Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Stevenson At The UN*

[Enter U.S. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson, Soviet Ambassador V.A. Zorin, other ambassadors, translators and officials.]

STEVENSON
I have with me ample evidence.
It is incontrovertible and it's clear.
Soviet missiles now lie in Cuba.
Let me say something else: those weapons must
not remain on that neighboring island.
You, the Soviet Union, placed missiles
in Cuba. You, the Soviet Union
conjured this danger, not the United States.
Finally, Mr. Zorin, remember
that the other day you did not deny
the existence of these dreadful weapons.
Today, if I heard you right, you deny
these missiles exist... and our evidence.
  Alright, sir, let me ask you one question.
Do you, Ambassador Zorin, deny
that the Soviet Union is placing
medium- and intermediate- range
nuclear missiles and sites in Cuba?
Don't wait for the translation. Yes or no?

[Laughter in the assembly.]

ZORIN
I am not an American on trial,
sir, and I will not answer questions
put to me from a prosecutor.
In due course, sir, you will have your answer.

STEVENSON
You stand in the court of world opinion,
so answer yes or now as if on oath.
You have denied that the missiles exist.
Have I got your testimony correct?

ZORIN
Go on. In due course the answer will come.

STEVENSON
I am prepared to wait for my answer
until hell freezes over if you will.
I can also present my evidence.

[Reveals photos of missiles. Assembly stirs.]

This short piece won't make the cut for the final "Cuban" project, but it demonstrates the form for what I'm calling the dramatic parts of the final product. Other parts will appear as fairly normal contemporary lyric poetry. This terse portrayal of a famous exchange during the Cuban Missile Crisis relies a little too much on direct quote, but it also provides a taste of the artificial flavor it will have, being written mostly in ten-count syllabics.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

There Was Hair All Over The Place (part 3 of 3)

On television was "Dagon Live!" the Saturday night show from the Philistine Temple of Dagon, whose location in the desert was a closely kept secret even from the show's contestants. There, in the ancient, subterranean temple of fertility, ordinary Philistine citizens competed for cash prizes by fighting political prisoners in boxing matches. The prisoners were always drugged or otherwise handicapped, so no Philistine ever lost an individual match. The challenge for the contestants was to knock out as many prisoners as they could in a limited number of rounds. The more prisoners felled, the more money for the contestant.

The opening shot of the show framed a beautiful spokes model who stood before two closely erected and ornate columns, each carved in the image of Dagon: a half-goat-half-fish entity. "Good evening and welcome to 'Dagon Live!'" the spokes model piped.

Delilah mouthed the word "bitch." She knew the spokes model. She had beat Delilah in an audition for the part on the popular show.

"Here," the spokes model continued, twisting in her sparkling dress," in the super-secret temple of our Lord God and Benefactor, Dagon the Bountiful, Philistines will compete for cash and the glory of God!" The emcee took over and introduced the first contestant, who entered between the supporting columns of the temple. Afterward he motioned the contestant to the side as a file of slouching prisoners marched in, also between the pillars.

Delilah closed her eyes. She felt like she was closing her eyes on her own life.

The door the the motel room opened. "You like mushrooms? Hope so." Even the powerful Samson appeared burdened as he balanced pizza boxes and liquor bottles in his mighty arms.

"Yeah," Delilah muttered.

"You watching that show?" Samson said. "Ain't no show for a girl like you to watch." He set down the food and undid her bonds. "'Course, I watch it pretty regular myself."

"I auditioned for it once," Delilah said.

"What? You were going to fight? Were they going to let you use your whip? You've got the fighting spirit, honey-lion."

"No, I wasn't going to be a contestant. I was going to be a spokes model."

"Well, you're pretty enough, too."

"I'm really not hungry," Delilah said.

Samson sat on the springs,opened a pizza and a bottle. "How can you watch this? All them people getting hurt."

Delilah laughed nervously.

"What? That tickle you a little?" he growled.

"It's just that after all the people you hurt, after today, you worry about people getting hurt?" Then she felt the anger coming back. "I guess if the dead are Philistine, it doesn't matter."

"You shut up!" Samson said. "How do you turn this damned TV off? Give me the control." He turned off the TV and downed a third of a bottle. "You ain't got no idea what I've seen."

"What have you seen?" Delilah asked as a sarcastic challenge. Would the man ever stop talking about his homicidal self? She tugged at her leather corset, aware that her skin stank beneath it.

"What have I seen?" He chuckled then drank deeply again. "Well, I defeated an entire army of your kind. Had some help from the Lord and a few of my good buddies, though." He shook his head and smiled. "And all throughout that battle I had the jaw bone of an ass in my fist. I shit you not. I busted their heads left and right with that bone." He paused and said as if uttering something profound and mocking it at the same time, "With the jawbone of an ass, I whooped their asses!"

"Yeah," Delilah groaned. Then she discovered that sometime during this repartee Samson had untied her. She rose to a standing position for the first time in hours, wobbling. "I guess you've seen some big stuff, alright."

"Oh," Samson said, "I guess you've seen stuff too, huh? Impress me with your life."

Delilah walked to the window and peeked through the curtain. She was too tired to be startled at the sight of a SWAT team member just outside glaring back at her. She knew that she would never subdue Samson. No one could. "I'm dead," she whispered.

"What are you talking about, hun? This'll all work out. The Lord closes one motel room door, and then he opens another motel room door. Now why don't you come over here and tell me what you're worried about."

She sat again next to him. "Are you going to kill me?"

"Shut up. I just wanted some fun."

Delilah suppressed a spasm that was a sob and a laugh at once.

"Yeah, baby. Why don't you tie me up once again? For old time's sake?"

"I hate to tell you this, Samson, but tying you up is a waste of your time and mine. Besides, all I've got to tie you with that's long enough is the laces of my corset. You'd break them if you sneezed."

"Just do it," Samson said. "You're right that nothing can hold me. And it's true I got the strength of the Lord upon me that will never, ever let me be harmed or taken prisoner. But I know how to make it work. I promise."

"You promised before." She tied him down even though the laces were barely long enough to knot around his massive chest.

"Do stuff to me."

"I can't."

Samson sighed. "It's okay, I suppose." He stared off toward the blank TV. "You know where that Dagon temple is? I'd like to get there between them pillars and mess the place up some, maybe bring down the roof. You know, it'd be a good feather in God's cap and all."

"No," she sniffed. "I've never been there.I auditioned somewhere else. The only way someone like you could get there is if you were a prisoner for one of their shows."

"Delilah, you'd be surprised what can happen."

"Samson," Delilah said, thinking of the new attack the police were preparing, "I have to tell you...."

"You know, hon, I seen lots of shit. Lot's of it. I'm a real strong guy, but I got this, you know, tired streak growing in me. I'm real tired from what I done and what I seen."

"Yeah. I think I understand."

"You know what they done to my girlfriend, these Philistines?"

"No."

"They burned her."

"My God."

"I busted them back real good. I took my revenge, but it wasn't enough. Never will be."

"I'm sorry."

"Nah. You was right. I'm just trailer trash. My folks wasn't even sure who my father was. Some guy who wondered into town. An angel? Who knows?"

"What are you talking about?"

Samson said dreamily," That guy who came through town. He said I would be a judge of Judah, a Nazarite, and that no razor should touch my head."

"What?" Delilah said, and then, feeling a sudden concern for him, "No!" She stood up. A tear ran down Samson's cheek and got lost in his long, long hair.

"Ask me, honey-cat. Ask me how I can be restrained."

"No, I won't." She looked nervously toward the window and the broken door.

"It's the only way, Delilah. It's the only way for both of us. You'll hand me over to the police. No fuss, no muss. You'll be a hero. Me, I'll be a prisoner who can bring down the house of Dagon."

"Be quiet, you piece of shit." Now she cried.

"Ask me."

"How... oh, God... how do I make you powerless, Samson?"

A few minutes later she held the straight razor Samson had provided her. She held it loosely having completed an awful task. They both cried, and a single knot in a single lace held the strongman down. There was hair all over the place.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Random Breezy Comment on the Freddie Mercury Biopic

It looks like the Freddie Mercury biopic really will come out next year, and Rami Malek will play Mercury. Rami Malek may seem to be a sad choice of an actor after Sacha Baron Cohen was originally set to play the part, since Baron Cohen bares more resemblance to Mercury. But Martin Sheen played Robert E. Lee okay in the Gettysburg movie. You'd hardly think of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Truman Capote in the same moment if it weren't for the fact that Hoffman played Capote very well in the eponymous film. I would have voted for Baron Cohen myself, but I look forward to this movie even if it's a dud. If it is, it shouldn't be the fault of the talented Rami Malek, whom I've enjoyed in Mr. Robot and The Pacific.

Mercury
Malek
Baron Cohen




There Was Hair All Over The Place (part 2 of 3)

It was night. Samson, now dressed in jeans and with his locks combed straight down his back, moved a dresser up against the broken door. "Ain't the first time I dealt with broken hinges," he said. Delilah shook as she found an electric terror being replaced by a milder, despondent terror that came with the realization she was Samson's hostage.

"Hey, honey, cheer up," Samson chided, then took a slam of whiskey from a bottle. "I been in worse jams than this. Here. Have some."

Delilah took the bottle and drank. "What are you going to do to me?"

Samson looked incredulous. "Do to you? Baby, I ain't going to DO nothing to you. I'm full of the love of the Lord. I just want to have some fun like we was going before we was so rudely interrupted."

Delilah began to cry. "How can you say that? God, how could this be happening? Why did I get into this mess?"

"I know, honey," Samson said as he inspected the action of a pistol. He let the slide click shut. "I know. A class act like you ought to at some Dead Sea resort soaking up rays, not a care in the world. Here you are with some poor boy from down home who don't know caviar from sardines." He turned to look at her with his close-set, piercing eyes atop a mountain of muscle and framed by that long, black hair. He smiled and lay the pistol on the nightstand. "Honey, I ain't got nothing but love, and that's all the class anyone needs."

"But you... killed those men. And I'm... I'm a Philistine, too."

Samson rose and moved next to her on the floor where she had sat since the violence. Her body curled in fear. Samson put a hefty arm gently around her. "Honey, my first girlfriend was a Philistine," he said in a soft tone. "She's dead now." Delilah's body spasmed tighter. "But," Samson continued wistfully, "it was all part of the Lord's big plan. And," he whispered, "it wasn't me who killed her. It was her own kin."

The last words turned in her mind. What would police do with her if she got out of this room alive? Would they thank her for her work, even if it was a botch, or would they brand her as a conspirator with this outlaw? Was there really a way for her to leave this stinking pit with a life worth living?

Samson abruptly rose and fetched a book from the nightstand. "You ever read this?" he said holding the thin book up so she could read the cover.

"It's a Bible. I read a little bit," she said, some annoyance piquing through the fear.

"Look at the last page. Go on. Just open the back cover and see what it says there."

She had to force herself to concentrate on the words printed on the last page. She read out loud from it, shaking. "Coming soon is the next installment of this biblical epic: The Book of Judges." She looked up from the book to her captor, not knowing what she was supposed to make of this publishing teaser. He grinned. His eyebrows arched in pulses. "I don't understand," she said.

"The Book of Judges. It ain't in the Bible yet cause it's happening now. I'm Samson the Nazarite. Hero of Judah. Judge of Israel. King of Rock'n'Roll, baby! It's all coming to pass and being written in God's living history. I'm part of it. You're part of it. Course, they'll cut out the really fun stuff for the final version, but they'll leave enough in so you can get the gist."

Delilah felt the terror in her ebb, felt the dominatrix in her come back a little. She managed to object, "But this book, it's all just stories. It's rebel propaganda. It isn't real."

"Oh, honey," Samson said sadly, "It's real. Yes, ma'am, it's the real low-down. And I'm God's judge on this earth." He sniffed and scratched himself. "Yeah, well, I gotta get me some pizza and something to drink." He picked up some of the broken thongs from earlier in the day and began to bind Delilah with them. "I don't appreciate this reversal of roles any more than you do," he apologized, "but the situation calls for it. You need anything when I go out?"

"You're going? Aren't you afraid?" Delilah asked, surprised to feel some concern for the ruffian.

"I don't expect any more trouble for a while. Philistines always act all high and mighty, but they never got their shit together. No offense, hun. But even if they''re out there, I can handle them. I've got the strength of the Lord upon me, and ain't no one going to touch me as long as that's true. Here. Take the remote. Watch some TV. Won't be long. And don't try to mess none with the guns if you get loose. They're dangerous."

He slipped the pistol in his pants and then a wad of cash. He moved the dresser from the door as if it were a toy. When he left, Delilah realized that anyone could come through the wrecked door now that it wasn't blocked. What if police came for her as a traitor and not as their agent? Samson the mad rebel would not be there to fight them off. Then she wondered just how many kinds of bad she could learn about in one day.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Haunting Ending Of A Poem By Frost

In Robert Frost's poem "The Bonfire," an adult with decidedly creepy tendencies tries to talk some children into starting a dangerous fire in the woods near a town in order to "scare ourselves." The children ask why they should scare themselves, and the firebrand suggest it would be good preparation for war. Children, they object, don't go to war. Then the creepy incendiary says:

                      Haven't you heard, though,
About the ships where war has found them out
At sea, about the towns where war has come
Through opening clouds at night with droning speed
Further o'erhead than all but stars and angels, --
And children in the ships and in the towns?
Haven't you heard what we have lived to learn?
Nothing so new--something we had forgotten:
War is for everyone, for children too.I wasn't going to tell you and I mustn't.
The best way is to come up hill with me
And have our fire and laugh and be afraid!

The italics are in the original.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

There Was Hair All Over The Place (part 1)

The motel room tank of cigarettes and booze. A mattress leaned against the wall and Samson sat naked on the box springs amid a mess of broken black leather thongs. Delilah wore full dominatrix regalia and sat in a chair sipping a highball.

"You make my job hard," she said. It had been her third attempt to subdue the brute in bondage. A grin cracked Samson's face. "Yeah, baby, but you make something hard for me, too. Besides, you just had me tied with them flimsy straps. Now if you was to tie me down with them chains, I'd be at your mercy, baby."

Delilah sighed and walked over to the pile of chains Samson had provided that lay by the window. She peeked out the curtains, squinting into the smoking beam of sunlight.

"You expecting someone, sugar? Let's get down to business," Samson said.

Delilah reached deep within herself to find her dom-lady steel. How much longer before the SWAT team arrived and this charade ended? "Okay, you bad little boy."

After she secured him to the springs with chains and padlocks she lit a gold-filtered lavender-papered cigarette and sat next to him. She ran a red-lacquered fingernail across is ribs and said, "Alright you trailer trash piece of shit, are you ever going disobey me again?"

Samson shook his head vigorously.

She took a drag from her cigarette then held its lit end close to on of Samson's nipples. "Really, slave, do you promise?"

"Yes," Samson whispered.

Delilah brought the ember closer. "Louder."

"Yes!"

"Yes, what?"

"Yes, MA'AM!"

"All that pretty hair of yours'" Delilah crooned. "It's like you want to be a girl. Do you want to be a girl?"

"No, ma'am."

"Ah, don't lie to me,slave. You want to be a girl."

"No, ma'am."

Delilah's face flashed with pure hate. She slapped him across the jaw. "You want to be a girl! You little bitch!"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Hmm? What was that? Did my little girl say something?" She slapped him again.

"Yes, MA'AM!"

"Better." Delilah walked over to the door to allow herself a moment of weakness. Being a dominatrix was hard work, but this Samson job wore badly on her, made her not only tired but afraid of him and the forces who knew must have, please, surrounded the motel and readied themselves for the takedown. She went to the window again and peaked out the curtains. Twice. This was the second time she had flashed the signal to let the commandos know that Samson had been rendered immobile. But how immobile? His strength wasn't just legendary.

"I'm a girl! I'm a girl!" Samson chanted on the springs.

With her back turned to him, Delilah cringed in anticipation of what would happen next.

The motel room door instantly crashed open and three commandos rushed in. Delilah ran to the corner of the room.

The three gunmen stood in full body armor, their laser-sighted weapons painting red dots on Samson's chest. He looked up at them, his eyes full of sadness.

"Looks like you boys finally got me," he said. "Well, here I am, and I guess ain't nothing I can do all chained up here buck naked." The shoulders of the soldiers relaxed a little. One commando began to sidestep around the bed.

The chains binding Samson did not break. They exploded from his body. The commandos flinched at the chromium-plated shrapnel. Delilah shrieked. A fist smashed the helmeted head of one intruder. A foot crumpled the body of another man who crashed into the last standing commando in the room. Samson picked up a dropped automatic weapon.

"Philistines," he said in quiet contempt. "They ain't never got their game together." He aimed the weapon at a commando who scuttled backward toward the door. Delilah buried her face in the crook of her arm. Then shots rang out in short barks turning to echoes as he took the fight outside against the remainder of the team that had come to abduct him.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Tamerlane*

The sight of our nation's flags lining the streets around the courthouse still hits me with a momentary fear that we are at war again--that is until I remember that today happens to be a day of national remembrance, of mourning or celebration. This visceral mistake of fear comes from my first experience of my nation at war, a brief and relatively bloodless affair that nonetheless manifested itself on the home front as this very display of banners sponsored by the town's merchants and philanthropists. That war was not long ago in my old memory but happened while I was still impressionable so that I was schooled to take neurotic fright in such innocent activities as strolling to the local coffee shop.

Who wouldn't laugh at me among those busy young people lounging outside the café this morning with their laptops and lattés, their new vehicles parked nearby with their tell-tale golden fish on their bumpers? They would chuckle and kindly pat me on the back and remind me that life may indeed be tough, but the world is ours to celebrate. And I would nod. And I would wholeheartedly agree. And their eyes would once again fix upon the colorful screens of their computers.

Yet with all the abundance of their lives, their very existences of frantic transfer of ephemeral communication, who of a certain reflective mien would not fear for them and their naiveté? What do they know of our nation's history, its origins in legend, the overthrow of its monarchy by zealots, the civil wars that established a wealthy democracy, its subsequent depressions and flirtations with the institution of slavery and the glory of its upper classes that his created this fine day full of promise that they, these innocent coffee drinkers, only acknowledge through a kind of rote optimism? But who could blame them and their necessarily short, click-bait-trained memories?

And yet they all remember Tamerlane.

The videos of his atrocities originated after the nativity of these enfants and many of their cohort who donned uniforms and took up the bulky rifle in order to track down Tamerlane and his murderous coterie. Bandwidth filled, weighed with videos the new soldiers sent back of their humanitarian efforts, such as hospitals and schools built in his native province as well as the pyramids of skulls Tamerlane erected on mountain roadways as warnings to the infidel. They remember the images of Tamerlane's face, its creases carved by a fanatical dedication to our annihilation, his eyes focused in the single-pointed desire for our defeat and the defeat of all we stand for.

Yet I still despair that none of these events made much of an impression upon these young people apart from their memories, that they all became a part not of their physically-tried knowledge but instead became more images in their digital reality. Even the casualties among this generation were few, and the heroic stories of their survivors, broadcast 24/7 on the web, kept any feelings of despair at bay, those stories and these many flags we see today. Still, somehow, our virtual Tamerlane forged our will through the terror, however muted, of his acts. which, after all, consisted events writ in fire and torn flesh at their origin.

War in the highlands brought us to a pique of action, decisiveness that instantly halted Tamerlane's blood-curdling raids and monstrous acts of remote-controlled terrorism. Today we bear the burden of his displaced countrymen, those innocent refugees who escape the mountains to drive into our town in their filthy trucks and assemble their squalid suburbs of tents. Sometimes in favorable wind you can smell their alien cooking and their unsanitary open tranches. The years and money their eviction will squander from our government has yet to be calculated. I hear they have collaborators among us--but I count it as gossip--that the refugees, in their machinations for survival, silently bend our people's will to their ends.

I continue my walk past the café and around the corner to the courthouse square. I calm my neurosis, console myself with the truth of this war: it concluded in triumph, testimony to the fortitude of my people. And why do I worry about this generation and their sense  of reality when their self-sacrifice has fetched us victory in the form of a truth so plain that any child could see it? There, over the stately double doors of the court, I see the end of all our fears, this trophy of war. Who am I to make light of this generation's sacrifices when they lead to what's holy? From the first news of Tamerlane's furtive bombings the fruit of our devotion was inevitable. How can I disparage these people? There, on the flag pole over those doors I see it: Tamerlane's head that gave birth to our trials, severed, brought home and embalmed as a real reminder.

*This is a draft of short piece I wrote in 2011 at the news of the killing of a famous terrorist. In 2013 someone named Tamerlan bombed the Boston Marathon. The coincidence horrified me and doomed this bit of writing, which was an attempt to view the reality of our current wars through a Borgesian lens of nightmare and stilted language. It actually sounds too overwrought to me today. Still, I like the way it steps just to the side of our world. I hope its gawkiness does not turn anyone away.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Fragments Of Another 90s Poem*

In a flat land, if you get tired of sky,
you part the blades of grasses and look hard.
You tap at the part you've spread back, knock
at the roots packed as if to shut you out,
then drive hours and miles to spot another driver.
Just drink coffee and keep driving until Iowa
fades out and Wyoming in. Maybe someday
hills will shut out the sky, leave you buried
in their shadows. Cars with black windows,
blank like eyes pass you head-on and slip
back into where and when you ever were.
The sky gets worse at high altitude.
You put on sunglasses and buy more gas
from a man whose face looks like your own,
the one you tried to leave in rear-view mirrors.
Ask the snow to feel sorry, and it will turn
passes flat white, a poverty to match your own....

...until you know which roads you ran away on
and who battered you until you couldn't look yourself
in the eye, and drive back down to Iowa,
sun straight behind you until Illinois falls away
to a familiar elevation and everywhere's a sky
you aren't ready for but search for good signs.



*This poem must have been an effort to retrieve my old Richard Hugo voice and reads almost as a pastiche of his work. I was already well into my own voice by the time this appeared in a notebook. But even today Hugo remains a prime source for my writing, even if you can't hear him.