The clanging buoy sunk out of earshot where
the recent amputee tingles a phantom limb,
although I forget the name of the movie
in which the hero gets clubbed with a prosthetic.
The soundtrack for that is when you mention
your debt, or maybe it’s a trumpet and cheese grater
substituting for the army and its orderly mess hall
because no amount of discipline will compose
these spaces cloudy with alcohol and a juice cleanse
while the cat litter gets on everything, yet the scarcity
still haunts us.
The week after that we’ll be visiting our parents
and their left to the imagination, left to whatever
we can spell in sand on the beach of this flyover
while waving at the hometown booster
hoisting the flag to half mast and other stuff lost
where we fall: cold medicine, earrings,
the Death Star trench, regular haircuts, and loofahs.
Then it’s on to the next one and incisions
stolen from time off the clock. I go numb
just thinking about it, and only get up early
when I have to, even if I keep the curtains pulled open
like a spill on the floor.
The secret is that there’s no secret. Life is brutal
and short. Plug it up with a nosegay as mammals hunt
each other’s fear locking the door to a mudslide
behind them and ignoring the fine print.
That’s on one channel; another is just for kids
or shows cars racing around an asphalt oval spanning
our names on a list. Next to them is a drawing
of an appetite. Seeds planted now ripen later,
while the tractor is all claws inches above the aquifer
and trailed by a flock of magpies wintering behind
the zoo and Joe Namath’s fur coat.
I’m waiting for the kerosene delivery, which is the plot
for another Home Alone sequel, for rainy Sundays.
Yours is for a poorly concealed rage I’ll give one coat
of paint to like gymnasts do, taping off the corners
or propped up with crutches, rubber tips worn
from lumbering up and down the stairwell,
then accidentally run over by the fire chief driving
a late model Suburban with tinted windows.
I’m putting my hands up at the concert, but now
what should I do? I don’t know any of the words
to this song.
The heart on my sleeve is a calf’s
because Vogue tells me it’s the latest fashion,
not the white Keds and jeans popular again
this year. I rode the shuttle in circles
to the airport, mixing some horizontal into
the vertical weave, or else we’re ground down
by time despite packing the whole cold forest
in a cooler and reprising Evel Knievel jumping stuff
at the breeder’s intersection of kitsch and cliché,
at the Bonneville Salt Flats and Miracle-Gro®.
After that, she sold the mopeds for drug money,
and who could blame her, really?
The next book we read will have lots of pictures,
or maybe it’s just called a movie.
The phantom is a way of saying no,
tugging on your ear the way parents do
to a troublesome kid. Otherwise,
we pretend to be self made. We wait
for the small green buds to emerge,
the new tulips trimmed to fit in jars and vases.
You still smelled like smoke two days
after sitting near the fire in black boots
laced up high in the heat
like the arsonist hidden in each of us.
I’m sorry I ate the last piece of chocolate
while not matching my shoes and belt
and invoking the tuck rule,
but I’ve had it up to here if I stack
all the stools in this enormous bar,
and if that’s the best you got, then of course
you’ll want to check with the officials.
300 billion served and counting pretty much
brings us up to date, adding padding
to the hamster wheel about to get bumpy
for the one we named Squeaky Fromme
or else it’s wads of polyester clouding the air
after a pillow fight with the nurse practitioners
that started with a gentle reflex-test tap
to the knee. They said the hip replacement
should arrive in the mail soon, so you can show me
where to insert it along with a hamburger wrapper
found at the baggage claim.
The words are waiting for me, even when
I’m away, just as it gets noisy on this block,
especially in the summer. Yet I’m not here
to impress you with my book collection;
in fact, you can have that too along with
a fresh coat of paint and doubling over.
Closing time is another form of moving,
and for the rich I’ll be the chip sniffer.
Let the light shine through one day,
not the fox composing a portrait of the hen house.
Admit it, sometimes you just want to flee.
No wonder, given the new voting restrictions
and your patent permanently pending.
Weather patterns look smaller on the map,
yet I can see our old house from space.
We take on vertigo with the fringe dangling
from your purse, with a set of pills and the letters
carved into them like some kind of soup,
whether sans serif, suddenly salad,
or sponge baths in a hammock,
and I don’t really have an answer for that.
Seven people were shot in Chicago this weekend.
The event planner exists only on Facebook.
It’s a little early in the day for Mister Softee
to be idling at the corner, but sugar needs a ride,
so don’t sleep on it at the warning track dirt
with Donald Duck slobber.
Instead, let the female bassist sing.
I see the needle quiver as it pierces the skin
and the curtain covering our dreams knitted
by havoc—the thrum on our throat simultaneously
slipping the sunglasses to the top of our head.
The foreclosures resulted in a mountain of drywall.
At Kroger, they call me The Glue.
You spelled it confession while taking the legs out.
There’s nothing distinguished about that rifle,
and it left a stain on the rug.
The police are eager to get through when
it’s not migrating birds swerving around
the nuclear reactor cracking in CGI
with drinks on the patio, flouting a spoiler alert
for the latest branding iron forged in an ice age.
It’s always war that makes history real.
Alan Gilbert is the author of two books of poetry, The Treatment of Monuments (SplitLevel Texts) and Late in the Antenna Fields (Futurepoem), as well as a collection of essays, articles, and reviews entitled Another Future: Poetry and Art in a Postmodern Twilight (Wesleyan University Press).