were here.
I was 21 years old. Living in a small apartment on High Street
in Tallahassee, misguided into majoring in Business Marketing,
but mostly just drinking and screwing and getting high. I think
of some of the people that were in my life back then. There are only a few
I’m still in contact with. As for the rest, some are dead. Some I’ve lost track of.
Most I’m sure I’ll never see again. It’s strange how
they once seemed so important to me, les enfant terribles.
Now what are they? I sit down under the birch and lean back against the trunk.
I pick up an acorn, spin it around in my fingers. The shell is brittle
and there’s a hole in the backside. I look in the hole, see a little
cobweb with a spider crawling through the top. It reaches for my finger.
I toss the shell into a pile of dead leaves, and wait for it to return,
someday, as an old shoe, or rust on the hood
of a Cadillac Eldorado, or smeared blood
on the pages of Dostoyevsky. The past lives on like that.

eBay Seller (eBay Kleinanzeigen)

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eBay Seller

He was selling a bike on eBay for €30,
and I was to meet him at Alexanderplatz to look at it.
I arrived first and called and told him I was with my son,
standing in the shadow of the Weltuhr.
He said he’d be by in ten minutes. Two calls, one text and forty
minutes later, when I was just about to give up,
I noticed a shabbily-dressed middle-aged man pull up on a bike
and heard him say ‘Haallllllooo.’
How he didn’t see me, I have no idea.
I was one of only about five people in the shadow
and the only one with a child.
This man was sitting on a bike
that was not the one in the advertisement.
The bike he was sitting on was covered
in bumper stickers and had no brakes.
He’d pulled up to a stop using his feet,
à la Fred Flintstone.
I looked at him, his curled black beard,
and a longish piece of tinfoil
projecting out the back of his jacket, like a tail.
I watched him plunge his pockets,
pull out his phone and return my most recent text,
the one where I said I had to go.
My phone went off.
He pivoted and saw me standing
exactly where I said I’d be.
We greeted, I examined the bike.
“But it’s not the one that was advertised,” I said.
He acknowledged the truth of my statement
and lowered the price to €15.
I looked again at the bumper stickers
and the frayed brake cables.
“Es ist ein Kunstwerk,” he said. (It’s a piece of art).
I contemplated.
“Nein danke,” I said.
It was the answer he was expecting,
but as they say, nothing ventured…
He cleared his throat, tugged on his jacket, nodded,
and I watched him peddle off,
his tinfoil
diablo’s tail
glimmering in the sunlight.

Poem: Wallflower

He’s one of those guys
you see at the bar all the time,
but never quite realize he’s there, so little
is the impression he makes on you.

You’re not the only one. No one seems to notice him.
He kind of moves about the place like a shadow,
now attaching himself to a party
of three near the pinball machine – standing behind them
pokerfaced – now sitting bent up in the corner,
his bland eyes panning to and fro.

One day, after realizing I’d been seeing him
around for ages and knew nothing about him,
I asked my friend Helmut for info. “He can say ‘I’m hungry’
in twenty different languages,”
said Helmut. “He thinks it’ll help him pick up chicks.”
“Do you think it’s ever worked?” I ask.
“He said it has – twenty times.”

Helmut and I watch as he cleaves his way
through the crowd, this tall, tarantula-like creature
that no one
acknowledges or perceives,
which doesn’t seem to bother him at all.
He finds a place to stand by the coat rack
and stares out at the people
as if he too were a piece of furniture.

I sometimes wonder if there are aliens
disguised as human beings among us,
watching and reporting
on everything we do.

If so, does it not seem likely
we’d barely notice them and, perhaps,
that they’d be programmed
to say ‘I’m hungry’ in twenty different languages?

Helmut and I watch as he stands there
next to the coat rack, pokerfaced,
his soulless eyes
taking us all in.

 

Rejection

Rejection

She’s tango dancing in her profile photo,
looking smug,
yet dressed like your typical middle-aged
Pennsylvania mother.
I scroll down.

Here she is riding a water buffalo
in a rice field in the Philippines.
Here she is standing next to the ‘real Lemony Snickett.’
Here she is with her
husband (a well-groomed mushroom of a man)
at Fallen Leaf Lake near Tahoe.

And here are three flabby
poems she’s palming
off, each typewritten in blue ink
on a crisp sheet of vellum.
Each with the term ‘over my shoulder’ in it.

I scroll down further, see a photo of a soft pink hand
holding a half
lemon. “I am the richest women in the world!”
says the caption. “To walk outside
into the cool and cloudy day and pick this
handful of gold
from my back yard. If you could only smell
this fresh cut lemon with honey in my cup.
Ok and some bourbon
to strike the rich note higher – on this perfect solitary day.”

This woman just rejected
two of my poems.
I woke up this morning hungover
to find her form letter
sitting
in my inbox.

And here she is posting a photo
of a ‘tremendous and gifted poet’
named Jericho.

Jericho is an African-American thirtysomething,
balding,
with shoulder-length dreads,
looking away from the camera.

He’s probably thinking, ‘Is this crazy woman
taking a photo of me
so she can put it on Facebook
to prove to the world she’s friends
with black people?
Hell, we barely even know each other.
I’m probably the first one she’s ever even been around.”

There is one comment
under the photo
of this tremendous and gifted poet.
It’s from another middle-aged white woman
who looks just like the first one.

“If you have notes,
handouts, or tips
from his workshop,” she says. “I’d be grateful
if you could share them with me
next time we are both at Café Dantorel
or some other time.”

Sure sure sure.

Whatever it takes
to ‘strike the rich note
higher.’

Greg the Con Artist

Greg the Con Artist

Greg used to come into my shop trying
to sell tools he’d just stolen
from Home Depot. “You in need of a monkey
wrench?” he’d ask,
and dredge one out the sweatpants
he wore under his trousers,
the packaging still on it.

“No, I don’t need one of those,” I’d say.
“What do you need?”
“Does your
supplier
carry diamond
blades for angle grinders?” I’d ask, pretending
I didn’t know he was fivefingering
the stuff. He’d scratch his head
and for that moment, Confucius couldn’t have looked deeper
in thought.
“I’m pretty sure they do,” he’d say.
“I’ll have to check. I’ll get back to you.”

And with that, he’d shove the monkey
wrench back into his sweats
and exit the store.

I usually didn’t buy from him,
but,
having no lost love
for a big throat-slashing minotaur
like Home Depot,
I sometimes did.

But somewhere along the way
Greg disappeared
and I wrote him off as either dead or in jail.
Then I forgot about him.
Then one day not long ago I saw him
walking briskly
past the shop pushing an empty wheelchair.
After that I started seeing him
all over town
pushing it along.

At first I thought the wheelchair
was for someone
he was taking care of.
But then one night as I was driving through
a parking lot one town south of here,
I saw him sitting in it
outside the front door of Mervyns,
a cup in his hand, trying to find the line
between looking pathetic
and being the cheerful customer greeter.

“Good evening, ma’am. Thank you,
thank you. That’s a lovely
dress you’re wearing.”

He looked up and saw me driving by,
he quickly looked away.

“Ah, yes,” he went on, “a lovely dress it was, yes,
yes, yes.” And
looked
down
in his cup.