Mudlark Poster No. 86 (2010)

Two Poems by Oliver Rice

Harry Comes, A Stranger, Perceiving
Who Sometimes Wake in the Wrong City

Harry Comes, A Stranger, Perceiving

                    Travel is broadening.

He flies the global freight,

pajamas from Seoul,
drill bits from Rotterdam,
orchids, gold bullion, corn flakes, aspirin
for San Francisco, Johannesburg, Riga,

descends on the tin roofs of Freetown,
the hackberry trees of Nashville,
anonymous and free,
faculties poised for the world’s arrangements,

the swallows at dusk swooping over the Nile,

the Great Dragon roiling through the Alley of Fans.

          Thoreau traveled widely in Concord.

What does he learn from gazing on Mount Fuji,
Mount Kilimanjaro, Mont Blanc,
from riding a camel,
sunning on the Lido?

They have lives there,
in Glasgow, in Damascus
behind the doorways, on hidden roofs,
have axioms, silent ironies,
anxieties, misdemeanors,

wily hands,

cousins of the firewalker, the geisha,
selves disguised as representative persons,

leaning into guitars, sitars, balalaikas.

He roams in fantasies
of golden domes and hovels,
of Zen and voodoo and intafada,
of what the children know,

why the dogs bark,

where the lovers meet.

                  Culture follows trade.

In the cockpit,
back over the Andes, Urals, Tetons,
his viscera quicken with anthropology,
old nuances of calypso and healing books,
of Irish pubs and the African night,
free enterprise and Maori wit,

of an Ashanti carving,

the British Museum,

a house in Heidelberg where at midnight
he yearned to understand everything.

            Montaigne, like may public men,
                   retired in full maturity;
                   to pastoral contemplation.

On a morning that will not come again
he approaches through a smog over Tel Aviv,
into one of his days when a discontent,
a miasma hangs about the posters on the kiosks,
the statues, the warehouses, the aquarium,

the headlines,

when the stimuli collude with agile technocrats,
dark fables loiter in the flea markets,
the banks of the Thames, the Seine, the Danube
are littered with discarded meanings.

Weeds grow in the Colosseum.

Venice sinks.

Who Sometimes Wake in the Wrong City

Here in this stop-action shot
on Central Avenue on Saturday afternoon
is a person who cheats at solitaire,
are eleven certifiably honest citizens,
practitioners of the civilities
and the work of belonging,
is one who has been heard
to bluster at a voting machine,
is one who has fantasies of a little tractor
with various accessories for lawn care,

     inheritors of all anthropology,
     remote subjects of the geoculture,
     of the national myths.

This is the mayor, peace lover,
guardian of the conventional wisdom,
ingenuously hospitable to all advocates,
who barely perceives his prime motivation
is to restore the society of his youth,
slyly dissuading contrary notions.

This is the city manager, pragmatist,
advocate of reasoned, efficient government,
irritant of the old guard,
the complacent, the nostalgic,
who declare him too ambitious,
impractical and overly schooled.

In another stop-action shot
on Central after a brief shower
are three unannounced candidates
for the school board
or the chamber of commerce,
is an adolescent whose intent is
to raid the mores and the family resources,
are sixteen who daily elect not to read
nor watch nor listen to the news,
is a widow who has started piano,

     heirs of their grandfathers’ wiles,
     of their mothers ways of doing,
     liable to the whims of their peers.

Here is a terminal octogenarian
who feels the world is leaving her, not she it.

There is a six-month embryo
who blinks at noises from his habitat.

Oliver Rice’s poems have appeared widely in journals and anthologies in the United States, as well as Canada, Argentina, England, The Netherlands, Austria, Turkey, and India. His book of poems, On Consenting to Be a Man, is offered by Cyberwit, a diversified publishing house in the cultural capital Allahabad, India, and is available on

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