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Amy Pickworth

Walt Whitman at the Patent Office

 

It is late Thursday afternoon, and hot.

Another farmboy from Pennsylvania

who’d never had reason to venture

more than fifteen miles from his parents

lies dying beside the models on the

second floor. The cotton sheet under him

stinks of sweat and shit and fear, is stamped

with rusty blood seeping from his crushed head.

 

The boy must unlearn everything here, from

this cot—how to speak, to swallow, to think.

His mind, no longer his own, swims between

 

this ceiling and his brother Cecil, the

times they’d run on the frozen river and

slide, violet crows mocking from the orchard.

 

There are no words for water, but here’s a

man who looks like God the father taking

the chair that is like their mother’s washboard

sitting beside him

 

and it’s Christmas morning.

Saint Nicholas reaches in his bag

palms blooming hot red flowers

and it is penny candy

 

tongue     peppermint

 

The kind proprietor smiles—

in each of

his glass vitrines

sleeps a

tiny

wonderful

 

machine

 

 

Peppermint

 

—the boy is unlearning how to breathe

 

Curling

around Cecil’s back

 

hand now

in this large one

noiseless   as a ghost

 

he is borne out

 

unashamed

 

 

sacred

 

 

 

Where does it go all the water

 

They had the kind of

middle of the night sex

that’s formed out of something else

because whatever dream

being screened is part of it too

She didn’t know or ask

what he was thinking but

because of the dream thing

each of her gestures was a highly

articulated reflection of

early French art deco style

Not that in her waking life she knew

precisely what this would look like

but she was sure that the way she lightly

outlined the circles of his nipples

expressed the style in its purest form

and the conviction she felt about this at the time

was stronger than most any conviction

she would experience in the light of day

 

In the morning she got on the train

walked through the cars took a seat

on the left because that’s where all the water is

She that is we that is I watched the scenery

slide by like in that R.E.M. video

only in color and more like the Netherlands

Something about the sky

And she and by that I mean her

painting professor from 1989 might say like Vermeer

and not like whatever the Netherlands

may or may not look like now or in 1989

because this isn’t something we can ever actually know

 

She sailed along the Dutch landscape

so many boats and no people at all

and watched the Canada geese

and the swan which in all honesty

seemed a little contrived and

the inner tube in the ditch

and the egret—so showy  it’s amazing

it hadn’t already been picked off—and the spires

evidence of someone’s great-grandfather

imploring heaven rising up

over the brick boxes that are housing projects

and schools and there is water

more water which sparkles and looks

perfectly clean from here

 

I believe and by that I mean my mother used to

and some friends still believe

that I have special powers

My son often reads my mind

which is full of mostly ordinary things

but it’s still not a great idea

and I should discourage this I think

as we cut briefly from the water

to a section of woods where

if you squint a little and use

your imagination you can picture

an Indian on his belly

aiming a gun at you just like

in that reenactment at King’s Island in 1975

There is a lot of bad theater out there

a lot of bad design and far too many bad thoughts

The heavyweight champion from 1921

isn’t remembered anymore

even in the bar that bears his name

 

The rivers are always moving

You can chart the progress of this one

with a quick estimation of how far

to the other bank times how far to the bottom

times how long this procession continues

and you realize you never would’ve thought

it would have worked

Where does it go all the water?

Where does it come from and how does this river

keep moving day and night where does it come from

and how is it we didn’t all drown in the night

 

Never God, and not even an engineer

 

 

 

Nine ways of looking at hands 

 

i. Bach’s first invention leads with the right thumb

on middle C one two three four two three one

I was not a good metronome

 

ii. A baby rabbit, downy pink and warm, eyes sealed

wounded by the neighbor’s cat

died in my palm

 

iii. My eyebrows, my crooked incisors, the tiny sun rising

in the nail bed of each of my fingers—

in these ways I knew I belonged to my father

 

iv. Ten blue ovals pressed into the white skin of my hips, my thighs

David Bowie let us sneer at modern love

but I still asked you not to bruise me again

 

v. The sweaty palmreader outside St. Louis Cemetery took my hand

said I would live a long time, have children, be loved

He grunted, “Stop worrying about money. There will always be enough”

 

vi. We made shadow animals on the wall, played clapping games

I braided her hair. “Your most useful tools are your hands”

—they say this on all the cooking shows

 

vii. I was the only woman

at the table, the only shop teacher

with all ten fingers. These were among the reasons I left

 

viii. I am a poor metronome but sometimes I still drill

the call with the right      response with the left   

onto counters, steering wheels

 

ix. I did not know which to prefer

the span of those hands—hard and elegant, snapped from a statue—

or the marks they left, fading green

 

 

 

Crows say             GET UP GET UP GET UP

 

           They say “And She Was” is about a girl David Byrne was friends with. She’d drop acid and trip in the field next to the Yoo-hoo factory. I don’t know if the story’s true, but I like the image. The only pronoun in the lyrics is she.

            When we were about seven, a lot of my friends liked Yoo-hoo. It’s this carbonated chocolate drink trying, I think, to be the kind of chocolate egg cream Lou Reed sang about.

            James R. “Jimmy” Dudley (1909–99) would serve as the Indians’ lead announcer until his firing by the club in January 1968.

                  HMS Mimi and HMS Toutou were two boats the British brought through Africa to Lake Tanganyika to fight the Germans in 1915. Isn’t that very French, mimi and toutou?

            Boom boom boom wehoo is a rising star in webcamland.

            The marketing copy on drinkyoo-hoo.com shifts back and forth from the plural first person, we, to the plural third person, they. There is no you in Yoo-hoo, except that implied in the URL.

            Did you see the movie where he wears the big suit? Jonathan Demme. That was a good one. It made me want to dance with a lamp.

            Meehoopany is located in northeastern Pennsylvania. Considering its geographical location, we might assume the name is derived from a dialect in the Algonquian language family. But don’t quote me on that.

            From Wikipedia: Mimi (Mexico), a little-known Spanish slang term, derived from the verb dormir, used to signify sleep to children, as in “go to sleep.”

            “Yoo-hoo became apart of the Dr Pepper/Snapple Group.” Apart here should be two words: a and part. Doesn’t anyone read this crap before they post it? Jesus.

            Chief Wahoo is the mascot for the Cleveland Indians. Real Indians hate Chief Wahoo. My great-grandfather loved the Indians, the disembodied voice of them. I don’t mean actual Indians. He wouldn’t have known any.

            “I can’t see you, but I know you’re here. I feel it. I wish I could see your face. You been hangin’ around since I got here.” Peter Falk says this to the hot-dog cart angel. I would totally see that again.

            You take a pencil and you make a dark line. And then you make a light line. And together it’s a good line.

 


 

I don’t want to set the world on fire

 

1. You are wearing a fine knit bathing cap adorned with orchids.

You are doing the backstroke while smoking a Lucky Strike.

You would rather smoke than eat, just like in the ads.

Your skin is flawless, pale. Your lips are shiny red.

You are made up of a million tiny dots, all of them slightly different, equally exquisite.

The water surrounding you is glassy, green. It glitters.

The Ink Spots are playing on the P.A. system.

Joining hands, you and the other girls form one enormous flower.

 

2. The famous person is listening.

You gush about their work, what they mean to you, possibly embarrassing yourself.

They nod, then ask that you not reveal their occupation or their name.

Okay, you say. You natter on about this problem you have.

You could say they’re a high school principal, they suggest helpfully.

You decide to end the conversation before they do.

You come away with the impression that the famous person is both awkward and kind,

            also that the word natter could be used more.

 

3. You have a fever.

You want to talk about the Green Monster and the old-fashioned Coca-Cola sign.

You played ball when you were five, but you think a four-year-old could be taught.

You explain that children younger than four can barely think.

You believe a four-year-old would be too distracted by ants and clouds and airplanes.

You voice your concern that a four-year-old might be hit by fly balls.

As you continue to talk, I watch a plane crash in the distance.

A narrow plume of smoke rises along the horizon, a million little birds natter in the trees.

 

 

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