Category Archives: Southern Illinois

Dream Song #5, Pandemic Poem #4

I dreamed I saw a Wooly dog descendant—
wiggle-butted, scruffy, ornery, clearly
one more in a long line of poodle-terrier mutts.
His owner said, “he’s a Rottweiler,” but
no way. Just too much Benji evident.
Black against the giant foxtail. Curly
in every way—tousled coat, bent tail,
wagging walk toward me when I called.
When I was little, we let our dogs run free
all day and shut them up at night. Also, we
got the girl dogs fixed, but not the boys.
Thus all the Wooly dogs in Southern Illinois.
Every single thing was looser then.
I was happy. My dogs were my best friends.

______

Napping with Wooly.

Dream Song #4 (a fat sonnet)

The trees and hills are at that awkward point
of winter, snow on the ground but nowhere else,
a bald guy with new implants too spread-out
to be attractive. I can’t wait until it all melts.
I had a dream once of climbing a hill like that.
I stubbed my toe, looked down to see bright pink
instead of white—blood mixed with snow—I think
that’s why hills look like heads to me still. What
dream book should I consult for giant head
with tender scalp and kicked-up bleeding crown?
I was part of a dream journaling experiment back then
and had a wicked crush on the therapist who led
the group. He had snake dreams. We all said
a snake means sex. He said no, not always. It doesn’t.
At 22, I was a nearly-manic mix of depressed
and horny and drank too much one time and tried to find
his house. I knew it was by a lake. If I found
his house, he didn’t answer the door. Which is good.
That night felt like a dream, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t.

DIES IREAE DASYPODIDAE

She tattooed a purple armadillo on her ass
but wouldn’t say why. Also a caption that read,
“The armored possums are advancing fast.”

She’s always been the type with lots of worries,
chief among them, ways she could end up dead.
She tattooed a purple armadillo on her ass

then said she felt as though she’d run out of gas.
As though nothing made it fun to get out of bed.
The armored possums are advancing fast

already into Southern Illinois. They crossed
the river bottoms by letting out all their breath.
She tattooed a purple armadillo on her ass

but she still makes so much sense to me. At least
I think I can guess why she did what she did.
The armored possums are advancing fast

is just her way of saying everything’s gone past
recovering. There’s precious little hope in this world.
She tattooed a purple armadillo on her ass
because the armored possums are advancing fast.

 

Slide1

The Color of the Month Is Green

My Gran’daddy’s tractors were always red,
but the riding lawn mower was green.
We borrowed it to mow our acre and
the ditches in between

his house and ours. This was back when
the sun was still our friend,
so I wore a tube top and short shorts
to circle and circle the yard

in what was, I guess, a widening gyre.
Everything I cut
I was allergic to. Sun-fried,
itching, miserable, but

at 14—just beautiful. Just so—
I had knockoff Ray Bans—
I turned dark pink, not really tan—
I’m telling you I glowed.

_____

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Image by Charles & Hudson, used with Creative Commons License

_____

I’m trying an experiment this month–meant to start in January, but didn’t–I’ve picked a color to look for when I’m driving, all month long.  It’s an attempt at mindful driving.  To see my commute differently. To meditate on the colors I notice. The color for February is green, and when I think green, John Deere is one of the things I think of, and also one of the things I see on my commute. So this poem is a meditation on green. And on John Deere.

Asking for a Friend

Where does ramshackle end and squalid begin?
How do you know when you’ve crossed the line?
Thanks for your help. Just asking for a friend.

Wow. One matchbook collection more and you’d be in
a clutter monkey reality show of your own.
Where does ramshackle end and squalid begin?

And if there is a demarcated line, can
you live inside the shape you’ve bent it in?
Thanks in advance. Just asking for a friend.

When your life falls apart, what does that mean?
Will your house ever be clean, ever again?
Where does ramshackle end and squalid begin?

What if you remember one scary time when
one of your cousins seemed way too interested in
your secret parts. Asking for a friend.

You don’t recall his touching you like that back then.
So why his interest? You were so scared. So why?
Where does ramshackle end and squalid begin?
(I know you know it’s me) asking for a friend.

—–

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(This is actually an organized spot in my house, where we store paper to recycle and reuse. But it LOOKS messy.

 

 

A simpler time in the dirt

It’s my cousin Jodie’s birthday today (she’s a year older than me and we’re old enough that her age is starting to startle me) and I was trying to think of a childhood memory to share.  Here’s the one I decided on:

Growing up out in the country, there weren’t a lot of people around and the people who were around were mostly family. My Gran’ma Roane (great-grandmother) lived right behind us, my Aunt Becky kitty-cornered to her, and in the other direction, Gran’mommy and Gran’daddy and then just a little past them, my cousins Jodie & Rob and their parents. We rode our bikes back and forth A LOT.

One early spring day when we were 10 and 11 or so, which means Rob was around five, we pulled an old shower curtain out into the middle of a soy bean field.  It was just dirt and dried up remains of soy bean plants–too early for anything to be planted. We tromped across the field to a place where it dipped down some. You can see where in the picture, about halfway down–east of the road, there’s a curving green stripe that I think was a creek.  We were on the west side of the road, and on that side, it only resembled a creek when there was too much rain for a long time. I remember we wanted to be where no one could see us.  But this is the flat part of Southern Illinois, before you get into the driftless region with the Shawnee National Forest and other gorgeous variations of height in the landscape.  So however hidden we thought we were, I’m sure Gran’mommy could see us from the north, and Mom and Dad could see us from the south.

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Jodie & Rob’s house is the green square. Gran’mommy and Gran’daddy to the left of that. My house was down where the road curved. See what I mean about not very many people?

But we felt unseen, and saw ourselves as explorers. A ship on a sea? I think so, but it might’ve been a wagon. Not a spaceship, I don’t think.  Our main spaceship adventures happened in my closet.

I don’t remember anything happening. We just tromped in a field, pretended something for a while, then tromped home.

But wow–what a sweet time that was, to be able to amuse ourselves with an old shower curtain in a bare dirt field for probably hours.

Love ya, Jode! Happy Birthday!

Purgatory, Kentucky (done?)

It got to where I couldn’t see a way
ahead except for dying. So I went.
Or, so I came. Just where, I couldn’t say.
It’s odd. Some kind of grass, or cane, all bent
this way and that, slick at the root,
and spiky sharp half the time, black as coal,
but soft enough to lie down in, some spots.
I’d have slept more, but my dreams are full
of nasty animals and dead presidents.
I got attacked by a whole fleet of armadillos
in a river. An armada. Is that what you call it?
Abraham Lincoln himself chopping wood. “Hello
Mr. Penny Man,” I said. He spoke not a word.
But this ain’t Hell. Of that I am assured.

This ain’t hell. Of that I am assured.
Would there be moderately cold beer or
would they let me keep my truck if torture
was on the agenda for now and ever after?
You might say yes, but I think not. No way.
I will admit that I have odd dreams.
But nothing scary, really. Nothing mean.
Just weird. Like a really long nap in the middle of the day.
There’s not much else to do. I could reflect
on all my trials and tribulations, the error
of my ways, but where would be the profit in that?
The wicked queen’s mistake was looking in the mirror.
She couldn’t rest in her own head and let
the young ones be the ones to stew and fret.

The young ones are the ones who stew and fret,
yes, even here they do. I tell them to relax,
but I do recall what it was like, to be fraught
with longing for a certain someone’s kiss,
the way a particular set of hard calluses
could raise a wave of shivers on my skin,
then one touch later heat me up fast,
so hot for more, I would do anything….
There is no profit in that kind of thought.
The man whose hands I speak of is not here.
I’ve grown restless all the sudden, not
full of life, I wouldn’t say, just bored.
Turns out I dislike it, this world without end.
The ferry’s here. I guess I’ll drive on in.

The ferry’s here. I guess I’ll drive on in.
I tell you if I’d known I’d have my truck
on this side of, well, whatever side I’m on,
I’d have done myself in sooner. Just my luck
the ignition switch is still a fussy thing
which I guess means this isn’t heaven.
I never really minded when it wouldn’t start,
just took the time to admire my good old Ford,
Bought it new in ’72, Grabber Blue,
What was there me and my girl couldn’t do?
My favorite thing I ever hauled? An outhouse
that my Mama did NOT want me to take away.
“When your crazy cousin Vernon visits,
I like to have a quiet place to pray.”

I like to have a quiet place to pray,
and sitting, waiting, in my truck, well that’s
about as quiet as it ever gets
because the radio died in ’88.
When a radio dies where does its music go?
They say sound waves never really go away.
I don’t understand everything I know
about that. I guess I believe that sound’s a wave.
I guess I believe there are tiny bones in my ear,
a hammer and an anvil and a horseshoe? Is that right?
I wonder if they’ll be taking questions there.
I wonder if it’s always kind of twilight.
There’s the ferry now—I guess it’s time
I got myself in gear and got in line.

I got myself in gear and got in line
but wow, this line’s not moving. Not at all.
Then suddenly I’m hearing “Begin the Beguine”
a song I didn’t even know I knew. There’s a swell
of trumpets and what is that? An oboe? I don’t know.
And now a woman in a cape has stopped
by my truck. She’s a nun. So I guess it’s not a cape.
She says she’s a Beguine. Go with the flow
is what I’m thinking. There. We’re moving some.
The nun is in my truck. She sings along
to “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” I only hum.
I never could remember all the words to a song.
And now we’re going slow again, so slow
we might be backing up. I just don’t know.

We might be backing up. I just don’t know
if I’m alive or dead, asleep, awake–
but then, my whole life (a hundred years ago)
has been like that, blurry on the day-to-day
and sharp, in focus, only now and then.
Is that depression? Or is it being dumb
about what matters? I kind of drift along
a lot. My favorite thing was being at home,
just doing nothing, which is why my house is a mess.
Or was a mess. I’m sure it’s still a mess.
I’m the only one who ever cleaned.
But if I’m dead, what’s home? That’s what I mean.
There’s really nothing left to do but pray.
It’s gotten to where I cannot see the way.

_____

I began writing this crown of sonnets in April of 2013, as part of National Poetry Month, and NaPoWriMo.  I’m slow.  I would remember it every now and then and add a sonnet to it.

It’s a curious project–it began as a challenge sonnet when I was on my way to Manitowoc to do a reading.  I can’t remember all the parts of the challenge, though I think Abraham Lincoln was in it, and I definitely remember my friend Becky asking that I include Boyd Crowder’s hair.

Walton_Goggins_March_19,_2014_(cropped)

This is Walton Goggins, who played Boyd Crowder on Justified. On the show, I think Boyd used more hair product. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Because I loved Justified so much, putting Boyd in the poem opened all sorts of possibilities. I immediately heard the voice of Mags Bennett, played by the amazing Margo Martindale (one of the best villains with one of the best story arcs in all of tv land, ever). That’s why it was Purgatory, Kentucky.

But as I wrote it, I was less and less sure of Mags’ voice in the poem, or the need to have her narrate, so I’ve revised a lot of that out of it.

It doesn’t have much to do with Kentucky at this point, so I’ll probably change the title. It could be Purgatory, Illinois.  The outhouse portion happened in Southern Illinois, which is itself sort of a blurry place, not entirely southern, not entirely midwestern…  I actually like the sound of Purgatory, Illinois.

In any case, I believe the draft is done, and that means that I’ve now written four crowns–“Mothering God” was the first, and then “Each Other’s Anodyne,” and then “Mobius Strip of a Man,” and then this one.  I’m now working on a heroic crown of sonnets about my back surgery at the Shriner’s Hospital for Crippled Children (it’s not called that anymore).  I actually have this vague memory of writing another crown of sonnets, but surely I’d remember it clearly if I done it, right?