David Gewanter

 

GAG

"It was just your type of dream,
jumpy, a movie out-take
......where

the masked surgeon drags
his son to the operating
......theatre

and hands him a scalpel
saying, Kid, it's never too late
......to learn...

the guy under the sheet
is beaming, his eyes watery
......with pride,

So nice of you, he murmurs,
My children ignore me--:
......bashful,

the kid knifes him open, blood
blooms on the sheet,
......the pulpy

red of borscht, too red
for real life, it's just a
......borscht-belt

gag...except that
when the director yells
......Cut

You're killing 'em
no one, not even the body
......sitting up

cracks a smile, so the joke
keeps looping the set, a kind
......of intestine...

when comics need new gags
they squeeze their families
......for material,

squeeze till something nasty
pops out--: It isn't
......cinéma vérité,

more like a steamboat
burning its cabin-planks
......for fuel:

Should we call it art
just because real people
......get hurt?"

 

ENGLISH 1

FIRST, We tied to each other
NEXT, Coconuts for the swimming
THEN, The Boat-Soldiers shoot
MEANWHILE, Many dying
AND THEN, We swam with dead People
LATER, We get on the land
FINALLY, We left our dead Friends.

What grade does this exercise deserve?
Homework folded like a handkerchief,
a little book of tears, burns, escape--

And still I mark the blasphemies
of punctuation, common speech;
the English tune will help them live.

Rickety Hmong boy, flirting simply
with the loud girl from Managua--
I taught him how to ask her out,

taught her how to say no, nicely;
my accent and suburban decorums
are tidy and authoritative as

the checks I make for right answers,
the rosy golf-clubs on the page.
By next year they'll talk their way

out of trouble instead of smiling
as they do hearing me drone Silent Night--
They join in, shy and hypnotized,

Saigon chemist, cowed Haitian, miming
the words I once told my music teacher
that Jews shouldn't sing: "Holy Infant."

 

 

 



Mark Rooney
Body Electric
(1998)
38"x28" mixed media on paper
see more work by Mark Rooney

 

 

 

 

 

SEE SAW

on which a boy, smiling
......at his friend stuck on
the raised end of the plank
hops off--his glee
to watch that boy drop:

Rage and delight, a sugar-bowl
......filled with salt. We need
a chump to cheer us
so God rubs Job with
brine, playing Satan

--but Job is too human
......cannot dance in pain
and make God happy
What joke is this
life you gave me?

Suffering grows
......a worm of delight
for those who watch,
the pitted eyes of Oedipus
make our play, worm

of Ben Gay squirted in
......your pants, burn your ass
Happy the ghoul
in ghoul's mask
handing the children apples

with razors inside, there's your trick
......or punch-line
obituary: "The farmer looped
a chain from tree to tractor,
drove off, and pulled it down

on his head." The woman arrested
......for resisting arrest,
Domine sing the doughty Monks
of Masoch, the man pinned
by a tree underwater,

giggling as his friend
......gives him mouth to mouth,
giggling, drowning, Domine
chant the monks, Domine
and smash their mouths

with boards--denying us
......our casual voodoo
the pleasure to give pain
that gives pleasure of pain,
unmerited, cruel, free creation

in a falling world that falls
......but we kick it further--
the axe-man whispers run
to the convict he beheads
so the body for our delight

jumps up headless
......--a sick story
but undying, we
would empty Hell
for such life, whip

the mad dog for its
......palindrome
god dam, just kidding
just pulling your leg, you
hanging from the tree of Love.

 

CONVULVOLUS, A LULLABY

The Convulvolus means "Bonds. Uncertainty."

Yet it's the Pink Convulvolus
pink flowers, a color like yours, that says

"Worth, sustained by judicious
and tender affection"--
.....................................so
let me lace the Clematis
("Mental beauty")

round the stout Corn Cockle, that stands for
"Duration, Gentility." And then
I'll take Crowsfoot, that

..........Stop this. What are you up to? You're just
..........quoting from
The Language of Flowers:
..........try singing to me without a book--

We sang Ethel Merman,

we got evicted; sticky pants,
flesh sore, soured and

blear from coffee, we
strolled the Taj Mahal
....................................houseboat
near Caffé Trieste--:
you asked me for my story

but dozed off before 'puberty';
so I brought you flowers, Abatina
("Fickleness"), and Zinnia

.............---I remember Zinnia: "Thoughts of absent
.............friends." Pretty words drowned
.............in a vase. I'm sleepy. Tell me about guar gum--

Guar, the noblest

of gums, left his hearty
band of food supplements

to find his family: cousin Spirit
the alcoholic, cousin Bubble,
...............................................chewed up,
stomped on the sidewalk--
Guar smashed Spirit's head,

the leaking brains pried
Bubble up, but he was tasteless
and never thanked Guar,

who sank back to his corn mix,

back to his......his......corn futures
(are you asleep yet?)

back to Corn Straw,
"Agreement,"
........................and the petals
of Volkmannia,
flower that reads like

Madmen
but spells
"May you be happy."

 

CONDUCT OF OUR LOVES

There's a kind of sky below the ocean--
a field of starfish, turning slowly
like cogs inside
a water-watch, wound by a sea river;
the star's five fingers tremble and
reach for a clam's book of meat,
into which it will inject a sedative
and then its stomach.

In The City, escaped parrots colonize
a hilltop and breed, cackling You want that
In a bag? More hits after this...

--And how should we conduct our loves? Black & white
judgments still beget grays, like baptisms
of the photograph:
develop is Need, stop-bath Guilt, the fixer
Memory. Then we classify the causes,
studying the elephants' "Green Penis Disease"
till we learn it is Must. The philosopher clarifies
his mind like butter;

life dumps in raw clams, and it de-natures.
So do we love who conducts our love?
The zookeeper who earned the elephants' respect

was nicknamed "God" by the others; when Nietzche
cracked and bellowed, his mother stuffed his mouth
with apple-bits,
and he "growled dully to himself." Emptiness
propels, beauty reels--we skip in the currents....
If the Angler-fish can find a female
he attaches his jaws to her genitals:
their blood-systems unite,

his heart withers, and he degenerates into
a pulsing bag of sperm, fertilizing her
unto death. Still she swims through the vaults

of black waters, her angler glowing
from its forehead stalk of flesh: a Diogenes
barrelled by her mate
and her young, prowling in God's hunger;
as the Flounder ages he flattens, and one eye
migrates toward the other, ontogeny
posing as Modern Art, just as his name
poses him as indecisive--

nature dooms that he look up to his enemies, rained
with light; but another one, swimming, can't look down,
a waffling shadow he knows, and he calls her God.

 

David Gewanter is author of In the Belly (Chicago, 1997), winner of the John C. Zacharis First Book Award, and The Sleep of Reason (Chicago, Fall 2003). With Frank Bidart, he is co-editor of The Collected Poems of Robert Lowell (FSG, Summer 2003). He was a Witter Bynner Fellow at the US Library of Congress (1999) and recently received a Whiting Writer's Award; he teaches at Georgetown University, and lives in Washington.

Published in Volume 4, Number 3, Summer 2003.

 

To read more by this author:
David Gewanter: The Wartime Issue
David Gewanter: Museum Issue