Mudlark Poster No. 118 (2014)

Curious Portents Involving My Bearded Neighbor
Poems by John Wall Barger


The Death of Jolly Dolly
Wedding Goblin
A Cluster of Ants on the Shag Rug
Returning What was Stolen
At the Foot of Rapunzel’s Tower
People Came Back from the Other Side All the Time...
Curious Portents Involving My Bearded Neighbor...

The Death of Jolly Dolly

I dreamt she was terribly thin, 
horribly thin. I staggered to the river, 
tubes trailing my arms like 
kite strings. There they all were, 
bowing like bad children. 
Midget City sang a dirge: 
“Jolly Dolly’s gone as an old 
dog bone!” Pop-eyed Paul 
caterwauled. The gravedigger 
spat, leaning on his spade. 
That’s her in the open piano, 
soft as a newborn elephant 
on red satin. She who laughed 
like a burning bush. She 
who fell through the oak floor 
of her wagon. It took four 
to love her, twelve to lower 
her sarcophagus. General Gus 
spouted the usual crap: 
(“Forty angels have descended 
to haul away her lightest self 
to that Freak Show on high...”) 
He didn’t know her. None of them 
knew her. Tenderhearted, my ass. 
Walrus, more like. A Gillette blade 
voice that whittled your heart 
to bite-size. But it had started 
to snow & so I wished our giant 
a place in a giant land, 
where she could feel small.

Wedding Goblin

The father cried when I asked the bride to dance. 
We twirled & she laughed, nervously. 
The groom breathed on me. I uncurled my 
tongue like a storm sky (I had a speech 
prepared): “Run.” He let out a dulcet mew.
The bride spun still. I reached below her pleats 
where the world begins. I lowered her 
to the parquet. Quiet breathers circled us. 
She moaned—splayed, her pink core splayed—
a she wolf in heat. The guests parted for me. 
What else could they do? My fingernails 
were knives; I had a Ming emperor’s eyes.
I’ve heard them say, through their chimneys, 
“All who are not us are enemies.” So. 
Hours after the party, the forest quiet 
but for the hounds. They will not find me
among the acts & portions of the world 
arranging itself in the lead-blue dark.
I am a mushroom, a white destroying angel
on a whisper of grass, trembling with 
what I have done. So happy I’m odorless.

A Cluster of Ants on the Shag Rug

	                     She lit her fifth cigarette.
I went at the cold olives in the jar. 
Would she leave her teeth in all evening? 
I held up an olive. “Olives are fruit” 
I said. She just kept at it, talk talk 
talk. An old man stepped in 
through a tear in the screen door. 
“I’m the Austrian Underwear King!” 
he said. “O shut up, Grandpa,” 
she said. With his drooping moustache, 
he resembled an SS officer who’d 
come upon a miraculous & pointless 
innocence. His scalp reeked of 
soy sauce & old-timey hair lotions. 
He & I stooped over the rug, inspecting 
a cluster of ants. Lifting his army boot
—to stomp them, possibly—he declared, 
“To make humans they killed a god. 
Cut his throat, mixed the blood with dirt.”
He sized me up. “All right,” I said. 
He grinned toothlessly, placing his boot
on his knee. I was supposed to know, 
I think, why he didn’t stomp the ants.
Red & black ants were battling 
to the death, as in the Bhagavad-Gita,
& the sun was coming up.

Returning What was Stolen

The linen factory on our hill 
leaked greenbrown sludge into the river. 
Local kids started acting weird, 
hunting the feral dogs that trot
the sidewalk like skinny mariachis, 
the same dogs that chase & kill 
the tail-less alley cats we feed, 
which kill the marvelous geckos 
that stand on our ceiling staring
like philosophers, & which eat 
red ants. This hot summer evening, 
my wife & I lean to watch red ants 
drag their goods—leaves, bugs, 
pebbles—out of a hole onto the grass.
Isn’t that backwards? I say. Maybe, 
says my wife, they’re returning 
what they stole. Out of the ground
ants haul a dead dragonfly, greenbrown. 
It rides their backs over the sidewalk
like a missile being shipped 
to some Area 51 under a parked car.

At the Foot of Rapunzel’s Tower

I, last of a species of nasty creatures,
mumble a ceaseless monologue.
I never glimpse her but a musty 
aftertaste hangs in the air, 
perfume a child’s doll might daub 
behind the ears of a mouse.
The state troopers at her door 
watch me like hungry cats. 
Sometimes they break into song! 
Creepers thread her wrecked windows.
The goat paths that led me here 
have grown over. I am in no hurry.
As if the earth were about to happen 
but something gets in the way: 
a meteor, or Hitler rejected from 
art school, or Anna Karenina 
leaping. Behind the stone column 
a loom squeaks, a suture between worlds. 

People Came Back from the Other Side All the Time
      & Told Us But We Didn’t Believe Them

I smiled at a man & he offered me heroin.
“No, thanks,” I said. He told me his life story.
He’d deserted his wife in Bangladesh. 
His hair was feathered & his pants sharp. 
“You pulled yourself up by the bootstraps!” 
I said. He grinned. A dog squeezed past
sniffing scraps. I followed the dog.
He had a weeping sore for an ear. 
He ate a pile of cigarette butts. “Yuck!” 
I said. The dog looked over. Sadly, I thought. 
“Aw,” I said. “Doin’ OK, ain’t you, boy? 
Pulling yourself up by the bootstraps!”
The sky swirled like soup in a bowl. 
Umbrellas floated back & forth like spores.
A typhoon turned out of a single dark 
point of origin, size & shape of a tongue. 
I smiled. The typhoon, albeit menacing, 
was just doing its thing. It had started out 
as vapor puff, & by the looks of it
was making quite a life for itself. 
I thought I heard fish singing. O angel 
of history, your face is turned away 
from the future, after all. We are alone. 
I looked under my jacket & laughed. 
How long had I been wearing a bomb? 

Curious Portents Involving My Bearded Neighbor
     on a Sunday Evening After Heavy Rain

	                   Anatomy textbook pages 
swirl in the street like flower petals.
As if—under a sun reborn—some opera 
were imminent. Enough to make 
a man burst into tears or start a fight. 
Storm clouds toe the horizon, 
vaudevillians in slate blazers. 
Here is my neighbor, walking
his old dog, the very dog 
that’s kept me awake for months, 
barking at nothing. I once considered 
poisoning her. Tonight her beauty
—her kindly wet eyes, 
her proud white muzzle—
grips me. “Pardon me, sir,” 
I say, “but is your dog calling out, 
Dionysus, Dionysus?” 
He smiles. “Friend, 
she’s crying, Grace, Grace.”

John Wall Barger is a Canadian poet currently living in Dharamsala, India, with his wife. His poems have appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Rattle, The Cortland Review, and The Montreal Prize’s Global Poetry Anthology, and are forthcoming in Subtropics. His second book, Hummingbird (Palimpsest Press), was a finalist for the 2013 Raymond Souster Award.

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