So little does it take to mitigate the horrors of IRS Form 1040, a spider in the mailbox, or repeatedly snagging pinkie toe on errant elastic while slithering one’s foot into a recalcitrant sock: Cheryl’s swift soft peck on the temple as I type at the computer, Bach’s Ascension Oratorio with the volume at 11, spring’s first dandelion. Anticipating spring’s first dandelion. Remembering last spring’s first dandelion.
I demand that it be left down,
which from then on
and like an unspoken settlement,
on it from then on
you deplete me : unpleat me : I’m lost lord : help me : help me : o : for christ’s sake : (for my sake) : I tell you : woman : stop praying : get off your knees : stop lifting your mouth to big G god : or : if you must : leave big daddy a parting gift : a vomitoxin : blight his wheat-head : chafe his delight : I tell you : woman : become sapphic : wanton : seek a double XX paradise : or better yet : a triple XXX eden : yes : a thai land : a land of ties : where all young men will beg to serve : will fight to service your plump : middle-aged body : will cook you gourmet meals on command : will wear head-to-toe black veils in your honor : will : (& this is essential : most important of all) : will (free-willingly) : bow down before you : & kiss your ring
—for Pope Francis
Branches, buddings, purple wrens,
landing, chirping, bouncing,
over battlefield trenches
Desert, moon, white, dunes,
unearthing limestone ruins
Thick mist clears,
hot air balloon armada
blots the atmosphere
Alright, so we’re in a city, you all with me so far? So in this city there’s this man; we’ll call him Person A and Person A has ten million dollars in a briefcase. Don’t ask why he has so much money or why he’s choosing to carry it around with him. Anyway, we’ve got Person A with his wad of cash and he’s walking down a mysterious, dark alleyway when he runs into another person: Person B. Now Person B so happens to be a thief with a notable lack of ten million dollars, so naturally he decides to do what thieves do and tie up Person A to take his money. So Person B now has ten million dollars so what does he do? You probably didn’t guess it: he takes the money to the local bar and buys round after round of drinks for him and his friends. You think his friends would like that but human beings can be a bit fickle at times and one of his friends, Person C begins to become angry. Anger and greed are not always the best combination as many of you might know and pretty soon Person C lures the now-intoxicated Person B back behind the bar and slits his throat. Plot twist! Now Person C has the ten-million — minus the cost of the drinks of course.
So, drunk on power — or is it riches — Person C takes his loot down to the whorehouse and books all available women: Persons D-M. But upon seeing Person C open his briefcase, all whores present become overwhelmed with greed but being smarter than Person C, they decide to get him drunk, dare him to swallow a bottle of sleeping pills and then throw his corpse into the river (the whorehouse is next to a river, btw).
Now Persons D-M have the money and decide to split it ten ways between them — one million each. More than enough to keep them on easy street a long time. The rest of their lives in fact, as while these events have been occurring, Person A had struggled free of his bonds, filed a police report, and watched the money get passed down the links all the way to Persons D-M. So now Person A has his money back (sparkles and rainbows) and the poor whores have life in prison. Persons B and C are dead. Full circle, yay. Makes you wonder about the cost of life, right? Two people died over that ten-million. Actually no, they died over nothing. There’s the exact same amount of resources in the world as there were before. They died transferring that money from Point A to Point B then back again to Point A. The price of their blood comes out to a flat zero. So, yeah, I guess they didn’t die for anything at all. Ah, well. That’s depressing. The end.
I reach up, stick my tongue out.
Momma sings to Little Brother in the nursery.
My toy is on the top shelf. I have to climb to get it.
Dad’s downstairs. He bellows out bad words. Baseball is on.
I brace myself on top of his dresser.
Momma stops singing.
Dad stops shouting.
The house is quiet enough that I have to wait.
The toy is glass.
Little Brother cries.
Momma sings some more.
I climb a little higher.
Dad cheers. His team must’ve scored.
I hear Big Brother shut the front door.
“How’s the game?” He shouts over the TV.
“Better than I’m sure yours went. Coach got you benching, still?” Dad pops something. Probably the top off of the bottles he doesn’t like me touching.
“Yeah, still benching.” Big Brother scoots a chair out from the kitchen table. I can tell by the sound it makes on the floor.
I stand on my tip toes. I’m so close. My toy is a watch, gold and hanging within a glass sphere. It’s a nice watch. I like it.
Little Brother’s door closes.
Momma’s footsteps make a clicking sound toward the kitchen. She must not have changed from church.
Dad and Big Brother roar at the same time.
My hands wrap around the glass.
I knock my knee against the bookcase.
I jump back in shock, my toy dropping from my hands and shattering on top of the bookcase. A piece of glass has cut my index finger.
Dad clomps toward the room.
I want to move, to hide, but I’m surrounded by my destruction site.
The bedroom door swings open. Dad, Momma, and Big Brother have come to my rescue.
Or, maybe they didn’t.
“Teresa, what did I say about keeping that boy’s grubby hands off my things,” Dad says.
Momma frowns. “That boy is your son.”
The argument starts. The same argument.
“I didn’t make him. He’s not mine. He should be locked up. Look at him! He’s ruined my trophy case and broken my watch. Do you know how much that cost?” Dad picks up the watch from where it lies in ruins. He shakes it.
I don’t think it’s supposed to make that noise.
“It’s just some damn trophies and an old watch, Joseph. He’s five. He doesn’t know better.” Momma grabs a broom from the hall closet.
“Maybe he would if you disciplined him. Marcus was never like this.” Dad looks over at Big Brother.
My finger hurts.
“When you married me, you accepted Hampton as your son too.” Momma has her hands on her hips. She must be mad. “Maybe if you treated him nicely like you do Marcus and Jacob, he wouldn’t have the need to rummage through things by himself.”
Dad is going through the wreckage, pulling out trophies still in good shape. “Marcus and Jacob are my sons.”
Little Brother starts to cry.
“Fine, then you can go put Jacob back to sleep,” Momma says.
Big Brother is looking at me.
I look at him back.
He comes over to me, still dirty from baseball, and picks me up under my armpits. “Come on, Hampton.”
I follow him outside to his car and he buckles me in. “Where are we going?”
Dad and Momma are shouting so loud.
“Somewhere else,” Big Brother says, “anywhere else.” He starts the car and puts on his seatbelt. “How about ice cream?”
I look at my cut finger. “Okay.”
Music trumps information
according to the author of Bug Music
We will re-listen, he says
when we will not re-read
Music came first, after all
and does not even require an instrument
But so much music is noise
just as words can be clutter
and certain plants are weeds
I suspected my music tutors were psychiatrists in disguise. It was all in code, Mrs. Osborne’s idea. They told me,
“Slide to extended fourth.”
The cello’s neck choked me; I never held it right. The Tuesday tutor would twist me like armature wire, and I would stifle discomfort. Their corrections meant other things, that my manners were out of place, that I had poor taste in company, that my posture had curled up like a broken string. Somehow, without me having said a word, they knew I had dreams of other boys in class, that I imagined their hands tuning my own.
Mrs. Osborne would stand in the doorway, hand crossing the air to the music. She would shake her head on each mistake; that wasn’t it, I would try again. The tutors said,
“You can make mistakes.”
“Music is forgiving.”
“With practice, you improve.”
She always would be in that doorway; I stopped facing that way so I wouldn’t know, but then I imagined it. She must have watched me sleep too, noted on the murmurings as I dreamt, and passed them along to the tutors. Each song I played was likely of her choosing, the minuets of families, she thought, each note paired in the familiar way. Mrs. Osborne was not an experimental creator, and we, her children, would be perfect. “He will get in the way of practice,” she said, when I befriended a violinist. The tutors, they said their codes, their corrections. Mrs. Osborne wouldn’t admit any mistake.
I never saw the violinist again, so I played, once, facing her again, and let my arm dip to see her scowl. I smiled at the Friday tutor, trying to show affection for his guarded face. Mrs. Osborne ran forward, intervening,
“Bow straight, bow straight, bow straight.”