Maybe the first in a series. Probably not though.
I may begin a series of sign interpretations. I probably won’t, so don’t get too excited, but there are a few out there that are certainly saying something other than what they are saying.
This first example comes from our good friend Trader Joe. On the surface, he seems to be letting us know that on Thanksgiving, he will be closing up shop and allowing his workers to enjoy a day off. And indeed, had he stopped at “We Will be Closed Thanksgiving Day,” that’s exactly what the sign would say. And I wouldn’t be here. But as is so often the case with just about everyone everywhere today, he wasn’t content with his sign until he made it contentious. He looked around, saw that nobody was fighting about anything, and decided to change all that. The record-breakingly passive-aggressive addendum that says “So our employees may spend time with their familes” was never, not for a single second, about employees or families. It is a belligerent virtue-signal and a GoFundMe call for social capital. Here’s what Joe’s sign really says:
We will be closed Thanksgiving Day. Any business that is open on Thanksgiving Day is a capitalist greed monster that hates its employees and has no respect for families.
Again, stopping after the first sentence says nothing. Adding the rest says it all. I still bought my groceries there, and will not stop.
This one. This one, this one, this one. I have stanzas and half-stanzas and semi-stanzas and absolute brain farts all over the page on either side of this one. Gerard has an essay titled The Arrival in which he talks about not only the work involved in really writing a poem, but the way a writer can be consumed by it. The way it works and more importantly the way it doesn’t work. The fact that you cannot, as he says “pound out “Howl” in a weekend on a diet of meth.” In other words, it takes a while.
I have a few that went that way. Cavity is one. Cut is another, so is The Whole Sky, All at Once. Tons of time poured into those, and they all still need work (Cavity in particular is a weird experimental thing that I almost hate). The one I’m putting up here today is just one stanza that looked complete in the middle of a general muddle, and I have to post it just so I can break its hold for a minute and get up out of this chair.
God has taken from us the sun
which loving was too much like firefly July,
watching our brother kiss the girl
we knew we were too little to love
but loved with cloying loyalty anyway.
A name in a notebook
and the little electric leavings
of her path across our sky.
Too early to eulogize Autumn?
Sometimes I’m somewhere – Jesus,
it’s no poet’s dream!
A street decayingly toothed with slouched houses
dirty cars and trash bins
(every day is collection day)
where muckfoot gutters suck shoes to the potholed road
in the scum-slurry brown of Autumn’s
(Winter you shrill beast, you crook, you tyrant!
Making the robes of three seasons’ bounty
cower and tremble dead to earth
before the world can limp naked
and embarrassed into your icy bed!)
Sometimes I’m somewhere – Jesus,
yes, no dream of mine!
A street wearing hard a century’s neglect
and the slop-rotten offerings of a
beaten world’s winter-tithe
all swamped under noondark and I think
thank God I’m a poet.
This is beautiful.
I don’t get to stand at the edge of a snowdusty lake and measure
with my child’s eye – squint against the bonefocused wind –
its slab of ice against the way the weather’s been and for how long
and then dare to step out onto it. I barely get to speak of ice
at all out here, much less hear tales of boys fallen through
over the years (I’ll have to ask mom why it was never a girl)
and how once you’re under the ice the mean water moves invisibly
to get you lost so you can never find the hole you made. And of course
in your soaked coat and wet-leaden mittens you will tire too quickly
to swim to that gray ring of sky before blueblack hypothermia hits.
I barely get to speak of ice out here or worry that a spot of skin’s
gone white. The weather asks so little of me that I have to beg
memory to list wispy words and show hung pictures of winterfear.
But memory’s different from knowing like guessing’s different from
fearing and I know that if I ever do get to speak of ice out here it’ll be
so whisperthin that every one of mom’s drowning boys would have
measured it beneath them to even try. They would just go around,
well trained by a place where the weather asks so much of them,
walking with fluid truth across the stonefrozen earth of a wintering farm
to find some way maybe to become a drowned ghost in the memory of
an old man’s couched and comfortable search for a reason to remember.
As long as we define ourselves
by all that we’re against
we’ll have to go on wondering
where all our happiness went.
Waiting My Turn
What does the story think of the teller
what does the thunder think of the cloud
what does the forest think of the storm
and what does the body think of the shroud?
What does the pearl think of the oyster
what does the leaf think of the tree
what does the sunrise think of the rooster
and what does the wave think of the sea?
When the story at last abandons the teller
and the last leaf reaches in vain for its tree
I’ll be out for a walk in conspiring weather
to ask them if any have a thought left for me.
Is there a name for the lie
that comes when you are still and
something moves – the bus or the
car next to you – and in your lost
connection there, for just a moment,
you believe that you’ve moved –
it sat still! – for just a moment
you broke the world
and lived an illusion.
You were a ghost,
moving without a host
in the opposite direction
from some stuck thing.
What is it called, this lived mystery,
this excitement of the unexpected
(but still so possible) game that
living plays with the sleepwalking world?
What is the word for this thing
that unmoors the man from the body
and why only forward or reverse?
Why does that never happen
with the snow? With the rain?
Why can I not lay down on the damp earth of the forest
and freeze the falling autumn leaves
to let me believe, for a moment
that I am floating upwards?
To believe that they are stuckstill
in the sky and all the motion’s mine?
I never climb.