Friday 25 February 2022

Five Poems by Dr. Ralph Monday

 




Yesterday’s

 

Out on Webster Pike in East Tennessee is a fenced up

vintage garage where weeds poke through cracked

asphalt, little sky seeking vegetative rockets amid

a kingdom of old cars full of rust.

 

An apt name, Yesterday’s, as it belongs to a vanished

time where it sits like some forgotten refugee camp,

rusted automobiles old, from the time of Sinatra,

James Dean, Bogart, Marilyn.

 

The cars were meant for restoration, to make them live

and sing again the melodies of the day when they

first hatched from the assembly line, but they have

no owner who must have passed before the initial

 

sanding began to strip them down to gleaming metal

and prepare a new coloured skin, like some brilliantly

painted Pharaoh’s sarcophagus waiting resurrection

to fly on gilded wings toward the sun.

 

The cars sit with their silent stories. Did some young man

court his girl in the 56 convertible T-Bird, her hair blowing

in the wind while from the radio Elvis crooned “Love Me Tender,”

and her eyes coated with love’s crust?

 

Did the Chrysler Saratoga once spin its tires on the way to

LA on Route 66, pausing in the Arizona desert to watch

wild horses, descended from the time of the Anasazi

gallop past their empty pueblos?

 

Or, the Bentley Mark V, a car built for the luxurious rich—

the tuxedoed gentleman holding the door for his lady

dressed in white evening gown, sequined pearls, neck

long and slender, elegantly walking into Carnegie Hall.

 

The 1940 Ford truck seems an odd, out of place dinosaur

nestled amid American classicism. Was this to be the

owner’s proud gem, one where he would tool

back country roads in remembrance of his father?

 

The sun falls into shadow, the cars silent, still. No matter

the many roads they had travelled, here they sit on

concrete blocks, final resting place, and they know

that almost no one understands any longer.


 

Of Bird and Man

 

The cat killed a dove and left it on the front doorstep

as a gift. Hardly a mark on its soft, slate-gray plumage,

eyes closed in finality. Yesterday, I saw its mate looking

for the lost love, and I wondered if birds pondered the end.

 

Did they dream of some afterlife bird paradise, where seeds

and bugs and worms littered the ground like gifts from the

bird-gods, or was there no conscious awareness,

only a flight moving from season to season?

 

I felt sorrow for the doves, and an ache for lost humanity.

For us, does an eternal paradise lie through a door

following our passing? Would we walk through green

fields with loved ones who had gone before?

 

Dance beneath metaphysical stars, glowing skies,

hand in hand with those we spun on ballroom floors,

transcending Bergman’s final dance in The Seventh Seal,

victory promised since ancient times.

 

Or, will it be like not remembering before we were born,

the soul or spirit or Plato’s forms prevailing in some celestial

realm unaware of the moment, existing from infinity’s

doors, the time before time, before our time?

 

Shall we look upon the doors of his face, the lamps of his

mouth, once and for all know the riddle of existence,

solve the puzzle of materialism, the fight with idealism,

and say we knew this world was not enough?


 

Eschatology Over the Airwaves

 

The apocalypse has been modernized.

No longer the gothic, the baroque, the prophetic,

starving desert hermit dehumanized by the power

of the machine, the pocket cell phone microwaves

the Revelation instantaneously at the speed of light.

Conspiracy theorists’ fingers fly over touch screens

elated about signs of the Second Coming.

The texts went like this:

Michael, where would you say we are right now

in Revelation?

 

Plagues.

 

Some think Trump is the Rider of the White Horse

in the Four Horses of the Apocalypse.

 

Could be that. He sounded the horn.

 

Electronic Johns of Patmos eating a different apple—

Dionysian excitement emoted through tiny screens,

angels in the circuits, scrolling seraphim, cherubim

in the chips—should I tell them the end has always

been near?

 

Should I mention that they walk with Freud’s

Eros & Thanatos? Or, could be Fenrir in a Marvel movie

snarling his way

through Ragnarök,

the Lion King wearing a white hat,

Hitler waiting for Götterdämmerung?

 

Three horses yet to come, feminist Jezebels tamed

the red horse, the black horse, the pale horse—all

ridden as romantic dream by different dreamers

miles apart, connected by modern twittering

to ancient prophecy.

 

Should I tell them that Rome is built on seven hills,

& these late-night texts algorithmic allegories

for feasting on the parchment in medieval monasteries?

 

Will the final trump card drawn be the fool?

These are my signs I would say.


 

Best Song

 

He said that he sang the best songs being a

Chicago Jew, that all would be kosher between us

even if what he ate wasn’t food. That was over

bad Yugoslavian wine after he came up to me

on Burnham Park and told me that I looked like

a young Mara Corday, and said yes, I’m inside

your head and know that you don’t know who

she is, but no matter, all things forgotten are eventually

remembered, resurrect like geese migrating south

over the lake.

That was only one of the stories he told.

He was a history professor specializing in the Holocaust.

I was from Appalachia and we didn’t speak the same

language even though we knew what the words meant.

Slightly drunk, he laid out narratives like a winding staircase

with missing steps.

He played the Wise Man like in the Bethlehem story or

Obi Wan fingering the Force.

I played Damsel not in Distress, all on a dark barroom stage.

Look, I said, I’m not the temple priestess that laid with

Enkidu for seven days.

It rained longer than that, he said, in the deluge.

He admired my skimpy red skirt, long black hair that looked

like Grace Slick singing “White Rabbit” at Woodstock.

Yeah, I said, but mother wouldn’t like the pill you carry.

He garbled a Yiddish poem and I told him that growing up

too much Patsy Cline had spoiled my head.

These stories, like the clichéd pen spilling from a third rate writer,

always end up in a room. But no, I told him stories of my own:

of the missionary beheaded outside Mecca, the actor who hung

himself because he was emptied out, a girl without milk singing

goat songs, the Depression bum who stole the apple pie and was

tarred and feathered, Ophelia who drowned for false love, the real

King who died before Slick slicked up her song.

There are many ways to lose yourself if you only listen

to your screwed up nerve endings.


 

This Mirror, this Moment

 

Know your origin, the dark love circles

that afterwards made you a penumbra.

That is not the first foundation, merely

happenstance of chance, an underpinning

where feet will tread on asphalt or creek beds,

rock or carpet, hear songbirds in morning or

rushhour’s blare. This choice was made for

you like a night’s electrical storm terrifies

while illuminating the dark walls, skeleton

limbs waving in the dusky moment that

you try to peer through.

 

When sitting at the glass after morning’s

coffee combing your long hair woven by

a spider’s thought, reflect also on the shadow

before shadows, moon’s umbra that spit out

the nervous sweat between sheets that set

you on the path toward staring in the glass

like a scryer’s daughter knowing that the

space between the stars holds the secret,

riddle unarticulated that your red lips

cannot ask, oval eyes cannot see.

 

Your parents knew not what they did.

They, too, were spit out by the same forces

that splits the crow’s tongue, sets the

panting breath of sad animals in the spring

tumbled toward the other’s origin for

seasonal respite in the penumbra enveloping

them like the slow crawl of desert dunes

building and collapsing, or stars that wink

out at dawn, rivers once wet run dry.

 

Comb through your hair like cornsilk

with slow, deliberate strokes. Watch your

hand and brush become one. At the back

of the mirror all is recorded for someone

else who will one day sit at the same place

unaware of your lost shade, sensing that

there is something that needs to be known.






Dr. Ralph Monday is a Professor of English at Roane State Community College.

 

 

 

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