Spit & Vinegar Publications
3nd Shakespir Edition
Revised and Expanded, June 2017
© Copyright 2017 RC Monson
All rights reserved.
Cover art by Livewire Productions
Cover illustration courtesy of drawingimage.com
Homer in a Satin Bag
He calls himself.
And when he went to jail
We couldn’t visit because
We didn’t know his name was
He has six teeth
In a straight row
Across the bottom
Like an upside-down grin.
He knows the dark side
And claims he never projects;
He has seen what evil
Does with good intentions.
He got too drunk
And when the cops arrived
They discovered Homer,
A constant companion to
Who carried Homer around
In a satin bag,
Inside a silk bag,
Inside a paper bag.
Received the skull as a gift:
It was a human skull,
Burnished with age
And had even fewer teeth than
Who tries to describe
The look on the cop’s face
Upon reaching into the satin bag
And pulling Homer out.
He snickers through
A big upside-down grin and says:
They said I can have Homer back
After they run a few tests.
Michele’s Wishing Well
Way out on the edge again
Atop a sheer granite precipice
Michele surveys the strange ghostly
Magical allure of an extinct ocean.
From a mountaintop that formerly
Presided under blankets of water
She can almost remember the uproar
Of submarine volcanoes oozing life.
With a graceful flick of her wrist
She sends a penny soaring thin air
On a wish and promise that love
Can only hurt as much as she lets it.
The little shells she’s woven in her hair
Ring out bright blue as her smiling eyes.
Her collection of fossils and tattooed boys
Attests to a history of torrential passages.
The penny seems at first to float
And already cloaked in a green patina
It darts off like a breeze-blown feather
And gradually, gradually drifts out of view.
When at last it plunks the surface
Of Michele’s wishing well, she envisions
Copper bells chiming long-ago oceans
Like the waves themselves learning to ring true.
When I was small
I didn’t know they called
the busy streets arteries.
All I knew was
I couldn’t have a bike.
I couldn’t have a bike because of
a bad dream, Dad’s bad dream,
involving crushed spokes
and the severed artery.
This was a dream he often had.
So, I couldn’t be trusted
to stay off the busy streets
we lived between,
two narrow one-way streets
lined with elm trees,
all the way down the hill
to the valley—downtown,
the hub, the heart,
where fields of asphalt
were set aside
just to park on.
Maybe if we lived there
I could have a bike,
because cars only park there,
and when they drive
they drive real slow,
so a kid on a bike
would be safe there.
I learned to ride
my friend’s bike
on the tennis court
at Wellesley and Lead.
If Dad had found out
he’d’ve brained me,
even though I was only a child
and didn’t understand
the complex anatomy
of daily traffic patterns.
they taught us
simple biology by dying
stalks of celery red
or blue or yellow;
they explained how
plants and trees have arteries
just like people,
how blood carries oxygen
on highways that branch
into roads and cul de sacs,
carrying oxygen through
arteries and veins and capillaries
to our fingers
and our toes.
And so it was
that my child’s mind
was able to comprehend
the tragedy when—
early one morning
on the tennis court,
as we watched the cars
go hurling by—
brakes screeched, tires skidded, a horn honked
and kept on honking as a loud thump
tossed a car over the curb
into one of the old elms
that lined the street
all the way downtown.
We ran to see
and wished we hadn’t as a woman slowly emerged,
bleeding and bleeding all over her face,
her hands, her blouse, and she staggered
to her knees on the lawn,
and there were men telling us to get back!
And they surrounded the bleeding woman,
and we peeked in,
and the men cried out, “Get lost, kid,”
and pushed us away.
So we went
with some other men
to look at the car,
its solid chrome face
lodged in the elm’s bark,
and the tree was weeping sap,
and I felt like crying too,
because I knew
about arteries now,
and a little something more
about the agonies
of the human condition.
The tree still has the scar;
it lives with that scar,
and when I drive by
I always remember
bits and pieces
of Dad’s bad dream,
almost as if it were
Collars Starched, Creases Perfect
My father possessed
in place of a chip on the shoulder
this mean little sergeant
according to Aunt Shirley
the little sergeant was always there
Dad took the sergeant with him
when he joined the Air Force
promoted to staff sergeant before discharge
nine years later his college years
delivering laundry, selling shoes at Sears
up half the night, mom typing term papers
beans, fried spuds, tortillas
eaten so often they return in nightmares
with flatulent cold-war jargon
Dad’s beloved AIR FORCE
jet turbines churning out
powerful streams of hot air
linear aeroglyphs of frosted plumage
hundreds of miles long
years of tedious government liaison work
a cramped cubicle one can call one’s own
issuing and receiving orders
it wears a person out
but don’t look for comfort in a bottle
I told him not to do it
but it was too late for him to start learning
how to take orders from me
According to Aunt Shirley
Dad’s first home furlough came
long before he actually attained sergeant status
This strapping teenaged private comes home
spouting orders like he’s fit to take charge
He doesn’t bother to ask
He delegates the laundry detail:
“I want the collars starched
and the creases perfect!”
He never suspects that in his absence
all of his younger sisters would develop
little sergeants of their own
“Collars starched,” Aunt Donna scowls
“He’ll get his collars starched!” Bee snarls
“And that’s not the half of it,” Shirley chimes in
And so it was that the wanna-be sergeant,
upon return to his stark barracks,
unpacked a duffle bag containing something of himself—
a neat stack of clean uniforms
each piece as stiff as a shingle
As the Woman Shrieks
Quincy hears her ranting through an unpadded wall that probably should be. Her ravings alternate between uncontrollable weeping jags and violent tantrums that spell out the complete meaning of psychosis. He has a feeling that something is about to happen as he’s hooking up the microphone to make a record of her outraged bellowing abuse and torment, the sound of insanity.
But the mic only gets part of the picture.
It doesn’t pick up the mound of dog food on the kitchen floor beside a small empty dish, the sinkful of lumpy laundry with its rancid petroleum smell, the alphabet magnets streaming along backwards, z y x w v… across the face of an empty refrigerator…
e d c b a, only missing the r and with a capital Q.
She shouts: “Don’t talk down to me. I’m not a child,” and flings herself headlong into the wall. Not the wall Quincy’s listening through, a different wall, one bare wall in a nearly empty room except for the chaotic tangle of blankets on the floor, and the fat little dog looking stuffed beside it’s handy carrying case, and a tattered litter of questionably important documents.
Who knows what cracks a child, what damage is done to inflict lifelong wounds of rage and frustration. She weeps. She’s slamming things that Quincy’s mic can hear but can’t see any clear notion of how who what where when why she cries out: “Why do you have to be such a bitch?” with a loud thud that reminds Quincy of a wicked step-mother who once pushed him down the stairway to perpetual back pain and then ran him out of his father’s house.
It makes Quincy angry for a moment, but only until he remembers how lucky he really is. He could throw a stone any direction and probably hit somebody less fortunate than him, an evil step-mom perhaps, in the form of an unneighborly urchin woman, certifiably insane, screaming, banging her head against the wall.
The certain existence of which has been sufficiently documented by Quincy’s tape recorder to suit his purpose.
The breeze is gentle,
only a little bit stressed out,
and Hannah’s bandana
shudders a worrisome German gust
of some scary unknown
something yet to come,
and I’m looking across the table
at this lovely young woman
who’s twice as smart
and diligent as me,
and I assure her,
“You’ll be fine, Hannah.
Don’t you fret.
You’re gonna be just fine,”
and Hannah’s bandana flutters
in Italian anticipation
of romantic encounters
in strange exotic lands
where shifting beaches unfold
adventures on the high seas
with the wind in her face
and some hunky olive-eyed Adonis
right in her face,
all sucky-faced and way
way too cute for his own good,
and of course she can’t,
she won’t resist,
and nobody can blame her
for tossing a forsaken bandana
into the tumbling flotsam backwash
and foaming waves
of a cast-away fling.
Too Self-Conscious for Popcorn
This is a date! (No it isn’t!) Oh, yes it is. (No, can’t be.)
The film begins and in theater’s velvet darkness
Our elbows vie for the same space on the armrest.
I’m a little confused and having some trouble following
(The plotline seems to be developing a circular structure.)
As our elbows vie for the same space on the armrest.
Suddenly my elbow, my whole arm, in fact both arms
Are imbued with an strange newfound sense of purpose.
Their new mission is to determine the exact circumference
Of her shoulders, waist, and magnificent buttocks,
(To know them as they know the exact angle for tipping a beer,
Holding a pencil, cupping a pair of firm plump breasts.)
My elbow and arms, and now my reawakened fingertips
Are so motivated to learn these things that they distract me,
And I miss opportunities to laugh precisely when she does.
And the film ends, and it’s becoming clear to me
I still have no idea what’s going on here.
I have no clue as to how I’m supposed to act.
I’m so stupid and clumsy and awkward I forget
To turn in my seat, right at the end, and look over at her,
And touch her hair, and wait and see if she turns
Just so, and tilts her head just so,
So as to give me proof that the final credits are rolling
Over the start of something good and true.
Waiting for the Green Light
Albuquerque traffic still
Not so snarled as LA,
Yet I’m moving so slow
I seem to hit all the red lights.
Feeling anxious, impatient,
I listen to the engine idle
And drift into a fantasy
About the girl next door:
She doesn’t live there anymore,
And I’d like to see her return
With her quick wit and rapid gait,
Keen brown eyes twinkling mirthful
Or brooding sadness
She’s learned to work through.
I sit at the red light
Wondering how I’d keep pace
With this high-stepping dynamo:
The girl next door
Doesn’t live there anymore;
She says she’d like to come back though;
She’s tired of California fast;
She wants to slow down,
Settle into the purpose of family
The signal finally changes
And I gun the engine, pedal to metal,
Suddenly in some kind of big hurry
To get to the next stop light,
Telling myself, “Maybe, just maybe,
If I speed things up a skosh
And she gears down half a notch,
We might go cruising together
Through mostly green lights.”
Spread-eagle on the unfirm mattress.
My feet raise vaulted ceilings
in the damp sheets.
Our lovemaking, a primitive dance,
offers praise to high-pressure systems
and mild November mornings.
My knees are divided by long streams
of ash-blonde hair.
Her tongue, a satin serpent, flicks
across merciful teeth.
Stars dissolve in the bright wash
of a varnished dawn,
and I divide her quivering knees
with lavish attentions.
Settling into the too-easy chair
I made of my lap,
she informs me that
I’m such a big softy
I make the pillows seem hard.
My cynical alarm clock shrieks:
“Nothing lasts forever.
Better grab what you can.”
We cuddle like clumsy burglars
trying to implement quick getaways.
Erratic fits of desire separate her
from my longing to tie
our laundry together.
A hot stream of water soothes small pains
and reawakens deeper pangs.
Uneasy smiles seem dull
against porcelain tile;
bandages of steam swathe
our shivering bodies.
We unlock lips and my anxious heart
risks untimely exposure:
“I think I’m falling in love with you.”
In the steamy silence that ensues
her eyes avoid my (searching) gaze.
Beads of water on her nipples tremble
as they drop into a rushing swirl
streaming down the drain.
A certain bitterness lingers
after hot coffee and Danish,
and I reconsider the meaninglessness
of a shared toothbrush.
A stray bird chirps and warbles a song
of fanciful notions and angst
then resumes its southbound trek
in search of the flock that left it behind.
At the station she steps back,
saying she doesn’t want me
to wrinkle her clothes.
A peck on the cheek means good-bye
as she steps through steel gates of self-exile,
hurrying off to catch her train.
Steel tracks run side by side
as far as the eye can see.
Matching pairs of wheels divide lonely miles
of never-ending parallel,
creating an illusion
of spinning backwards.
A faint voice in the back of my mind
keeps reminding me
it can’t be so.
A Letter to Dayton, Ohio
Although I realize you and Wilbur are dead
And probably will remain so for quite some time,
I write to you for I have no one else to turn to.
I think you Wrights might be the only two
Ever to inhabit this planet
With the capacity to grasp
how desperately I need
to get this poem off the ground.
I’m down here at Kitty Hawk,
Fighting off the mosquitoes,
Observing how the birds do it,
All these years taking careful notations,
Building specialized wind tunnels to test:
Haiku box kites, sonnet launchers, multi-wing pantoums.
I’ve drafted and redrafted
Plans for my own wind-warping design.
I’ve watched narrative prototypes glide
Above the dunes to Kill Devil Hill.
I’ve calculated wing lift origami
And managed to harness a power source,
But this flimsy contraption keeps spinning out of control.
Can you and your brother help me solve this problem?
I’ve been considering an extra fold at the tip of the wing.
Maybe a paper clip here on the nose
Will send it rising and dipping and soaring
Through wild blue nouns and sonic verbs,
Rolling over upside down to warm its belly in the sun,
Plummeting into a syntax that can barely
Withstand screaming G-force nosedives.
Orville, I imagine lines that skim the surface of air,
A vision that defies both gravity and page margins,
That shocks boredom out of it’s native complacency,
That suspends the loneliness for a while,
And transforms my fear of flying
Into a vibrant new breath of life.
Careening into Upheaval
comes tooling around the bend,
scoring a thin line
between creation and destruction,
coming on plumb loco—
motives unknown, unaccountable,
high-stepping, gyrating, satin schmooze.
When Helen Wheels
comes wending wondrous wiles,
she reawakens a primal myth,
an allegory of craft and vexation,
each generation recasting
of some new subversive notion
of a dream sublime.
comes careening into upheaval,
with Cleopatra black hair
and mummified wit,
or Marilyn Monroe blond
swirling Rubenesque curvature,
or Asian eyes and creamy chocolate
complexion like dark confection
dusting cloaked Romulan cruisers
suddenly shifting course
through wide-open landscapes
of smoldering ruins
with chances of winning
this lottery running
slim to nil.
Years ago they settled their disputes in bed. Now he’s inclined to drink alone in the basement. As she throws out moldy shit in the fridge, he’s staring down the barrel of a loaded shotgun. She holds her breath, wincing, and opens assorted containers of unrecognizable sludge. Nothing is accomplished this way but it gives them a rest between bouts.
This isn’t The Days of Wine and Roses, though close enough to smell in grungy sheets and barfing drains. In the basement, he’s piled the empty bottles. This time when she stormed out she took the cookie-jar money and the cookie jar too. She’d been in the shower when the plumbing backed up. “That’s it!” she cried, “I’ve had it. I’m out of here!”
Cleaning guns always has a calming effect on him. Lately, he’d been cleaning them over and over again, after she’d come shambling in at all hours, and by then he’d be all lubed up and galvanized. No nasty degrading thing she said or did could faze him. The ensuing battles were their own twisted versions of Wounded Knee.
A shiny coat of oil draws light down the gun barrel which fits just perfect in the crook of his jaw. Last night she came to bed with a belly full of booze and the smell of another man on her raspy breath. Later she got up and stumbled to the bathroom. The sharp pop was followed by a crunchy, sucking sound as exoskeletal material and goopy innards squished up between her naked toes.
“Fucking roaches!” she yelled as toilet paper unfurled and tore.
He can only imagine the look on her face then would be the same expression as now, wherever she is, carrying around a suitcase and cookie jar, looking like she just mashed the guts of one of the earth’s most foul and despicable critters.
He’s cleaned the shotgun enough times to know it better than he knows himself. How the trigger itches to set off gears and levers, and the gun powder longs to do its evil bidding, and when he spots the roach emerging from a bottle the blast is so loud there’s hardly room for the bird shot to spread.
Bottles leap into tinkling fragments and the roach vanishes. He supposes it’s about time to start packing his own suitcase. He’s low on whiskey, and the shotgun blast burst the drainpipe he hadn’t noticed behind the bottles. Suddenly his basement sanctuary has begun to reek.
Finishing his drink, he searches the garage for a can of gas. He’s going to miss her and the guns and even this stinking house. Gasoline and sewer water do a dirty dance on the basement floor. On his way out he glances back over his shoulder, sadly assessing the blazing stinkpot of a breached romance. He can almost hear the shuffle of a thousand roach feet scrambling to elude the flames, trying to avoid being entombed in a volcanic glaze of molten glass.
The Mean Time
In the mean time a pair of grackles,
cack cack cack cack cack.
Bitchy blue-black birds raise a great flap,
scrambling amid the leaves and branches.
I’m still half asleep and groggy
until a Rottweiler starts barking down the way.
I’m holding one end of a long white string
leading all the way back
into a labyrinthine dreamscape I’ve already forgotten,
except for the afterglow,
accompanied by that goddamned, infernal alarm clock.
My initial thought of the day: Oh, shit!
Can’t we just leave me out of it?
The sheets, cool and smooth all around me,
My tennis elbow causes only a meager wince of pain,
My bum knee isn’t throbbing
but the lower back is stiffer than usual.
After forty-six years of waking up every day,
I’m somewhat put off by the notion that
reality is little more than a circus sideshow,
Sandwiched inbetween sweet savory dreams.
Better get a move on.
As little as I care to get involved,
I have to drag my sorry ass
out of this bed right now.
Meanwhile, grackles bitch and squabble in the treetops,
the Rottweiler yelps for breakfast,
and a jet airliner thunders overhead,
as if in anticipation of some dreary tragic harbinger
of police sirens or wailing fire engines.
I hate to wish my life away but in the mean time,
as I set the burglar alarm and lock the door,
I’m already looking forward
to a nice little nap after work
with today’s TV newscast
droning whiplash in the background.
Outside the window a cold otherworldly glow, a luminous violet-gray swirl of white unleashes flurries of crystal flecks.
Inside, a miniature frame of warm colorful TV reflections on the glass softly beat a war drum of corporate broadcast voices busily sanitizing the news of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia.
Gazing out, I contemplate the brutality of winter storms, the possible impacts of opposing snow jobs on a single pane of ordinary window glass.
On the yard underneath an overburdened cypress tree, a fallen branch has assumed the woeful posture of a distended angel’s wing.
As two-foot drifts steadily accumulate, the holly bushes prostrate themselves like Muslims at prayer in a blizzard of soap flakes.
you just have to ask a simple direct question,
something like: “where’s that raise you promised me?”
and you’ll see the boss’s face twist and warp
like a disjointed contortionist
as she’s miraculously transformed
into a spineless mealy mouthed bureaucrat
and the ethical compassion of human interaction
is reduced to a carnival shell game
and in an instant it becomes abundantly clear
you won’t be getting a simple or direct answer
instead you can expect a deflection, a diversion
maybe some finger pointing or blame gaming
or, if she deems it necessary, a bald-faced lie
sometimes she’ll simply change the subject
supplying the answer to a question you didn’t ask
if she can’t dazzle you with her brilliance
she may try to bamboozle you with bullshit
maybe even take a stab at gas lighting
just for good measure
it’s truly uncanny how
obstructions pop up in every direction
invincible ramparts that surround and box out
any hope of constructive discussion
there will be no attempt at rational discourse
there will be no dickering back & forth
in an effort to achieve a delicate balance
no tilting toward some golden mean
her expression is a rock-and-mortar embodiment of stony silence
as the sky fades gradually to dusk
and all-encompassing obfuscation
descends over the field of discourse
like a shrewd calculated passive aggression
rife with absurdity and laughable
as Kafka’s worst nightmare
but you won’t be too disappointed
if you set your expectations very low
you can go ahead and call her out on her lies
but only if you’re prepared for repercussions
it’s probably wiser to just remind her:
“that’s exactly what you said last time”
and watch her squirm in her executive’s chair
as she averts her eyes and casts
a silent gaze upon a clear spot on the desk
and asks dismissively “will that be all?”
What was that?
A glass door riding stressed-out hinges?
An old boiler valve calling for repairs?
Like a motor bearing about to seize up,
The locomotive fixing to explode,
The final shriek of a throat-cut pig.
Nobody else seems to notice my patience
Straining like an old brick building
Tilting in the midst of a six-point earthquake,
A bum knee slightly overworked today,
Tar-clogged lungs reminding me
It’s time to quit smoking again.
How much of this shit can a body take?
I’m gridlocked amid cars, fumes, and orange barrels.
I’m standing in line at any bank or government office.
I’m being overcharged at a glitzy bar for a skimpy meal.
I’m screaming at the automated answering device
That’s taken over for people who used to answer phones.
It’s a huge, crushing disappointment
Or the culmination of a series of small, nagging ones.
I’m trying to explain to my boss
That he’s talking out his ass again.
Or I’ve made the mistake of discussing politics
With a Bible-thumping fascist from Kansas.
It’s not an audible sound. This tweak you can feel it!
Like fingernails screeching across the chalkboard.
Our Tribal Dance
Rush hour passes across America, time zone
to time zone, and glacial mosh pits form gridlocked
causeways, like colorful, chrome-embellished lava flows,
in manmade canyons of the corporate monolith.
Stressed-out commuters, we come
slam dancing through boulevards and mean streets
like fingernails turned back
nearly to the breaking point.
in stretch limousines cruise past homeless people
jealously guarding transistor radios that screech
rock-riff samples of urban sounds
while the music industry balkanizes into a fragmented rivalry
of arcane graffiti somewhere in Bosnia.
Hawkers and hookers congregate to sing hymns
in a parking lot where the cathedral once stood
beside Madison Avenue execs manufacturing
the franchise mythology of a profligate culture.
Beef brokers peddle rainforests in the form of tacos and hamburgers.
As the last vestiges of the Iron Curtain fade
and the gears of our military-industrial complex
groan to a virtual standstill,
gun traders turn with pokerfaced gleams in their eyes
to third world nations steeped in endless conflict.
Traffic signals change color
and the dancers lunge, plunge,
crash, bash, slash, thrash
through the raging avenues of America.
A camouflaged youth group in black
leather and army boots,
we assemble on an immense asbestos landfill
bathed in neon light and the choking smog
of a carbon-ravaged dusk.
Tonight, we get shit-faced and do our tribal dance of disaffection.
Bad Hair Day
America, your hair is a awful mess
You feel all bloated and gassy
And your acne’s been flaring up again
Your butt’s gotten as big as the backside of a Buick
And liposuction is so expensive
America, you’re having a bad hair day
For decades you’ve been chewing your fingernails off
Your terrified children keep and bear arms
If they’re not on drugs, they’re on probation
Or fighting off PTSD upon return from the oil wars
America, your music’s a beat without melody
Your lust for money can never be quelled
Thus far, the corporate coup has been a bloodless one
We’ve got fascist oligarchs running the country now
They plan to erect the boondoggle to end all boondoggles
America, your deodorant has all worn off
Your stinking civil wars go raging on
And you still haven’t fully recovered from
The scalpings and lynchings of your checkered past
From your witch hunts and spooky family values
America, you’re lost in a reality TV daydream
Stilted sound bytes and alternative facts
And the saddest part of the story is that the welcoming words
At the foot of the Statue of Liberty now translate
Into every language as: BEWARE OF DOG
It didn’t arrive with the mail. He was not greeted at the door by a friendly deliveryman asking for a signature. He found it on the doorstep in place of the person who presumably rang the bell and scurried away, leaving him this unsealed package to clear out of the doorway. Inside, a pile of Kodachrome and Polaroid snapshots loosely piled in a box like shiny rocks. A shoebox of paper tombstones. A pictorial history documented on thin veneer by the one who always had to make a big impact. The one who scissored her face out of every shot just to leave him a little something to think about in her absence.
These poems were initially shared at open-mic readings in bar rooms and coffee shops. The bulk of the work was written specifically for performance purposes. A few poems were written with publication in mind, but even those usually ended up being revised into spoken-word pieces in the end. These are the pieces that were written, read aloud, rewritten again and again. The proven crowd pleasers.