Three Prose Poems

by Howie Day

 

 

Unnatural History

1

We experienced centuries. The less resilient chose suicide. I still remember the bargains available when God held a going out of business sale. Few scholars mention the inadvertent consequences – a fire inside the Colored Orphan Asylum, an Indian raid near where Broadway now crosses Amsterdam Avenue. Stars are coming up over the yellow of the government buildings. You should probably close your eyes for a while. If you don’t sleep, you can’t very well dream.

2

Stunned survivors come stumbling out of the murk, unable to speak above a whisper. The Swiss team on call rushes to the scene. (I can show you approximately where on Google Maps.) A bank of floodlights that had been switched on during some earlier emergency still hasn’t been switched off. What is it with the Swiss? The smallest things used to count – a woodchuck standing up on its hind legs in the unmown grass by the side of the road. It stares as if trying to remember how it knows me.

3

Close the airports and schools! Evacuate the hospitals! There’s no need for calm when a situation calls for panic. The governor is on TV providing important safety tips to avoid hypothermia. Everyone gets a choice – stop completely or quit half-heartedly – even those unconvinced that the sky has acquired the surface consistency of sand. I myself am already living with daily distress as a matter of personal conscience. Whoever said it was a dog’s life was perhaps being ironic. Just look at Dewey asleep on the couch in the one patch of sunshine.

4

The heart-shaped leaves of a lilac-like tree suffer sudden frenzies. Do the math – four local cases of children with leukemia since spring. When you kill someone, even in combat, you remember it, or it remembers you. Often the eyes become red at night. That’s when you start thinking, The future is just old age and aftershocks and poor attendance.

 

The Nostalgia of Late Capitalism

 1

“Why the hurry?” the woman leaning out the window teases. Because of Columbus’s first steps ashore and the anonymous prose of owner’s manuals. Also what happened to me in California. I still get emails, ridiculous emails. “No,” I reply, “I don’t want to.” Women, take note: sunshine is overrated.

2

I call the repairman. In fact, I end up calling two, both named Mike. The tip of the first Mike’s nose is red and pitted, as if it’s been gnawed by a small but vicious animal. Skin, he explains, is just a kind of mask. The second Mike leaves with a signed check for three-hundred dollars and a promise to return soon with the right part. I scroll through my messages while waiting. “Do you love music?” “The Bible has a way of making life clearer.” “Must leave your information with Lisa in the Math Dept. office.” “Free T-shirts for participants.” I feel a promiscuous grief, as I often do. Cars kill approximately 25,000 Americans a year.

3

How many of you know that a pack of sharks is called a “shiver”? Probably not as many as know that Vincent would have died in obscurity if it weren’t for his brother, Theo, the art dealer. Butterflies need the warmth of the midday sun to be active and aren’t seen at dusk. Birds are often active then. The Golden Oriole, Yellow Hammer, or Goldfinch have yellow-and-black wings that can look gold and gray in the setting sun. I remember punches being thrown, children being trampled, everyone fighting for a better view.

 

 

The Lively Arts

1

Solemn music reaches us from an adjoining century, like blast waves spreading out in circles. Can’t breathe. The firmament all worms (this last, according to Mandelstam). Rescuers rush up the stairs without seeming to get any closer. And we’re the people who trusted in secret attics to keep them safe. Before my very eyes, the Christmas trees burn.

 2

Forensic investigators scoop a mound of monster droppings into evidence bags. Back in the lab, they sculpt it into a sort of ziggurat. Millions watching at home laugh hysterically. The force of laughing is such that it dislocates jaws, causes asthma attacks, triggers the rare but possibly grievous Pilgaard-Dahl and Boerhaave’s syndromes, and makes hernias protrude.

3

Can’t quite get things in focus? Some perish before they ever can. One small hint: if birds start talking Dutch, don’t interrupt. It’s the birth of the impossible, something just for the elderly tourists pointing camera phones. Why perhaps Venus remains yellowish and pockmarked, but, after dark, easy to mistake for a star.

 

 Howie Good, a journalism professor at SUNY New Paltz, is the author of the full-length poetry collections ‘Lovesick’ (Press Americana, 2009), ‘Heart With a Dirty Windshield’ (BeWrite Books, 2010), and ‘Everything Reminds Me of Me’ (Desperanto, 2011), as well as 28 print and digital poetry chapbooks. He has been nominated multiple times for the Pushcart Prize and the Best of the Net and Web anthologies. He is a contributing editor to the online literary journal ‘Common-Line’, co-editor of the online nonfiction journal ‘Left Hand Waving’, and co-founder and -editor (with Dale Wisely) of the digital chapbook publisher ‘White Knuckle Press’.
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