THE PROSE POEMS
PAGE 6 PROSE POEMS NEW 4.22 BY: Bob Lucky, Tanja Bartel, Al Ortolani, Sara Bickley, Jen Campbell, Poul Høllund Jensen, Jack Anderson, Nick Foster, Philip C. Kolin, Howie Good, Gary Leising, Laura Ramos, John Ore, Lisa Kosow, Kyle Bilinski

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Bob Lucky

With Apologies to René Descartes

I am; therefore, there are things that must be dealt with — the muddy waterfall of laundry spilling out of the basket, the dishes occupying the sink like tectonic plates in a failed god’s junkyard, the bills with their columns and boxes of numbers and explanations wanting nothing more than the sum at the bottom of the page, stained and button-missing shirts, broken shoelaces, a life insurance policy outlived. There are things that can’t be helped (or it’s too late to render assistance) — the truth spoken when it was not called for, words that slipped in and out like hat pins and poisoned darts shot out of umbrella tips, the missed opportunities that fingers and toes could not keep track of, the gentle clogging of arteries and broken hearts, the one drink that made the one before so good, memories lost in the folds of cognitive quicksand; therefore, I am. Or was.

 

Tanja Bartel

Betrayed

Naked to fortune, I am an aquamarine mussel foaming on a roasted beach. My polished tinfoil skin sings underneath my dress of platinum and feathers. Since you left me, I have been a miracle: subtle and velvet, making my own way outside your square planet. I am not toxic. I shine in the very centre of my own heart. Do not smother my laughter with your jellyfish doubts. Don’t lie. For the next years, I will be the submarine at the base of your guilt; a rash weaving under and over your conscience. I will be your epiphany, banging against your memory.

 

Al Ortolani

Black Shoes

While hiking the trail miles out from the hermitage I heard a woman cry, a bit like a wildcat, a bit like a crow. I crept between the trees to where Monk’s Creek splashed into the Sac. She was cloistered in blue, whirling in the cold autumn sun. She danced, happy for what I guessed was union, the breath of it all. I slipped back into the briar, afraid that she'd been wishing for months for this private clearing, yellow light between the white oaks. I retreated to the base of Miller’s bluff and sat on the rock fall, every gray stone as alive as the oak leaves. As the shadows lengthened, a single hawk rode the thermals from the forest floor. Charred ingots of a camp fire sat cold, unstirred like black shoes. I wept for old Sister Mercy, her commission for naming sins, desks bolted in rows, lotion for hands that never touched.

 

Sara Bickley

Preservation

There is a mummy in the tall cabinet. You can open it up all you like and you won't see the mummy. You'll see shelves at intervals close enough that you will think nothing but a cat could fit. But there is a mummy, a human one, in there. Any second now the door will creak open and the mummy will walk out. How disgusting, preserved flesh, like man jerky, like mahogany, smooth, brown, hard.

If it is voiced by Boris Karloff I will not mind so much. I will be a mummy, too, and go into heaven with a British accent and a thousand earthenware slaves.

 

Jen Campbell

Miss Eliza's Skeleton Factory

The bones — the way they bowl across the science lab and match the coats of those who cup them. The way they close in on themselves as elephant ears and paint beneath the skin. Clicking paper clips. Crushed down teeth. Filed down as airport luggage. The female bones and their tap dancing lessons. Unskinned. Raining and huddled like dominoes.

 

FOUR by Poul Høllund Jensen

Bananas on Facebook

A ship is hurrying through the night twenty miles north of the Azores. A ship loaded with bananas is hurrying through the night twenty miles north of the Azores. The cluster of bananas I am going to buy next Thursday in the local general store is placed in cold storage onboard a ship hurrying through the night twenty miles north of the Azores. Because someone has traded on my Facebook profile and planted my personal banana tree in a plantation in Central America a ship is hurrying through the night twenty miles north of the Azores.

 

Frost Dream

People are riding a bus below frosty skies. Wednesday. Yellow light lifts a red hand. Stairs, rowan tree, a red postbox. Unrealistic beauty. An angel catches sight of the bus. I throw out eight feelers. The angel brings our bus to a stop, but its flowing robes clash with a wire fence.

People are riding a bus below frosty skies. They do not notice the torn plastic bag fluttering from a gate.

 

Rain Is Complicated

Flowers and humans depend on rain. Rain is complicated. If the two of us were to bring forth spring showers, flowers and humans would never get wet. We would be rattling mummies constructing our first drop in a test tube when flowers had withered and wells run dry. Like mad dogs pursuing a speeding train.

 

Ascending

I stand among angry people. A man takes my measure. I hear sawing, hammering, and digging. They tie me to a chair and lower me into a hole swarming with people who paw me over like a puzzle in ancient clothes. “Is there life on Mars?” a woman asks me before the wind increases and the chair ascends to heaven. People stand looking at the stars mumbling distractedly. They bury my coat under hedgerows.


-Poul Høllund Jensen

 

Jack Anderson

The Truth About Fluffy

— What did you do with those tunafish scraps? I thought I’d add them to the salad.

— Sorry about that. I fed them to the cat.

— Cat? What cat?

— Our cat, of course. What other cat would you be talking about?

— But we don’t have a cat.

— Yes we do. Fluffy. Fluffy. You know: Fluffy. What’s the matter with you?

— What’s the matter with me? What’s the matter with you? Of all things! Dreaming up a cat and naming it Fluffy!  

— Fluffy’s no dream. Maybe you’re the one who’s dreaming. Maybe you’d better wake up.

— Wake up from what? And into what?

— The real world, of course. The world with Fluffy in it.

— But there is no Fluffy.

— How can you be sure? After all, I did set out the tunafish for Fluffy, didn’t I? And if Fluffy didn’t eat it, who did?  

 

Nick Foster

Pure Fiction

3pm local and there’s a huge white moon in the bright-blue sky. At 30,000 feet the sunlight on the clouds below is Arizona: red-lit mountains with soft-scarred faces. Neither where we’ve come from, nor where we’re going, can explain anything here. The sure slow progress of the aircraft is all that sustains us. The rest is pure fiction, the years behind us as improbable as those to come. The stewards serve the drinks as though everything here was quite normal, but the white moon and the red clouds give them the lie. As we sip our drinks, we watch small ice-crystals begin to form inside the window.

 

Philip C. Kolin

New Orleans, New Orleans

They could not afford a trip to Europe. They settled on New Orleans instead. It had the graves, the monuments, the cuisine, the demi-denizens, the aroma of battlefields and bordellos, cobble stone poetry, the humidity of Africa, a river parting its hairy waves down the center of the city, the prayers of black nuns forfending their congregation with hurricane lamps blazing at mid noon, sunsets more russet than the Countess Pontalba's cheeks when she entertained gentlemen in tricorner hats and bulging codpieces, cathedral bells that rang and rang but could not be tucked in, bridges that connected desire to death in the suburbs, streetcars transporting the embalmed ashes of Tennessee Williams at Mardi Gras, double equinoxes with a prix fixe, lusty redfish that were never served sans-coulottes, pralines that melted into dark sugar air, wastrels from Cleveland or Cairo who wrote poetry that never made it off a Pat O'Brien’s cocktail napkin, black cats that roam balustrades, street dancers swaying to tambourines in their sleep and who do not want to be awakened during a performance, Faulkner's bar tabs on display with no takers to pay them, belljars of Katrina's left-over winds, Spanish grandees erasing French from street signs, French grandissimes erasing Spanish from street signs, antique shops that rented frayed, floralized furniture from the Cabildo, calliopes whistling like alarm clocks, the turnstile bar at the Monteleone where your destination is where you boarded, rum boogies that could knock out The Moabites, carriages pulled by dryades and driven by the sons of the sons of the sons of the sons who harvested cotton, indigo, and cane and who pointed out voodoo colors on shotguns pointed at motorists on Ramparts, and causeways that took them to the Levant, but only when the ground fog was thick enough to walk on.

 

THREE by Howie Good

Charlie Chan in the Twenty-First Century

The blood of some small crushed animal stipples the road. You quote Charlie Chan: “Nut easy to crack often empty.” The flag is flying at half-mast outside the post office. You don’t know either who has died. I consider opening a dossier on myself so I can find out what I’m doing. “At night,” you quote, “all cats are black.” The skeleton in the window of the medical supply is wearing only one shoe. There was a time in my life when this would have been funny.

 

Recessional

1
A farmer came out to the field. He poked at the ground with the toe of his shoe. I was just a child. You can still see the marks where the nails went in.

2
Everyone I know who has a job hates it. They hack the queen’s voice mail. They visit a factory in China. They avoid each other’s eyes.

3
The stickup man who wears a ski mask on the job returns home with snow in his shoes. If we can’t be truthful, the dour expression on his face says, we can at least be silent.

 

Red Wings

Words require more words to interpret them. There’s a tornado somewhere as well, obsessively rehearsing what it’s going to do. I’m flecked with exclamation points and long, unexplained absences. So much so, two red wings on the porch are all that’s left of the cardinal the cat killed.


-Howie Good

 

Gary Leising

A Hangover the Size of Andrew Hudgins

Bourbon, your breath. Bourbon, your saliva. Bourbon, your blood. Bourbon, the little southern writer within you, the little bit of you from a border state, the little bit of you from deeper below the Bible belt that bounced around the world, an Army brat only child so close to your mother who peels vegetables and cooks giant roast meats in all your memories and in your memories she drinks bourbon all day, her every move from room to room accompanied by the ice cube clink against the highball glass, and every time you drink you escape this memory into someone else’s life, like Andrew Hudgins’s, though you do not know his life except from poems, and you know that poems lie, especially his poems. In the morning you stop thinking of your mother and think of him, someone you’ve never met, and how he smells of bourbon this morning, how his body, average-sized, sleeps in your room, on the floor next to your bed, between, as you shower, the tub and toilet. It is not him but it is your hangover, a thing the size of him, not a shadow of you holding you in place as if it were Velcro, but a him, a body alive and breathing and belching and farting and smelling of bourbon, though you drank only beer, and that body holds you in place by its inertia, its dead weight protest against your every contemplated move. So you sit on the bathtub edge and bargain with it, Hudge, you say, about to convince it to move, and you realize that the hangover is only the size of Andrew Hudgins, is only symbolic or metaphoric or something else figurative you’d know if you were a poet. It is not him, because you would not call him Hudge, because that is the kind of shortened name masculine men call other masculine men, not what you would call Andrew Hudgins. This is not to say that Andrew Hudgins — the real one, not your hangover size doppelganger of the real one that will not let you drag it through the kitchen door to put on a pot of coffee — this is not to say that he is not masculine, because you do not know how masculine he is, the poet. Once you saw a TV show about sheep farmers castrating rams. The farmer’s arms were occupied holding the ram’s legs, keeping the hooves from fracturing his farmer skull, so he performed his act by biting the ram’s testicles off. That is how masculine Andrew Hudgins must be, you think, remembering that fried testicles are a delicacy, and so the farmers would cradle them with their tongues, then spit them — clink, one, clink, two — into a metal bucket hanging on a nail in the fence post. You smell bourbon, flour when it hits almost bubbling oil, and your mouth is rank with the taste of mud, blood, wool, and flesh that you know is sheep scrotum, it is that kind of hangover. On your counter a book of Andrew Hudgins poems is open, there are lines about burning the flesh from a man, and you consider taking a match to your Hudgins hangover, hoping the pain and throb of your ache will burst, the bourbon burning in an instant, a shapeless blob free of its bottle’s form then gone.

 

Laura Ramos

Decoys

People who suffer from Capgras delusion believe that their loved one has been replaced by an imposter. Woodpeckers fear the fake, foil-covered eyes of a plastic owl. Unwilling to take chances, they also skip the house with silver streamers on its eaves, knowing no good comes from so much fringe. Flame tests can reveal what we’re made of, since metals burn different colors. Blue-green means you’re my copper core. But a red flame would send me running, leaving behind a trail like a string of paper dolls, duplicate after duplicate holding hands with another.

 

John Ore

Winter Fish

April One. First day of trout fishing in New York State and hallelujah. Bright sunny and covered in three inches of white snow that had just come in special across the lake from Canada.

Small red angler worms, salmon eggs, maybe a streamer, no flies. The small stream winds through a pasture, lined on both sides with wild bushes and trees, still ice-covered except over the deeper pools and in the shallows where the water runs faster.

The old man suggests the boy go downstream while he heads up stream. The boy starts to cross the ice, marveling that it's still thick enough to hold him, when beneath the ice under his feet he sees the silver glide of moving trout, a quick glimmer of silver flashed with rainbow and then gone, maybe four or five of them.

At his father's funeral he will be standing there, beside the cheap casket, hands folded in front of him, wearing his only suit, which isn't much, and he'll remember the flash of those trout beneath the ice on a sunny day of bright blue sky and the white snow so bright it hurt his eyes.

 

Lisa Kosow

Prose Poem as a Fast Car

Inside this red metal box we hurtle down the empty highway that cuts across the Mohave. Speed fractures rocks, cactus, sky into kaleidoscope visions. We’re blazing toward distant horizons we never quite reach, like the Mormons who followed waving spike-leafed Joshua trees in search of the promised land. Tired of this race with the wind we can never win, we brake to earthly speed, then stop. No human life for miles. We’re free to leap and dance an awkward desert dance around yellow cactus flowers, while lizards and roadrunners skitter across rocky ground. No boundaries here to contain us, nothing city square. Just blue sky that rarely cries, sunlight that spills over our skin like molten gold. Sunset comes on fast, and we jump into the automobile again to make it to the 29 Palms Motel before dark. As the engine revs we are transformed, like those glass goblets, balls, twigs, cutout pictures of parrots or owls, maps of the moon and constellations placed inside Joseph Cornell’s painted boxes, no longer random fragments in an uncaring world, but transcendent for being deliberately chosen and contained. As the sun descends, the desert sky swirls ochre and plum. Beneath it, contained and in motion, we exist in this moment apart from the shifting landscape, and yet, a part of it.

 

Kyle Bilinski

Ashes

The chubby woman sits alone at one of the ice-cold patio tables in front of the Pioneer Square café, bundled up in a hooded thrift-store parka, patched jeans, and old boots, sipping from her small to-go cup and sucking on yet another unfiltered Kool. She flicks the ashes into the dented tin atop the table. Four, maybe five more cigarettes, she thinks, before it’s filled to the brim. It takes six. Afterward, she caps the tin with its matching lid, stands, and walks the seven blocks to her third-floor studio apartment overlooking the endless traffic on I-5. She can’t afford electric heat, so she flops down on her lumpy sofa and covers herself with a tattered quilt. Before she fires up the TV, she opens the gold urn that sits like a shrine on her unadorned coffee table, and, after opening the tin, pours in the ashes of her imagined lover.

© 2012 The Prose-Poem Project
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