Wednesday 1 June 2022

Five Poems by Ralph Monday


 

How We Used to Think

 

Curious how we used to think, even now

thinking about you, I wonder.

 

How did you find me? No Facebook

page, no Twitter or twatter, no Google

stuff.

 

I really never left you. All these years, you

are married now, even two children.

 

So are you, to a man much older.

 

How did you know that if you weren’t

thinking about me?

 

Stuff gets around. Old mutual acquaintances,

when your name comes up I say nothing and

they spill everything. People will tell you all

about themselves. All you have to do is listen.

 

Doesn’t matter how I found you. You’re listening

aren’t you? The way you never did when we were

together.

 

I remember when you read all the time, told me

once that women think like the earth, men

think like the sky.

 

They still do; you still do. But I’m different

now. We should get together.

 

I don’t think so.

 

You think too much, you always did. Just feel

I said. Let it go! Remember when you called

me a long cool drink of sweet tea?

 

I think (know) that you cheated on me—more than

once, even had the audacity to use the GPS that

I bought for you because of your driving anxiety

to navigate to your ill-fated rendezvous.

 

Like I said. I’m different now:

My hair is lengthier, no longer bleached.

I’m two sizes smaller because I hit the gym.

I have a tattoo as your name in a secret

place that no one can see.

My breasts are just as firm.

I run and swim and run and swim and

drink green tea and eat yogurt.

I’m hot! You should see me.

 

When you dumped me for the last time I

painted a page of my notebook black. That’s

where I put you and I tried to forget everything

that you did. I got married, had a kid, played

the husband and dad role, but even now everything

is empty.

 

Yeah, your wife looks a little bit like me. It can all

be again. We’re unfinished, you know that.

Sometimes I imagine myself running into you at the

mall, the movies, a bar. I imagine our eyes meeting

and a conversation begins, our first conversation,

like going back in time in a science fiction movie,

that your eyes stroke mine….

 

That’s how we used to think. I don’t think like that

anymore.

 

Oh but you do. You do! We sit in that bar, in that

movie, on a bench in the mall. We chat. Smalltalk.

Get to know each other, and we both know to think

that this is the first time we ever met.


 

Silent Screens

 

The light smears on the water,

different coloured lipstick streaks,

but the movie screen is dark, Dairy

Queen is dead.

 

I want to walk through

the drive-in she said. I want to taste celluloid

candy. I want to drink Lana Turner from

a coke straw, eat Rita Hayworth from a

popcorn box, listen to Ava Gardner's

breasts tell about spring and children's

dreams.

 

The screen was huge, white as a moon moth,

the grass wet on her bare feet. Her face

glowed in technicolour, and she spoke in

strange silent tongues like a desert prophet,

like a director crafting the final scene

of wild horses racing across the high

plains, of John Wayne saving the day,

and the Lone Ranger taming Tonto's

tribe.

 

But the screen remained silent, the

movies blank ghosts turned inward

to the grave sunk forever and forever

on reels that never played.


 

Where Have All the Paw Paws Gone

 

Halfway up the mountain, just below the broken down garage where the tractor and the rusted truck were kept, in an interior dominated by grease, dust, patina and ageless imprint of mountain people generations removed from the old country, a young boy would sit in thunderstorms brought by Norse gods, or dream of a milk-filled sun.

 

Below this mountain relic, as he walked, there was a place of hewn stone beneath giant hemlocks: huge mortise and tenon rectangular blocks lying in ruins as though waiting on some mythical giant to raise them in place, while propped against a tree, leaning sideways, a large stone carved in the shape of an unopened vampire’s casket.

 

A mystery. No one knew of their origin.

 

Walking on there was a giant red mulberry tree and paw paws beyond that, a sacred place where the fruit became the red-tipped nipples of a forest mother, the paw paws yellow tinged breasts, trees themselves the body, vine wrapped limbs, the arms, legs, the bark sinew and nerves, bloodsap, all in this womb place, this beginning time.

 

He would fill his mouth with the autumn blood fruit of the mulberries, taste the yellow life in the paw paw and know a time before time began.

 

Now, fifty years later, there is no grease filled garage, no mulberry or paw paw. There is not even silence, for a hundred yards up the mountain, the great earth tearing machines eat away at the land like a coyote gnawing on some discarded carcass. Eating the black coal that is darker than any Dante circle, the world of men consuming self, never knowing that when all the paw paws are gone, nothing remains save a tattered remnant of humanity poorly knowing only a dead Columbus myth sailed here, preached out from mountain pulpits, held in hard bitter hands.


 

The First of September

 

My Mother’s reflective stories, her memory of

what she believed my father to think that day in

1939 when he said the war would be over by

Christmas. The days of hunkering by the radio,

entire families listening to CBS live broadcast

Poland’s invasion. The red and black swastika

not yet branded by airwaves on American foreheads,

my father’s interests lay to the mountain top,

where the Murray twins swam in a frog-scummed

strip pond full of cattails and flagellating tadpoles

from mating season.

 

He thought of their shadowed crotches moving in

the September light, my mother said, of their young

breasts soon to be tipped by autumn’s first frost.

He didn’t drive to war; he drove a heaving and

gasping rusted pickup to watch them swim, gave them

rides home after bottles of beer and naked bodies

pressed into the grass.

 

Who knows Mother’s mythologies of the mind that

she found from the vantage point of old age. The

quilted heat of that long ago day where love and war

fused in the mind like pieces of steel arced together

by a blowtorch.

 

He would leave her for a time, all the way past 1945

when the war’s march ceased, his boots carrying

him through morning fog, dripping trees like alabaster,

the poised shotgun a marker in time, of moments past

and canned reels yet to project. Sometimes squirrels

fell from the blast that made stew for hungry children’s

mouths.

 

When weary of dying in another woman’s bed, he would

return, never knowing the story of Isolde or Tristan,

Paris or Helen, Heloise and Abelard. He had none of their

tragic honour, where the only black catastrophes he knew

were those of coal-dusted men returned from the underworld

each evening, to go to the creek in the woods, drink and

gamble.

 

She told me that when he lay dying in his bed pointing

to air and saying there is Betty Jane, you need to talk to

her, his mind ravaged by time and circumstance, German

boots long perished ghosts, that she forgave him, for what

he saw was vision, not flesh, an American moment, where

his myth met hers that would never be written in epic meters.


 

Magic

 

Magic, it’s all magic, a miracle, an

illusion. A few millennia removed

from howling apes (if the dissection

ever complete) here on this genie’s

metal-blue crystal ball plucked

from a nothing abyss, spit out like an

angry god’s spittle & now they tell

us it’s all a hologram somewhere at

the dark galactic core, our forms an

incomplete, wave-probability

shimmering mass stored forever on

the event horizon as celluloid spaghetti

strands, the black hole, egg yolk at

existence’s center—a cosmic movie

projector casting us as 2-d images riding the

sphere into magnificent 3-d minions in full

bloom narcissistic technicolour.

 

The pope, the Dali Lama, the belly-fat

laughing Buddha—for them where is

heaven’s hill, the use of the Tibetan book of

the dead, the reincarnated world?

 

Cosmological Maya encoded on the event

horizon at the center of a feasting galaxy

projecting out the weaver’s dream across

100,000 light years, a black, spoken Word, or

Brahma dreaming out the universe from a

central navel so that when the dark

monster at the center of creation spins

around every ten-thousand years,

you are projected again into existence’s heart.

 

You love & hate & die again.

You kiss the high school sweetheart over & over

a million times beyond infinity.

You make the same mistakes, steal the same gun &

run down the same back alley. At the end, do it

all over again.

 

As does everyone, in all time, all space, history

a celestial archive of quantum microfiche

burped up after a bad meal.

 

 




Ralph Monday is Professor of English at RSCC in Harriman, TN. Hundreds of poems published. Books: All American Girl and Other Poems, 2014. Empty Houses and American Renditions, 2015. Narcissus the Sorcerer, 2015. Bergman’s Island & Other Poems, 2021, and a humanities text, 2018. Twitter @RalphMonday Poets&Writers https://www.pw.org/directory/writers/ralph_monday

In October 2022 Ralph will be inducted into the Lincoln Memorial University Literary Hall of Fame.

  

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