We were waved down at a checkpoint in a country that didn’t exist anymore except on maps. A guard with a machine gun strapped across his chest demanded to see our papers. “I’ll kill you!” he screamed. That’s him, I thought, that’s my father. In an attempt to save himself, our translator pinched his eyes shut. I was hardly more than a kid. If the guard had bothered to search my backpack, he would have found a magazine that described various sex positions, including one called “Lying in a Dentist Chair.” Scientific fact – a zebra was standing on the building’s roof dripping blood. Yes, Kafka lived there, too.
Your cousin Fania stands on a foot bridge over the Vltava, looking down. This part of the river is popular for suicide attempts. But despite the sad Christmas songs playing in her head, she turns away. It’s almost dusk. She drifts into the person walking next to her. Whatever it takes – bed rest, oxycodone, using corpses as sandbags – is what most folks do. There’s no space in modern thought for the concept of evil. The camera in the bank has been waiting 15 years in hopes that a robbery occurs.
Sometimes I forget this video exists. The Zig-Zag man sits at a desk, his eyes shifting back and forth. He’s explaining how to make a doll into a wine glass in 23 quick steps. You might wonder whether the sex scenes are essential or gratuitous. Only sentences he personally proofread have been included. Earlier in his life, he traversed various countries on foot, introducing himself to strangers as a “shadow bandit” and a “light thief.” Germany feared what might happen among its population – strikes, orgies, riots, massacres. Tacked to the wall behind him is a four-color map of Germany’s pubic area. The dead birds are there to elicit our sympathy.
A god was descending by parachute. “Shut the door!” someone yelled. Someone else had difficulty processing words. A rumor spread that novelists and other writers had been rounded up as potential saboteurs. The clerks in the county government building did nothing, only said to go to another office and then another and another until finally all the offices closed. My thoughts went to the magician’s attractive assistant. White doves appeared from out of nowhere. That night in bed I caught sight of their little corpses shimmering under the rippling surface of a mismade dream.
Memories of Forgetting
You laughed tonight when I said “necklace” but meant “tablecloth.” I notice it happening more and more. I’m calling things by the wrong name. Or I forget what a thing is called at all. It’s as if my mind were a crowded theater slowly emptying after a performance, the people still inside unaware that rain has turned to whatchamacallit.
Lament with me. I’m turning 64, a totally useless operation, painful, tedious, and lonely. Shuttling through time wearing a white summer suit and dark glasses, a cigarette dangling from my lips, I have forgotten the word, depriving me of a red cluster, a stream of gold honey. A young Russian-born French lady strolls into the same time frame. It sounds complicated, but it’s simple. The wind chime tinkles out a sudden song. O fields, O sky, place midnight in the care of my hands.
I’d never seen anything like it before, the way our skin took on the memory of each other’s body, dark figures dissolving against the snow, as if time jumped from a burning truck to a store called Tuesday morning to selfies with endangered species, and all without us picking locks or forging documents or almost getting lost.
‘Rommel Drives on Deep Into Egypt’
Every time I open the book more poems fall out. The glue that held the pages has yellowed and cracked. No one reads Brautigan anymore anyway. On the cover, though, it’s still 1970. A dark- haired hippie chick sits sprawled in a sandbox with a pail and shovel between her legs. She’s half-smiling at someone I can’t see, a wino babbling to himself on a bench. He doesn’t seem the type to scratch the faces off children with his filthy nails. “And those not burned up by death rays,” he sounds like he’s saying, “become their slaves.”
Howie Good is the recipient of the 2015 Press Americana Prize for Poetry for his collection Dangerous Acts Starring Unstable Elements.