Table of Contents

 

3 POEMS

Mark Neely

 

SELF-PORTRAIT IN VEX

like vapor scattered on the wind

under a Tupperware blue sky
workers heave themselves into the bed
of a red pickup Styrofoam coffees
scalding their tongues
adulterers hightail it over dewy lawns
a bony teen in a McDonald's uniform
kicks at the broken sidewalk
where two sickly maples
filter exhaust from the exhausted
cars lined up at the crossing
I come to you in church clothes
clutching my stomach
my ambitions withered as old dryer sheets
a catalogue of bankruptcies and breakdowns
some nights after hours
blistered by my own reflection
I remember my restaurant days
with terrifying nostalgia
think often of Efrain the line cook
who cut off his index finger
plucked it from the greasy floor
and tossed it in his pocket
then drove himself to the hospital
and was back before the evening rush
that was the kind of man
I dreamed of becoming tough and nonchalant
not this quivering mess of nerves
scuttling along baseboards
or huddled in the dark
every decade I fall half in love
with a woman I can't have
not so dramatic
as Plath's one year in every ten
did you know a man once fell
four miles from his ruined plane
crashed through the skylight of a train station
and lived
all night I watch rock climbers
pull themselves from the abyss
crimping their fingers into claws
then stumble off to work
the sun bright as an interrogation lamp
crush is what they do to cars
before magnets lift them skyward
and dump them on a heap of metal
I wrote once in a fit of lust
like white waves crashing and receding
like white whales lying exhausted on the sand
when I glance up from my book
the Indiana sky looks like an alpine painting
hung upside down
the oak a lavish chandelier
once mathematicians turned the universe
a mythical display of light
into a string of easy numbers
now it's only a mess of words
I can't get out from under

 

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WHITE PAINTING

after Robert Rauschenberg

we have sent our ships exploding
into heaven gassed the spider
holes plucked gold-veined
wings from limping bees
menaced cul-de-sacs
with windshield flyers
and napalm I am listening
to Ashbery read "Popular Songs"
on YouTube not bad John
except you died some
years ago which throws
the whole thing in relief
you'd be surprised to know
most poets now are born in 1988
they sport sweet kicks fierce heels
drool sparkling sequins they all
use ampersands these days
they can fit a thousand years
in just one breath a few
were even born in 1993
when I was sitting in Murphy's
medieval pews drinking two pints
for every skipped class
and could not even imagine
my outrageous salary ha ha
I was destined to be the funny uncle
tramping through Hollywood Hills
guided by the ghost of Archie Bunker
who wipes sweat from his neck
with a greasy handkerchief
as he descends pining
for the long-nosed Buicks of his youth
I stir snapped sugar packets into foam
cups of acrid coffee
an alert buzzes all our phones at once
we shelter in place
cut the lights and quit our talk
about weaving God and the lover into one
lace-winged figure an alchemy
I will only ever partly understand
now I am old and fumbling
on Facebook like a teenager clawing
at a bra clasp knowing how hard it is
to talk to just one person
then trying it a thousand at a time
if we could turn up the brightness
on this sky it would shimmer the trees
would tease and sway
the all clear comes my death
is once again unlikely
my children off at school the
government cradles me in its arms
saying shh shhh
no one is going to hurt you

 

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POWERPOINT FOR THE CITY COUNCIL

zoom      said the man in the silver suit

and we piled into the cartoon car      drove to a fading diner

confessed our sins over bleeding eggs

exhausted silences      flinched in the glitched flourescents

                        I'm fine I said      the trees doused in molasses

            the parking lot a sitcom quicksand

what you do is hold your arms out like a cross

what you do is shield yourself from the mirror's horror

to fall asleep I watch survival shows      a blue tarp

strung between two trees      darkness falling from the leaves           

I am afraid we are running out of things

to fill the rooms      afraid when we say community

we mean to kill

                                                when you are grown and gone

this pine will still be sifting through its life

you might find this a comfort      a steady signal

from a simpler time      like one leaf quivering

on the aspen when all the rest are still

like a coal plucked burning from the oily soil

 

 

 

 

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"Self-portrait in Vex" is in conversation with John Ashbery's ["Self-portrait in a Convex Mirror"], which provides the epigraph.

"White Painting" was inspired by Robert Rauschenberg's ["White Painting"] series, which makes explicit the idea that everything outside the painting (the viewer's shadow, for example) is always interacting with whatever is painted on the canvas. I was also thinking about a conversation I had with another poet about trying to write a poem with a frictionless surface—one the reader would travel over as smoothly as a sheet of ice (the sheer, freshly Zamboni-ed kind of ice). And here's Ashbery again, and Archie Bunker playing the role of Virgil.

"PowerPoint for the City Council" was written after attending a series of frustrating and hilarious city council meetings in Muncie, Indiana, where I live. Very Parks and Rec, only with real and dire consequences.