Lost Sherpa of Happiness

31 posts

So On and So Fourth of July

fireworks

Here we go again. My third least favorite holiday (after Valentine’s Day and Halloween, I mean). The one no one calls July 4th and everyone calls “The Fourth of July.”

Still, this year brings an unusual Fourth. First there’s the elephant in the world, Covid-19 variants, rubbing its hands in glee at the thought of unvaccinated targets. You know, the “I have my rights (to spread disease that might kill people)!” crowd who learned at the orange knee of Typhoid Donny.

Second, there’s the dream slash nightmare (depending on the cable news you watch) that America might actually be thinking of circling back. You know, to the mess the Founding Fathers left for future generations (Civil War being the result). The one still festering because of words like these: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (except women, Blacks, American Indians, and assorted other minorities) are created equal.”

What if, some people are finally asking? What if we went back to all the beautiful language and ideals in our roots and made it real for everyone, not just the few and the privileged? And what if, other people are asking, we sent all these damn socialists back to where they came from so we can keep our myths how we like them?

So there’s that.

But this poem, a few years old now and originally printed in Issue 14 of Unbroken Journal as well as in my second book, Lost Sherpa of Happiness, is more of a lark. A rant, in fact, against all the  (insert invective here) fireworks. And drinking. And general mayhem particular to colors red, white, and blue. Writing it landed me squarely in Curmudgeons Amalgamated Local 406.

Hey. American or not, curmudgeonly or not, red, white, or blue, too, or not — Happy Fourth to you!

 

IT’S THE FOURTH OF JULY

by Ken Craft

and he’s listening to Oh Say Can You See in a sea of runners and an awakening 8 a.m. heat. The blue smell of Ben-Gay on the mentholated old guys & Axe on the sun-venerating young guys & armpit on the just-rolled-out-of-bed lazy guys & no one’s run a New Balance step yet. The ellipsis after the song’s last line is always a chant of USA! USA! USA! from the fun-run campers who must not read (at least footnotes) because they never feel the wet hand of irony in that disunited “U” running down their body-painted backs.

Jesus, but he bolts when the pistol goes, heat or no. On the course, though, he is passed by sausage-heavy middle-aged men & oxy-huffing retired men & stick-legged kids & women of all stars & stripes. Begrudge not, says the Bible, so he celebrates their speed or their youth, their fat or their fair sex—whatever hare-bodied thing there is to celebrate.

That night, after the picnic-table splinters & charred cheeseburgers, after the fries & bottles of we’re-out-of-ketchup, the fireworks mushroom into night clouds & umbrellas rain down hiss & heat sparkle, made-in-China reds, whites & blues. He cranes his neck, the skies soured with smoke & sulfur, holding tight the hand of his sweetheart.

Then it’s blessed be bed, after the grande finds its finale, only he is wakened by more (USA!) fireworks up the street (USA!) at 11:30 p.m. Still the holiday, after all, ignited by the undoubtedly drunk, after all, because booze is God-Bless-America’s drug of choice, after all. The outdoors explodes until midnight & he’s had about all he can stand lying down & cursed be Thomas Jefferson anyway, with his noble agrarian society & its whiskey rebellions & its pursuits of happiness & its God-given rights & its who-the-hell-are-you-to-tell-me, question comma rhetorical.

You know how this ends: It’s insomnia again. In the shallow, post-patriotic hours of the Fifth of July. Come cock-crow morning, on his walk, Fido sniffs the empty nips & plastic fifths along the sandy shoulder of sleepy roads. There’s even a patriotic Bud box, hollowed-be-its-name, white stars emblazoned on the blue of its crumpled carcass.

God bless America, he tells it.

First-Person Point of Dock

dock

Here in Maine, we are in the very heart of what I call Dock Days — mornings and afternoons where you simply while away time on the smooth, sun-struck slats of a dock jutting over a lake.

After a brief heat wave, more reasonable weather has come in. The humidity went to Miami for a few days. The heat signed a cease fire, agreeing to be agreeable, to be more “Maine-like” for the time being.

Dock Days inspired a poem once. I dug it out for a reread yesterday. It’s one of those poems written last for a manuscript (which would become Lost Sherpa of Happiness). One that never had a chance to play the markets and look for a home in some poetry journal.

I often like these orphans best. Never accepted anywhere, but never rejected, either. They just “are,” which is the perfect metaphor for whiling away hours on a dock, like you did when you were a kid and time held nothing against you.

 

From a Dock on a Maine Lake
Ken Craft

Lying here, side of my head resting
on the crook of right arm and gazing
from the grotto of my right eye,
I hear the water and see the creased
dam of my left elbow, the occasional bird
flying through its wild blond grasslands.

The left eye, though. It peers over
the tanned levee, sees the high gold-shot
lake—so high it threatens
to flood and marl the east shore
where clear sky, punctured by treeline,
seeps anemic blue to airy bone.

Shifting to my back I get the sky’s
gas-flame blue scribed by pine and maple
treetops, the firmament a forgotten
language from first-person point of boy.

And my God, the wind! Needles and leaves
nodding like anxious ponies,
wagging like old ladies’ heads
at green gossip. Trees exhaling a ropey
poem of clouds. White thoughts, broken
words, startled birds put to flight. They flock,
elongate, twist and split open like smoky time
seeking its own shore to roost.

How Do You Like THEM Apples?

m80

There’s nothing quite like the quiet after a storm. Thus my love for the Fifth of July, waking early, hearing only birds and wind through tree and leaf. It makes me feel so, I don’t know. Independent of noise.

Thank you, God.

Yesterday was a passing strange day for this blog. Holidays are slow days for online traffic. Notoriously. I only put my poem “It’s the Fourth of July” up because, well, it was the Fourth of July.

But a lot of people must have been home and on the web because a lot of people visited “Updates on a Free-Verse Life.” Most the site’s seen in over a month, in fact. And from all quarters of the Internet.

No one bought a book, which, ironically, was the prime reason for starting the blog so many years ago, but hey, poetry books usually sell only when they come out. Period. Two years later? It would be like Lourdes, where you’d have to separate the mirac- from the –ulous to find readers willing to take a chance on you.

Plus there are all sorts of myths (truths?) about sales and poetry books. One is that only other writers of poetry books buy poetry books, but even that has limits. As a poet, you can only extend your fiduciary kindness so far.

Two is that established poets outsell still-establishing poets (“Here, Peter Quince!”) by a country mile (“country” being Russia, east to west).

Three is that poetry books cost too much. Yes, there’s that. Though you can also argue that poetry by its nature is richer reading than prose because it holds up to rereading and, like music, offers greater pleasures through the act repetition (think “refrain” instead of “refraining from reading”).

In any event, there’s no getting around the fact that parents advise their children to grow up and become lawyers and doctors, not poets. “My son is a doctor,” women will say to their golf party at the club, never, “My son is a poet. How do you like them apples.”

Oh, would it were so. Just to see the expressions on the faces of ladies wearing lime-green skirts and visors before they tee off on the absurdity of it all.

Happy Fifth, folks. Enjoy your barbecued leftovers or, if you’re not American, enjoy the all our ironies from afar. (Assuming you’re bored with enjoying your own!)

One Virus-Related Shortage That Has Been Restocked

nobook

The New York Times reports that, weeks ago, some self-styled American “entrepreneurs,” in a practice called “retail arbitrage,” drove around the country buying up all the hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes they could find because they realized there would soon be high demand for these products due to the impending coronavirus outbreak.

What were these clever dealers planning? Why, to sell these goods on Amazon, Ebay, and other platforms, of course, often at jacked-up prices meant to gouge consumers who were willing to pay the price.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Crazy Claus, and he just came down the chimney. Ask anyone who has been to a grocery store in recent days. You go to buy not only hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes, but toilet paper, water, flour, sugar, vitamins, cold medicine, rubbing alcohol, thermometers, peanut butter, liquor (!), etc., and all you find are shiny shelves.

Was it just last month that we were all joyful and that our lives seemed so normal? Yet here we are—in another place entirely—trying to find our ways again, yearning to summit our challenges, looking high and low for guidance from our lost sherpas of happiness.

Which reminds me. My editor informed me that there has been some “retail arbitrage” going on with poetry books—another high-demand item when people are in their cabins practicing antisocial distancing. “Lots of poetry titles,” she said, “not least of which is your last, Lost Sherpa of Happiness.”

Seems it went out of stock at Amazon when no one was looking. Seems some independent sellers were offering it at marked-up prices (sans Purell).

Scoundrels were barnstorming the brick and mortars, too, raiding Barnes & Nobles and independent bookstores. Savvy sorts realizing in advance that home-bound folks, hiding from the virus, would be seeking its happy succor in nostalgic fits of literary desire.

Well, good news at last. Working in concert with my publisher, we have ordered another printing run and won ironclad assurances from the Amazons-that-be that this collection of poems will not be sold above its retail price, despite the run on supplies, despite any laws of supply and demand, and despite the conspicuous lack of a surprise inside (I may be many things, but Cracker Jack isn’t one of them).

That’s right. No one but no one will be gouged on my watch. And the supply should hold through the rest of March at the very least (he says with fingers crossed).

So, please. If you are still suffering from the sting of other shortages and are feeling a bit blue, know that I have stayed one step ahead of the buyers, gougers, and retail arbitragers for you.

No sell-outs! No virtual shiny shelves! Just poetry books aplenty, free from panic and where you most need them, one click east of cart.

Thank you, and God bless America.

Lost_Sherpa_of_Happiness_Ken_Craft

When Truisms Beget Poetry

trains

Sometimes, as a writer, an idea strikes you so much that you decide to honor it as a personal truism. You hold this truth to be self-evident; the job, then, is explaining how the sun rose on this dawning.

Today’s poem, by the late Jim Harrison, is a great example of one of these abstract truths made concrete. If you can build the idea to the poem’s last line as Harrison does, so much the better. And if the raison d’être is rooted in imagery (here the sounds and sights of trains powered by coal furnaces), better still.

What I like especially is the concept of something appearing to be eternal: the poet ages from boy to man (subject to both change and eventual demise), but the object of his poem seems to be eternal. For me, this idea often springs from animals and nature, but for Harrison, the old train works equally well.  Let’s see how.

All aboard!

 

Kooser called from Nebraska to say he’d found…
Jim Harrison

Kooser called from Nebraska to say he’d found
a large cinder on a long walk along abandoned
country railroad tracks, a remnant of steam
trains, the cinder similar to those our fathers
shoveled from coal furnaces in the early winter mornings
before stoking the fire. In your dark bedroom
you’d hear the scrape of the shovel and the thump
when cinders were dropped in metal washtubs.
Now the trains are all diesel and in Livingston at night
I hear them pass, Burlington & Northern, the horn
an immense bassoon warning the drunks at crossings.
Some complain but I love this night music,
imagining that some of the railroad cars are from
my youth when I stood in a pasture and thrilled
to my favorite, “Route of the Phoebe Snow.”
To be excited by a cinder is to be excited about life.

 

I don’t know about you, but I love “In your dark bedroom / you’d hear the scrape of the shovel and the thump / when cinders were dropped in metal washtubs.” Even if you’re too young to have known these sounds, Harrison makes them real through his description. This talent is a must in the poet’s toolbox.

Then, the train’s horn: “an immense bassoon warning the drunks at crossings.” And the lovely flourish at the end: “To be excited by a cinder is to be excited about life.” That says it all, no? And the readers know it, because each of us could replace “a cinder” with something—seemingly small—that makes us excited about life. Think about it.

Though nowhere near as accomplished, my poem “Here and Gone” was going for the same strategy as Harrison’s: the concept of eternity in the form of something from the past (in this case minnows, dragonflies, and small-mouth bass) looking the same while time works its cruelties on its observer. It’s from my second collection, Lost Sherpa of Happiness:

 

Here and Gone
Ken Craft

excluding a war zone
human death remains
the mad relative
hidden from sight
while nature
files and catalogues
its dead on the public
narrative of roads

why then
looking down on these shallows
at this same school of minnows
hanging in the same green-peg balance
as last month;

looking at
this same dragonfly
stutter-flying the water’s stippled surface
as last summer;

looking at
these small-mouth bass
swimming over the same soul shadows
against gold-gilled sand
as ten years ago;

am I reminded of you

and why would this moment
choose me to endure the eternity
inherent in minnows, dragonflies,
and soul shadows

 

What about you? What sounds, smells, sights, tastes, or touch sensations seem eternal and timeless in your world? What simple thing makes you excited about life?

Write about it!

Stream-of-Thanksgivingness Reprise

turkey

Here’s a reprise of the oft-mentioned and frequently reread 2017 Thanksgiving column with a few additions and minor changes to suit the dying days of 2019. What’s amazing is how many changes were NOT needed. That is, it’s reassuring to know how strong our thankfulness remains in these consistently challenging times.

Some random thoughts, then, before people to my west wake up in their houses to the smell of bread and onions and butter and slowly roasting turkey. Let the madness of Thanksgiving begin anew!

  • First of all, I’m thankful for YOU, the reader. Blogs are like mosquitoes in the Maine woods, so for readers and especially regular readers, I am most thankful.
  • Second of all, I won’t bore you with the usual thankfulness faves. You know, for family and friends and health and roofs over one’s head.
  • Whoops.
  • Has anyone else in Norman Rockwell’s America noticed the rise in Comfort Food Consumption (CFC) since the electoral college’s election of Trump?
  • Of course I’m listening to George Winston’s piano music. Autumn, specifically, on this rainy, 38-degree (Fahrenheit, for those keeping score) Thanksgiving morning. (Note: In the northern hemisphere, it remains autumn until Dec. 21st when a certain solstice elbows in.)
  • Free verse. Whoever set it free it in the first place? And how did its rescue become such a cause célèbre?
  • Sunrises. Always be grateful for sunrises. By comparison, sunsets are rather commonplace. Why? Because more people witness them.
  • Poetic touchstones: Frost, Yeats, Kooser, Wright, Gilbert, Dickinson, Szymborska, Kenyon, Roethke, WCW, Stevens, the Chinese and the Japanese of old.
  • Can we give thanks for the resurgence of print books? As was true with Mark Twain, news of its death was greatly exaggerated. For those who love a book’s heft and smell — its essence, if you will — this is wondrously good news.
  • And what about local bookstores run by mom and pop? If they’re close enough, talk to your economist again and forego that Evil Empire Amazon discount. Less to a conglomerate capitalist behemoth and more to writers. As a reader and patron of the arts, isn’t that what you’re about? Put your money where your principles and precepts are and quit stuffing the turkeys!
  • Has anyone else noticed the rise in people watching Comfort Movies on Hallmark  (CMOH) since the electoral college’s election of Trump? (Note: I think the Hallmark movie formula can be written out like a not-so-scientific equation.)
  • Shakespeare. Always give thanks for Shakespeare. And reread two plays (minimum) a year, one comedy, one tragedy–each metaphors for your life.
  • Speaking of classics, have you ever noticed how many poets read the King James Version of the Bible, especially its most poetic books (e.g. the Psalms) for inspiration and rhythmic tutelage? Amen to that!
  • Personally, I take comfort in Ecclesiastes, easily my favorite Old Testament book.
  • If any of your grandparents are still alive, give thanks. If one or both of your parents are still alive, give thanks. And overlook their shortcomings by reminding yourself of your own.
  • I am thankful for people who are kind on-line, a place where trolls in basements virtually proliferate and pillage virtual villages of good will. It’s easy to be an anonymous bad-ass, but to be an anonymous decent person? Less so.
  • I’m thankful for the first ritual of the day, my daily coffee (bread was otherwise occupied).
  • Let’s hear it for poetry markets, for poetry editors and readers who take huge swaths of their time to read would-be, wanna-be, and is-be poets’ best efforts!
  • Has anyone else noticed the rise in People Drinking Alcoholic Beverages (PDAB) since the electoral college’s election of Trump?
  • Which reminds me, we give thanks for newspapers, journalism, objectivity, facts, and truth… the victims of demagoguery the world over.
  • Speaking of, give thanks for every country in the world where peace rules the land and where good people may sit down to break bread with their families without worrying about bombs and guns and war. May we do our best to spread it to countries where that is not the case.
  • For ars poetica and ars blogica.
  • I’m grateful for two books under the belt, with #3 now finished in manuscript form and dressing itself up for publisher courting.
  • I’m grateful for readers who support new poets whose books are unavailable at local libraries (to the tune of ABBA’s “Take a Chance on Me”).
  • And economists who speak up when thrifty sorts balk at the price of poetry books: “That’s only 30 cents a poem! And besides, why aren’t you so thrifty when it comes to your daily ice coffee (size: Honkin’), your monthly phone plan (size: Macy’s Parade balloon), your cable bill (size: outrageous), and your cases of bottled water (size: totally unnecessary)?” (Let’s give thanks for good questions!)
  • I’m grateful for perspective.
  • For any reader who made it this far. Thank you! May you stay cool, calm, collected and well-read as we enter the holiday season!

The Poetry of Trains

train

Maybe it’s all those movies we watched as kids. Lovers parting or greeting at train stations. Murders on the Orient Express. Windows and windows of blurry landscape, all to the comforting rumble of the tracks and the horn.

It came back to me while reading Faith Shearin’s poem, “The Sound of a Train.” It seems there’s more than you think in this simple sound. It seems to harbor certain common desires of leaving, starting over, finding dreams we have long given up on.

 

The Sound of a Train
by Faith Shearin

Even now, I hear one and I long to leave
without a suitcase or a plan; I want to step
onto the platform and reach for
the porter’s hand and buy a ticket
to some other life; I want to sit
in the big seats and watch fields
turn into rivers or cities. I want to eat
cake on the dining car’s
unsteady tablecloths, to sleep
while whole seasons
slip by. I want to be a passenger
again: a person who hears the name
of a place and stands up, a person
who steps into the steam of arrival.

 

The lines that most resonate? “I want too…buy a ticket to some other life,” and “I want to be a passenger / again… a person / who steps into the steam of arrival.”

At some point most everyone asks themselves questions like these: What happened? Exactly when was I separated from my life’s dreams? How did I get here, and how do I get out of here?

A train, of course. It is a metaphor for escape, much more intimate with the land and its fast-moving hopes than a plane. It takes time, is patient, affords its passengers plenty of time to ruminate on the future (as opposed to the past). It offers the comfort of a ticket pressed hard between thumb and finger, a ticket stating, “I am a passenger.”

Somehow, because of all of this, and because the myth of trains as saviors is just that—a myth—trains have come to be associated, in some minds, with sadness. When I hear the horn of a train, it brings to mind the call of a loon. Elongated, eerie, sad. “What went wrong?” I might ask myself. “Why haven’t I gone places? When did I get stuck in one place, one life, like this?”

My train poem, then, speaks to some of these bittersweet sentiments. I wrote it for my second book, Lost Sherpa of Happiness: 

 

Morning Train
by Ken Craft

Outside before the day
breaks with joy, the first sound I hear:
dark whistle of the Ashland train.

It speaks of paths
overgrown, people stepped past,
dreams diagnosed as sleep.

The fading climbs inside me, curls
a last bend, settles soft in memory’s slow.

I walk on without it, with it within,
my ribs its worn tracks, my heart its worn rumble.

Poems Inspired by Football

football
Did you know that Super Bowl Monday—the day following the N.F.L.’s championship game—is the most called-in sick day in the United States? Talk about the tail (football) wagging the dog (country)!

As for those going to work, they will no doubt burn some water-cooler time discussing the merits of Super Bowl commercials, even to the point of grading them. So get your red pens out, fans, and see if you agree with the Chicago Tribune‘s writer.

As for me, football is mostly a reminder of my youth. And apparently I’m not alone. Here are three football-inspired poems, the last by me, and the first by people more famous than me (for me it’s 4th and 20 with a minute on the clock—but hope, and apparently Tom Brady, are eternal!):

 

Football Dreams
by Jacqueline Woodson

No one was faster
than my father on the football field.
No one could keep him
from crossing the line. Then
touching down again.
Coaches were watching the way he moved,
his easy stride, his long arms reaching
up, snatching the ball from its soft pockets
of air.

My father dreamed football dreams,
and woke up to a scholarship
at Ohio State University.
Grown now
living the big-city life
in Columbus
just sixty miles
from Nelsonville
and from there
Interstate 70 could get you
on your way west to Chicago
Interstate 77 could take you south
but my father said
no colored Buckeye in his right mind
would ever want to go there.

From Columbus, my father said,
you could go just about
anywhere.

 

First Practice
by Gary Gildner

After the doctor checked to see
we weren’t ruptured,
the man with the short cigar took us
under the grade school,
where we went in case of attack
or storm, and said
he was Clifford Hill, he was
a man who believed dogs
ate dogs, he had once killed
for his country, and if
there were any girls present
for them to leave now.
No one
left. OK, he said, he said I take
that to mean you are hungry
men who hate to lose as much
as I do. OK. Then
he made two lines of us
facing each other,
and across the way, he said,
is the man you hate most
in the world,
and if we are to win
that title I want to see how.
But I don’t want to see
any marks, when you’re dressed,
he said. He said, Now.

 

And finally, my own entry, from my most recent book Lost Sherpa of Happiness:

Trip, Memory
Ken Craft

It starts with the sound of a whistle.
The smell of cigar smoke
riding bareback on October air.
The cheerleaders’ “We got the T-E-AYY-M,”
the dry prayer of their pom-poms.
Me and the boys, uniformly cool—brave
in our home whites and eye black,
our grass-scarred helmets,
our nonfunctional mouthguards,
throwing Hail Mary’s and dropping f-bombs,
our bodies bolting
and dangerous with weedy want.

That’s all it takes—a somewhere referee’s
somehow whistle. I’m 13 again.
I haven’t even begun to think about thinking.
The smell of tobacco is a promise,
nothing foreboding.
And the sight of fallen, windblown leaves
rolling toward my cleats is just that
because my veins breathe and bulge as Coach yells
and my blood hits hard to feel the bruise of pleasure
and there’s no such thing as symbolism
because death is only something cowboys
and Indians do on black and white TV.

 

NOTE: Want to read a fourth football-themed poem? Jump ahead to this post I wrote later  which includes a football poem by Al Ortolani.

A Brief New Year’s Message (2019 Vintage)

2019

Just like that, another year gone. Here’s weird: I just reread last year’s New Year’s post and nothing, I mean nothing, seems dated, so you can ignore the “Best by Such and Such Date” imprint on it (and don’t you just love ignoring stuff?).

What does the heartiness of a year-old post proves? Once more, in the words of the prophet, this precept: “The more things don’t change, the more they stay the same.”

This year I’ll cut to the quick and thank that hardy little band of readers — including YOU if your eyes just grazed these words — this website enjoys.

As is true with poems, what good are posts you write if no one reads them? Without readers, poems and posts become the proverbial tree falling in the wilderness, not knowing if it makes a noise or not.

treefelling

The one resolution from last year I’m still wrestling with like Jacob vs. the Angel? Marketing strategies for my poetry. But that’s another post that I don’t want to wrestle with On the Eve (Turgenev titles for $500, Alex!).

So let’s keep it simple: Happy New Year in all virtual sincerity. Thanks for reading and learning with me.

And to those who have given the Amazon sales figures for Lost Sherpa of Happiness a mighty bump (amazing how one purchase rockets the numbers up briefly), a bigger thank you still for putting your heart where the arts are and your faith where my ability to write something you can connect with is.

It keeps me going, both the poetry and this “Updates on a Free-Verse Life” website. Against all odds (and, on bad days, all evens, too).

Enjoy and be safe!

fireworks

Readers’ Choices (Which Are Seldom Writers’ Choices)

dentist

We’ve been talking a lot lately about how difficult it is to discern good from bad when it comes to that slippery seal known as poetry. You need no better proof than to listen to readers of your own books, who will often point out favorite poems that wouldn’t even make your Top Ten.

You should know, no? After all, you are Mr. Poetry Expert and author of the book (the equivalent of “God” in the world of your manuscript).

Here’s one example of a surprise readers’ pick from Lost Sherpa of Happiness. It’s a poem about going to the dentist to have cavities drilled as a kid. This poem was a bear to write, and often poems that give us fits and become “projects”  remain “problem children” to the end. Maybe authors hold a grudge.

But, in this case, more than one reader has liked it, to which I say every time, “Really? That one?” Let’s give it a go:

 

In the Dentist’s Killing Fields

In the fluoride-free days of the 60s, a boy’s
tooth nerves were fair game. The weight of a dentist’s
waiting room meant something.

Four beige walls, stoic chairs, pictures
of wildflowers and bees. My feet tiny
clouds over the carpeted ground, I could hear
hunger with the mechanical whine of the dentist’s drill:
the room with the white porcelain vortex of water,
the explorers and probes, excavators and extractors.
And, poised above all, the silver praying mantis maneuvering
its spike in and out of a victim’s head.
Biting. Spitting. Chewing at its leisure.

The sound sprayed chills across my skin, recalling
past molar trenchings, enamel and bone and saliva popping
effervescence over chin and paper bib.

I tried distracting myself with the shiny-edged page on my lap.
Highlights for Children: the cartoon morality plays,
the black on white antithesis of Goofus inflicted on Gallant.

I tried watching traffic on Center Street; the constellations
of cars and trucks and buses rolling to the stop light outside
the office window: pausing, glinting sunlight, accelerating
escapes. Green, yellow, red, green. An old man in fedora, smoking
in his Studebaker; a family laughing in the cavity
of their Impala; a couple stiff as mannequins modeling for Ford.

A woman behind me said, “Kenneth?” nicely, and I glanced
at my father, who refused to look up, flipping his
Field & Stream. The voice led me back to the doctor’s.
The meadow of metal. The plastic shell of slippery chair.
The mantis shadows behind an insect eye of light,
tilting and curious about its next mouth.

Last memory: hearing the gurgling, feeling the sucking hook
snag my lip. “Here’s a brave young man,” Dr. Hebert said, pulling
up his plate of point and pick. “Let’s have a look, shall we?”
He donned a mask beneath the fly facets
of his coke-bottle glasses. He leaned heavily into the light.

 

Perhaps the poem is helped as much by shared experience and knowing nods as it is by merit. Perhaps it is the way simple tools and machinery come to life.

In any event, I’ll take it, because no poet turns away a compliment. And anything that makes the memory of dentists less traumatic can’t be a bad thing.

No, it’s a good thing. How do I know? More than one reader has said so!