Bio Note: Of late I've been writing a sequence of haibuns about jobs I've had, now about thirty-five, but every few months I recall another one. I've taught at the University of Tennessee and at Mount Holyoke College, and I've tried selling real estate--I still have my Realtor pin--and worked at a chemical fertilizer distributor. My Selected Poems have just been published by FutureCycle Press, with a foreword by David Graham. These poems are all from Red Cottage, my first book, and one of them, "Over Voice of America," was in reply to David Graham's "Kinds of Jazz."
Over Voice of America
Some nights the quiet is all wrong. A tape, it plays white noise. These nights I crown myself in earphones and tune the short-wave in to new music of the sphere. Grandmother voice over Radio Albania wants to send over a hit about wheat, and love. Over Voice of America our voice is simply enunciated as if only foreigners have ears. Silence is a drawn chord. Between Tirane and Washington the static is a Geiger counter gone sane. I tune the BBC. The Repulsive Aliens play their catchy music-- codas from the white dwarf before collapse. Some evenings I haunt my office. Windows open out to Mary Lyon's grave and campus maples kept pretty by will. The hour we love between dog and wolf comes as stars show up, up there all along. In my dark office I drink coffee I cannot see, start to disappear. I make up faces for students blasting maples and her grave with Culture Club, The Police. Hair is green, cheeks flour white. Mary Lyon said, "Testify!" Dickinson took a carriage over the Holyoke Range to her own seminary of despair, a dress kept white in legend and a whiter sustenance. More white than crystals Parker melted in spoons, a hero addicted to pain. Students here know Stalin's white Siberia and each red cent doctors earn in their cures. They know Reggie Jackson, Patton. Bird is black, fiendish, jazz-like. Modifiers are right and wrong. Bird did burn his room in a colored L.A. hotel, yelled Fire, colored and naked. He did die in a baroness's Manhattan suite, laughing at Dorsey on T.V. Don't those stories kill? From L.A. to New York, from fire to laughter, he played hopeless rooms we can inhabit because he did not need hope. Bird lived, died, lives some more. The last time I visited Dickinson's grave, it was occupied. Inside the black iron fence young lovers lay clothed on her grave. He was on her and on her. I have not yet been back. Friends, make sense of those lovers. Were they mocking the virgin in legend, she who knew Babylon inside out? Tell me in some nights a Parker solo hums also out of you, or a Dickinson phrase moves your lips, cryptically. Our ears record sounds of dead stars. Tell me we call them back since they call us and we can hear, once again.
You know how it is. Your accident lets you meet a long-lost friend, one whose love meant the world to you. What's coincidence but a slender awareness of merged parallels, a thing you suspect goes on all the time. Harmony, a kiss, a word you savor on your tongue, all striving toward the horizon, toward that depot. Well, imagine how I feel. Tolstoy died in a red cottage. I am renting a red cottage! Now I occasionally look toward the snowy woods for Sophia wringing her hands, that woman held at arm's length from her husband, dying. But all this is bullshit. I live in a red cottage between a ridge named after an eager animal, and a river called by some Breath of the North. Wouldn't you feel once in a while that what surrounds you is the makings for a folktale, a legend, a story to bring children up by, then doubt as they grow body hair, their voices changing? And so I feel haloed by this stammering white air, blizzard, the black shawled mourners in the woods nothing more than hungry wild fowl, and a hateful man dead who put blood and bread together.
The Fifth Season
for David Graham
Waiting for the doctor (whose real name you had a hunch was Diogenes something Duck) you scanned the hieroglyphics in your palms, also reading my dog of a mind. Like your paired hands, my hemispheres can add up to a stunning zero. That's why for me each good joke is the knocking on the night door. A knothole closes around Chaplin, clicking his heels at The End, and just what do you think our nervous systems do? They bare our teeth in laughter against the wolf, huffing and puffing. Whisper inside our stick house that nothing tickles us, that in the atomic world of Democritus we are the indivisible ones and the void, our own meat and zero. Maybe Madame Hazel will make a house call. Maybe Hazel will tell off the universes in the script of our fortunate palms, in those atoms of our Crab Nebulae. Waiting for no doctor, Bodhidharma sat crosslegged until his hams were cured, today's lesson in the Classic Comic entitled Patience, a Pre-Cautionary Tale. In tomorrow's match Fumon is pinned to his reed mat, gazing into his own crystal of death. Magnificent, he says, Magnificent. No one knows the final word. The ocean bed's aflame, out of the void leap wooden lambs. I don't know about you, I can't read the coffee grounds, so what can we do but decipher each other's scrawled mind. Like and unlike the neurologists pulling through their clean fingers the electroencephalograms, we ponder one another's graph and proclaim, We're healed! But healed of what original crime or capital disease? Fumon's void where the wooden lambs gambol? A plutonic atom of Democritus that might be nothing but a charge, or less? We're in a fix, so we might as well throw back our faces, show the sky our pearlies, and laugh, for something up there is wolf to our pig, final word to our tongue. All I know today: snow at mind's end. The window thermometer with the praying hands reports fifty degrees out there, but snow conceals the old garden where I have lain like a dog, snapping at flies. Icicles our length are hanging from the eaves and dripping on the wooden porch, a drumming water clock for this fifth season, our minds' season. Got a minute? Then take this short walk with me to the untrammeled snow, a radiant field, where the scarecrow the children call Mr. Sund lies scrawled at mind's end. We know: he is sticks, rags, a man's old fedora. Let's say: He's a character inked in the snow.
©2020 Dennis Finnell
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