Friday, March 2, 2018

It has been a while since I posted poems on this blog.  In fact, those posted today date from Spring 2014, already four years ago.  I had just read Elizabeth Kolbert's unnerving The Sixth Extinction, making extensive notes as I read.  The first longish poem "The Bottom of the Sixth . . ." in this post is based on those notes along with my continuing encounter with Veronica, the character from the earlier "Prairie Elegy."  

As with that one, any number of phrases and tropes are purloined from some of my favorite folk-rock and Americana artists.  As with "Prairie Elegy" a Discography follows.  

The Bottom of the Sixth allusion derives from my fondness for baseball. Readers who remember Philip Roth's The Great American Novel may recognize the reference to Terra Incognita.

(There are two earlier shorter "Bottom of the Sixth" poems, which somehow provided an avenue to the longer one, following.)

"Prairie Elegy" still follows today's post, as far as I can tell.  If not, select 2016 in the right side margin if my tales of Veronica amuse you.

The Bottom of the Sixth in Terra Incognita

The gentlest of taps on a tired shoulder & then
my broken heart misses its best shot at killing
me expediently. Baseball in Terra Incognita
always a dubious proposition and it seems
like only me and the players and tired old
timers with rheumy eyes who can’t see
too good anymore and maybe haven’t
even in salad days when they never ate
salad anyway. Just the beasts of the field they
subdued by killing them. Unimpeachably, one
way to do it. I was there to see the Rupert Mundys.
I remember them Mundys, Veronica announced
unannounced. I emerged astonished beholding  
heaven and earth as never quite before.

What in heaven and earth was SHE doing there?  
Hadn’t she dumped me at the Bison Paddock? 
She said she thought she might find me there
where the buffalo used to roam. She was the kind
of girl who could say things that weren’t that funny.
She could be a bit of a coyote, skin the honey
hue those imminent Sioux wore emanating up (and down)
in quest of their few remaining bison. 
She even had a bow to slay the umpire when the call
went wrong. As it inevitably would. But killing
messengers is release and not reward and now
they have instant replay in Terra Incognita anyway.
Besides, they just might have been looking for us.

We weren’t much of anywhere but the end of the road
near Dinosaur on US 40 where Phil Roth Field casts
its luminous glow. When the PA played God
Bless Vespucciland it seemed like a good time
to go, it wasn’t that great a game anyway
and she had made an already sumptuous camp. 
She used to tell me scrumptiously sounding things
and so I had remained a sucker for her & her
kind, firesigns and all. There was her tent and she
told me I could sleep in the bathos of my dreams.
It still was tied in the seventh we later learned.
But O! the bath I took in the end. It reminded me
of what I remembered from Bab edh-Dhra.
Reminded me of what can happen in the morning.

In the morning we went looking for the frogs
that won’t outlive us. Boys throw stones
at frogs in sport she reminded me but
the frogs die in earnest. I never threw stones at any
old frog and couldn’t hit the broadside
of a barn anyway, I told her in adamant retreat. 
And that time you barbecued their tiny legs on
Pheasant Ave. NW? What rose from those ashes?
A taste for flesh and fire, I suppose. As usual
she had me and all I could remember were those
haunches of Buffalo we would never taste again.
She wasn’t going to leave me. She wasn’t going
to leave me alone. It made for certain difficulties.
We agreed to let Bion and his cynical diatribes be bygones.

She built a fire and told me about Homo
diluvii testis who witnessed the Flood
as a salamander. I thought we had won
the war with the Newts. But Froggy went a’Courtin’
& Molly Mouse was the hat check girl, and we
hung our hats on desiccated Pinyon boughs and hoped
the fruit would not fall too far from our tree. 
The great serpent in the sky spoke with a tongue
just as forked as The Great White Father’s. Promised us
the land, the vista, and assorted ancestral
properties. It was all as confused as what I
learned in school. She seemed secure enough
in the facts of the matter. We had only begun.

She taught me a saying: camels often sit down
carefully, perhaps their joints crack. I do and mine did
so it seemed a wise saying if only from some Terra
Lingua Incognita. Then we got down to
a terrifying taxonomy. She insisted, I say,
she insisted, I was the last megatherium. 
I ain’t one of them Camelids! I cried. I protest!
Them are those pigs and hippopotami,
them deer and giraffes and cattle. 
Them goats and antelope. Look! In Big Wide
Wonderful Wyoming they call the pronghorn
goats but that’s not what they are. Not taxonomically. 
They’re not even antelope! Not taxonomically! 
I’d never been so shocked. She used to love me a lot.
And only because I was the last of the megatheria?

So there we lay, melodizing laylike on
the lay of the land and the lines it drew before our
weary aging eyes. Not much to go on
is there? she reminded me and then
I had to micturate. OK, go ahead, piss on it,
she taunted me. You don’t know squat and don’t have to either.
Not my fault, not my fault, I continued in protest.
I didn’t punch them doggies. Or them megatheriums.
You do squat to shit, don’t you? she continued. 
Each of ours will all but certainly bear careful
examination by the planet’s next species’
analog for anthropologists a few hundred
million solar rotations hence, she foresaw forcefully.
Dig it. You know it will and so will they.

Old roads are built on old rivers, it occurred to me,
and that maybe she was getting a little big
for her very attractive Venus Project hemp britches.
Maybe even backtalk will soon be proscribed
here in the ever-later Anthropocene?
Lord make me an instrument of her piece I pled. 
Besides, I’d just been fifteen days under the hood.
You ever tried that? Ever talked to trilobites,
belemites & ammonites the size of wagon wheels?
No way to leave her company, seeking outsized bones
 . . . seeking the strength of her line . . .
seeking that which only Wonmug and Bloom might have. 
Requisition Lewis, Clark, and Sacajawea,
and steal their orders? Go in our own skins to find incognita?

Roam the forests aboriginal, unexplored and undisturbed? 
Assume the aspect of le Mayne, traverse the Ohio?
Dragoon some Algonquin and Iroquois, beat Jefferson &
Lewis & Clark to the Devil’s Punchbowl.
See what we might learn about espèces perdues?
Get our kicks in Big Bone Lick? Wouldn’t that be
a dose of sweet satiety. Stand up as Oop did
to Wonmug and Bloom in the eternal
machine of time. Lavish our care on trace fossils
left by the Little People who exterminated
the dangerous Witch Buffalo with horns sticking
straight from her forehead, all for the cause
of Paleontology in Kentucky, fueled on 
Bourbon demonic as Barbados rum. 

Better to drink instead from the lees of
Cuvier’s cuvee of extinction. It hurts down here
‘cause we’re running out of beer but
we’re all gonna die someday? Aren’t we all
after all, “capable of violent tremors
& eruptions”? Don’t we all want to pop
up in Paris like a mushroom? I certainly do!
Not me she replied, artfully tart as fine hard cider. 
She confessed to preferring Florence. Always had
a thing for Florentines. She was lovely
as the Lily of the West and I feared her
betrayal. Maybe you want to talk about
Proboscidea? she went on, predatory
glint in her amber eye. Maybe you want to see

l’animal moyen de Montmartre?
Get it on over transformisme v. evolution,
see Lamarck as our missing spiritual link,
feel the Beagle upon us like the direct
revelation of a higher power much as
Alfred Newman did? Not everything is impossible,
she went on. Not everything is
“an affair as unlikely as levitation.”
Things got scary after that. She told me about
the tests of the Foraminifera. They look like
beehives, braids, bubbles, clusters of grapes, and
beaded earrings of the sort Chris makes.
Alvarez examined his from Gola de Bettoccione,
and he for one knew his uniformatarianism.

Knew his ammonites & rudist bivalves. 
Even the quartz was shocked. And then there was
the Crater of Doom, and the fern spike and the
Strangelovian Ocean. The Nautili, the chambered ones,
(we’re all gonna die someday as Kasey might sing).
Building a more stately mansion for either
of our souls seemed about as far-fetched as
the Midianites there in the Crater of Doom.
There in Chicxulub, coinciding perfectly with
the boundary between the Cretaceous and
the Paleogene when and where non-avian
dinosaurs suffered hundred percent losses
as did the terrestrial Enanthiornithine &
the aquatic Hesperornithine birds.

Then and there at the bottom of the fifth.  
The very thought brought sadness to my heart, as though we
might not ever stretch for a seventh, hoping
against dubious hope, even willing to settle
for a date with the devil himself, push the old Nick
over the precipice like the pious shepherd
at Dob’s Linn. Disregard the signs of mismatch
for as long as we might until we encounter
for our very own selves the “My God” reaction
as the paradigms suddenly shift and the ground
we could have sworn is solid drifts at our feet.
Come to personal terms with neocatastrophism
as conditions on earth change only very slowly,
except when they don’t, watch as

Rationalization convolutes as
contradictions accumulate, watch in
stunned silence until a finally perspicacious
prophet for our desperate age calls a red spade
a red spade and reminds the spellbound
that graptolites turn out not to be hieroglyphs,
even as we look for ziczac in
environments where it brooks no human,
nor even biological, origin. You are your own
Nemesis, Veronica told me as though it
were a consolation prize. As I am mine
and all of our kind are all of ours. We have
done it to ourselves and if you want me

to hear about it so we together may indulge
a worldly fantasy of having told the truth
in a truthless world, so be it. You remind me of Ruth
among the alien corn, was all I could think to reply.
We are neither of us going anywhere, not even
in pursuit of espèces perdues. I think the game
is over and not because it’s been delayed by rain. He who
has no name said a fire not a flood next time,
she agreed. So there we sat in a dead draw
in Terra Incognita and waited silently,
watching a senseless sun fire the bluff
to the east from its impersonal house in the west.

Bottom of the Sixth Discography

Paul Simon, Graceland, Warner Brothers, 1986
Bob Dylan, Good As I Been To You, Columbia, 1992        
John Eddie, Who the Hell is John Eddie? Lost Highway, 2003
The Chad Mitchell Trio, Reflecting, 1964
Southern Culture on the Skids, Santo Swings, Estrus Records, 1996
Well-known Degenerate Laramie Musicians, “Roamin’ through Wyoming,” Responsibility No One Dare Take, @ 1977
James McMurtry, Live in Aught-Three, Compadre Records, 2004
New Riders of the Purple Sage, New Riders, MCA, 1976
The Brian Setzer Orchestra, The Brian Setzer Orchestra,  
     Hollywood, 1994
The Hollywood Argyles, “Alley Oop,” Marginal, 1960
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, 4 Way Street, Atlantic, 1971
Kasey Chambers, The Captain, EMI, 1999
Peter Paul & Mary, Moving, Warner Brothers, 1963
Desmond Dekker and the Aces, “Israelites,” Uni Records, 1968
The Rolling Stones, Beggar’s Banquet, Decca, 1968
Leonard Cohen, Live in London, Sony, 2009
Grateful Dead, Terrapin Station, Arista, 1977

Bottom of the Sixth

Maybe that higher power has got its own
self a little too high.  (Many fey wise jokes on
4/20 and Easter being the same day
in the local news.)  And how wise may we be,

O wise ones?  We procurers of all good
bad and arguably ugly on a fine
Saturday baseball afternoon with wrap
around games and plenty to smoke if that

way your pleasure tends.  Or trends?  The trends
are not so good.  It is the bottom of the sixth
somewhere in baseball land.  And also in
this our Turtle Island home where too many
run far amok amid distressing dreams of
dead brothers, grandparents, and big old tortoises.

The bottom of the 6th, continues
The lady scientist believes in God so it all might
seem to be at least a little bit justified.  Did the
Lady Eve believe in He Who Has No Name?
Even when He didn’t, at least not quite yet then?
Then it was that that sweet toothed serpent
wormed his way in.  He was a He, right?  Isn’t
it all the fault of some gender specific male
who got a little indeterminate at some point.
Bless his pointed little head by all means.
And then point your own little head where it doesn’t
want to go and get used to the idea that it is
the bottom of the sixth and that even your own weird
little genes will not likely survive the seventh extinction
no matter how important they seem to you, at the moment.

Routinely Oblivious

There are those, I have heard reported,
who report immediately as though they are
there.  Which they are, as far as I can tell.
I am not one such.  I, routinely oblivious, still remember
Nonesuch, the label where we of limited income
could buy for two or three dollars putatively obscure
classical music.  Albinoni, for example, sublime
keyboard compositions from the Italian Baroque.

Also a very fine St. Matthew Passion which
Gary Rillema reported from Married Student Housing
in Laramie, (2016 Land), to his parents that he was
listening to Handel’s Messiah on a Sunday nowhere
near either Christmas nor Easter.  Nonesuch, as such, also
for some folk musicians, as was that Vanguard.

Setting Picks

He thinks he’s King Crimson when he can profess
to hate a baseball team.  It’s easily done,
you just pick anyone, pick to provoke a Sabbath
of discord.  Better than religion, one supposes,
although supposing can get troublesome somewhere
down the line.  Bottom of the sixth.  Nobody on,
and setting picks is a foul in certain contact sports.
Pick your poisons, you honorable combatants in
competitions with uncertain rules.  The rule
of the variously pissed off pisses on all kinds
sticking around.  Kind of the point.  So more than kith,
so less than kind, and there we go again.  Kind? 
Kind of
 like an entry
                     in the ungulate division. 

The Bolt House

And then there we were at the Bolt house with
those magnificent twin black walnut trees within a
horseshoe drive where Uncle Harry aka
Jim argued with his father about God’s elect
when he wasn’t selling shoes at that store
with the Xray-your-foot machine
on Eastern Ave., Catty Corner from
Eastern Avenue Xtian Reformed Church.
Right down the street from Burton Street and
a house of another sort where Burt Vander Meer
aspired to a ministry and which his kid and me tried
to burn down, accidentally of course, playing
with matches in the cellar as we might have in any
old house, and failed, although not without trying.

The Higher Power

Spring Peepers, remember them?  Froggy
went a’courtin’, at least in Ravenscroft's 
Melismata version.  Sadly, had no greenback
dollars.  But he sang what must be sung. 
And it all turned out pretty good!  Molly Mouse
was the hat check girl.  Money don’t get
everything, it’s true.  Kills a froggy or two,
though.  And then there’s a person from
Greenpeace all dressed up for Porlock.
Might even talk to her if she didn’t
look like a toad and want greenback dollars.
Darwin spent the Beagle Voyage pretty much
seasick, and still got down words that struck
Newman as “direct revelation of a higher power.”

The pointillism of the Masters

Who would have thought there to be such pink
in so bloodily red white & blue a gallery?
If only we could hit it close, that close, close
enough to seem to have an idea, any idea at all
of what we did or even why it was done.
No such luck. Our kind are not kind nor
in right mind to do something that tough,
again. And what was it and why so tough, again?

A night from now our sun will eclipse our moon
billowing diaphanous plumes against our planet-
bound doomed intentions, hopes, even,
of a safer universe, a place we might see from
a home of our own, from a place we think we live,
where we give surly lip service to our Masters.


It’s enough to make you want to go to Africa,
just like that girl in Johnny’s Camaro.
“How you get up there?” Well, she had jumped.
The bump in the up, nine degrees by the end
2099, so to speak, at least the degrees are in F,
only five in C!  “The frog does not drink
up the pond in which he lives.” At least that’s
what the Sioux said but we all know what became
of them. Maybe the Frogs did it?  Maybe not, eh? 
The worst-case 2100 scenario is only 6C so
don’t we have a degree with which we may
happily play?  Even NASA agrees and even
Texas Christians fund those guys. ACD? 
Look it up for your very own self.

Verdi cries

I draw a jackal-headed woman in the sand
and protect her with my wits from the libel
that she is just another welfare queen.
So was Cleopatra.  Her welfare wasn’t protected?
Time to start rising for the moon! Anubis?
You dare to bring Anubis up? You’d be in
transgenderland! You’d be rising for the moon, and you
might even get there. For the moment, lets
adore Hypatia, sadly done in by good Christians
of the Alexandrine profession.  Fathers, don’t let
your daughters grow up to be scientists!
The dog-faced troops can support themselves.
They’re awful good at making killers.
Not near so good at making men.

Remembering Nam

Happily, we remember the salad days
of American Empire. Strafe the town.
Who are we, or anyone, to judge?
Kill the people.  And embrace as family
the brave fellaheen given helicopters
to dispense napalm. It’s not for me to judge. 
Those were the good old days when you
could get stoned on valium and gin while all
the fine young fellas from someone’s
hometown dropped napalm on someone else’s.
I remember Nam too.  It seemed for a time
a time to forget, but I couldn’t quite. Never quite
forgot how they got out there every Sunday to catch
them perfidious Gooks at their morning prayer.

Movie Review

And so we come to that old sepia of old
New York where the sentient cowboy up
and lead a mirthful parade, but no one quite
dare call it Great. Not like Citizen Kane
or Birth of a Nation or A Clockwork Orange.
Not even Robert Osborne.  It’s pretty good though. 
There are pigs and llamas and ponies leaping
impossibly from a railroad  boxcar.
Bolivia didn’t really look like that.
Or did it?  Does it still?  We’ll all feel a lot better
after we rob a couple of banks.  Won’t we?
Promise?  Adios! Sweet Betsy from Pike
was never any sweeter.  Bingo!
Están Swingles?  Non! que es la familia de la perdiz!