Mudlark Flash No. 41 (2007)

Mark Dow  |  Recap and Other Poems

from Certain Uncertain December Days
Partial Inventory of Immediate Surroundings Omitted from the Preceding Poem
Style Is the Perfection of a Point of View

Mark Dow has been a finalist in the Yale Younger Poets and Colorado Prize competitions. His work has appeared in Threepenny Review, Chicago Review, Boston Review, Pequod, Salmagundi, Southern Review, Big City Lit, and His translations of Manno Charlemagne’s songs from Haitian Creole are in Conjunctions, and his translations of Laura Wittner’s poems from Spanish are in Green Integer. He is the author of AMERICAN GULAG: INSIDE US IMMIGRATION PRISONS (California 2004) and co-editor of MACHINERY OF DEATH: THE REALITY OF AMERICA’S DEATH PENALTY REGIME (Routledge 2002).


That tourists walking down the middle of the boulevards
           at Disneyland, in Anaheim, reclaim a kind of freedom.
That Catholics worship opulence.
That Protestants worship themselves.
That the Balinese are said to experience the divine in groups
          while remaining individuals.

That identity is a burden.
That genuineness is a burden too.
That necessity is a burden as well.
That maintaining a vivid look is also a burden.

That worship ends and begins in idolatry.
That attention is a form of devotion.
That the first sign of consciousness is representation.
That we draw lines to distinguish ourselves.

That self-consciousness wasn’t always like this.
That the ones we trust sometimes sometimes look askance at us.
That there is continuity across the generations of ants in a colony.
That we knew more before we were born.

That there is news about the Neanderthals.
That there is isolation and overcrowding.
That we cannot seem to stop making hierarchies.
That we have questions.

That Oprah is fond of doing shows uniting actors who portray
          real-life characters with the real-life characters they portray.
That Julia Roberts is more comfortable in her body
          than the real-life Erin Brokovich is in hers.
That the real-life Erin Brokovich is comfortable in her body,
          but not on stage the way an actress is.
That this is not to say Julia Roberts is not a nice person in real life,
          because on camera as herself she seems that she probably is.

That people may or may not know what they are missing.
That some people come for the music.
That the believers are right except insofar as that they believe.
That nothing is false.

That Parmenides was granted a vision by a goddess who took him for a ride
          in her chariot of the well-rounded sphere that is everything that is.
That the big shift came in the eighteenth century.
That people didn’t always talk to each other the way they do now.
Did so.

That the old carpet was removed, leaving a battered wooden stairway
          with patches of glue on it.
That the architecture of the brain and the environment around it interact.
That the man dining alone spills his water.
That there are no coincidences and they are everywhere.

That the line between inside and outside is everything.
That we’re feeling claustrophobic in the vestibule.
That the man at the next table just knocked his water over.
Not on purpose but it’s over.

from Certain Uncertain December Days

The snow that’s wet’s becoming rain.
Mind seems to itself, and cleaner.
To live in verse’s easy since
it’s always possible to come or go
back to the starting place,
to always be again where one began,
the point at which extension has
begun to draw the line that goes
both ways. “Thus Descartes was not
so far from truth when he believed
he must exclude the existence of
an empty space. The notion indeed
appears absurd, as long as physical
reality is seen exclusively in ponderable
bodies,” Einstein will write. Well
duh. Omniscience is nothing to fear.
What of some pain which diminishes
along the spectrum of perceptible tones
to utter silence before the articulation
of it can shape it flush to fit
and hold still in the ongoing body
or room of its dwelling
and resonant habituation?

Partial Inventory of Immediate Surroundings
Omitted from the Preceding Poem

Cans of Sterno, the Virgin,
a cracked, uncoiled garden hose,
unplugged electronic cash register,
a palette of ten-speed bikes.
Dusty back issues of Elle.
A power saw without a blade.
Stacks of plywood, coils of blue
nylon rope, unopened underwear,
number ten cans of curry paste
and pickled Indonesian beets.
Wall calendar from sixty-four
with photographs of national parks.
Six or seven toilet seats. A sombrero.
Cigar boxes covered with glitter and glue.
A Wiffle ball, sunglasses,
the Los Angeles County
Drivers’ Education Handbook,
mouse droppings, mouse traps,
signed pictures of ex-presidents,
pinball machine, crucifix,
small bronze Buddha and
about a thousand cheap spoons
of every conceivable size.

Style Is the Perfection of a Point of View

A Frederick Wiseman Retrospective

One viewer wants to know what happens to the horse with the bum leg they operate on. At the cafeteria there are faces and faces and faces and faces, each one at a time. Handlers soap and rinse a stallion’s enormous hard cock before and after he mounts, and the woman announcing at the Racetrack practically sings out the name So Pleasantly.

The first words spoken in The Store are “(This is) too orange.” An executive tells the salesgirls, “Style is the perfection of a point of view.” Art Buchwald praises Stanley Marcus for putting integrity above profits during the McCarthy era. Wiseman’s reflection in a Mylar birthday balloon. Escalators rising.

In Belfast, Maine, a fox’s pelt peels away from the flesh like a membrane glove; there’s water. A delicate hand in the clunky machinery makes chocolate donuts with coconut; water. Shiny mackerel stream through shiny chutes, frantic fingers snip heads and tails before canning; more water. After his stroke, a man cut back from his 7-to-8 pack-a-day habit to 3-to-4. Graveyard. Ice cream truck.

The recovered addicts read Bob a verse from Revelations about opening a door. Tommy, who is accused in Juvenile Court of assaulting a girl with intent to fondle, tells the shrink his third wish is to have three more wishes. The allegedly assaulted girl’s brother wearing a Snoopy for President T-shirt twice momentarily blocks the camera’s view. Lisa speaks of being alone sometimes, and Pam, who doesn’t want to wear a bra to school, asks, “How can the law be any good if it doesn’t make sense?”

The crew-cut man with the thick ring and thick fingers tells the young man in High School that his job is to respect those in seats of authority. The young man, who later gets punched in the mouth, says being a man means standing up for what he believes is right. A defiant young woman fingers her skirt hem, and a worried mother her pocketbook.

Someone’s filming a music video with dancers dressed like natives, someone’s shooting a commercial with models in furs, someone mentions a short film about Central Park, someone’s shooting an African dance piece, Francis Coppola’s shooting in Central Park, and there are Mylar balloons, too fast to catch the mike or the cameraman.

A marching band member at the NASCAR race gently touches the parked school bus with his fingers, and fingers on piano keys, on books (the sign for “were” is 2-3-5-6), on walls with other fingers guiding them through the school for the Blind. A boy whose teacher tells the principal she prefers not to spank him will have to miss the trip to Showbiz Pizza. Trains whistle through the afternoon air and the dusk air of Talladega.

The soldiers in Basic Training look like somber drag queens in camouflage paint and tree limbs, though earlier they were marching and calling a ditty about Nixon dropping the bomb so they don’t have to go to Nam. “This is not my country. Let’s be frank,” says a black recruit to his white higher-up. The clay mine, a teacher explains, blasts ball bearings and metal fragments in a 60-degree fan and says “Front Toward Enemy” on it because the blast is unidirectional.

“Weakness and equivocation is provocative,” says a young Alexander Haig in Manoeuvre; “equivalence and readiness is protective.” A soldier tells how one side of a guy’s tank was covered with chewing tobacco stains. An old woman looks down from her window as the convoy passes through town, a young woman engages the soldiers in good English about the hunger there in Germany after the war. A cargo load slides from the plane toward the camera and stops, just filling the screen.

The public address system broadcasts paging messages into the desert compound. Willie Nelson sings from the pickup’s cab as men shovel sand into bags and tie them shut. “Some people couldn’t take the climate, some people couldn’t take the isolation, some people couldn’t take the repetitive nature of the duty” at Sinai Field Mission, where a group of Finns violated commissary regulations by eating chili at midnight.

A general leads a discussion of the Nuremburg Laws, later reports a report that snacks, including a half-eaten Twinkie, have been left in the training cabs in which operators of Strategic Air Command learn to read clocks and turn their keys simultaneously to launch the Missile, while Muzak illuminates the fluorescently lighted hallways.

Through a fence a young man masturbates a chimp with a lubricated tube in one hand, feeding him Welch’s grape juice with the other, a young woman making notes on copulation comments on a male who is a “connoisseur of feces,” a small orangutan skull makes the sound of a nutshell cracking when it is opened, and over the end-credits the sound of a plane in which the effects of gravity on another Primate are studied by floating scientists.

At the Bicentennial Memorial Day ceremony, the high-school valedictorian reads the Gettysburg Address with water and mountains behind him. Old Panamanians do not laugh while staring at a dubbed episode of Lou Costello. The lowest toll paid for passing through the Canal Zone was thirty-six cents, by a swimmer. A preacher explains God’s creation of Eve for Adam by saying that Adam put his arm around a cow but could only be satisfied by milking her.

In negotiations, a laborer’s fingers in a close-up gesture discreetly, while management’s squeeze and crack themselves, and a supervisor in-between does not speak. On the floor, one of the workers cutting Meat wipes splatter from a small TV screen with a football game on it and turns back to the line. The line-work, the cutting, the white fat and white coats, the dust cattle kick up whitish like the forked breath of the horse helping to herd them. A worker in black-frame glasses and sideburns at lunch when the governor’s visiting opens his eyes from a nap to check his watch.

The teacher saying “See you later, alligator,” and the Deaf student, “In a while, alligator.” Mr. Tiffany telling Peter not to use the word “hate.” The counselor asking for help with the sign for “adjustment.” Another student smiling and practicing the unvocalized p-sound by puffing against a sheet of paper. Students signing to one another in a sunlit yard of brick and chain-link fences as the camera listens.

“Style Is the Perfection of a Point of View” has appeared in print (paper) in Downtown Brooklyn published by Long Island University.

Copyright © Mudlark 2007
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