There was a twitching in the rocks that nabbed the edge of Frank’s eye. He pulled his attention away, almost instinctively, from the horizon, which had held him for a while, and turned his head towards the left. Bending down he saw the shape of a lizard. Like its surroundings, it was almost entirely grey and its head twitched as Frank’s face drew closer. Its eyes were just two dark specks amidst millions of stones, but they contained not just the stones, but myself as well, Frank thought. Or, they held nothing. Perhaps, Frank mused, that, for a lizard, the eye was just an organ that, like its tail, was merely a thing that sensed the protrusions of the universe, protrusions that were quickly erased from the lizard’s mind once it decided to either scatter or draw forth—if he stepped closer the lizard would flee and, as a result, Frank would disappear from its world. But surprisingly, the lizard moved closer to him, as close as it could get without abandoning its rock. Frank felt silly, but now he wondered if standing there a moment longer would create an impression on the creature, an impression potent enough that even after he had disappeared the lizard would still carry him within its small, black eyes. He stepped away from the lizard and turned back to the horizon. It was a beautiful thing to Frank, especially at this time when the sun started to bury itself into the ocean, summoning an orange hue that echoed against the clouds. But somehow it had lessened. He had stopped to watch all this, the sun and how its descent altered the sky. And now, it didn’t seem like anything, as if the brief moment he had with the lizard had somehow stolen something from the sky. He looked over—the eyes were still watching him. He suddenly knew: those eyes had been there forever, observing larger things as they came and went, as they prowled across the lands they’ve conquered until finally dying within a patch of shade. The night soon covered both Frank and the lizard. Frank, at this point, couldn’t really see the lizard that well and he wasn’t so sure whether it could still see him or not. He glanced once more at the horizon before walking back to his car.
I walk in and Brad offers to show me another card trick; I humor him. He’s a tall, middle-aged man whose spent much of his life dedicated to one thing. Most of the time he’s morose creature, but there are more amusing instances where he turns into an animal recently released from his cage. He tries to suppress himself, modulating each word to the same volume. He hates “modern magic” which he insists isn’t really magical at all, but dangerous and nonsensical tomfoolery. But his anger isn’t most concentrated on the likes of Criss Angel, but puppet comedians. He sits his faded, black top hat onto his balding head and begins to perform.
[Unemployed magician Brad the Brilliant on the talentless prick Jeff Dunham]
The stage is his and the audience
has already collapsed into
his cum-encrusted fingers.
His hand dances in the ass
of a Southern cartoon, making the Yanks piss
with enjoyment. I like Nascar!—
Oh you, oh you! But I don’t blame
the dolts in his grasp, I’m not swollen
with contempt–it’s fun
to laugh at the dirty, dumb
beer bellied cousin-fucker,
or the ancient crank who never used
a cell phone, or the Mexican.
I don’t even blame the jackass onstage,
the empty hack, rich, and poor
because of it. He will be swallowed
in dust and nothing will remain there.
He’s in his gold mansion, spending
fifteen minutes on hackneyed jokes
and the voice that will justify them.
He will be gone.
And so will you,
but great monuments
are released from the torrent
of dust and the leveling of time–
I’m not fueled with disdain, I’m not
fueled with envy. I cannot be. I have to be
focused, my hands continuously carve, unbroken
from their duties. The dummies can keep
their hacks, their fading con men, their smug asswipes, I will be forever,
if I play my cards right.
When Because We’re Poets asked us to introduce a poet it didn’t take me long to think of a few, but the one I’m introducing today is Michael Ashley. I’ve read and commented on other poems he’s written and posted on Poetry Circle, but it wasn’t until his poem Auntie Doreen where I was truly aware of his talents as a writer (that was also the same day where I discovered Aprille, another excellent poet whose work deserves more attention.) So with Michael’s permission here’s Auntie Doreen:
her laugh is a warm pair of arms
wrapped tight around my waist,
in the waiting room
every face is the shape of a bluebell,
every smile as precious as bright
yellow crocus tips
pushing their way, gently through snow.
there’s a heart as big as any tumour
thumping hard against the cage,
the jangling bones hold everything in,
and then there’s the eyes
fading away with each priceless blink,
slowly retracting to sleep,
to peace, and finally to silence.
at your funeral the children spoke
they said, “she’s in a better place”
light falls softly through the stained glass
across the furrows above the vicar’s eyes,
and I wonder about this better place
what colour the walls would be,
how a window would swing open
a large oak bench in the centre,
the yellow eyes of Lilies scattering their pollen
upon the whiteness of a table cloth.
The first thing that stood out to me was how this poem treats its subject matter. Usually poems about the death of a loved one are rather banal and melodramatic, but Auntie Doreen is far greater than most poems of the same subject matter. This is because the writing never falls into bathos; there are a number of places where the poem could have easily fallen into triteness but not here. The first two lines aren’t exactly cliches but they almost seem common and could have been written by others in other poems. This is the first place where Michael could have turned this into poem into common schlock but instead we get “in the waiting room” and four lines of strong images that are not only memorable but tell you more information about the titular figure of the poem. We get how Auntie Doreen affects everyone including the speaker (who I’m guessing is a child) and how she manages to bring comfort to everyone despite her presumed illness. I’m not one to tout the “show, don’t tell” approach to writing for there are cases where telling can be just as, or even more effective than showing, but in this case we are shown the kind of person Auntie Doreen is in just a few lines that also manage to contain good imagery. Any other poem would have created a list or stuffed description down the throat of the reader, but not here. The flower imagery, also, is not forced here and is not banal.
I think I might have told Michael that the second stanza was the best, but after rereading I realize that it is probably the weakest as it lacks the strong moments and breadth of information we get in the rest of the poem but it still serves as a good transition between the waiting room and funeral scene. The first two lines in S2 are almost a bit trite, but aren’t that bad, just weak compared to the rest of the poem. But we then get: “fading away with each priceless blink, / slowly retracting to sleep, / to peace, and finally to silence.” These lines are fantastic and contain a nice music. Notice how it says to peace instead of to silence. The switching of the words makes it more interesting for the reader and encourages the reader to think more about what is actually being said.
S3 is also great. We get some good lines such as: “light falls softly through the stained glass / across the furrows above the vicar’s eyes,” and the last line is utterly fantastic. Instead of getting pounded over the head we get a nice image and a great scene of what the speaker imagines what the afterlife might be like for Auntie Doreen. I’ve read a number of poems like this one and I’ve probably even read one or two with similar scenes in the same sequence, but none were executed as well as this. Instead, it reminds me more of Robert Frost whose poems contain a nice music and tone that carries you along with the poem.