Wild Bob Hicok Takes On “This Clumsy Living”

On the Acknowledgment page of his collection This Clumsy Living, poet Bob Hicok writes, “I’d also like to thank Gregory Fraser, Thomas Gardner, Austin Hummell, and Matthew Zapruder for reading different incarnations of this manuscript. You fools.”

Two thoughts: Humor, first and foremost, and an indication of the wry and insightful stuff Hicok writes. And this: how often do I read of successful manuscripts having not one but multiple readers providing feedback to sharpen the final product? One undeniable advantage, I’d say, to academia (for teachers) and MFA programs (for students).

Here’s an example of Hicok’s associative wordplay:

 

Duh

My father is silent and distant.

The moon is up though sometimes

to the side which is also called

over there. Coffee is better brewed

than eaten straight from the can.

When someone is dying

we should unpack the clever phrase

I am sorry. Wrenches

the wrong size should be distracted

until the right bolt arrives.

Inside your head is a map

of your house and inside that map

is where you actually live.

People doing jumping jacks

look like they’re trying 

to start a fire by rubbing

the sticks of their body

together. Vague nomenclature

is not the correct response

to thank you. It’s surprising

that pencils and erasers get along

as well as they do. When dogs meet

it’s the scent gland not anus

they sniff. There’s the conviction

in every head that someone else

is happy. This is why we drool

from jets at green rectangles

of earth, why when we kiss

we push hard to reach the pillow

of the tongue. If we swapped

mistakes they might fit neatly

and with purpose into our lives.

I’ll lend you the day I locked

my keys in my mouth

if you give me the night

you got drunk and bought

a round of flowers for the house.

Whatever my father wants me

to know he tells my mother

who tells me. This reminds me

that if I put my ear to the ground

I’ll hear the stampede

of dirt no cowboy can keep

from rolling over my head one day.

 

The title gives Hicok license to go wherever he wants (which he does) in this stream of seemingly unrelated consciousness until, of course, he returns to his father at the end of the poem. Meanwhile, the reader is treated to a list poem that shows off his cleverness.

Hicok can do serious, too, as he does in this college-related poem:

 

ROTC

A bugle wakes the sky as boys hold hands over their hearts

and aim their eyes at a flag giving wind the only stars

it will ever touch.

trying to take off made of human flesh and crewcuts.

 

My new envelopes taste of peppermint.

I will write and ask their mothers to send the blankeys

their sons went to bed with and held soft to their faces.

They will find in their attics the photo albums and baby shoes

that are the beginning of pacifism.

 

On weekends, the cadets wear clothes like the rest of us

wear and drink too much with the rest of us and scream

from the back of moving cars like everyone I know

is screaming and the Museum of Fire is burning down

and when they march on Monday, I think we’re being attacked

by leather shoes and hangovers.

 

The Museum of Ashes opens next week.

 

In their fatigues, the practice generals

look like shrubbery moving around campus and I’ve painted

my face over my face so hiding is what I do naturally.

 

When one of the cadets turns out not to be alive anymore

in Iraq because of how rude bullets are, they lower the flag

half way and speak of avenging blood, a name is chiseled

into stone, which is how the stone is moving

to the other side of town, piece by piece by name.

 

Little shadows live inside the names.

I’ve been trying to think of something more intimate

than the grave, possibly getting in there with the body

or carrying it around on my shoulders and stinking

of a perfume I like to call “What’s Our Hurry?”

 

 

Like the shadows living inside names chiseled in stone, this is a darker brand of commentary on war games on campus that come home to roost in foreign countries stealing otherwise long lives from young men. You can see some of the stream of consciousness bubbling in the narrative, too. Licked envelopes tasting of peppermint. Practice generals resembling shrubbery moving about campus. In retrospect, sad.

This 2007 outing was my first Hicok. Its generosity and unexpected semantics ensures it won’t be my last.

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