NEW POETRY BY TOM PAINE
TOM PAINE’s poetry is upcoming or published in The Nation, Fence, Epiphany, The Common, Green Mountain Review, Hunger Mountain, Forklift, Tinderbox, Hotel Amerika, Tampa Review and elsewhere. A Boy’s Book of Nervous Breakdowns, a new collection of stories, was published in October by LSU. Stories have been published in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Boston Review, The New England Review and the award anthologies The O. Henry Awards, Best Stories from the South and twice in the Pushcart Prize. His first collection, Scar Vegas (Harcourt), was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and a Pen/Hemingway finalist. A graduate of Princeton and the Columbia MFA program, he is a professor in the MFA program at the University of New Hampshire.
William Blake, walking past brick kilns on Peckham Road,
witnessed a tree bespangled with angels, angels at work
in the fields among the haymakers. Among pitted bones
of sea lions littering the local beach, in a wrestle of kelp,
a boy living near Jordan River, found a tibia and fibula,
a skeletal foot, in a white sock, in a black running shoe.
It was the thirteenth foot to wash up. With two sticks
he carted it home, with side-eye at the starving eagle.
The boy was told not to think about the thirteen feet,
as feet in running shoes float forever, and flesh decays;
it isn’t a sign of the end times. When Blake was four
god stuck his head in the kitchen window. His father
threatened to beat him if he kept lying about the angels.
A daily rising stock market was a Jesus signal of redemption,
and rising corporate profit our salvation. We left the church
sometime after 9/11. Soon after the twin towers dropped,
dad took my Louisville slugger to our TV set. Dan Rather
was reporting on the war in Iraq. Or maybe Afghanistan.
Go, Dad, Go! What did a kid know? He smashed the old TV
in the driveway, which was just resurfaced, goopy and black
and steaming. It was a Sony. That was just after we stopped
going to church. “We’re not Christians anymore,” Dad said.
We were first in the neighborhood to ritualize consumerism.
From then on, Dad didn’t allow things to break or wear out,
but if our family was listless, and the stock market faltering,
he’d drag something in the driveway, and kaboom! Sometimes
a baseball bat wasn’t enough. Like every Fourth of July,
he’d fill household things with fertilizer out back, kaboom!
Mom didn’t like it. He’d yell from his bible, Victor Lebow’s
1955 book, sitting in the new Ford F150 he rigged so his voice
blasted from the hood like a cop’s: “We need things consumed,
burned up, worn out, replaced and discarded at an ever-increasing rate.”
Local kids liked the explosions mostly. Dad raged at limits.
He raged, as the years past, that the bug zapper killed fewer
and fewer bugs at night. “They’re my goddamn bugs!” he raged,
“Where the hell are they?” He blamed Communists, then libtards.
In the end, he said it was all fake news the bugs had vanished.
The bugs are still there! Just look! Just listen! He saw fireflies at last,
my dad: I saw green sparks in his dead eyes the night he died
The junkie artist lived on a little island
in the Caribbean Sea, on planks laid
across the knees of the mangroves.
By day he swung a golden golf club,
at the dumpster, long as a cattle car,
where hung his paintings of Pluto-eyed
goats raping hillsides. He had a rich,
political swing. He’d be out in the rain
with Degas, swinging away, waiting
for an islander to toss house paints,
or plywood, talking about Pissarro
(who painted here) or Kiefer, or Angels.
Drunk tourists would buy a painting.
One day a jeep crushed his dog Degas.
A local boy crawling in the mangroves
thought the junkie artist was a dead goat.
He was melted around the mangroves.
Crabs scuttled his chest, ravishing his heart.
The island coroner said he was like Jello,
and struggled to unknot the body from
his mangrove roots. He talked to the dead,
and said to me, “they’re lonely, you know?”
I know: this year everyone has goat eyes.
Greed is as ordinary as flies. We’re lonely.
All works published by the Glasgow Review of Books are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License and the journal reserves the right to be named as place of first publication in any citation. Copyright remains with the poet. http://www.glasgowreviewofbooks.com