Drew Perry

2 items


I've been getting fonder of the way
time seems to move for historians,
which is to say, in the present tense.
Everything is all the time happening
right now. To wit: Jefferson works
and lives at Monticello for years.
He plants an asparagus garden.
He worries with domes and democracy.

Ask an expert in a lit-for-TV room
and he'll tell you that in the 1920s
a man named Robert Johnson introduces
a kind of Delta blues not heard before
outside of a handful of parishes along
the Mississippi. Later, he records. He sells
records. He brings his music up out
of the river and into the mainstream.

So: There's a certain luxury in being dead
but famous. The way your life moves
changes in a kind of fundamental way.
No more calendars or schedules, no
deadlines, because the historians will
see to it that everything you did gets
put out into some ethereal pasture
somewhere to chew its cud and happen

in the present tense. Kind of a cosmic
crapshoot, though: If you're DiMaggio,
there's clutch hit after clutch hit and
even a little time in the sack with Marilyn.
Not so bad. But Booth is another story.
Page after page and day after day
he creeps up the stairs, finds Lincoln
in his box, shoots him in the head.

Booth leaps to the stage, breaks his leg.
Consigned to fire that pistol again
and again in histories and voice-overs,
he's always jumping, always hanging
in the air for those few seconds, always
hitting the stage funny, hearing the sickly
snap and limping off to that doctor whose
name appears in the text but not on the test.

Maybe it's really a kind of purgatory.
Maybe Churchill sees the V2s arc into
his cities in waves. Maybe the plane starts
to shake and Amelia Earhart goes down
over and over. Maybe it's best, then,
that our regular lives have variety forced
upon them: For us, always possibility.
For us, always the prospect of change.



I think it started with Robert Johnson. Several months ago I was watching a grainy, mostly black-and-white documentary about the beginnings of honest-to-god blues music, and in the middle of a long and convoluted recap of the semi-early days, some serious-looking musicologist wearing what appeared to be a sweater he'd knit himself held that Mr. Johnson "records," present tense. The more I think about it, the more I think he's probably right.




In the clearing, standing rock-footed beneath your tree, you wait. Toe to toe, you wait. Now you're counting spiders. You name this one, leave the next. The webs attach to your fingers, your palms. The silk rolls between your knuckles: An evidence of fabric. You catalog your heart, your vessels, capillaries, systems. Now from your pockets you produce those things which you have brought here, your treasures, those things you've made, found, inventoried. You lay them in careful rows in the greening winter rye: Pasta shapes. Laundered receipts. Wheat cents. A child's toy: a miniature plastic hut with tiny inanimate monochrome sheep, farmers, even smaller chickens. These tagged and numbered. Exhibits. They are your exhibits. I will sing for you when I have learned the notes. I will sing beneath the tree. I will sing to your belongings. Your hands—


these cragged fingers reach
tendons wanting as cracked
skin upholstered across stretched across this
          canvas this wooden frame this skin
          becomes what we cannot see what
          I cannot hold I will hold
this skin wants for your possession


Electric arcs crack down the lines. Voices rise. I hear them on the blacktop. Across the gravelled alley. I hear the hum. I hear the voices crack down the lines. I hear the blacktop crack down the lines. I hear the gunshot of an Underwood.


It rains and I smell you.
Empty your pockets—




A friend once gave me a small box, three inches by two by two, in which was a tiny plastic hut (in pieces: roof, walls, fence, etc.), tiny plastic farm people and a tiny plastic menagerie. On the outside of the box (along with a drawing of the farmer and his fences and hut), in as big a typeface as the space would allow, was this slogan: "BUILD YOUR OWN HUT!" So.