Sequel To Three Billy Goats Gruff
I'm in the shower, letting water blast away
the crust that smog, heat, a twelve-hour workday
plus a two-hour drive home have caked on me,
when black water starts rising at my feet.
I kill the shower and jump out as a dark stench
rolls up from my home's underside: an alien
world of wires and pipes, termites and spiders,
unimaginable forces and horrors. Being male,
I can't scream, "Help!" I'm doomed
to play Inquisitor: force Liquid Plumber down
the drain's throat, then pound it with a plunger
till its secrets spill. "I'll bet Erik flushed a toy,"
my wife declares. But the plumber she calls
(at double overtime) snakes out a pelt-sized
clot of hairy goo. A miracle! I tell myself.
But I can't positive-think my way out of this.
I'm a man with a wife and toddler son,
central heat and air, a sprinkler system,
two burglar alarms, elbow joints and p-traps
beyond counting, each one a hostage to fortune.
I have ten hours of dark to navigate tonight,
and a troll under my house, hungry for me.
I show how the psychic surgeon drags cotton-
soaked-in-pig-blood out of his patient's side.
I record the faith healer's gold-wigged wife
whispering divine inspiration—Millie
Lives on Lantern Lane. Has stomach cancer—
through a receiver in her husband's ear.
I break the news to college students thrilled
by the accuracy of their horoscopes,
that each of them got the same one.
"You love to crush the magic out of things,"
one student cries. But I believe in the magic
of DNA; the witchcraft of quarks, hadrons,
neutrinos; the sorcery of matter—sometimes wave,
sometimes particle—alchemized to energy.
I believe light flashes through a trillion
prisms of mist that paint rainbows not
on the sky, but retinas: a pot of gold
at the end of every optic nerve, each eye.
This Poem Is Called "The Snows Of
"King Lear" has better name-recognition.
"Purple People-Eater" clacks
with novelty. Yet as I sweat
in bed, and mockingbirds riff
like piccolos on ecstasy, only Kilimanjaro
evokes the way the mountains
shudder in hot winds outside
a certain woman's summer home.
Cedars and pines (which sleep,
in winter, under thick white
comforters) waggle their arms, trying
to shake their dusty glaze.
Sweltering, the woman pops in
a CD—Miriam Makeba, say—
spins her bath-water to Cold, and fills
the tub. Without shutting
the bathroom door, she peels away
her clothes, glides into the bath
(Kilimanjaro implies gliding), then settles
down with a book by Hemingway
or maybe me. When, finally, she stands
and August air licks the water
from her skin, she feels it as a light dusting
We came through tropical rain and polar freeze.
We came through sandstorms that blasted off
our clothes and skin. We came with gifts: twelve-
packs of toilet tissue; speed-dried jumbo shrimp.
We overran the park's iron fence, and left for worms
the wimps we crushed between its bars.
We ignored the fifteenth century Canterbury Tales,
Gainsborough's Blue Boy, and Gutenberg's personal
Bible as we rushed to the Virginia Scott Gallery
where, head-high in a moss-trimmed pot, the flower,
like Bethlehem's come-hither supernova, blazed.
Eve sniffed herself ecstatic; God held Adam's nose
the first time those burgundy petals flared.
Outside Eden, Java Man collapsed in tears.
The flower smelled like Papa Ack, who'd slept all year.
Alas, the would-be Lord of Stench who called us here
looks like a lipstick, and smells less than a dead rat.
Disappointment's bowling balls rush at our feet.
We try to leap, but slam down on our coccyxes.
"We are Sumatran beetles," cries a wise man, writhing
in our midst. "Amorphophallus titanium, open wide.
Let your pollen paint us golden as we roll inside
beneath your sticky, stinking moon." "We are Sumatran
beetles," we cry, prostrate on the ground the corpse-
flower sprang from, which we'll all be under soon.
Its goal is humor: make a face, and get a grin.
Its result is horror: birth defect, mouth-cancer,
some half-wit who's swallowed his own chin.
Was gurning born on Stone Age nights, firelight
aiding Dad's effects the way a shower-stall aids
Aïda today? Did it start as visual karate: monks
hoping to moue Vikings away? Were its first masters
reacting to the thought of English overlords,
or haggis? Did it rise out of the need to boldly go
where no man has, etc.—the force that pushed
Caesar to Gaul, Newton to calculus, Mark M. Hogg
to eat more nightcrawlers than anyone in history?
Or does it express the human urge to ruin things:
to find a scientifically-arranged seashell collection,
and sweep it to the floor; a flawless lawn, and dig it up;
a well-ordered government, and drag it down?
To take a marriage perfect as an angel's smile,
throw in a child, and watch the grimaces begin . . .