by Earl Babin
Smiling Faces / Going Places
The legislature burned the night
the Anti-Spectacle Bill came down.
The Angel held up its mask, approached the podium.
"I'm gonna stop this signifying..."
“... if we could step out of the storm…”
You and I discovered the doll left in the barn:
Its glass head was full of wires,
strings ran from the weathervane rooster
to its hands and feet.
It singed your finger when you
tried to stroke its temple.
Our eyes met;
you were as a tornado in a bottle to me then.
“The language we taught each other survives,
Not as a record, but as an element of disorder.”
And so the cave fills with lanterns searching for us.
Our mob hides down in the tall grass
In the distance, crowds anxious
for Laser Ralph Stanley.
Orthodoxy: A Memoir
All summer till five o’clock,
I’m vassal to the hobbyshop-man.
On the display table,
trains keep rolling past miniature towns,
hills, and the mysterious pit
where tiny speakers play a loop
of human screams.
When you came back,
You had a worn pair of metal shoes,
a scar that ran from your throat
past your breasts.
You let me run a finger down its ridge.
Faces in the dollhouse reflect
a fear of the suburban proletariat.
Real wages have gone down.
I add dry ice to give the appearance of flames.
After the parade, children took turns
climbing in the Death Car
“Like it’s theirs by right . . .”
You said “The day is graying—
part early spring, part late fall.
As if you could feel the President’s
love passing like the snow…that’s
the sort of day it is . . .”
Throbbing Gristle had just come to town
and conducted themselves with such
a noblese oblige that, out of shame,
we felt a new eye observing us.
We spoke softer on the streets,
did little acts of kindness.
“There, there son. Stop crying.
We’ll get you another bowl of hot dogs…”
“But within the same school,
one could develop a new vision,” you said.
“like a MAD fold-in, where the very details
of the Republic contain its ironic inverse,
and we’re either in harmony with the ultimate
configuration or else lost in the flood.”
I’m so glad I’m a witness too.
Today at home school, we made
Machievelli trading cards
(e.g., Cesare Borgia, .90 virtu; .10 fortuna;
Julius II, .10 virtu; .90 fortuna).
Several mothers warned their sons
not to lust after the Hipster Waitress
“it’ll only add to her life force . . .”
But at night, I fantasize she beats up
her hipster boyfriend
and then me, and of knee-high argyles.
The Budget was padded with light industry,
the Horse That Can Do Math—
--we were content to quiz him for awhile.
“The first hints of glossolalia are the air,”
you said “till consumed by the Central Message--
people felt comfortable in each other’s
presence again—we walk through walls
of garland, through ring dances…
Your brothers swagger by
like they’re up from the farm team.
They give off a perverse animus,
makes wild animals avoid their path,
causes them to dig holes in the meadow
to trap the lonely children.
“Yet they live by a principled illiteracy—
--like Alexander, tyrant of Pharae—
they refuse to weep at fiction
when unmoved by their own cruelty.”
Later, we hiked down to the junkyard
where they dump the old jukeboxes,
and, although we saw it coming,
the double significance of the silence
pierced us with its emptiness.
I can’t imagine how you spend Christmas
At your house, with your private army….
I’m sorry… “security force.”
The Spiritualists who came before us
nailed broken dolls’ heads on the bridge
to catch the wind.
A voice in the stairwell keeps shouting
“The man’s coming up to punch the cancer
out of you…”
as the women outside keep mopping
piles of rubble.
A band of children approached, asked
“If we stab you, will money come out?”
What they must think of the dead here—
--that they sit trading folk songs like currency,
the one accumulating the most becoming
kingpin of each possible variant.
The old woman’s store was so small
she had to stand outside if a customer
She started crying “I miss when
I was young and could control men.”
And there was this awkward moment
where we almost hugged.
Last day of school,
we joined the caravan to the Lake.
The mascot nearly drowned,
his enormous head filling with water.
Our heroes had all just been paroled.
They threw a couch on the bonfire,
Several girls shared a common nightmare:
A bird swallows a carnivorous plant,
and while its flying midair,
the plant slowly eats the bird’s heart
and guts; tears through its belly
as its falling, as it crashes into the water.
You and I stood at strategic points
on the rocks. Bounce the premonitions
back and forth between us,
watching the sparks move in your hair,
beneath the shadow of wings.
This is how we hide each other.
You said “when its served its purpose, the State will detach and fall away, but leave a covert tribalism in which allegiance is premised on signs undetectable to the naked eye.”
I try to imagine my grandfather as a young man with the other dago kids playing a proto-version of paintball—sticking their little fists in red sauce and punching each other’s clean shirts.
Your college boyfriend painted a series of panels, “Bergman Bloopers,” for you, in which the actor playing Death [i] ruins several scenes by wearing his wristwatch or leaving his cigar on the chessboard.
This halfway house helps the dominatrixes transition to a life without darkness or pain. We take them on long walks to the self-sufficient petting zoo. Today, one held a species of worm that is completely blind, but tastes with every part of its body.
Another way to take it, the mystics say, is to pretend one day, that the Inhabitant of the Icon goes up and missing from its frame. You can a) give your life to find it; b) rejoice that its in the world doing good; c) tremble that its still at large and could strike at any time.
Today, the orphanage empties into the hills with only one shiv for every four orphans to kill enormous wolves and build shelters from their skins. Each group swears to the other to live neither as man or animal but some tertium quid – forming a loose confederacy of skins and hills.
On the island, a regional penchant for mixing shellfish and dairy. The beer shacks lose ground to the ocean each year. When stepping out of doors, citizens flash their guns to strangers as a courtesy. Police clear the streets to race; burn books to keep the saints away.
You were bigger than me, but fit neatly in my old jersey. In the morning, your right leg grows translucent hairs; it turns numb, then petrifies, becomes resistant to saws and mallets. Neighbors come, put flowers at its side. I have felt this way for a long time.
[i] Bengt Ekerot (1920-1971).
Nobody talks about the girl gangs--their enormous foreheads or how they punish traitors by inserting a cat's whisker into their tear ducts. I thought a logbridge would let us escape, "but as this would only connect two disparate spheres of fear and opportunity," the plan was shelved, for a time.
Bricks keep comin through the window with little notes: Why you tag my house with the danse macabre doing fistpumps? [sic]; Redneck, turn down the zydeco, seriously, its native exuberance and scrubboards. For further discussion see subsequent bricks.
I keep a small fetish--adult women with braces. Each time my mind turns such, its like the room fills with sapphires that begin to assume the characteristics of flying insects, though such thoughts if discovered could be easily manipulated, "turn you to a puddle of suet if given the chance."
"On such occasions, it'd be more handy to emit a distractive version of yourself, the meat scraped out..."
My brother believes that killing wall-rats in a chalk circle can summon spectral girls in the mirror, but the potential psychic rift keeps him up late in the night in the bed we share.
Saturdays, dad plays with the other divorced dads in Significant Otter (though they've also appeared as the Pleasurenauts). "Politically he's overdone...trying to be both vox populi and its saving grace." Keyboards is his axe/background vocals on "TLC (Gonna Get Some)." Together we live less as a family than as men who happen to share a space without women; regularly rotating rooms, encoded acts of affection. "I think you'll find this article interesting..."
The legally blind girl's legs smelled like dog bites all summer.
People who slept with her dreamt of druid oaks spraying pollen with a startling bioluminescence from their knotholes. Such dreams could be instructive or have a paralyzing effect: we dwell on the sight of children cutting their own switches from a single tree. Preservative tone of a cold sun. The wind's there to crush trailers and ten-speed bikes; the rain a kindness, all the spider bites on my legs.
A teacher later pointed out that this was emblematic of the rural apocalypse theme, though there's no way we could've known that at the time.