Mudlark Poster No. 19 (1999)

Michael Baron

doubt can bring you light

-an evening among the artifacts
-like day and night
-stalking the hallowed halls
-pain keeps its promise
-the meat and the bone
-reaching out to her
-doubt can bring you light

Michael Baron lives in New Jersey and works in financial news.

1 -hiss

the cold shower's hiss less tragic than the sun's reluctance to shine
billboards stand mute in the darkness
the earth trapped in endless space
broken asphalt roads leading over crumbling graffitti-sprayed bridges
a stiff upper lip cracked, curled and diffident
the vague pain shaped by howling winds and a fine-toothed comb
slowly we learn, slowly it comes to us, sudden moments of clarity
it's easier to kill than to die,
it's easier to hate than to love,
it's easier to turn your back than extend your hand
somewhere a child sleeping knows grace as nothing, beyond definition
a word the big people use
let him sleep, let him be, let him lie.

2 -an evening among the artifacts

some neuroses pay better than others and the compliments come in waves, one day you do nothing right, the next, nothing wrong, eventually, trusting beyond convenience, you stop seeing your life as your own, as separate from the bustle of the world, the people you talk to day after day as the hours coil and drift, and when you are gone, some among them will ask, what happened to him? where did he go? and others, so sure, these ones, they will be quick to say, oh him, that guy, hair standing on end, his alarm never went off and he slept through his life, snoring with the ardor of a pig in mud, or else, him? he got caught in traffic, dragged out from behind the wheel and arrested for wanton possession, sentenced to crowd confinement, forced to languish among the yapping multitude, he slipped away during a fire drill and when he got out he wised up and went to sea for 40 days and 40 nights, came back heroin thin, voice clear as a bell, eyes skewered with light, now he's doing fine, got a big house around the corner from the supermarket, he's become a collector of necessities, sticking pins in caterpillars to save the world from butterflies, storing bloated tasteless fruit in jars to sit on lonely shelves in dark closets, he calls it, get this, insurance against the absence of dawn, and then in hushed tones, a tug on the sleeve to confirm the conspiracy, they will confide, never liked him, and they'll laugh, the squealing wit of cohorts, adding a gentle elbow for punctuation, never thought he had what it takes, what the job required, and somewhere beyond the obvious horizon, your jaw pleasantly wired shut, the interstate willing to carry you in its arms, the winding highways just familiar enough to calm you, you put a hand to your ear and listen to the rush of the wind, hearing american voices, the clash of age-old cultures soaring beneath them, and you wrinkle your bland face, beating time to the punch, pretending to understand exactly what it took.

3 -like day and night

bare feet cool in the morning dew, soft green grass steps paced with slabs of grey slate and patches of bright gold light, the harsh smell of chlorine bruising your nostrils, mesmerized by the accident of a shining rainbow trapped at the edge of a gasoline puddle, you try to remember the years, whole years, and you fail to recall the temper of the times, pop culture vernacular squeezing the rest out, they happily pass the disease of dumbness around until what little was known for sure falls squarely in the pithy realm of trivia, and later, walking into a field beyond the beams thrown off by street lamps, you begin to guess at the truth of darkness, the devastating quality of it so constant and bewildering it cuts you down to nothing, a blinking presence overwhelmed by mere awareness, the darkness cripples you with the stark knowledge of your own vulnerability, clouds slide past the plain face of the moon, lending hope to the quiet, your first kiss on a night like this, a rectangle of spearmint gum tucked in her cheek, remember, that and all the drunken moments in between.

4 -stalking the hallowed halls

reduced to an exercise in cleverness, they are careful, hiding the sharp knives on picturesque campuses, coddling the young malleable minds so they can stay coddled themselves, safe among select priorities, nice leather couches and only the best german wine, stroll in the shade of old oak trees, recount department lore, hide among the dusty tomes, the passion bled by the promise of a paycheck, a good one, coming every two weeks for a long time, nuture your eccentricity, embrace a false brand of nihilism, a piecemeal philosophy you espouse to excuse yourself from ever taking a chance or holding an opinion that isn't subservient to the larger goal of comfort, abandon nihilism for cautious optimism, if that's what's in, ivy is nice, crawling on brick in the classic manner, it makes you feel part of tradition, a cog in a mighty wheel, welcome the visiting prophets, the new crop caught up in the original throes of the latest craze, spend 20 minutes on the menu, scowl at the incompetence you encounter everywhere, day after day, it's your right, you've earned it, and at times, when the pomposity strains your being and like any of your jaded ilk, you search for someone else, someone easy to blame, and there she is, lost in arch gossip and the quality of the neighbor's cleavage, the word "brillant" rolls off her predictable tongue, and you know what's missing and you wish you could find it, you search but it isn't there, the fine steel blade, grooved, notched from past use, your fingers alive to clutch the wooden handle, if only you could remember how, truth the best poison, if only you could recall precisely where.

5 -pain keeps its promise

the distance between the idea and the reality remains littered with torn fingernails and knowingly squandered chances, you travel by bus, smell the oil and dirt, talk to nobody, imagine the roots of every plant you see are reaching into the earth to squeeze its fiery heart, when she left, the hate rushed in, bulged your veins, ruined your thoughts, ate you with subtle efficiency from the inside out, until it stood poised at the back of your throat, and one grim day you spoke, you spoke and realized the loss, understood the gravity of the change, hearing for the first time the desperate bitter tone that now rang in every word you said, january then, a new year of interminable winter, of never relaxing to warmth, a new year of empty promises and lost desire, a cold cast to your eyes as you woke each morning alive to the ache of forgetting yourself each night, the words blatantly unable to do justice to the loss, the big world out there frowns on emotional displays, no one really wants to know, the words robbed of meaning by niceties, by exposure, concepts in cages, a technical understanding, they isolate definitions to simplify emotions, the human race goes by pointing fat fingers, pausing at odd moments to feign empathy, the pace kept up, patient, the whole of them knowing how little can be proven, that you remain unable to even want to get there, to bridge the necessary distance and take the time to understand.

6 -the meat and the bone

apple cores and aging whores
the last bits of meat torn from the bone
her father was a mincing dentist
a workaholic with a widow's peak
who kept his instruments ever at hand
along with the laughing gas and surgical masks
her mother wrote symphonies for the triangle
cursing the wind's capriciousness and gurgling sips of balcony chablis
everything got better and better until it couldn't get any worse

as a young girl, a decade under her belt, socks pulled to her knees, patent leather shoes immune to scuff, she watched autumn's leaves spinning in bright funnels, the pieces coming together to form the whole, the shape, she watched this and thought it perfect in its impermanence, she followed the funnels until the wind let up, dispersing the leaves, she'd choose one, flame orange against the gray street, she'd place it in the elastic band of her tights and keep it there, feeling it coarse against her stomach, a pleasant itch

the rot begins almost immediately, almost as soon as your teeth tear the flesh and it gets easier and easier, the matter finally reduced to transaction, the jurisdiction of scales, elaborate timepieces, squares on paper, arrows trapped by numbers, the sun slipping across the sky, the inevitable damage revealed lying backwards to stare at opaque ceiling, the cigarette smoke curled there, her voice as pungent as her perfume, the secular tones strike you as sober and cheap, "you are a good listener," she says, "none of the usual questions."

hope is for the blind
the ones who never grew up
who can still appreciate a good fairytale
you eat from cans
twist open jugs of wine
hear desperation in every knock on the door
every phone ringing
almost all human sounds
you were made for midnight and pettiness
there is nothing left for the future
nothing to hold together or separate
except the last bits of meat
and the bone

7 -reaching out to her

the may night yawns a drizzling reminder of dull lives and sharp tongues, the empty vodka bottle left open on the counter, white plastic cap trapping a final sip, goodbye, that's what the note said, one word, overly dramatic but perfectly in character, she was never much for writing and he was never much for talking and that kind of love, greedy, deliciously physical, drawing strength from its illogic, that kind of love only lasts so long

most times, it ends in the spring, the new flowers soaking up the grey evening's mist, the new flowers filling your dreams with colors, primal and primary, thirsty for each other, you see angry yellow and red like her fresh lipstick, you see green gone murky with guilt and blue defiant as the open sky, the new flowers fill you with obvious longing, their bloom recalling stock images of the beginning of the end, of decay's swagger and the inevitable parting, society gives them to the new love, blushing and appreciative, society marks the plodding anniversaries with them, the original sweetness of the gesture left behind in simpler times, society places intricate arrangements of them on stuck graves for the smoking swearing groundsmen to haul away a week later, the ones tossed in the coffin stay there in the choked gloom, returning to good old dust

in the deritus of the bedroom, where she flung it all to the floor, emptied drawers revealing discarded clothes, assorted memorabilia, a book fell open, dry rose petals pressed between its pages, you pluck them from the floor and place them on your palm, outside in the wavering downpour, they too soak up the water, you hold steady, the rain water cold on your pale skin, the petals darken, the elements pounding away, they begin to come apart, just like that, gradually losing shape in your outstretched hand

8 -doubt can bring you light

the night closes in on the land so slowly, taking its bright resolve, its flair for possibility, obscure the sun and the chance disappears, fear growing fatter as the shadows lengthen and swallow each detail, the twitching nose of a terrified rabbit and its dashing cottontail, an old man spied in the cave of his garage hefting a lug wrench, the brown glass of a broken beer bottle littering the roadside, two dogs in a neighbor's yard made frantic by your passing, they throw themselves against the wire fence, pausing briefly to stand like men on their hind legs, anxious and panting with their desire to know, the details slip away until a black shroud rests upon everything and the earth lies invisible beneath your searching feet, your mind plays out bizarre scenarios, the stuff of nightmares and the evening news, serial killers crouching in the bushes, hard characters born to cruelty, the sounds become ominous, the heart pounds out an answer as your mind conjures up memories of a carefree youth when you walked these streets without fear, throwing bottles through windows and listening for the death of silence, the laughter of your derelict friends enough to quell any leftover misgivings, 12 years of public school, 4 years at the state university, the endless barrage of instruction, they have taught little of actual use but fear and by stressing the need to be careful, they have made you cautious to a fault, minutes later, within the safe confines of rented space, you listen to the dogs barking, there's a strange, plaintive tone to their yelps, a wild longing that you recognize but doubt you can recapture, doubt is the beginning, doubt can bring you light.

Copyright © Mudlark 1999
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