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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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, 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
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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