Home | Fleets & Fuels Newsletter | The Poetry of Mark Gibbons
Across the Street
After the Second World War
the U.S. Army abandoned
the prisoner of war camp
in the woods
across the road
from my grandmother's farm.
In their wild oats way
the army left nearly everything behind.
But nothing was wasted
when my cousin and I took over.
Long barbed wire stockades stretched
along crumbling macadam toward
a disused railroad spur.
The CO's fieldstone headquarters
resumed its function in our games.
We stood our watches on shaky guard towers
and dug fox holes where real foxes
sometimes mistakenly appeared
and skittered away.
The stuffed furniture had been slashed
by older kids who came by night in cars
to play at other games while we slept
under Nana's quilts back at the farmhouse.
But by day it was ours.
Books in several languages lay sodden
in corners under leaks;
whole files of correspondence lent
our play verisimilitude no toy could give.
I pried the casings of cases
of 45 millimeter shells to collect the
powder and briskly flammable wadding.
On days with no wind my homemade bombs
produced the neat mushroom clouds
we had grown to expect on the Today
Show - live from Yucca Flats.
While burying treasure
on typical afternoon
we unearthed a machine gun.
Back at the farm my father
sternly took it away but seemed
thrilled at our discovery.
Mother and Aunt Althea
made us all take long showers
for fear of some post-War epidemic
of god knew what European disease.
Stays at the farm were family business;
we weren't allowed friends
from our own houses miles away.
So no one ever believed my
grandiose tales of war-game splendor.
My photography was deemed faked.
Even now no one believes
I found my first edition of
The Divine Comedy there
on am mound of waterlogged refuse.
Poets especially distrust this story.
Between battles, and after sundown
we'd return across the street
to the New England farmhouse
flanked with wine glass elms,
apple orchards, cow barn, milk shed,
chicken coop, stables and kennel.
We drank unpasteurized milk;
I don't know about my cousins . . .
but I never had to dream about war.
An Unexpected Funeral
On a night walk in the Valley of Taxco
we paced across plowed and rocky fields
up above the dried out river
to the cantina for beer and pool.
The power failed. We stumbled laughing
to the street, tripped in open ditches
and shied from roaming pigs
rooting for garbage.
From the church the sound
of horns and drums droned
in and out of tune.
And suddenly we were in a procession
of somber Indians who gave us
flaming candles three feet long.
Solicitous, painfully cautious with
eyes that never met ours they
offered swigs of mescal from
re-used bottles of ketchup and instant coffee.
A priest in brocade chasuble
swung his censer step by step
away from the church built on the
ruined mound of an ancient pyramid.
What was this? And then we couldn't meet
even each other's eyes. Hot wax
dripped to our hands and burned pleasantly
on skin until we were joined to the candles.
Flake, flake, I feel
the smooth sheets slake
translucent scales from my scraped skin.
Snows of epidermal cells peel
from knee, back, calf, arm and heel
and hustle into drifts between
the mountain passes of the rumpled sheets.
Every place I lean I feel abrasive heat.
My skin! You've done me in
with itching, bitching up red splotches
on my buns: thankless, sadistic spanker.
Yes, you are my master,
and when you hanker
to watch me wince,
along you mince to me, your meat.
Tonight we're here alone
with our jar of hydrocortisone.
I draw the shades and strip.
All week you've tongued my hip,
and now I see a lurid splotch
(yes, yes) in my crotch!
No, No! This will never go.
You hurt too much for me to laugh for long.
Gigolo! I've creamed you off,
paid you off in drugs.
Do we love each other so
we each come back for slugs?
Twelve years have passed; twenty-four semesters,
with the length and breadth of
two post graduate degrees,
seven apartments, a dozen roommates.
and again I hear these voices,
sounding their measured enthusiasms,
right attitudes, fashionable issues
arching in their conversation
in a reassuring slouching goose-step.
The day is come when I again repose
here, bourbon and soda in a plastic cup
this time -- twelve years ago such sin
would have been unthinkable.
Facing me are the couple whose eternal love
was forged on the golden anvil of Latin,
algebra and college preparatory physics,
in the scuffed halls of high school lust,
in then back seats of hand-me-down Tudor Fords.
We are sitting cross-legged in the cushy warmth
of a Danish shag rug away from the polite flak
of the ice cubes, hostess skirts,
and -- God have mercy on my aging soul --
The Beatles who have somehow taken up residence
in the pantheon of nostalgia.
We have "run into each other at a party"
and, after the give and take of gossip
about the old crowd, we settle down
to our own stories of success and self-discovery;
he's a psychiatrist and she, while unemployed
at the present, is very active in
a Women's Lib group and still working
on her degree.
These beauteous forms, through a tong absence,
have not been to me as a landscape
to a blind man's eye.
While they gesticulate and speak
past scenes perform gymnastics in my head:
the aching joys and dizzy raptures:
his exhausted, sweating face crossing
the finish line at a cross country race:
her blonde "page boy" resting on
the crimson velvet collar of her choir robe.
All these years they have been waiting
in the yearbook on my bottom shelf
where on facing pages the voice says it all:
"exciting dramatic ability... intelligent...
poised... charming... attractive blonde."
"academic... always well-dressed...
a goodhearted fellow with a likable grin... conscientious."
Almost all... but I have felt a presence
that disturbs me with the joy of elevated thoughts.
I will dream tonight of fire and light:
Mirror-faced nymphs and fauns hone-in
on the Yard carrying all the poems
ever written in Cambridge.
Stacks of foolscap, the foul papers
of every bard who ever scratch a line,
slim volumes full of harmless dog-eared intentions,
all piled and burning while no one watches.
In the still air their images
take on new form: three dimensional heroes
hallucinated in holographic laser-light
copulate beside broken hearts.
The concrete made still more hard
bursts from the lusty heat and spills its hidden meaning
between the spent metaphors.
Childhood fears no longer foolish
prowl the back alleys of old age.
Brutal weekends bash
through inadvertent loves and sweaty blows.
Translations snicker at the originals.
Silently and very fast
this herd of fictional beings
is moving toward the library or
the subway behind it.
I can't tell which.
The invasion seems quite complete:
still, though, occasional militants
ascend from the subway shifting their knapsacks.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands of ducks
proclaim their Vees across a simmering electric sky.
Every one has an idea.
It has been made a requirement,
and no one has objected so far.
An emaciated thinker in subfusc army surplus
walks from mudpuddle to mudpuddle
taking their temperature with
an expensive looking thermometer.
He says that they are warmer
than they should be according to his theory.
He also says that I am the only person
who has taken notice of him,
and that this should give me
something to think about.
The buildings are named after local thinkers:
Emerson and William James finally
become the landscape.
Windows full of signs:
nothing on sale.
Everyone has taken a stand:
most of the haircuts are anti-military in execution.
The November weather is appropriately academic.
The days this week have all started with topic sentences,
and are full of clichés that everyone takes for wit.
Literacy addicts swarm around the newsstands
for fresh editions of old favorites.
Composed in the far background,
its flashing beacon a warning for everyone,
Boston's tallest building, touted
as the beginning of another New England Renaissance,
The Prudential Tower spells it allegory
in twenty foot letters.
Trashing The Deb Party
It all started, or at least I think
it all started when "Scooter" Henshaw
fell into the punch bowl and then
Goddamned barfed into the grand piano
and then packed little Porter Coffin,
who's the cox at St. Mark's,
into the Goddamned fucking piano
and closed the lid.
Porter screamed up a bloody storm,
and Scooter pounded out a very loud
version of "Heart and Soul"
to silence the screams.
Everyone was laughing their fucking heads off.
But then the quaalude punks from Cheshire
weaved in from pissing in the pool
and liberated Porter
but Smashed up the piano with
croquet mallets and fireplace pokers.
Christ, what a scene.
Tip, Chessie, and Tom Chace rolled
what was left of the piano
onto the terrace and into the pool
which was by then surrounded with hysterical
sub debs laughing their heads off
except for Trudy Poor who'd lost
her grandmother's Faberge locket
or some such thing. Her retard date
from Chicago shed his horrifying
powder blue tuxedo
revealing a pair of jockey shorts.
It was the first time I'd seen
goddamned jockey shorts on a guy older than four!
He dove in and actually found the locket.
Trudy went into this "My Hero" bit,
and I presented him with my wilted corsage.
Christ, You could see everything through
his soaking jockey shorts
But then Trish Baldwin staggered up
to him and right in front of everybody
said, "I'd love to chomp on that cucumber,"
barfed into the pool and fell in,
Grossed him out.
These foreign exchange twins from Sweden
tried to quiet things down.
Some guys tied them up with extension cords
and covered them with pate and crab meat dip.
Most of the downstairs furniture
was in the Pool by the time the cops came.
That's what the Times article concentrates on.
The damage. They left out all the good stuff.
Wait till next year!
Home | Fleets & Fuels Newsletter | The Poetry of Mark Gibbons