[This is a poem from Michael Earl Craig’s new collection of poems, Woods and Clouds Interchangeable, out now from Wave Books. Order it here.]
At midnight a blinkered pony clopped up the winter road.
A single toon, weirdly amid twin rows of slippery elm.
I am called Honcho. Irrevocable have been my words.
I flick my fingertips violently, as if sprinkling a crowd.
The demitasse broods. Is alone. Is lonely.
I find I cannot go over to it.
The pony looked aggrieved, moved only to bossa nova
(ears perking to “Dumpling”). Flanked with trees
the road was white, and very straight. We stood
at the pie safe wanting in, some of us knocking,
while blue dream-tassels shook gently at the cuffs
of the robe of a well-meaning cad.
Bob sucked the golf ball through the garden hose, reluctantly.
Dot said she had toe-danced her entire way through college.
I had my head down, I was thinking. A hand reached casually
into my field of vision—the waiter touched my fries with his
Band-Aid. Baby chicks stepped into the clubhouse. Each one
tripped a bit on the rug’s edge. No one stopped them.
Bob sucked a second golf ball through in half the time.
Dot held one of her ankles beside her head like a swan song.
The season unbuttoned itself in little burps of pink and white.
They fed the racehorse pot brownies in his stall. He ate them
thoughtfully. The jockey fondled his heavy snaffle. It rained
only over Roanoke. Which I guess is why I’ve asked you here.
Dimly did the children understand us. Still we swam at them.
Was the steeple bathed in champagne light, or exuding it?
Dale after dale after dale she said; the new priest listened
without comment. A Bundt cake was sliced at thoughtlessly.
Blind Weimaraners gently coughed on tasseled cushions.
A double entendre followed me into the coatroom.
It was unexpected, how subtly they backed the rowboat from us.
The steeple tore a mellow hole for itself in the sleeve of evening.
From fifth-floor windows came several fits of confetti.
(Almost imperceptible, the movement of the oars.)
Hair carefully combed, then tousled. Then combed again.
It is autumn and another apostle has blown into town.
The public pool has been drained, its cracked bottom
not as blue as we remembered. Our peace pipes grown
so heavy with baggage. Can in fact barely lift mine.
But finally manage to swing it. You throw your back out
swinging yours, saying you’ll knock my face in, laughing.
No one can see past the new apostle’s chapped lips.
Due to such a violent draining we lost a few children.
Yesterday’s belting left Bruce gumming his gazpacho,
a second bowl of it skidding past me at the lunch counter.
I retrace my steps, smelling shampoo on the meter maid.
The collie’s mood darkens. It is not fond of walnuts.
Someone had placed some bok choy on the counter top.
The room was dark and cold and quiet.
I’d come in, flicked the lights on, turned up the heat,
and there it was. But I am paid to say nothing, this
opéra bouffe a bit weedy at the edges. An umbrella
passes blackly, out from one cab, into another.
Now here was a vegetable that would not take it anymore.
The room was dark and cold because it was a morgue.
Despite good intentions we grow phonier and phonier
said the gigolo, stepping carefully from swim trunks.
Two empty canoes bombed expertly the rapids.
Turning lazily, the falcon—pretending to be deaf.
She’d called me a condiment, plainly. She meant it.
A used condom floated down the Elbe for weeks, making
no wrong moves. What exactly’s my job here?
Autumn leaves move mysteriously up the center of the street.
The picnic is full of rules. Of holes.
What, exactly, is my job here?
She called me a condiment; it just rolled off her tongue.
With nothing left to lose the condom navigated the Elbe.
The waiter pulled my tie so hard I coughed.
There was a sadness in my chained bicycle—
a rainsquall had wetted it—
its private parts sparkled in lamplight.
We could smell the door prize through its protective covering.
The straining wastrel popped both his sutures and catheter.
Out over the meadow a dustpan had been flung—it circled back
like a boomerang. I’d been told my feelings were measurable.
You professed to know the Japan wax, when in fact you did not.
Opposing doxologies spun like tops on the table.
The door prize was heavy, and wet, and came from Stuttgart.
The wastrel’s girlfriend Kansas Beth, also a wastrel.
August: a silver tape deck glinted in the sun. Just looking at
the gashouse made us groggy. A rangy calmness surrounded
the crown. My mood moved into the room as an elephant,
knees creaking. Somehow its tusks remained jocose.
The caterpillar chewed with its mouth open.
I said I ignore the dickcissel screamed Penny.
All winter the biopsy traveled by oxcart. Repeatedly
upon a patch of bark the sunlight stroked itself.
Three days we looked for a crouton in the canebrake.
Within minutes the pet lamb ransacked the terrarium.
The caterpillar, its head back, let out a human sound.
We stood trying not to look at the dickcissel.
The accountant’s buttocks spoke for themselves,
it would have been weird if they hadn’t.
Passively did the cuckold shake his flower cluster.
The vibrating bottles clinked and jingled during transport.
He gently used a knuckle to adjust the glasses on his nose.
A shingle floated, unusually, past my canoe.
I understood immediately your dark beret.
The shrubbery shook at the edge of the barbecue.
We ripped apart a sock drawer looking for socks.
A beautiful chime rang once throughout the universe.
He roughly used a pickle to knock some ashes from a rose.
The shingle floated downstream faster than the current.
Fuchsias clashed with hydrangeas which choked the myrtle.
Everyone gossiped at once, no one really listening to anyone.
Two turtles reared up upon greeting.
The corn chips were wet, had been rained on, so yeah.
The candle loaned its halo to Duchamp.
White petals brushed Dawn’s handbag in Berlin.
Mauve leggings found me in a thoughtful trance.
Dislodged regrets crept back into their lodge.
Peculiar feelings ripple through my hand.
Camellias bloated on the baby grand.
Duchamp regaled the candle like a champ.
Dawn swung her handbag at a passing finch.
With teen malaise the arguments ensued.
Dark pitchers slosh (head nurse leans back and burps).
Throughout the woods you smell the carrot stew.
A growing pebble, somewhere in my shoe.
I sat on the edge of the bathtub, feeling extorted.
The Percheron carefully worked his lips, loosening his tether.
A screech owl stepped quietly through the courtyard.
I’d completed law school using nothing but body language.
It seemed a cipher separated the piglets from their mothers.
In the past it was primarily vents that were made out of denim.
I went over and sat on the toilet, feeling no different.
A time when Percherons were still tied to the sides of churches.
A woman named Sue worked the guillotine—an ordinary
hairpin fell through the centuries from the side of her head.
We could see now how the mountain was composed of fine print.
Assumptive was what you said; I did not say assumptive.
He felt challenged by the fuckwad.
The nozzle was pink, was hard, was French.
The field was full of buttonwoods and ginkgos.
She arrived in a wet car the color of celery.
In the obituary the unicorns played a major role.
Mom’s espousal made her gums bleed. For example
the wadfuck with his easel in the wheat field.
The nozzle reared back when we reached for it.
During Jaws we snacked, we prayed, we screwed.
The dwarf said he’d genuflect, but not join the Lollipop Guild.
A blue puddle was forming, even the blind man could see it.
Plot thickened—we clogged. Plot thinned—continued clogging.
I happen to be watching a sidewalk when a cornflower breaks through.
As the rain stopped a cooling croissant came into the room.
The deaf kitten had that look on its face as it chewed. Elizabeth
behaved badly, drop-kicking bags of mulch into the Volvo.
Prague stank on its hillside. We briskly jerked our rugs
to reveal moss. The feeling of winter in my mustache.
It took the cornflower seven years to get through to my smoke break.
The croissant looked funereal on its zinc tray under lamplight.
Thoughts of dead relatives moved through me like carousel horses.
A man with tremendous earlobes shovels skin at the skin farm.
Although it seems unlikely, it is happening. Another of
the didactic metaphors you’ve been running from all your life.
The thespian’s patter evinced volumes.
As I watch this snowbank, an orange disappears
noiselessly into it. First Punch and then Judy
follow me jerkily into the outhouse. You note futile
puerilities. Then puerile futilities. I’m having a
shrinking feeling. A series of them, actually.
The patter gently loosened our fillings.
As I continue to watch this snowbank, a second orange
more violently follows. The sensation of dancing
passes like a parade float. A shoehorn, brooding
on the bedspread. Compulsively a midwife
breaks into impersonations of famous politicians.
The physician was frank. His nose was red and large.
Scientists had discovered nerve endings in a manure pile.
Just the very tip of a barren tree branch tapped occasionally
on the study window. Joy said there was a rupture in her
maple bar, pointing to a hairline crack in its surface.
Hans had to stroke a cat in order to write a poem.
To the physician his beer can felt open, cold, and heavy.
The manure pile emitted a steady, uninterrupted moan.
I will play the wet cat, you will come at me with a towel.
There will be an idling car, the windows partially fogged.
Horses will approach, first one and then another, to try
looking in, big eyes scanning for Betsy.
The casket had been painted to look like a thesaurus.
Gamers gathered at the grocery store to watch the unloading of produce.
Tam set poached eggs on the counter, along with an affidavit
and bacon. I carefully unwrapped another cube of bubble gum.
I was having a conversation with the leaves of a bush.
The repairman felt puny; he knelt on burgundy mud flaps.
The casket had been thumped on and sounded quite canorous.
The gamers had never seen a real can of cat food before.
The simplest sentence involving lumber was what I was after,
d-dah d-dah . . . d-dah d-dah . . .
d-dah d-dah d-dah-dah . . . The five types of men’s faces
were being painted on the side of the pharmacy.
The forest was full of chainsaws, and Dutch men in swim thongs.
The choir looked ashen; they sang in earnest of eternity.
At the edge of the snow I encountered a bag of tangerines.
To cuddle now seems disingenuous, observed Lorna, swatting at a fly
with a rubber ruler. Jessie shook his bangs like a pony, dumping Splenda
into his breve. He nodded, and murmured, and listened to Lorna.
The forest smelled of gasoline. And mushrooms. And coconut oil.
The choir looked startled, belting out “Blessed Assurance” with bluster.
A limping child could be heard dragging her knuckles in the hallway.
A holiday wind ascended the glen, whatever that meant.
We’d turned over a new leaf as they say. Words of atonement
moving low and cold like propane through the orchard.
A scrawny dream began to flow.
Man attempts to hang self with tea towel.
The mint lozenge had traveled from Auckland.
I held onto the banister with both hands
as you pulled my socks off. Sausage thunder
shook the hostel. Feed only Pepsi to a gerbil.
A scrawny dream flowed right and left.
The tea towel sat all humpty on the counter.
Men came to swap the mattresses at noon.
The corridor smelled like a fresh can of tennis balls.
You reproached me with a candlesnuffer.
Unshakable sadness as I entered the oven mitt.
Some vulgar conversation was coming from the hedge.
I stood in the garage a long time, washing the punching bag.
The runaway horse came back; he let himself into the yard
latching the gate behind him. A barber called Carl ran
a finger through pollen on the hood of the hearse.
A tinted window opened one inch, briefly. Then closed.
Some vulgar conversation blew delicately in from Alabama.
Throughout the seventies all punching bags were carefully stuffed
with daisies at the factory. Knowing what I know now it’s hard
to pretend I know less. Or more. A nut-bearing tree elicits
mixed reviews. A blue hatchet waits for spring. Sister Helen
unslams the rectory door, looking refreshed.
The eulogy felt tidy but broken. Still you delivered it.
The stockman was reticent, loved even his hay fever.
For some reason I’d put my knee up to the peephole.
A volley of candied patter issued forth without warning.
The asininity surprised Barb. Her husband the brow-
beaten. (He pole danced for pocket change.)
The eulogy rolled over like a fat baby we cared a lot about.
The stockman tipped his hat back, used the word ambrosia
twice in ten minutes. Sissy tossed a salad so hard her
wrists hurt. Into one another certain sounds clinked
nicely. I am approaching a stranger’s bed in the dark,
to lay my heavy coat on a pile of heavy coats.