Friday, June 18, 2010

sensitivity suite

sensitivity suite


i am eight
on a sand bar
like me
only appears – only comes out –
when the tide is low and all is calm

my father has left me alone
‘wait here and swim’ he said;
dropped me down
and sped off
(who imagined the old boat’s propeller could turn so fast?)

there is a girl in a white bikini
near the mouth of the inlet
screaming out to the open sea
dad to the rescue
‘son, wait here...’
dad to the rescue
my sand bar is sinking

she, grateful, hugs him
he lingers in her embrace a long moment past awkward
before ceding her to the singing beach
all the way back to the dock he will tell me
how her name was merrie lee
how unusual that was
how impressed he was with her character
character my eight-year-old ass
you son of a bitch

like that sand bar
the whole business was beneath me
but i clung to shrinking, shifting sands
just to keep breathing
near the end i went under
more than two feet deep now
and beginning to move fast
i lay on the bottom
(the bottom that only moments ago had been the top)
let out all of my air and
lay motionless – looking toward heaven –
breathing in a new element
thinking those fluke were really onto something
breathing happily in a new element
until i found myself inexplicably aloft and sputtering…

that he came back for me at all
continues to surprise

we had been fishing, father and i
outboard set to troll
i hovered over the rotting transom to steer and to spy
feeling the motor’s heat
envying joan of arc
so clean an ending – so incontrovertible
(they say her heart did not burn)

my true purpose in this faux-halcyon escapade
was to look through the clearer-than-you’d-think-it-would-be water
clear down to the bottom
to spot marbles
marbles you see
are the eyes of a mythical fluke buried in the sand
bigger than a volkswagen, says dad
old flat poseidon
he is down there somewhere
and my father ahab
will see him rendered in strips
battered (how appropriate words can be without knowing)
and served up with ore-ida’s finest
at our family’s rendition of the perfect friday dinner
‘round the table
norman rockwell would have been proud
but scratch the canvas and you’ll find we were bosch
painted over
in suburban teal and burnt orange

so i called out 'marbles!' as we trolled
and dad would drop the hook right down
up came fish after fish
sportsmanship for assholes

every fish was smaller than expected
every summer friday a bit closer to the fall
disappointment was my father’s condiment of choice

i learned in the sixth grade
that fluke, like their smaller cousin the flounder
(flounder? how could we not have known?)
begin life with two eyes on opposite sides of their head
like any other fish
then, slowly,
in an effort to avoid being seen and eaten
they flatten
and both eyes migrate to the side of their body that looks toward heaven

smart fish

i helped them, you know
i called out only the barest few, and then only
to avoid being seen
to avoid being captured
to avoid being rendered in strips
to avoid being battered and served up
to postpone the burgeoning, insatiable chagrin

even today
when the tide rushes in
i bury myself in the sand
and look toward heaven
waiting for my eyes to migrate


these pebbles –
lava from a volcano
that exploded a whole lot of thousands of years ago
nowhere near arizona
where i am now
after riding a bus for three days
to an acting job my parents said i shouldn’t take

fuck them

i am seventeen
i hop a big apple greyhound on christmas eve
the peter pan touring company is the key to my nascent career in lights
but on the way
mister dumbass producer skips town with the money
one blinding incomprehensible greedy twist of balding sweaty mama’s-boy fate
and my incandescent debut turns out to be
just another case of ‘my parents were right’

i wait in the phoenix bus station
it is three in the morning
no one has come to claim me

my doppelganger walks up,
says ‘are you here for the peter pan touring company?’
‘it’s about fucking time’, i say;
only to hear ‘no – i am stuck here, too’ and
suddenly it all comes clear –
he is bob
from somewhere vast and flat

we are soon joined by a third
named larry
he is heir to the kodak fortune
(no, really – i checked later)
he is a peter pan touring company rising star
like bob,
like me…
his parents turned out to be right, as well –
(bob doesn’t have parents
but if he did, they’d be ri…)

fuck them
fuck them all

we do not have enough money for bus tickets home
we consider selling ourselves
we’d have done it, too
but that only would have made our parents more right

fuck them
fuck them all

greyhound ad says ‘buy two, get one free’
holiday special
we pool our resources
who knows who, where?
i win; my cousin’s in l.a.

we three
salvaged by cousin tom in a dented orange pinto
lived in his garage
for six months
sleeping on and under a ping-pong table
and eating avocados fresh from a tree in the backyard
eden without eve –
one night
we fumbled clumsily with each other in her absence,
deciding in the end we were better off sans satisfaction

two weeks into the eden experiment
proving once and for all that i am my pragmatic parents’ son
i borrow a bicycle
i ride each day to the redondo beach boardwalk
where i sell flowers in an open air market
i get this job
solely because albert the owner's son desires me –
sycophantic albert, whose middle name was futility…
i sold only flowers
(once, to olivia newton-john,
a single red rose
she was so…pretty)

bob went back to his vast flatness;
larry, to claim his diseased fortune –
i held out ‘til the last
feasting on pride

fuck them
fuck them all

my mother’s quavering mouse-voice on the telephone
she is worried about me
have i been drinking?

so i cave
i fly back to new york
(much quicker than greyhound)
i would say i missed home but
you read my last poem
three weeks later my cousin called to say he had not seen me –
had i come home

three weeks?

fuck him
fuck them all

thirty years later
a quiet moment draws me back to
these pebbles –
lava from a volcano
that exploded a whole lot of thousands of years ago
nowhere near arizona
where i am now
if only in my mind

if only


had been able to explode…


i insisted on seeing my brother’s body
it nearly killed my parents
it nearly killed me
but see it i did
(one thing we had in common,
my brother and i –
we were born to ruin)

he was lying on his right side
one eye gazing opaquely outward
the other half of his face
covered by a starched white cloth
i asked to see
the other half of his face
to make sure it was there
to make sure it was him
he was always a trickster
i asked to see the other half
of his dappled face
and they told me it wasn’t there to see

the shotgun had done its work -
who knew his arms were so long?

i had to look at what was there
at what was left
the freckles across the nose were darker
there were more of them than i remembered
the eye was no longer the color of the sea
but it did slant upwards at the corner like a grin
yes, i concluded
this was him

i was just about to look away
when something moved –

breathlessly i waited, praying
for his last trick to be real
for him to sit up
for his ocean eyes to twinkle

it was a maggot

i am okay with that

--Rich Follett has recently returned to writing poetry after a thirty-year hiatus. He lives in the sacred and timeless Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, where he joyfully teaches English and Theatre Arts for high school students. His poems have appeared in Paraphilia, Calliope Nerve, Sugar Mule, Four Branches Press and Counterexample Poetics, for which he is a Featured Artist. He is the co-author of Responsorials (with Constance Stadler) and the solo collection Silence, Inhabited (NeoPoiesis.)

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