I’ll tell you the story
of the heart poacher,
a man with a hunger for hearts.
how he rides all day in a wagon
looking for one that’s ripe,
and when he picks it, he also washes it,
a sly, bandit raccoon
who takes his kill to the river.
Everyone knows the heart poacher.
how he does his work at night.
Few escape his pawing
because of the velvet in his dark brown eyes.
The next morning he’s gone with your heart.
You stuff your side with twigs
but they keep on falling out.
We all know the story: Eve plucks the apple from the Tree and God shows her and hubby Adam where to find the time clock. Of course, every tradition has a twist to the story, but it all leads back to the same talking point. So my question is—do I expect to be lounging around in my flannel pj’s sipping Bloody Marys in ten years? You bet your red wool socks I do; it’s called retirement, a subject on which I’ve been known to expound, especially on any given Monday morning.
Like I said, we all know the story. After Adam and Eve got expelled from the garden, there was no more low-hanging fruit. In fact, there was no fruit at all. Work had moved from an abstract concept to a reality. Fast forward to Cain and Abel, which meant even more work for the young couple.
Did Adam and Eve have any role models here? Just look at the facts. The Bible isn’t exactly a handbook for new parents. There was nothing pretty about that picture. Abel keeps sheep, Cain tills the soil until he goes East of Eden, and A & E earn their daily bread with a lot of ritual sacrifice to fill up the down time.
So finally one day Eve sits down on a rock near their three-bedroom, no bathhouse, and looks at her reflection in a pool of sweet water. “Uggh!” She traces her finger across the wrinkles of her brow, cups her breasts with her hands and lets them parachute back down to her midriff. She feels a mess, plus there’s that pain in her right finger joint that might be arthritis and there’s no Tylenol in the medicine cabinet. “Adam,” she yodels. “Where are you? We need to talk.”
Adam hobbles out of the house and hitches up his pants. He was enjoying a nice siesta and isn’t pleased that Eve has awakened him; he’s reached the ripe old age where he likes to take his time. Maybe he wouldn’t have been so quick to eat the Apple. But after thirty years, that’s water under the big rock, which is where Eve is standing and motioning to him.
“Old man, what took you so long?”
He bends down and splashes water in his face from the pool. “I was sleeping. What’s so important? Don’t tell me you have another Apple for me to eat?”
Eve doesn’t appreciate the joke. She motions for him to sit down on the rock. “I’m tired, Adam. Look at me. Once my face was smooth like marble. Now it’s filled with so many wrinkles, I could plant seeds there and grow corn.”
The thought of his wife’s face filled with green corn plants amuses him, but he tries not to laugh. “You will always be beautiful to me, Eve.”
“Don’t be foolish,” she says, brushing away his hand from her shoulder. “What I’m trying to say is that I’m tired. I can’t keep going like this. And look at you.” She motions to the body that could once hold its own on any Muscle Beach without taking steroids. “You cough more during the night than you sleep. And you’re always falling asleep during the day.”
It was true. “So what are you saying?”
“I think we should stop working and retire.”
“Stop working? Retire?” Who ever heard of such a thing? Adam looks around and lowers his voice. “You know we can’t.”
“Give me one good reason why not.”
“Don’t you remember…the Apple?”
Eve is the materialist. With three babies and no help, she’s had to be. “My fingers hurt all the time from weaving and baking. We’ve saved up in our storeroom, pickled onions, herring…enough already!”
“I’m not so sure,” says Adam who since that first bite, now considers Eve’s ideas cautiously. Even so, he warms to the thought. He’s creaky and tired also.
“I can’t keep living like this.” Eve is excited, splashing both feet in the water. “After Cain and Abel and then Seth, I need a break.” And then she says something truly amazing. “Plus, we deserve it.”
A sense of entitlement? What a novel idea. Adam hitches up his pants. “Let’s talk about it in the morning,” he says. “I need to sleep on it.”
He lies back down in the house and falls asleep. Then he dreams that awful dream of Eve offering the Apple and his saying, “Why the heck not?” But everything caves in and God starts to hurl thunderbolts and chase them away saying a bunch of mean things just because they were covered up with that year’s pick of banana leaves. Sure, it was a long time ago, but Adam was having a flashback. He never could understand why the Big Guy had gotten so angry. Sure, He had made it clear that sections of the Garden were off limits, but that only made them feel like poor relations, wanting to know how the other half lived. Anyhow since that had happened, A & E had played by the rules. They didn’t have much of a choice. At least they didn’t think that they did.
Eve’s idea did have merit. Stop working. Get up every morning and listen to the birds singing without digging in the potato patch. He remembered how Eve had figured out a way to dry their food by leaving it in the sun for a few days on the big rock. He had stored away strips of meat in the smokehouse on several threads of sinew. Adam thought about it some more. They’d eat through their provisions within six months flat.
On the other hand, she wasn’t the only one who was tired of doing the same thing every day, and he longed to travel. G-d had never actually put a ban on broadening horizons, and He hadn’t said anything about their visiting rights. Just a bunch of messy stuff about sweat and toil and pain.
Adam woke up refreshed, throws water on his face, says a few ritual prayers, and seeks out Eve’s whereabouts.
She’s is sitting outside the kitchen running her fingers through her hair. It used to be long and black; now it is long and gray like his. “I need a comb,” she says. “Since I lost my fish bone, it’s always knotty.”
He sits down on the ground next to her and takes her hand. “You’re right.
“After forty years, you’re agreeing with me?”
“Not about your hair,” he says realizing his faux pas. We need a break. Maybe we can’t stop working because it’s been decreed by you-know-who, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with us slowing down. Maybe for three or four months,” he calculated, thinking they had just about enough food stored up for that amount of time. “Then let’s see what happens.”
Eve is overwhelmed, and throws her arms around Adam, which embarrasses him. Not by the hugging alone, but by the way she starts to cry, shivering and heaving great sobs. “My girl,” he strokes her gray hair. “Why are you crying?” This is their Fiddler on the Roof moment. Eve asks him if he really loves her, since there is no one else around to speak of.
“Of course, I love you.”
“I was afraid you would hold the Apple against me for the rest of our lives. And here you are ready to risk everything with me again. I don’t know what to say except that I love you very much.”
A & E return from their four-month sojourn traveling throughout the countryside. By this time, they feel like they need another vacation. The weather had been okay, but they had to clear a lot of paths. When they got tired, they hung out at the edge of a stream and listened to crickets.
“I smell something like a rotting gazelle,” said Eve as they approach their home.
The animals of the field had moved into their abode. Huge turds litter the lawn covered with five times as many flies. There were assorted corpses in various states of decay. Vultures size up the two intruders.
“Have we been gone for that long?” says Eve.
It was a rhetorical question. Adam looks down at his walking stick. “I started to mark each day,” he says, counting notches, “but then I lost track of time.”
Eve kicks a corpse and hurts her bare foot. “Ouch!” Then she waves her hands and runs off the vultures from their property. “We’ve got to get rid of this stuff before the lions come back,” she said. And so the two of them begin to do yard work, hauling bones down to a ravine and drop them from a cliff. The turds would have to wait until the following day. The two are exhausted and fall asleep not far from the rock where Eve first spoke of her desire to take a vacation. A & E have returned without a pension plan, 401K, or benefit package to call their own, nothing but a smelly hovel.
When they awake, Eve discusses the possibility with Adam of going into show business as a second career.
“We’re getting too old for stuff like that,” says Adam.
“What else do we have to do?”
Adam is not immediately certain, but tells Eve that he will sleep on it. He doesn’t like this new idea.
Old man’s wife dies in Memphis.
He moves back to the bayou
sits in a fishing cabin
for a year collects crickets.
In a short while develops
ALS. Cold ice. No cure.
He gets scared, lonely,
watches TV with his dog,
doctors every Monday
until he fires the whole bunch,
tells them to go to hell.
The hospital doesn’t like
being treated by a big mouth.
What does he do? Calls the Vets,
orders Meals on Wheels. It
becomes harder to move, speak,
fill out bills. A daughter calls,
hasn’t seen the old bastard
since she got off her braces,
now she wants to nurse her dad,
but she’s no Cordelia, no,
fills out the paperwork
to transfer his accounts
to hers, money to water,
liquid capital flowing
to pay debts. Makes plans to
stick Lear in a nursing home.
She packs, drives him out-of-state,
takes away his cigarettes.
Beneath a drone of airplanes, I hear the chant of clouds
drift across the top of apartment buildings
singing songs to glass skylights and satellite dishes; crows
gathering on telephone wires.
Many years before this time,
I was a girl handing out leaflets,
fingers greasy from mimeo machines
in every storefront where changelings
of my generation spent summers marching
along Fifth Avenue in a cavalcade of banners
chanting No More War and Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh,
the Civil Rights Movement and assassinations imprinted
on our brains.
Caught my breath,
found a front row seat at the computer revolution,
gazed into a flickering screen and saw the future.
Real time meant tick tock right now.
There was other time, virtual time that lived inside
an application, also borrowed, moving an integer
from one column to another, the way life and death
are two sides of the same copper penny.
Some learned Assembly,
a language of x’s and o’s that allowed
a computer operating system to know itself.
We had families, needed benefits,
funneled fervor into overtime.
Then a President, elected because he understood TV,
and another who built his house with social media.
Now AT&T offers the cocaine of four lines.
About the magnitude of chatter,
a need for extended family in a world of broken.
We hold our cell phones to take selfies,
post the address of a new restaurant,
an electrified didgeridoo in the subway,
at a fundraiser reading poetry,
the rescue puppy who needs adoption,
new sketch of a jazz musician,
baby’s first birthday party,
graduations, baseball games, tomatoes in our gardens,
standing in front of a sign, a car, a house,
persimmons in a bowl with purple orchids,
marches on the streets of Hong Kong,
demonstrations on the streets of Ferguson,
people fleeing homes in Gaza,
and we want everyone to like us for who we are
and we want everyone to like us for who we are
as a murder of crows gather on telephone wires,
as clouds keep changing
until the whole sky becomes one cloud,
and I hear a voice chanting and I strain to hear the words.
as strangers do
from a stone pathway–
a Moth Princess
in a gauze gown,
flaming calla lilies,
sea glass lamps
in the light
of the garden–
we finally left,
it seemed as though
the whole world
lit by one branch
could never go out.
I’m on vacation from Chicago and visiting my girlfriend in Louisiana. Kathy and I met in college where we played on the same basketball team. This is my first time visiting the south. The plan is to drive to New Orleans the next day for the Jazz Fest. “Hey, Bev. Can you head down to Walmart and pick up a case of water? It’ll be steamy all the way down.”
“I know all about hot. Don’t forget I’m from Chicago.”
“Wrong. That’s the Windy City. Not this kind of hot.”
Kathy is busy in the kitchen cooking up a pan of brownies and wipes her forehead with the back of her hand. Several beads of sweat drizzle down the side of her nose. She tells me to watch the speed limit because it’s easy to get a ticket. “I’ve already got way too many,” she says. “Traffic school’s expecting me to show up for the next hundred years.”
“Best place? Walmart?”
“Where else?” she says. “All roads lead to Walmart.” She laughs. Kathy is trying her best to educate me about the south, at least her south. Every time I open my mouth, I feel like I’m giving every guy an invitation to hate me, a Yankee.
“Shit. That’s just bunch of media hype. You can consider whatever you want.”
She gives me the keys to her car, a baby blue Mustang. The key ring is attached to a brass crawdad. “Okay. See you in a bit.”
I pull out of the driveway of her small cottage at the end of a cul-de-sac. She’s learning to fly drones over soybean fields to help regulate crop irrigation. Both of us are in our mid-twenties and single. I used to have a boyfriend back in Chicago, but that’s been over since the beginning of summer. So I start driving toward the main drag. I’m used to highways that are straight shots. You get on, cruise at a certain speed, and get off. Not like Hwy 165 where the speed limit keeps switching up as SUVs and gargantuan 18-wheelers speed past stuffed with skinny poles of pine trees that hang off the back of their flatbeds. The speed limit changes from 65 to 55 near the turn-off to Frenchmen’s Bend, a housing development and health club. From there, it remains constant past a wave of fields growing soy, corn, and rye, past the entrance to Black Bayou, a wildlife preserve and also the gateway to a small Sears store that sells parts. Here the speed changes once again to 50 miles per hour as Hwy. 165 passes North Monroe’s commercial strip, home to storage units, gas stations, pizza and chicken nugget outlets. Out of my rear view mirror, I spot a police car lurking in the median.
I mind my p’s and q’s and drive slowly. It’s not so much the change in the speed limit or even the bumps along Hwy.165 that annoy: it’s the road bullies. They hug my bumper, especially small trucks whose headlights tunnel through the back of my neck.
My choice is to stay in the “slow” lane where drivers are talking on cell phones. Or I can play the same asshole game, slow down and wave my bumper in a driver’s face until he gives up. Anyway you look at it, it’s a contentious ride. But today after I merged into the right lane to let some wild child pass, the same guy pulls back behind me. I merge right. He follows. The cat and mouse goes on for about two miles and I’m getting worried. So I pull into the nearest gas station. The guy drives by like he’s an extra from Thelma and Louise and waves. I don’t want to know what he’s selling. Instead, I go inside for a cup of coffee. Through the window, I watch him park. I’m in trouble now. I thought making this run to the market would be no big thing.
“Pardon, M’am.” He’s wearing a t-shirt with one of those god-awful Smiley faces, a serial killer with a grin. I’m holding tight to my coffee, ready to fling it in his face. “Ever consider selling that ’65 Mustang?”
He’s around six feet with pointy cowboy boots, straw sandy hair, about my age. “You know we could’ve had an accident. Do you always force people off the road when you like a car?”
People are lined up to pay for stuff at the counter: sodas, aspirin, cigarettes. He answers with one of those bashful Gomer Pyle aw-shucks. “Sorry, M’am. I got carried away. I don’t see many of those on the road. I’ve been hunting for a car like that.”
I wonder if it’s been with a six-gauge. “We could’ve had an accident,” I say.
“Sorry.” He shifts back and forth in his boots. “But do you mind if I have a look at her?”
“Actually yes, and it’s not my car.”
He’s wounded. “Just a quick look?” he asks again.
Why not? How could that hurt? “Go ahead,” I acquiesce. “Knock yourself out.”
He bobs up and down and looks inside the Mustang, admires the leather and whistles low and loud. The car was Kathy’s brother’s, but he’s in the Middle East right now. He’s finished looking at the car, stroking its chrome. “You’re not from around here, are you?”
“I guess you can tell by my accent.”
“No,” he smiles. “I can tell by the way you drive.”
Waltz into my room wearing purple robes,
skull caps decorated with gold tassels
coins from countries that sell dark sun glasses.
I ask them to sit down and eat something—
I am trying to be a thoughtful host,
offer green pears, bananas, guacamole.
All must be green, even the bananas.
That’s because they’re such elephants of style
strutting pearls, ostrich and peacock feathers.
I’ve folded napkins into triangles,
piped in cool water from a garden hose.
Their feet are a stampede of slate columns.
No one wants to be the first to repose.
They think that would be sheepish.
Yew Nork by Dale Jensen
Publisher: Sugartown Publishing
Date: May 2014
Reading Yew Nork made me feel like I was huddled beneath the streetlamps of Paris gathered with Surrealist poets, André Breton and Benjamin Péret smoking Galloises. Except this was possibly New York’s Gotham City and Dale Jensen was my guide. The poet took me on a trip through different physical and emotional landscapes as he stands on the precipice of his old age.
In the opening poem, “Armweary Traveler,” Jensen observes:
the statue of liberty is much less impressive if people wear hats in front of you / those eyes that remember everything that happened…and so, the poet chooses to visit New York City where the pulse runs like / it did when I was young.
Jensen visits old neighborhoods, different deaths, laundromats, Greenwich Village, searches for the Gotham Book store in Manhattan, observes kids playing catch and makes a trek to the beach. He writes a paean to “Freud’s Cigar,” the man who opened the dream door to the unconscious for many creative artists, including the Surrealists. Jensen writes: everything’s a fire hydrant sometimes…so which leg to lift now.
Several of his poems like “Aunted,” play with our ability to hear different syntactical structures:
thes amet time
ha da visi on:
an dat rapdo or
Acknowledging his debt to the Surrealists of the twentieth century, his love poem For Judy is reminiscent of Breton’s Freedom of Love. Jensen writes: i hold your moon in my hands / like an archaeopteryx…
Jensen is no stranger to poetry that defies that usual narrative voice which predominates today’s American poetry landscape. Author of six books and three chapbooks he has been involved in the poetry community of the Bay Area for several decades, helping to give new and developing poets a voice at reading series throughout San Francisco and the East Bay, but always at the edge of experimentation and being true to his own path. Yew Nork is Jensen’s coming out party as a full-fledged American Surrealist poet who can still find wonder everywhere around him.
All along the Saw Mill River Parkway,
a season turns inward to meet its operation,
pumpkins spawn lattes, muffins,
globes of yellow mums line driveways,
a Revolutionary War hamlet stolen in the 1600’s
for a cache of blankets and wampum,
once filled with baggage and artillery wagons,
cars commute to and from New York City,
a black mustache drawn at the Hudson’s mouth
to catch in-bound traffic from free-falling.
Maples wrap branches around my rib cage,
a trap of orange and gold leaves filter translucent light,
and like an unsuspecting moth, I’m sucked in,
walk along Croton Reservoir without a map,
later drive my sister to her doctor’s appointment,
a drunken doll, one leg stutters on the kitchen floor,
the other from a knee replacement;
she’s the oldest and now titanium,
goes to physical therapy
where aluminum walkers spell doors open.
Today our middle sister has placed her husband in a nursing home
fighting the battle of guilt and loyalty, for years
in paralysis until she flattened her ant hill with sparrows.
This morning Patsy did my hair, her twenty year-old son
somewhere in the Middle East, which is to say I’m drifting down,
waiting in line to pay for a 300-capsule jar
of fish oil at the CVS register.
A man ahead of me can’t find his debit card.
People Mag says a certain movie star can’t wait to become a mom.
Milkweed pods along the roadway spew silk seeds.