Poetry: Selections from Howie Good
Weasels Ripped My Flesh
It no longer looks or smells like the house where I grew up. From the hospital bed in the living room, my ancient addle-brained father asks if he’s ever been married. Reminder notes are stuck on walls and in the frames of mirrors. One written by who knows who, a visiting angel or a wandering ecologist, appears to say, The weasels are not in the sky. By now my eyes feel as dry and crumbly as clods of sunbaked earth. I tell myself it’s okay, I’ll be okay, that only those of us who are broken are in a position to be fixed.
I didn’t have a father and I needed one and so I went searching in a city that had reverted to its indigenous name. In my hand I carried a scrap of paper with an address written on it in faded ink. I showed it to a foot patrol officer, who merely shook his head and shrugged. A little while later, I encountered a group of unusual infants tumbling about a stoop. They appointed themselves my personal retinue, crawling along the pavement after me with surprising speed. I broke into a run to try to outdistance them. No luck. They clung to me – cling to me still – like bedraggled birds on a wet, black branch or pearls of rain on a window.
Gravestones fell over and broke apart. God promised to send help, but help never arrived. The survivors have coped the best they can. One young fellow went down to the crossroads to catch a ride, bringing only a guitar in a battered case and a cotton picker’s sack packed with necessaries. No one has heard from him in years. The rumor is that somewhere on the road he was torn to pieces by dogs. Aged Boomers, meanwhile, have taken up residence in the ruins of disposable culture, on streets of dead eyes and indifferent glances. Every day at dawn a lone bird resumes singing, as if specifically for our continued moral instruction, a centuries-old murder ballad.
The twisted frame of a trolley car that was hit by a shell smolders in the middle of the road. Some are asking, “Who are we fighting?” Others are packing up in case the enemy comes this way. It feels like they’re already here. My 97-year-old father shelters in a doorway from the debris raining down, faded photos of people whose names he’s forgotten. The nursing home aide watches with a twinkle of amusement in her eyes. At the world premiere of the Moonlight Sonata, Beethoven played with such violence that several piano strings snapped. Children as young as five were enlisted to fill sandbags and roll bandages. After his performance, they would find an unemptied chamber pot under the hulking shadow of the piano.
Just because there is no actual law against my being here doesn’t mean my presence isn’t a kind of crime. I’ve been treated often enough like it is that I’ve acquired the shifty expression of the guilty, my eyes darting from side to side, habitually on the lookout for the closest exit. Any day now a formal letter will arrive summoning me to appear before the committee that dispenses retributive justice. They’ll ask long, complicated questions to which there are no good answers. In the meantime, I avoid all unnecessary talk, keep myself to myself, work from home. There is darkness at every window.
Swimming in Oblivion
The darkness at the root had inevitably seeped to the surface. Every day there was a funeral – sometimes several at once. And the dead were all so young. I wanted to cry out, “I don’t belong here, I don’t!” Then one night I dreamt I was dead and looking for the hole that had been dug for my grave. My bones rattled with each step, my eyeballs jounced in their sockets. Other people were just shadows. I passed a woman on the street I only belatedly recognized as my wife. The rest of the dream was garbled fragments. Car. Boat. Fire. Adrift.
Howie Good's newest poetry collection, Heart-Shape Hole, which also includes examples of his handmade collages, is now available from Laughing Ronin Press.