Matinee

July 21, 2017

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MATINEE

The movies came through our town once every two or three weeks and I would go to the theater with my father to watch them. We would always come in a few minutes late and sit in the back row. I remember most of all my father's throat, the Adam's Apple bobbing as he swallowed. I watched him as much as I watched the screen. Looking back now I realize that what I was really going to see was him, his wonderment at what light could do, shot through the dark above us in a gradually widening cone. My mother didn't approve of him taking me to the movies. She thought I ought to be home reading, and he home doing something sensible, like getting a job. Of course he drank in the theater, surreptitiously, with great delicacy, though I rmemeber one day he dropped his bottle and it rolled down the floor, under all those seats, crashing and ringing. I felt him stiffen up beside me. I had never known him to be afraid, and he was afraid in that moment, more afraid that I would see him again until the day I visited him at the hopspital when he was dying. I knew that he would never drink in the theater again, that something changed right there and that he would not risk revealing himself to me like that. Then one year we seemed to stop going to the theater altogether. It was simply somenting we no longer did. We never mentioned it, or talked about why. He must not have felt the need to apologize or to suggest we do something different together, like fishing or going for a hike up the mountain that loomed bluely over our town. It was as if they'd stopped making movies in LA altogether. As if all the actresses had been murdered, or all the producers gone broke, found drowned in swimming pools in the Hills, their pockets turned out, billowing in the blue water. But I knew the movies still came through town. I saw their titles and the names of their leading actor and actress rendered in dark letters against the bright marquee. I began to imagine their storylines, to write them out as I sat on my knees on the floor of my bedroom at the very hour when we used to go to the matinee. All I needed was the title and perhaps some visual clue suggested by the tattered posters that hung outside the theater and that beckoned to me as I walked past. It was all in my head, the triumphs and tragedies of the characters, the way the light fell upon the road down which two lovers were being pursued because they had accidentally picked up a suitcase they didn't know contained something valuable. I thought some days of sharing these stories with my father, but I didn't want to disturb him where he sat in his shirtsleeves, watching TV and drinking bottles he never dropped.

Sirens

April 7, 2017

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SIRENS

spin like men
spinning in circles
in the woods
holding long swords
out at arm’s length

their tips nicking the trunks
of ancient trees
that have stepped closer
to identify the men
who are growing dizzy

to hold their faces up
in the many green mirrors
of their leaves
and show the stars
who they are

Parsley

March 31, 2017

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PARSLEY

More than the taste of it, what I first loved
was the feel of the ticklish, curly, slightly stiff leaves
along the roof of my mouth. It was for this and not
out of hunger that we'd wander down to that shaded garden
in that suspended hour before supper, the beds too
dark for anything but herbs to grow in them,
sowing themselves spring after spring, continuing
in their green generations. For grazing on it
so much we hardly made a dent.
I must have had more parsley in one evening
of childhood than I’ve had in a decade as a man.
When I do encounter it now it’s always set off
to the side of the plate, garnishing the real meal.
But I always start with it, and at the first tickle
of its leaves along the roof of my mouth
I’m a boy again, standing by the bedside
of my mother’s kitchen garden.
It isn’t any particular summer evening
but all of them at once. Only when
I’m being called to come in for supper
do I come back to the table in the restaurant
in the city to find my friends
never noticed I was gone.

Nostradamus Predicts the Appointment of Scott Pruitt to Behead the EPA

March 30, 2017

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NOSTRADAMUS PREDICTS THE APPOINTMENT OF SCOTT PRUITT TO BEHEAD THE EPA

There shall appear one by the name of Pruitt.
Lovers of the earth they will boo it.
Defenders of the earth they will sue it.
Bird and fish and beast they will rue it.
Those with oil in their veins they will woo it.
Any kind of harm you can imagine he'll do it.
And you'll say, “Old Nostradamus, he knew it.”

Alternative Facts About the State of Illinois

March 29, 2017

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ALTERNATIVE FACTS ABOUT THE STATE OF ILLINOIS

The state mineral of Illinois is Fluorite.
The state fossil of Illinois is the Tully Monster.
The state soil of Illinois is Drummer Silty Clay Loam.

The Sac and Fox used the area for hunting. The valley of the Pecatonica River was allotted to the Winnebago Indians. Chief Winneshiek had his village at the mouth of Spring Creek within the present limits of Freeport.

The state fish of Illinois is the Bluegill.
The state animal of Illinois is the White-Tailed Deer.
The state bird of Illinois is the Northern Cardinal.

William Waddams was the first permanent white settler in the county. The first white settlement was located in Kellogg’s Grove in 1827. It was located on the Galena-Dixon Trail.

The state flower of Illinois is the Eastern Violet.
The state tree of Illinois is the White Oak.
The state grass of Illinois is the Big Bluestem.

The stone monument, which stands on a hill near Kent, is in memory of the men that died during a minor battle in the Blackhawk War. The battle took place near Kellogg’s Grove on June 25, 1832. One of the soldiers in the company was Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln assisted with the burial and later made a statement about the experience.

The state insect of Illinois is the Monarch Butterfly.
The state amphibian of Illinois is the Eastern Tiger Salamander.
The state reptile of Illinois is the Painted Turtle.

“I remember just how those men looked as we rode up the little hill where their camp was. The red light of the morning sun was streaming upon them as they lay head towards us on the ground. And every man had a round red spot on top of his head, about as big as a dollar where the redskins had taken his scalp. It was frightful, but it was grotesque, and the red sunlight seemed to paint everything all over. I remember one man had on buckskin breeches.”

The state dance of Illinois is the Square Dance.
The state vegetable of Illinois is sweet corn.
The state snack food of Illinois is popcorn.

The Lincoln Tomb is the final resting place of the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, and three of their four sons. The nose on Borglum’s head of Lincoln remains shiny due to the tradition of rubbing Lincoln’s nose for good luck. Thousands of visitors rub the nose at the base of the tomb each year, preventing the nose from tarnishing and forming the brown patina that covers the rest of the head.

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March 24, 2017

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THE DEAD OUTNUMBER US

The dead outnumber us.
The dead outnumber
The roses in the garden.

Outnumber the fish in the sea.
The birds in the air.
The stars we in the city see.

The dead outnumber us.
The dead outnumber the books
On the shelf. Indeed, outnumber

The words in the books.
The letters. The dead
Outnumber the hairs on my head.

I look at a thing. I break it
Down into as many pieces
As I can, and still it

Does not outnumber the dead.
All the chords ever strummed.
All the notes ever picked.

Neither outnumber
The dead. I lie
Down in this meadow.

Flowers. Petals. Grains
Of pollen. Never can I say,
“Here is a number

That outnumbers the dead.”
All evidence suggests
There is more that has been

And now is not than there is
That is. But as long as
I number myself

Amongst the living,
I find it hard
To believe.

The Witness Tree

March 16, 2017

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THE WITNESS TREE

One spring day two men turned up the lane
At the end of which the witness tree stood
To mark where what was no longer
One man’s land ended and what was
No longer another man’s began.

They wanted to know what the witness tree had seen,
But it refused to tell them
About the murders of crows,
The disorderly conduct of frogs in the pond,
The embezzlement of the moon by the Bank of Clouds
And its counterfeiting in a thousand waters.

Finally, the men threw up
Their hands and drove away.

Summer came and the men with it.
Again, they asked the witness tree
To tell them what it had seen.
Again it declined to say anything
About the shooting stars,
The misdemeanor of the mist,
The abduction of the field mice,
The barbwiretapping of the pasture...

Losing patience, the men began planting
Flags at the corners of a square
The witness tree found itself standing
In the center of, as if under suspicion.

Then they drove away.

Autumn came and went.
Relieved, the witness tree let go
Of its green breath of leaves.
It stood naked and innocent,
Neither suspected of a crime
Nor questioned about something
It had seen.

But then, just when the sky was issuing
The first subpoenas of snow,
The men showed up again.
Hitched to the truck was a wood chipper.
In the bed were chainsaws and chaps,
Cans of gas and oil.

They gave the witness tree one last chance
To tell them what it had seen.
Afraid, the witness tree opened its mouth
To describe how the hunter had killed the doe
Despite the white tail she’d raised in surrender,
How the moon had been laundering its light,
How the ice had forged the signatures of the branches
One night, and in the morning disappeared.

But no words escaped its lips.
Having vowed to keep the earth’s secrets,
The witness tree stood silent.

The men sighed and began cutting.
They took turns, stopping often as if to give
The witness tree a chance to talk, though
It was becoming increasingly unreliable.
After it fell they bucked its body up into chunks
And fed its fingers and hands into the chipper
And tore its roots out by the hair
And ground its stump into dust.

Where the witness tree once stood
A witness house now stands.
It sees plenty
But no one thinks to question it.

Looking for Morels

March 16, 2017

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LOOKING FOR MORELS

But were we, really? My brothers and I
Certainly thought so when
We set out early the morning after
The first warm rain, each with
A plastic Jewel Osco bag
Rocking delicately on one wrist,
A receipt still in mine, dry as a leaf,
Though this is the wrong metaphor
For the leaves of that morning,
For the leaves of that morning were
Still handing down to one another
Heirlooms from the downpour.

Within a minute of entering
Those woods we were
As drenched as if it were raining
Still, though the sun was up
And out. What else aside
From the anti-weight of those
Plastic bags were we carrying?
Ideas of where morels were most
Likely to be found, ideas
That were in conflict with one
Another thanks to the differing
Opinions of those we’d spoken to.

Some had told us we would
Find them under the dead
Elms, which meant looking
Not only for mushrooms but
For a particular tree too,
Then discerning which were dead
And which were merely dying.
From others we’d heard
They could best be found in April
On open slopes that faced
The sun, and that only in May
Would we find them in the woods.

Now I wonder if it mattered to us
Whether we found any at all.
By the time we did it tended
To be too far gone to eat.
Still we ate it, if only to prove
We could. Our father with his palate
Of meat-and-potatoes wouldn't have
Touched one with a pitchfork.
And even our mother with
Her Russian mushrooming blood
Distrusted them, afraid that
They might be poisonous.

It must have been something else
We were looking for. The shell
Casings the fall hunters had littered
The forest floor with and which were
The closest we came to carrying guns,
Or the bloodroot stems we broke,
Staining our wrists red? Or maybe
We were looking for what we were
Wasting: hours scouring the floor
Of our grandfather’s woods,
Our plastic Jewel Osco bags
So light but full of light.

The Mask Photographs of Ralph Eugene Meatyard

March 15, 2017

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THE MASK PHOTOGRAPHS OF RALPH EUGENE MEATYARD

recall those Halloween masks
bought last minute at Walgreen’s.
Trying them on for each other,
we shrieked in the aisle. It was
the first time I had to choose
what to become. I can still feel
the coldness where my breath
condensed against the rubber,
proof that within the ugliness
of the mask I was still a child,
my face unmarred. I talked
just to hear my own voice made
weird in the antechamber,
like the thoughts of someone
fallen into a coma. When the door
opened, I looked up at strangers
through those slits that never
corresponded with where
my eyes were. It was then
I learned the power of being
unknown. On the drive back
out to the dark country where
we lived, I took the mask off
to eat candy, letting each fist
wear it so it could feel how it felt.

Photograph: Farm Sale, William Hunt Farm, Ridott Township, 1912

March 14, 2017

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PHOTOGRAPH: FARM SALE, WILLIAM HUNT FARM, RIDOTT TOWNSHIP, 1912

“Note the heavy fur coats,” says the caption.
I note them. I note also the shadows the cattle
throw, the only thing about them that cannot be
sold. I note how their shadows are no darker
for being doubled by the shadows thrown
by the men bidding on them and the men merely
looking on. I note how the men that seem to be
doing the bidding are the ones wearing fur,
while noting also how not a single man is hatless.
I note the man standing on a box above the crowd.
I note the way he peers at the perfect ring the pair
of Holsteins is being backed into. I note how well-
fed he seems. I note the spokes of the wagon wheels,
how they are doubly still, frozen in the photograph
and in the moment the photograph captures.
I note the height from which this picture was taken.
I note that it must have been taken from the mow
by a young man who was asked from time to
time to kick down a bale of straw. I note how
he must have felt acutely his separateness
from the men below. I note the darkness
in the lower left corner, note my tendency
toward grandiloquence, note how
I first wrote: “Note how the darkness is
like the shadow of the coming war."
I note now that it was only his thumb.
Still is, in a way. Note how it is
still in the way.