Madison, Wisconsin

31 May 2008

Five Poems

Regressing James Wright
He May Have Been Wearing the Same Shirt  
Sign: "lost cat: may or may not
               answer to the name tiger

Good Hope, What Cheer
42° 30’ 55.57” N, 90° 38’ 12.61” W,

About Jacob Gamage



Regressing James Wright

He takes out the poem
& unwrites it.
Replaces the last line
about wasting life
with white space,
shifts in his hammock.

The chicken hawk
is already home,
not to be seen,
as evening lightens,
gives way to late afternoon,
recedes into midday.

Over his head, the butterfly
awakens, flaps its bronze wings
& shrivels into its cocoon.
He stops a moment,
wipes his lenses,
thinks he is making progress.



He May Have Been Wearing the Same Shirt

I’ve been bumping into people I know lately,
in bookstores, in diners, even the German
Shepherd crossing the street with me
looks familiar, from a childhood memory,
some previous life as a Dachshund.

Waiting for Bob Root to replace a belt in my car
is like watching tree rings expand
and reading poetry in an auto mechanic shop is like
antifreeze in the engine oil,

which is why I wandered uptown
to Cookie’s Diner and sat at a table for six
lighting a cigarette and reading Dean Young,
who I’ve never read before, bumped into him
in a Hoagland poem, something to do with wine
or trains, bought “Skid” at the bookstore
before John Ashbery read in the physics room,
giving a lecture on anti-matter, reverse black holes,
quantum mechanics in the form of prose poems,
but reading poetry in a science building is like
too much carbon in your oxygen.

Tim was tempted to scale the brick walls,
I was calculating the number of half-life’s
in Ashberrium,
two people behind me were yapping, which was rude,
but covered the gases rumbling in my stomach.

Dean Young was there, too, introducing the poet—
I recognized him from the picture on the back of his book.
He may have been wearing the same shirt.
Across the street to Mickey’s Irish Pub
like a flick on the Independent Film Channel,
we critiqued contemporary artistic movements,
Steve Buscemi’s real life demeanor.

So much can be learned from the movies,
how to properly hold a cigarette,
the ingredients in a Denver Omelet,
which is what I’m considering ordering,
waiting for the waitress to come.



Sign: “lost cat: may or may not
answer to the name tiger”

When you asked
if I would kiss you
on your davenport

I was young & didn’t
know what a davenport was
much less where yours was

so I stuck out my lips
as if waiting
for a punch.

Where I come from
it’s called a couch
I’d say later

over your mom’s
eggs benedict
when you were trying

to read my mind &
we talked about how
when you say your name

over & over again
it stops making sense.

How strange it would be
to forget our names
who we are

to curl on the ground
outside of the window
where the heat from inside
has melted the snow.



Good Hope, What Cheer

After the car broke down I said life is a series of holes
you have to crawl out of, but she said it is more like
a mountain you climb.

The song on the radio said it’s not about the destination,
it’s about the journey, but what we wouldn’t give right now
for a porch light instead of this weak flashlight.

How terrible it would be to crawl out of a hole,
only to be face to face with a mountain, but people
are faced with this all the time in the movies.

Most people are the heroes of their own stories,
but I’d like to play a minor character who doesn’t really change,
an extra on the street, Second Man Wearing Hat in Café.

Illinois & Iowa are characteristically flat & on the road
from Good Hope to What Cheer nothing important
ever happens—no sinkholes to fill, no mountains to climb—
just two people on the side of the road changing a flat tire
next to a wooden sign graffitied in blue:

Boiled Peanuts,
Farm Fresh Eggs,
Mouth-watering Watermelon,
Change the World.



42° 30’ 55.57” N, 90° 38’ 12.61” W,

or that spot on the bridge over the Mississippi outside Dubuque, the
          Malibu on cruise between long lines painted yellow,
a humid late summer afternoon, everything still somewhat green and
          expecting the fall any time now—
I am an explorer, a regular Poncé de Leon, the second coming of Vasco
          da Gama(ge), DeSoto and such and such, documenting my voyages in beat
          up leather journals, Lewis & Clark, Columbus, Darwin, et. al;
I am geologist, taking up samples of Ordivician dolomite, Paleozoic
          bedrock in pre-labeled jars, pre-Illinoian, pre-glaciation, driftless;
I am cartographer, drawing topo maps in my mind, obsessed with
          magnetic north and relief contour intervals, degrees minutes seconds,
          fractions of seconds, benchmarks and whatnots;
I am Mercator projection analyst, Rand McNally reader, Google Earth
          investigator, Internet explorer,
documentary filmmaker, cinematographer splicing reels of geologic
          time, fast-forwarding through earth’s history:
Pangea to Gondwonoland and Laurasia, sea-floor spreading and
          continental drift and accretion, orogeny, plate tectonics,
the light and the dark and then the light and the dark, the wet and the
          dry, the seashell on the mountaintop,
the Triassic, Jurassic, Chicxulub impact, boundary to the Cenozoic, to
          the marsupials and the monkeys, Homo Habilis, Erectus, etc.,
civilization and population, the war and the peace and then the war
          and the peace, and the war—
and the peace of Sunday driving on unknown terrain, the awe of the
sun setting, its orange light carried downstream by the river ripples, as if I’d
never noticed before.



Jacob Gamage was born outside of Chicago, raised in south Florida, and has since returned to the Midwest, but not before stops in Round Rock, Kissimmee, and Macomb. Prior to receiving his MFA in poetry at the University of Wisconsin—Madison, he worked in a warehouse, on a loading dock, at a lumberyard, and as an overnight gas station attendant. He is now a freelance web producer on Madison's east side, where he lives with his girlfriend, their fireplace, and their two plants, Jade and Ivy.