Mudlark Flash No. 19 (2002)

Ronald Donn   |  Atheism

Atheism | Title for an Untitled Painting
Fire | Low Visibility | Animal in Orbit
I Like Where My House Is | It Fell

Author’s Note:

“I moved to North Louisiana in 1991 to study the Bible—and ended up by 1998 getting a MA in Creative Writing instead. In that period, I got Nabokov’s referential mania, where everything is a sign. I found out reference is a matter of history, and that history destroys the individual who wants to be part of it. But the South doesn’t know that. In the South, everything’s a miracle. Everything’s about God, is God, and that includes the most innocuous word. There’s no privacy. People don’t stop talking, even with their mouths closed. Poetry is way of seeking privacy from God. Having grown up in a tropical, buzzing climate, I’ve long been fascinated with Glen Gould’s version of a personal Arctic, an Idea of North—the solitude that is itself the Question that compels the imagination to reach toward an Answer. Like Melville’s white whale of atheism, the results of Christianity for me have been this so far: language works as a reflex in response to a staggeringly limitless, anarchic set of meanings implied by the natural world. If language is the imagination’s reaching for the truth, then language and the soul are equivalents.”      E-mail: Ronald Donn.


Listening to nobody is hard work.
Like atheism. A deep, angry resonance
comes through the blowhole,
white and huge. Listening
makes you sleepy. Not listening,
and you are awake.
Waking up in the morning
is a perfect allegory. Then,
discoveries are huge, lime-green,
soapy. Shower, the squeak
of a mirror you have rubbed
for not long enough. You,
yourself, are in the unremarkable
mirror. You have wiped your mouth
flat. You have rubbed your ears until
your own voice squeals.
In some books, that noise is joyful.
In others, a prismatic horn
blown through the nose
like a bird hearing its small heart
turn to glass and explode
when it goes to fly.
Tears come to the eyes
thinking about the early morning
yawn that shakes the trees naked.
It’s hard work, the silence.
It’s just the facts.
Facts are deadly silent,
with tremendous dog’s eyes,
where there’s an entire zoo
of silences. It’s hard to avoid chatter
and keep your ass in two pieces.
And the reason
nobody should listen to anybody
comes down to the popularity
of bath-time. I know this.
Silence so clean it does squeak—
that’s the right time of day
for atheism. Sleep rubbed
from one’s eyes,
hands numb as pencil erasers,
dreams already at a distance,
rubbing the mirror clean
of fog. In that frame of mist,
the face of the cruel genie
comes clearer and clearer.
You have to leave soon, you know,
open the door, get dressed,
but no. That’s too easy.
Because there is no listening.
And your three wishes are right here,
hung up on steam.

Title for an Untitled Painting

Forget everything.
Look at the white sea.
The hole cut into it
makes the cleanest gash
in history. One feels dumb
with interpretation.
There’s no haircut
like the present haircut,
I always say. Neither
would you stand outside
under a rotten dishrag of bats
shredding air over post
and mill, or take for granted
that the bat’s noises indicate
anything about a mill
torn down into steel limbs
weeping oil from a hundred
scrapes and mechanical bites.
The long-gone things,
just as gone the second
they are gone as after
one hundred residents passing
with a finger to their temples.
One can blow one’s brains out
with a sheer thought.
One can floss on memories.
One can be clean.
One can examine the noise
bouncing off the hoods,
ricocheting off mosquitos,
lodging in the mind of a bat
as food. And when you
are blurred by your own
future considerations,
or shake the past from your head
and shoot your next meal
from the barrel of a gun,
widening and you chase after it
with your mouth open
and your teeth exposed,
don’t think of the sun.


When the sun comes up
that’s not the time to think about it.
There’s a gust in the fire,
a slick flash across yellow pants.
If there’s blood on your leg, that
something jumped out of the black
smoke to lay over your ankle
like a dying cat,
now is not the time.
If the depths of remorse
have no depths at all
because remorse smells bad,
remorse has no other home
but the place between the mouth
and the throat where smell resides
but it smells, and tastes, and looks
like skin. Remorse is a skin
thrown down into our laps.
Remorse is the skin
one particular god will shed
after a pleasant dream
where people don’t die
before he gets there,
not in houses, nor in fires,
and he doesn’t bump into people
who are trying to do good,
and he doesn’t bump into things
trying to save somebody's life.

Low Visibility

Attention please
I would like to direct your attention
to certain memorial items.
Contrary to popular opinion,
I don’t care about your feelings.
You don’t even know who I am.
I don’t know you.
That’s why it’s best to be honest,
at least, with each other.
In spite of all the information,
I could stare at a telephone for days
and would you call?
I could read books on Eros
until every last pidgeon was dead,
but that wouldn’t solve the problem.
The problem is,
strangers are interesting people.
If it weren’t for them,
We’d hate everybody.
I couldn’t sit in the room with you
for one minute
if I knew who my mother was.
And if my father weren’t dead,
I’d beat the hell
out of your priest.
If I spent any more time
with my brother, it would be
one catastrophe after another.
I’d have to do drugs
just to keep my pants up.
But as it is, the world is full enough
of people I don’t know.
So I’m in a good mood.
And it’s because of this
I would like to direct your attention
away from the first time
you ever saw a dead cricket.
Let’s not think about that.
That is not, as they say,
Noble Material.
When you first saw
that frozen jagged skeleton
on the sidewalk
like an unplayed note of music,
that’s not what I’m talking about.
I’m talking about Jesus.
I’m talking about logical memorial
articles: I’m talking
about the time you froze
thinking about thinking.
I’m talking about the time you blinked.
I’m talking about the time
You gave the finger to that kid
playing in the front yard.
He was only three!
What’s wrong with you?
Are you out of your noodle?
Are you wet in the face?
Are you an atheist?

Animal in Orbit

Present as a shuttle
the white brain returns with its halves
halved again by infinity.
Each night we spent in its orbit.
Every forest inside a shuttle
we found more dense.
Every shuttle in the space of sleep
more particular and cruel.
How into the forest
where in the flooring of crease and fold
the animal’s mouth we found open
and its tongue pounding
black to orange and back to black stripes
down the spine of sleep.
Sleep which we said was a space,
but meant it was a guitar
or a stomach hung on a nail. But
the technical aspect of the brain
is how its shuttle is made
by the pressing of space
into a carcass. How love begins!
Now we learned to love again
how one fingerprint is pressed
into a circuit board.
Every report it made
concerning bacteria culture on Mars
was preceded by our dream—
in sleep we go no place.
In sleep we are absorbed.
In sleep we are significant,
the electric motes laced together
by a splinter of bone.
The animal we seek is the orange beast.
That we said was just daytime again
knocking on the eyelid
and knocking solidly, waking us up
asking for breakfast.
But in space
I’ll tell you what
we learned to wake up
and face its orange face,
read that palm for just which hand
to use pulling back the sheets,
leave, track the capillary map
on its faceless face—
when to open an eye, when
to do so meant ripping open
its endlessly killable stomach
unrolling the entrails of this eternity
and spill out a bathroom, its plumbing,
the car keys and the subsequent ignition,
the insurance policy, the pair of shoes.
We learned to keep the planet together.
We learned we had to wake up
like scientists do,
without opening an eye.

I Like Where My House Is

So what happened to the naked woman
in the ice cube? I think she moved.
I think there’s a thaw coming
with the heat of fear that we’re next,
though next for what, you got me.
But what happened to the guy in the camel,
his pecker in his hand?
Why did everybody stop smoking?
Their porches weep with new paint.
Why are roses white again?
I thought lovers enjoyed red roses.
Why are violets blue
and bright as blood?
The people across the street
do have hands that scare me.
You have to expect that,
like death, like tax forms, riddle
with blank after blank of radiant cliches.
It’s the people’s hands though,
they’re clean as a baby’s liver,
futureless, perfectly smooth.
One man keeps his hands apart
at all times. That’s the trick,
one doesn’t know what the other one does
until they resemble two glaciers
broken off from the Arctic.
But they’re out there, right there,
in his the front yard,
nuzzling under the sun.
They are a nightmare that stands for
zoning laws, censorship, other topics...
but suffice to say
the subliminal perks are gone.
It’s not so bad.
I’m silly for complaining.
I have an excellent greenhouse.
It might be always winter
but I have a parrot that can recite
Flaubert. I have a pet
that helps people die.
I have a question, a fuse
about to blow in the middle
of a snowstorm.
I like where my house is.
It’s like a lost dog bellowing
the perimeter of a city block.
I like how the roof is shaped
like the Stetson that Lee Shelton
shot Billy Lyons over.
I like where my house is.
The neighbors are deaf.
Jesus is nowhere to be found.
I can clap my hands all I want.

It Fell

Once there was a redheaded man without eyes and without ears.
He had no hair either, so that he was a redhead was just something they said.
  He could not speak, for he had no mouth. He had no nose either.
  He didn't even have arms or legs. He had no stomach either, and he had no
back, and he had no spine, and no intestines of any kind. He didn't have
anything at all. So it is hard to understand whom we are really talking about.

                     — Daniil Kharms, Blue Notebook. no. 2

The snowman is the atheist.
The snowman is a perfect virgin.
The snowman has no idea.
He’s a eunuch in a blizzard
of American flags.
And now the wind blows so hard
folks keep their eyes on tall buildings
as if a gaze can do anything
but squeeze the life out of the bank.
(It’s amazing the watercourse
money takes, free of its irony,
seeding a riverbed in an otherwise
tropical climate, like ours,
germinating, compressed by heat,
exploding inward into itself
exploding this season into a snowflake
blown from its stem, nature
is remarkable, blown into spores,
blown into a plague of snow)

And the snowman is the mascot
for our current blizzard.
His arm is the split stick of the house
of Israel. His pre-castrate sex
is the state of unity we enjoy
instead of genocide, except
his suit is a matter of jokes
about what nation he comes from.
The snowman is the fool.
I don’t know what happened.
I think it fell.

What more I can tell about the snowman?
His face isn’t there. No carrot, no coal.
That food and fuel has been blown clean
by the blizzard.
Maybe it was never there.

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