Mudlark Flash No. 97 (2015)

DisquiEtudes | Poems
by Stephen Bunch

Dyspepsia | Domestic Disturbances | Perturbations

I. Dyspepsia

A Brief History of Corn

after Michael Pollan
Take one genetic mutation,
an evolutionary dead end if not 
for an opposable thumb nearby.
Pollen falls, seeds sprout, Chichen Itza rises,
and corn walks across a continent.
Much later, Nixon 
makes Butz his ag man, 
shrimp leap for air
in the dead zone of the Gulf, 
and Chicken McNugget stalks the fat land.

The Corndog of Consciousness

The vegetable envelops the animal,
which may be poultry, beef, or pork,

or some post-genetic combination thereof.
It rises transformed from a vat of hot oil,

to beckon almost telepathically
at the tawdry county fair, 

in the grade school lunch line,
above the subliminal baseball game—

desire on a stick—take, 
eat, let us become one.

The Daily Entrails

Hope is the thing
on the grill—bled out,
plucked, smoldering—
fit to be consumed 
in a fit of hunger,
then deposited 
with all the other 
disappointing offal, 
the sludge and slurry, 
leaving unchanged, 
hovering, that other
thing with feathers,
that drooling 
buzzard, worry.

Bill and Beth’s Corner Tavern

The jar of hard-boiled pickled eggs
resting on the bar
is the only emblem of irony here.
Everything else is straight discourse
among the owners of elbows
resting on the bar.


They found his Grand Am burning
on a dirt road sixty miles 
this side of the Mexican border,

three days past Thanksgiving,
two lives too late back home in Kansas.

He asked for a cheeseburger
and a chocolate shake,
then said he needed to sleep.

This Just In

Saline County Jail inmate 
beaten with domino-filled sock 
after allegedly stealing 
honey bun

Lawrence Journal-World, 21 June 2011


They called him Doughboy because
it got a rise out of him.

His supervisor at the packing plant
criticized the cut of his pork chops.

He made women nervous
with his cow eyes and sweat stains.

He lived with his mother and drove an Eclipse, 
but mostly he went unnoticed.

They shouldn’t have been surprised
when he walked in that morning

with a Bushmaster and quickly spent
two hundred rounds and ten lives.

In his letter he said things
just weren’t working out. And yes,

he meant to kill the baby
and the dogs.

On Probability and the Primacy of Proximity

“One of my colleagues observed that there are more people working in a single McDonald’s 
than there are trying to save civilization from an asteroid.”  
                                                         — Robert Jedicke, University of Hawaii astronomer
Putcher money where
your mouth is.
Go witcher gut.
A burger in hand 
is worth way more 
than the outside chance
of cosmic shove and push.

But objects may be closer 
than they appear, as say, 
emboli breaking free 
of an accumulated 
lifetime of lunch 
are closer than the next 
dislodged, wayward 
asteroid’s punch.

On Probability, Certainty, and the Science of Satisfaction

I stop at the Gobble ’n’ Go
to pick up a poem and a lottery ticket.

Both are long shots, I know—
words and numbers aligned just right—

so I also grab the sure thing, 
the wiener rotating in an infrared glow.

I’ll count on sleep coming easy tonight,
resting diversified with my portfolio.

Justice and Relativity

The disgraced pharmaceutical CEO
recommends the chili in the vend-o-mat
at the minimum security penitentiary.

It’s not the Four Seasons, he admits
and winks, 
but it’s still pretty good.

The Only Game in Town

One night last winter 
in Allen Fieldhouse
a senior music major from Salina
sang the national anthem
as the woman in front of us 
held a foam plastic plate 
of nachos to her breast.

II. Domestic Disturbances


In Wilson, the Czech Capital of Kansas, 
trains pass through each night not stopping. 

The wooden water tower has been restored
as history, the movie theater now
a museum of settlers’ artifacts,

the high school building 
converted to nursing home.

The café still serves sauerkraut
with fennel seeds during hunting season,
but the pheasants are gone.

Natural Order

Our presidents preside over
serial disasters.

The days fan out into
deltas of lassitude.

Off the highway a sign—
“Boar semen sold here.”

Off I-70

They found his body in an old Toyota
in the tall weeds
back of the fireworks factory.

No gunshot wounds or ligature marks,
no blood spatter, cuts, or contusions,
but the tires had been slashed.

His shoes were shined.
We thought he was smiling.
The medical examiner said rictus.

Lead Indicator

You’ve heard the American apocalypse knell
when Wal-Mart runs out of bullets to sell. 

The Killer Takes Leave

The simplest Surrealist act consists of dashing down into the street, pistol in hand, 
and firing blindly, as fast as you can pull the trigger, into the crowd.   
                                                — Andre Breton, “Second Manifesto of Surrealism”
Take this new Quran and these bags 
of frozen broccoli and spinach. 

Here: T-shirts and shelves 
on which to store them.

Here again: an air mattress, two briefcases,
a desk lamp, and sixty dollars.

Is that enough? 
What don’t you understand?

Epistemological Consequences of Facebook

Each morning I know less.
A cousin remembers wringer washers
and dimmer switches on the floorboards of cars.
One “friend” “likes” Sunkist oranges
and dog adoptions.
One posts a picture of the sushi
she had for breakfast.
Some express horror
at the news of dead schoolchildren,
then click “Like” and “Share.”

At the Billy Graham Library

An animatronic cow intones
the life story of the stadium evangelist.
As if a ruminant, even one that speaks, 
could know redemption or chew the cud 
of any abstraction, unaware 
of a meat-hook last judgment. 
As if the songs of mechanical birds 
were still to be heard in Byzantium.

A Recent Survey

More than half of us can’t find our hearts 
and don’t know the shape of our lungs. 
But most of us know where our guts take up space
and can pick out intestines in a lineup of innards.

All but a few, men and women alike, know 
the penis, though its importance splits 
opinions along gender lines.
On the other hand only a slight majority 
admits much knowledge of clitoral matters.
Most support further research.

Respondents were unanimous
in having no spleen, and no one can name 
the four humors anymore.
We know, however, “the neck bone’s 
connected to the back bone,” 
and some among us 
“hear the word of the Lord” 
even if ignorant of dem 
auditory ossicles.

Note: “More than half can’t find heart on body diagram,” CNN, 15 June 2009


On the radio a huckster sells cinnamon extract
and counsels against vaccinations.

In the 1918 flu pandemic
the black angel passed over 
the cinnamon grinders who worked
in the dust of a spice factory,

and their families were spared.

At the pharmacy, behind the rattle 
of pills in bottles,
“Purple Haze” plays softly.

On the Futility of Multitasking

I was reading the ad on a urinal cake
in the men’s room of the all night neon diner.
Something about an online dating service—
or don’t drink and drive—
I don’t remember.

Diversity in Kansas

“God hates Canadian string quartets,” 
said signs waved by the ubiquitous 
anti-gay picketing Topekans 
outside the local performing arts center. 

But they didn’t know the half 
of it. After intermission, 
the Canadian classicists played klezmer
with a Methodist American clarinetist. 


Black hole rips star apart,
whispers the headline
in small type
buried in the back pages
of the local paper.
A star about the size of our sun,
700 million light years beyond 
the city limits.

On the front page, above
the fold, with a large color photo,
the lead story exposes
the annual pot hole problem.
The bold headline warns,
The worst is yet to come.

Ad Astra per Aspera

                       the Kansas state motto
No stellar aspirations for us,
only dim bulbs buzzing
and flickering beneath 

the statehouse dome,
Latin mottoes as neglected
as the statue of Ceres packed
in a crate in a corner
of the capitol basement.
The poor may pray for daily bread.
Give us guns and tax cuts instead.

A Radio Shack Nativity

“When Baby Jesus disappeared last year from a Nativity scene on the lawn of the Wellington, Fla., community center, village officials didn’t follow a star to locate him. A GPS device mounted inside the life-size ceramic figurine led sheriff’s deputies to a nearby apartment, where it was found face down on the carpet. An 18-year-old woman was arrested in the theft. Giving up on old-fashioned padlocks and trust, a number of churches, synagogues, governments and ordinary citizens are turning to technology to protect holiday displays from pranks or prejudice.”     — Associated Press

The neighborhood Herodians
are out of luck this year—
this boy child’s staying put.
The crèche comes complete with GPS
embedded in the Baby Jesus.
The magi never had it so good.
The hidden manger Web cam 
with wireless pastoral router 
allows multitasking shepherds
to worship from afar 
as they watch their flocks by night
and listen to the angelic choir
beaming down on satellite radio,
Gloria in excelsis Deo.

Man Takes Out Trash

He rolls the receptacle out
to the curb—
not Sisyphus exactly.

III. Perturbations

The Butterfly Effect (11/7/07)

The governor of Georgia 
prays for rain. 

In Washington 
a cow falls off a cliff,

drops two hundred feet 
and lands 

on a van on vacation 
from Michigan.

Thousands of bananas 
wash ashore 

on two Dutch 
North Sea islands

before the people
can say amen.

Ben Klassen Rejects the Opposable Thumb
and Experiences Unintended Consequences

After inventing the electric 
can opener, he was free 

at last to write 
The White Man’s Bible

and then commit

Adam Smith Stands at the Door and Knocks

When I shook his hidden hand 
I noticed the Masonic ring.

“I’m also Unitarian,” he said,
“and utilitarian to a degree.
I’m selling cell phones and hedge funds
and automobile warrantees,
motorized chairs and Beach Boys songs,
life insurance, pharmaceuticals, 
cemetery plots with free wi-fi,
just jockeying for the future,”

which was good enough for me.
The future after all has brought us this far.
I bought two, then sent him on his way.

Locke Down

The social contract has become 
a diversion agreement.

The Question of Currency

Cash or charge, debit
or credit, paper
or plastic, with

or without, here
or to go, here 
and now or there

and then, now 
or never, to be
or maybe.


We take it even
though it’s a common-
place, a given.

It’s the indicator
of the national psyche,
the medium that makes

up the soup
of our circumstance,
the butt against

the shoulder, steadying
our crosshairs
on the steer’s head.

A Brief Disquisition in Support of HR1378 for the Licensure
of Professional Philosophers and Metaphysicians

First, do no harm.
A trained philosopher can
do anything and,
if unregulated,


When empires decline, the populace
retreats to the solace of circuses.

The British have their royal reality show.
A pregnant duchess opens new possibilities
at betting parlors across the land—
date of birth, gender, Christian name.
The commonwealth has purpose again.

In the U.S., the citizens discuss
Survivor and invest in an American idol.
We’ll take Ted Mack over Tom Paine
any time, no contest, no vote needed.
The republic has quietly receded. 

Virtuous Reality

Unlike its virtual cousin,
it beggars imagining.

Attention Deficit Hyperlink Disorder

The term social media 
is as aptly redundant as
the phenomena it designates.

What Even Dan Brown Won’t Tell Us

The Vatican doesn’t want us 
to know Leonardo 
invented the electric guitar
with inlay of chalcedony and lapis lazuli 
and airy strings of spun silver.

But it’s there, waiting 
in the vault, tuned and ready
for the Lead Guitarist’s shout, 
“Hello, New Jerusalem!
Are you ready to rock?”

On Learning That Shakespeare’s Sonnets
Have Been Encoded on a Double Helix

Just when we thought separation
is the unifying paradigm
Big Bang to burial
we learn the loop
has been closed.


A marriage counselor has been murdered
by her cuckolded husband, who happens
to be a divorce attorney.

An oncologist killed a mother of five
while sending a text message
at seventy miles per hour.

Here is a picture of Jimmy,
napping with his dog, Cosmo.

Epistemological Inferences from Science Fiction Movies

The official spoken language of the universe is English,
and the official written language is Egyptian hieroglyphics.
Deep space explosions and telepathy require no subtitles.
All creatures known and unknown possess mouths.
The rule of sequels obtains, even in parallel universes,
and gravity gives rise to reason, weightlessness to panic.
Despite our investment in it, the moon sheds little light.

The Extended Forecast

The TV eschatologist stands before the blue screen 
and begins to break the seven seals. 
A shadow moves over the face of the Atlantic.
A hidden hand fidgets with the axis mundi.
He predicts wormwood showers 
along the west coast, then east to the Rockies. 
Drought and locusts across the Great Plains,
with intermittent apparitions of the Beast.

The news co-anchors look nervous,
the weatherman miffed.
The sports guy rewrites his copy, 
scrambling to work the word
plague into his account
of the home team’s latest losing streak.

To No Avail, Ecclesiastes Applies SPF 60 and Steps
into the Noonday Sun to Deliver His Monolog

Stop me if
you’ve heard
this one....

Stephen Bunch lives and writes in Lawrence, Kansas, where he received the 2008 Langston Hughes Award for Poetry from the Lawrence Arts Center and Raven Books. His poems can be found in Autumn Sky Poetry, The Externalist, The Literary Bohemian, Fickle Muses, IthacaLit and Umbrella. From 1978 to 1988, he edited and published Tellus, a little magazine that featured work by Victor Contoski, Edward Dorn, Jane Hirshfield, Donald Levering, Denise Low, Paul Metcalf, Edward Sanders, and many others. After a fifteen-year hibernation, he awoke in 2005 and resumed writing. Preparing to Leave, his first gathering of poems, was published in 2011. Bunch can be found on the Map of Kansas Literature near L. Frank Baum and Gwendolyn Brooks. [He reports that property values tanked when he moved into the neighborhood.]

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