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Showing posts from April, 2018

Day Thirty: "Elegy"

Elegy-for Rod Serling

In the future on a planet
far from home, there is

a likeness of you, gesturing
in your suit and black tie.

A slight glint of humor softens
your worn face and rough

voice as you hover in mid-step
through a door or around

a corner, cigarette in hand,
to introduce every story

and provide a small homily
at its end, a wry reminder

of human depravity and a call
to be better, to learn. You

try to teach me not to forget
the horrors of my history.

And sometimes you simply
haunt me: with strange faces

hovering outside a plane window
or above an operating table,

fears of memory and the uncanny
waiting in the past and future, within

varied apocalypses and the unmarked ninth floor of a department store.

You have given me the uncanny,
the lonely made whole, the parables,

quests for youth both vain
and gentle, the acceptance of death.

And as you gesture onward endlessly
alongside the three astronauts

in this story, whose only wish
was to return to earth, I hope

you appreciate this last imagined
cameo in one o…

Day Twenty-Nine: "The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank"

The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank
But why should this man who has recently risen from the dead resolve himself into something we can comprehend? It is the 1920s in rural America and a man has died: this we can understand. But at the funeral, when the lanky arms begin to raise, followed almost awkwardly by a body fumbling its way out of the casket, we should certainly know better than to expect that this revivified man can now be anything like simple. In the story we are given clues: an altered personality, an odd work ethic, the air of the supernatural hanging, unsurprisingly, around this miracle man, and we can reasonably draw the conclusion that what we see is not what existed before, or what we could have ever expected to exist. And so we are left to seek out a motive, or a set of goals: what does this new man want? And when we return somewhat empty from this quest, what right do we have to be surprised when the story ends ragged and uninterpreted? Here the Other presents itself as…

Day Twenty-Eight: "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet"

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet

Plane’s wing is broken:
a flaw in the design? Or
something malicious?

Marks of an inhuman hand
mar the shining steel surface.

Days Twenty-Six and Twenty-Seven: "Execution" and "A Passage for Trumpet"

Execution

Condemned man escapes
into future, but justice
will take what is due:

hanging meted out by rope
or thin curtain cord—timeless.



A Passage for Trumpet

The man plays jazz, hates
his life. But he is given
a new chance to see

good in the music he makes, the world he had forsaken.

Day Twenty-Five: "A Penny for Your Thoughts"

A Penny for Your Thoughts

and surely the phrase came first,
idly flipped until the what if
it was more than figurative entered
the writer’s mind, and so we see
this timid office worker who buys
a newspaper and accidentally
pays with a coin that lands
on its edge, and this miracle
of probability grants him (somehow)
the ability to read minds. Most
insanely of all, the lesson learned
here is not one of human evil,
at least not entirely, but rather
the way we don’t do what we think,
the unreliability of mind as narrator.
And so, when these magical powers
are mysteriously revoked, we find
an uncommonly lucky, happy man
at the end of the story, he and we
the wiser for our small investment.

Day Twenty-Four: "The Midnight Sun"

The Midnight Sun

Bedridden woman
on a burning Earth; the sun
moves closer daily.

But all this is a fever
dream; outside, the frozen world.

Day Twenty-Three: "The Bewitchin’ Pool"

The Bewitchin’ Pool

The ignored children
sink beneath the pool-water,
and find love to breathe.

Day Twenty-Two: "I Am the Night—Color Me Black"

I Am the Night—Color Me Black

It’s not about whether the man
was guilty or not. It’s about the sick

joy taken in the suffering of others,
the way sight becomes veiled

by assumptions, the literal nightfall
that chokes every ray of light

in this town that gathers to celebrate
a hanging. The sun refuses to rise

and they are all complicit: the sheriff,
his wife, even the pastor who sees

what is really happening. And even
the possibly blameless condemned man

becomes guilty, a knotted sphere of hatred.
And the lesson to be learned, we are

told, is that nothing here can be
reduced to this small town, the fiction

of a small story about a world different
from ours. The lesson, in 1964

and now, is that all of this hate
is entirely real. Nothing has changed

and things have grown darker, and we
have not listened to Serling’s exhortation.

And it seems sometimes that all the lights
are very close to going out.

Day Twenty-One: "Walking Distance"

Walking Distance

A return to youth;
but childhood is childhood, life
best lived in season.

Day Twenty: "The Fever"

The Fever

The slot machine calls
out to the old man, certain
it will outlive him.

Day Nineteen: "Mr. Dingle, the Strong"

Mr. Dingle, the Strong

Because why
would the aliens
perform tests
and grant super
-human strength
to any other
human beings
than the unlucky
losers, the least
among us, who
no one would
ever think
remarkable?

Day Eighteen: "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?"

Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?

It’s like a whodunit: a diner
full of people, and one of them

guilty of otherworldliness.
We scan the room, interview

the parties involved, listen to stories
and explanations and theories,

hunches about who doesn’t belong.
But deduction here is insufficient

in the face of what seems to be
the ability to alter reality itself:

a phone call promising a safe exit
from this locked-room mystery

and they leave, for good, and here
the story takes its darkest turn,

and the innocents die and we are left
with the old businessman, walking

back through the now-silent
snowy scene and into the diner.

He sips his coffee and lights a cigarette,
third arm winging its way from under

his overcoat, casually, and we see how
powerless we ever were to stop it.

Day Seventeen: "A Most Unusual Camera"

A Most Unusual Camera
There can be no more compelling evidence
that the future is determined. You find
the correct angle and press the shutter button
and in the Polaroid you see what will exist
there soon, and this information is more
than just possible, it is certain, beyond
any questioning, beyond even the thought
that this future could be made anew.
But while of course the selfish people
in the story reap the consequences
of their selfishness, their small crimes,
you have to wonder what could have been
if they had refused what the newly developed
image showed for them, or simply adjusted
the angle, tried again from another direction.
If photography is enclosure, a curated view
of the world that can in turn show us worlds
we could never see otherwise, could it be
possible for future as subject to be likewise
slanted, conditional, open to reframing?

Day Sixteen: "The Whole Truth"

The Whole Truth

If I had to tell it I would admit
to all the times I dislike people,

and to periodic bouts
of petty frustration that remain

mostly stifled. I would reveal
all the books I have not read.

Mostly, though, I would quibble
about whether total honesty

constitutes a brutal externalization
of every emotion I keep inside,

because the whole truth is
that, perhaps like all human beings,

I have made my mouth
into a vast, reinforced dam

holding back an endless river
of every feeling possible,

a torrent of useless twisting
ugly enough to drown cities,

and I would die before I finished
enumerating it all.

Day Fifteen: "The Arrival"

The Arrival

An airliner has landed
with no one on board,
and you are absolutely
certain this is impossible.
You are absolutely certain
of a few things: yourself
and your ability to uncloud
the mysterious, as you
have always done, perfectly.
Most of all, you come
to believe unshakably
that this plane is not real.
You hold this theory
with so much certainty
that without fear you place
your arm into the path
of the propeller, believing
the plane will vanish, and you
can be the hero yet again,
you can unveil the falsehood
of this collective delusion.
And you are right: your obscene
display of will is a success.
But the delusion is not
collective: you find yourself
in the solipsistic feedback loop
of an obsession your pure,
logical mind will only ever
continually repeat: certainty
you could not find years ago,
a mystery you could never solve,
the ghosts of a vanished plane
you could not make reappear.

Day Fourteen: "I Shot an Arrow into the Air"

I Shot an Arrow into the Air

Case study on human nature: men
hurl themselves into the sky,
crash on an unknown desert
in space, and immediately begin
to lie and steal and kill, because
there is only so much water, so
many days to not succumb
to a parched-throat death,
and above all else our own
life is what really matters to us.
And of course the contamination
of this ostensibly hermetic
experiment becomes apparent
in the final grotesque punchline,
a diagram written in the sand
by a dying man: telephone poles
and Reno just over the next dune,
an unsuccessful launch into space
and the comparatively tiny thrust
it takes to be our monstrous selves.

Day Thirteen: "A Passage for Trumpet"

A Passage for Trumpet

After everything,
we’re still hoping that beauty
can make us better.

Day Twelve: "Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room"

Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room

But of course the point is that
the nervous one disappears, yes?
That life affords us more or less
dramatic opportunities to become
alternate versions of ourselves,
to cross some threshold and leave
ourselves behind? We stare
into mirrors each morning and ask
who we will be, and seek out
in the glass something other
than what we know we are.
And who knows how frequently
each of us has banished our own
former selves into this reflective
limbo, how many skins we have
shed only to emerge as something
other?

Day Eleven: "Mr. Garrity and the Graves"

Mr. Garrity and the Graves

What could be more terrifying
than a man gifted unbeknownst
with a knack for resurrection?
He came to the little 19th-century
Arizona town claiming he could
give them back the ones they loved,
and they believed him, and he
took their money and showed them
their hopes, so convincingly
that they realized the danger
of uncovering buried grievances,
breathing new life to vendettas
and hatreds. So for another price
he undid his fictive handiwork,
and left the town flush, victorious.
And this would be the ending
of any normal story, another grift
in an endless span of performances.
But Jared Garrity could not have
known that his threadbare magic
would have its claimed effect,
that the graves would open wide,
the town’s dead rising anew
at his call. The poor man could not
have told anyone what it meant
to be a con artist so masterful
that natural law itself is fooled.

Day Ten: "Dead Man's Shoes"

Dead Man’s Shoes

You were nameless, poured out
on city streets with every rainstorm,

swept against brick tenements
and corralled into countless alleys.

You saw men dispose of a body
in one such alley, and the world

was epitomized in the cold blistered
soles of your feet, and so gently,

needfully, you pulled the shoes
from his corpse and placed them

on your own. You never expected
your small life to change, never

considered that such a minor act
of the body could become for you

an erasure of your former self,
your next steps a parable of empathy.

Day Nine: "And When the Sky Was Opened"

Day Nine: And When the Sky Was Opened
we saw behind in the rifts Mojave unidentified heavenward face X-20 radio signal now synchronize
Gart said the protocol
control interface

Day Eight: "Where Is Everybody?"

Where Is Everybody?

When you find yourself in situations like these, you tell yourself stories: you make up a town, and you fill it with all these trappings of regular, everyday life, and in your mind you wander through it because it represents all the things you need. You start to feel like there are other people everywhere, always just out of sight, and in this story town you’re building for yourself, you uncover evidence supporting this bizarrely desperate form of paranoia. You hear rustling around corners, machines whirring along as if left alone only for a moment. You see smoke tendrils still rising from abandoned cigarettes. And this evidence builds and builds, and your desperation builds along with it, because you want to feel like you are getting closer and closer to these mystery people you’ve built for yourself, and at the same time you know, in part of your mind that is very quickly receding under a growing wave of fear and irrationality, that you need this charade to conti…

Day Seven: "Two"

Two

After the end,
when the city
streets echo
and the war
has poured
itself out, who
can say that
in the dust,
despite walls
of language
or politics,
a final two
human souls
could not find
a thin scrap
of empathy?

Day Six: "Ninety Years Without Slumbering"

Ninety Years Without Slumbering

The man turned breaths mechanical,
counted grandfather clock hours
as others might count heartbeats.
He said that his years and days
would end when the warm ticks
inside the oak body quieted, when
the pendulum’s oscillations finally
slowed to nothing, hung silent
behind finely polished glass,
but with his clock’s inevitable
failure he learned the limits
of superstitions, the way our minds
make their own bright illusions
before our eyes when we so desire.
We think we can explain the world
to ourselves, but worlds slip
from our grasp like lost time—
there is no certainty in the gears
we house in wooden boxes,
the supposed assurance rung
out of every mellifluous chime.

Days Four and Five: "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" and "What You Need"

The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street

and it’s no surprise
they’re us: we all know now
how very capable we are
of producing devastation.
What more is there
to say? We rev the engines
of our automobiles as if
the chorus of ignitions
can drown the dark sounds
that pour from our windows
and alleyways. We brew
fine coffee and craft beer
and we are so very clever
and for what? This great
game of exploitation
and ignorance and death?
If the aliens really are
scheming, what need
could they have to tap
into our easy paranoia?
Just wait a few more years.


~


What You Need

The old bent man hoists
his box of trinkets: inside,
just the thing you need.

But surely there are some needs
no thing can ever answer?

Day Three: "The Howling Man"

The Howling Man

Behind the barred door
the howling man waits to be
let loose on the world.

This is easy: our devils
look so much like our desire.

Day Two: "The Lateness of the Hour"

The Lateness of the Hour
Nearly midnight and the rain
will fall soon, and nothing left
to be said can be said, now.

I’ve spent another day finding
new doors to open, but I’ve run
through enough fluourescent

hallways to find that none
lead to where you are anymore.
So I searched the cemetery

for headstones bearing your
face, your gentle handwriting
memorialized in granite as if

you would leave me something
to find, but in this ringing
dark I only found only memory.

Day One: "Time Enough at Last"

Time Enough at Last

—as if to say that it could ever be
enough, the hours and days
that heap up like brazen sins,
each moment an ode to desire,
a mind and body in such love
with each other that they would
crush the world between them,
break apart every atom.

And for what? A few years
of pages, a mound of books
pored over and worn down,
a glutton’s willing sacrifice
of flesh. You, Henry Bemis,
of the thick-frame glasses,
what fate did you expect
your empty world to leave to you?