Mudlark Flash No. 115 (2017)

Breaking News
Poems by Gary Duehr

American Gothic

Has my subject been wrung dry
By 20th-century novelists—who wonder why
A regular guy
Halfway through his life would suddenly find that he’s
Without belief, adrift? Am I
That guy? I don’'t want to be. Still, these
Days keep piling up.
Once I found myself wiping my face
With a washrag in the bathroom mirror, trying to erase
The feeling I’d fucked up.
Does that count? I haven’t sobbed out loud
For 20 years or more.
Maybe I should. That scary place at four
In the morning, when a crowd
Of strangers line up in dreams to accuse you—
That’s when things get shaky.
Does that amuse you?
Can any of us truly locate the unique aching
In those nearest to us? Imagine staring
At “American Gothic” and seeing a startling
Truth about a man and wife
Behind the pitchfork and grim expressions, like a palette knife
That scrapes you. Here we are
Like any couple, driving in our car
To some friends’ house for dinner. Conversation slows.
On Sirius, the CNN shows
Bark out the latest snafus. Every moment
Thrums with wariness, a foment
Of ideas assembled, piece by piece, on short notice.
The headlights scoop a tunnel
Between the snowy mounds. We pull
Into the driveway, kill the engine. Below the surface,
Nothing’s happened; everything’s happened.
Language fails. The End.

24 Hours

We open on a normal American living room.
Family photos lined up on the mantle, a Purple Heart
In its frame. But then we zoom
Closer. Splashed across the wall, like abstract art,
A bloody splatter.
You wonder what’s the matter.
A kill team from an unnamed Mideast state
Has slipped into the U.S.
To search for sleeper cells, who secretly await
Activation. It’s them not us.
What a TV fantasy. You’re asked to imagine
A mushroom cloud
Blooming over New York City, as Cheney did in
Pushing for the war in Iraq. Or that a crowd
Of desperate refugees
From seven banned Muslim countries
Could pose an existential danger.
They could be in your neighborhood, that stranger
On the bus. They could be anywhere.
They’re the stuff of nightmare.
You let them in, whoever they are,
And see what happens? We carry the scar
Of every awful thing that has ever gone wrong.
Like a film reel, there’s a long
Shot of people running away, another boom
Then puffs of smoke, sirens as
Helicopters hover. Then it’s over. There’s room
For tearful pleas, silences.
Cut to the president, who darkly cites,
“People pouring in. Bad!”
You think, Maybe it’s better for cities
To err on safety’s side. What if only a few turn bad?

What if there’s a ticking time bomb
And they’ve just taken
Your child? What then? Should questioning be a balm
While you look on, helpless, forsaken?
Be nice, and be a day too late?
Or should we use force:
Let’s make American mean again, a farce
Of primal fears. Wouldn’t that be great?

Self-Portrait in Blue Jacket

For Max B., whose lifelong exile
From Germany, his native country, ended while
He was crossing Central Park West
At 69th St., on December 27, 1950, to see his latest
“Self-Portrait” at the Met.
(At 66, a heart attack felled him on the street.)
In almost every one, a cigarette
Jabs out at us, as he contemplates a secret.
Max, what is it?
Some vestiges of Paris or Berlin, the twilit
Faces, like death-masks, at a cocktail party? The earth
Swerves under them. Five years later, my birth.
Now I’m five years younger
Than when Max died. Five years, and I wonder
What comes next. I can feel Max’s restlessness
At the Plaza and St. Regis
Hotel bars, his favorite haunts. Alone, he’d sketch
The ruddy patrons, their scowls.
Everyone’s unhappy, everyone needs to retch
From the bottom of their souls.
In New York, in a bar, I love the space
Between my glass and the mirror. I see my face
That’s older, closer to my father:
Glasses, jowls, a bristle of gray hair. I gather
Data in a one-to-one survey.
I’m at the Met today
To see Max, and to ask him how it feels
To live apart. Is it as real as
His other life a lifetime ago, the grimy Weimar dives
Where he was king? How many lives
Do we each get? At the Met
Max glares back at me in his blue jacket.

I Am Batman

In the new Lego Batman movie, Batman
Reveals his deepest fear:
To be alone. I get that, man.
And what’s his secret desire? It’s clear:
To be part of a family again. And though I’m me—
Not a cartoon of a multicolored
Plastic toy that’s based on a comic book—it could be argued
We share a history.
There’s the picture of his mom and dad, who were shot
In a mugging, on the wall of Wayne Mansion.
No amount of lobster thermidor, nuked and eaten
Late at night, can undo the thought
Of what happened. Nor can watching reruns of Jerry Maguire
Complete him, or the Batcave’s shiny gizmos, or his sleek black attire.
So why does Batman push away
Those who get too close: Robin, Alfred, a whole array
Of supervillains, including the Joker, who so
Wants to be his prime archenemy—his evil bro.
Does Gotham City, after crisis upon crisis,
Suffer an outrage fatigue? Is there a past to miss?
I remember Sargent’s poignant
Oil painting, “The Daughters of Edward Boit.”
How a hundred years ago, the four girls in the front hall
Dawdled beside the tall blue vases. How all
Of them—mother, father, the girls, Sargent—are gone.
Down in Texarkana, at 94, my mom keeps on.
Her house in Illinois, our family address
For four generations, sits vacant, the yard a mess. 

Breaking News

It’s hard to keep up with each new disaster.
They just keep coming, faster and faster. What’s the last error?
Take your pick.
A phone call here, a phone call there, the tick tock tick
Of hourly disgraces. Hanging up
On the Australian PM, threatening the Mexican Pres.
With sending in U.S. troops to round up
All the “bad hombres”
Jesus, hit pause. There’s no time to get nostalgic
For last week’s gaffe: using the CIA’s wall of heroes
As a backdrop for a narcissistic 
CV: number of Time covers, despite the media ho’s.
Never mind the farcical rollout
Of the ban that’s not a ban, the national fallout
From nominees whose nominal expertise is close to nil.
Timeout for a photo-op. See the sparkly Harley cycle
On the White House lawn?
See the president’s tie, so red and long,
As he strides down the East Room’s carpet
To announce his latest get?
It’s hard to come up with enough quick rhymes
For the worst of times. 
What’s to be done? Another rally? An online petition?
Post more angry poems? Acts of sedition?
This just in: the Sixties you missed
Are back, from UC Berkeley to DC, and they’re wicked pissed.

Gary Duehr has taught poetry and writing for institutions including Boston University, Lesley University, and Tufts University. His MFA is from the University of Iowa Writers Workshop. In 2001 he received an NEA Poetry Fellowship, and he has also received grants and fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the LEF Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation. Journals in which his poems have appeared include Agni, American Literary Review, Chiron Review, Cottonwood, Hawaii Review, Hotel Amerika, Iowa Review, North American Review, and Southern Poetry Review. His books of poetry include In Passing (Grisaille Press, 2011), THE BIG BOOK OF WHY (Cobble Hill Books, 2008), Winter Light (Four Way Books, 1999) and Where Everyone Is Going To (St. Andrews College Press, 1999). You can find out more about Duehr, his poetry and his public art, at:

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