Departing Backwards with Undue Haste
after John Ashbery
A black hole promises eternity, becomes a bad barbecue,
the potato salad ptomainic in its effervescent rancidness,
Zoloft mixed into the lemonade, and K.C. Masterpiece—
now with Thorazine. People play horseshoes, say gratitude
is a ringer. Like I want to remain grateful for respiration.
There’s no atmosphere in outer space or in a tête-à-tête
wrapped tight around my head. Who cares if the brisket
chokes a Clydesdale? Bring the Budweiser. Let’s marinate
our sorrows past dessert. Those puddings are neither just
nor sweet enough for social respectability. They’ll give you
diabetes and a Ginsu knife that saws steel cans and concrete
but won’t help a damn with the psych bill. Yes, I’m grateful
for oxygen, not grateful about gratitude. Is that ungrateful?
There’s no Jim Bean in sight to burnish a caramel sheen
onto thickening weariness or the brown-sugar crunch cake
on which flies host a barn dance. Pretend flies are raisins—
be thankful for the protein or people will start conversing.
Chelsea Handler, where are my pharmaceuticals when eyes
stare like I’m wind, kicking up dust and papers? Purple once
was a people eater. Now it comes in pill form—Wellbutrin.
Sugarcoat my mood so I glow in the dark and become a star.
The afternoon line was nowhere near the ducks
swimming on the lake at Lincoln Park,
a couple of teenagers were tossing toward the water.
The sun had stayed masked until lunchtime.
June gloom in drooping eyes,
barely a word in the undercaffeinated sky.
Wind was kicking up when I returned,
dust clouds and gangs of leaves skittering on asphalt.
Gusts flipped over the USC Pharmacy tents,
picking up a side,
tossing the canopy and running away
before the captive audience of the snaking line
past an otherwise vacant playground—
The 15-minute wait to make sure there were no side-effects.
My co-worker’s beaming face
when he forgot to get his vaccination card
and the nurses chased him down
to turn and shepherd him into that line—
while my left arm felt like someone kept punching it
from my shot that morning
and the ducks swam onto shore and rested,
beaks tucked under wings.
Pierced Full of Holes by the Evil That Is Not Evil
after John Ashbery
It’s like the message I got from a church friend,
about how I was becoming increasingly liberal,
like some blossoming magnolia tree whose bark
was becoming patched with rust or blight. I look
at photographs and video of National Guardsmen
sleeping on the marble floor of the U.S. Capitol,
motionless as piles of autumn leaves, camouflage
blotches of fatigues and backpacks only adding
incongruences of a forest growing out of stone.
I think of Santa Anita Canyon, where bush maples
split granite boulders as they press upward. Those
trees had reminded me before now of resilience—
that even with only a toehold onto which to cling,
I could pull myself from depression, not plummet
isolated to smash below. Maybe a selfish notion—
those roots still force themselves, pry things apart
to assert themselves, spread and deepen their hold.
You expect me next to mention the screaming mass
at the Capitol, who seeded the forest of Guardsmen,
blowing ice shards, clouds of pepper spray in their
winter storm? Or the faceless, helmeted, Kevlar-clad
lines of authority shadowing masses who shouted
Black lives matter in heated gusts over summer—
not orange-gold of acres of trees going up at once,
a fire-beast seeming to inhale whole counties, exhale
heaps of powdered ash. Nor was it a controlled burn—
is controlled pulling over folks for driving while black,
like shaking trees until the leaves drop, stay stock-still,
and trunks smile daylight? It’s controlling, like seeing
a match or candle gutter out as what little air or fuel
is left inside of it dissipates. But is a tapir controlled?
Merely abandoned? Abandonment blazed. Travelled
in sparks and embers and Clown, emissary of chaos,
said this fire was bad. Bad for being a cleansing fire?
For hungering to devour brush along the forest floor,
thorns which drew blood? For finding thick glades
between tall buildings, pools of dried blood sunk
between pieces of gravel in asphalt? Guardsmen
sleep and I think of smatterings of scarlet, yellow,
brown in the gutter of a winding mountain road—
how Clown said there was nothing evil in winter,
a storm is a storm is a storm. But in which rustle
is good or bad? In what crack spreading in stone?
Clown told us before we should be raking leaves,
as if a rake’s metallic scratch could stop the wind.