Poetry

‘At the Theater, a Jake Gyllenhaal Sighting’ and other poems by Alex M. Frankel

By: Alex M. Frankel

At the Theater, a Jake Gyllenhaal Sighting

What began as a nudge
and grew with a whisper
turned into a wave
engulfing the hall.
“Can it be?” “It’s him!”
Opera-glass raised
I tried to see.
“Do not let him fool you
with the baseball cap!”

It began as a nudge
and rose to a whisper.
He was casually disguised
had little in the way of entourage.
Trying for a glimpse
with my glass I took aim
followed fingers
pointing at Jake
who breathed as we did
but had a Name.

He may have breathed air
but was more than we were.
Why was he slumming with us?
I focused, I focused
my old opera-glass
since this would go down
as a night ennobled.
He’d make it a better play
he’d make it a weaker play
than the one we’d have seen without him.

The curtain went up
the actors were acting
but still I was working to see.
Then I succeeded.
Gyllenhaal seemed at home in the hall,
enraptured by what he saw
as we were enraptured by him.
With my glasses I looked
and couldn’t look away
at the only one there
alive with renown.
What had begun as a nudge
and turned into a whisper
was becoming a flood
a flood of surrender.
There was nothing to see on the stage.
There was only the grandeur of G.

I didn’t see a play, I just saw Jake
who loved the play as we loved him.
Wouldn’t it be bliss to be renowned
known to unknowns everywhere?
The actors acted, all unknowns,
the actors acted and I saw just me
well-shielded from public scrutiny,
while light from the stage
half-captured our Man
as he studied the actors enraptured
wishing perhaps he wasn’t Jake G
but ordinary like you and me.

That night my mind was on posterity
and on the stature of Jake G.
How his presence awakened
then weakened us
how he defamed and defined us
how he rose like a statue to enlighten the night,
like an Oscar inflated he rose above us
an Oscar grown a hundred feet tall
a hundred feet of beatitude
breaking through chandeliers
as we looked up in gratitude
from our darkness in the dark hall.

###

Allah/Jesus/Tom Cruise Let Us Out

Open sky, dead trees.
The Ten Commandments billboard in tatters.
Cow dung, dust storms, tumbleweed.
Zoo animals despair, the new giraffe
slipped on ice last winter
banged his head so bad
they had to put him to sleep.

Saturday nights in Clovis they used to cruise a million miles.
There were Chinese fire drills and songs
Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly
and a beauty queen named Billie Ann Garnett.
Kids rolled down their windows, cranked songs up so loud
you could hear them all the way down Main.
Guys took their dates to the 11:30 dirties at the Lyceum.
Now it’s gutted motels, bugs and worm piss.
Nightmares are real for airmen at the base.
Juarez North they call it.

Only the trains escape
but after rounding the long curve they, too, return.
You hear them night, day
double-stack freight trains
blasting old-time horns
crossing-bells clanging through town.

In Clovis, meth is hope.
A hundred-plus miles to Lubbock.
Taco Bell, Dillards, Dollar General, Hobby Lobby.
Shangri-La used to be decent
now you’d be lucky not to get salmonella.
A park with two benches, a pond
where you’ll catch fish with three eyes.
A fast-food slop town with the hint of shit in the air
that green haze and stench of stockyards after rain
and sun baking the cow patties.
Hard to take when the wind is right.

###

Cenotaph

After the Battle of Teutoburg Forest in the year 9 of our Lord Jesus Christ
in which twenty thousand perished
the Battle of Chrysopolis in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 324
in which thirty thousand lost their lives
the Battle of Adrianople in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 378
in which twenty thousand died
the Battle of Dara in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 530
in which eight thousand perished
the Battle of Yarmouk in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 636
in which one hundred twenty thousand died
the Battle of Tours in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 732
in which thirteen thousand perished
the Battle of Kleidion in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1014
in which forty-five thousand were slaughtered
the Battle of Hastings in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1066
in which six thousand lost their lives
the Battle of Hattin in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1187
in which fifty thousand were slaughtered
the Battle of Crécy in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1346
in which four thousand perished
the Battle of Nancy in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1477
in which eight thousand lost their lives
the Battle of Tenochtitlan in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1521
in which two hundred thousand were killed
the Battle of Lepanto in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1571
in which fifty thousand perished
the Battle of Lützen in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1633
in which seven thousand were killed
the Battle of Malplaquet in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1709
in which eleven thousand lost their lives
the Battle of Leuthen in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1757
in which four thousand perished
the Battle of Panipat in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1761
in which one hundred and fifty thousand died
the Battle of Austerlitz in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1805
in which seven thousand perished
the Battle of Leipzig in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1813
in which forty-five thousand were slaughtered
the Battle of Solferino in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1859
in which four thousand were killed
the Battle of Gettysburg in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1863
in which seven thousand perished
the Battle of Königgrätz in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1866
in which eight thousand died
the Battle of Tsushima in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1905
in which four thousand five hundred perished
the Battle of Mukden in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1905
in which twenty-three thousand died
the Battle of the Marne in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1914
in which one hundred fifty-four thousand died
the Battle of the Somme in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1916
in which four hundred fifty thousand died
the Battle of Gallipoli in the years of our Lord Jesus Christ 1915-1916
in which two hundred thousand died
the Battle of Verdun in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1916
in which three hundred fifty-nine thousand died
the Battle of Shanghai in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1937
in which one hundred thousand perished
the Battle of Xinkou in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1937
in which one hundred and twenty thousand died
the Battle of Wuhan in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1938
in which one hundred and fifty thousand died
the Battle of France in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1940
in which four hundred thousand perished
the Battle of Kiev in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1941
in which five hundred thousand were slaughtered
the Battle of Guadalcanal in the years of our Lord Jesus Christ 1942-1943
in which twenty-six thousand died
the Battle of Stalingrad in the years of our Lord Jesus Christ 1942-1943
in which two million perished
the Battle of Saipan in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1944
in which forty-three thousand died
the Battle of Normandy in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1944
in which two hundred thousand died
the Battle of the Bulge in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1945
in which eighty thousand lost their lives
the Battle of Berlin in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1945
in which one hundred eighty thousand died
the Battle of Inchon in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1950
in which one thousand five hundred died
the Battle of the Marshes in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1984
in which forty-four thousand died
the Battle of Mogadishu in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1993
in which five hundred lost their lives
the Battle of Falluja in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 2004
in which two thousand died
the Battle of Mosul in the years of our Lord Jesus Christ 2016-2017
in which twenty-five thousand lost their lives—
sprinklers nod, it will be nightfall.
The sparrow watches over a field.
In its beak, a dry leaf.

###

Ars Antiqua

An artist without renown is a man without limbs, an artist without genius is a torso and no head—these beliefs assailed him as he roamed the countryside, saddled with lack, pictures of his post-life statues bubbling out of him whenever his inner machete slowed its slashing: But Voltaire!—such a legend will never sleep.

The artist strayed into Chartres almost by chance, almost by chance mingled with pilgrims who swept him through the cathedral doors as stone saints looked on. Candles and shadows. Sandals and sweat. Lovers and nuns. Muffled organ fugue.

We lifted him toward the vaulted ceiling: We are sculptors and carpenters and glaziers, we’re metal-workers and workmen-unknowns, we built this temple and survive in its shadows, in the wheat fields, we’re the rank and file of glassworks and forge, workshop and loft, who completed and complete our tasks without fanfare, without even a piece in the press to take note of our passing.

We guided him to a window among clerestory windows, we showed him stained-glass serfs tilling the fields, commonfolk playing their hurdy-gurdies, and there was the master builder—anonymous—in beard, red tunic and pointed shoes, flanked by quarrymen, plasterers, stonecutters, the patient craftsmen of a cityless world, they were impoverished, hungry, God-fearing villagers who lived long if they lived to be forty, what did they know of renown?

We spoke to the artist as we showed him the peaceful scenes in the window: Rome fell, and vainglory slept a thousand years. Men worked not for this life but for the life to come. Then, slowly, they rediscovered the delights of the world. Pagan Rome awoke, spawned centuries of reason, science, and vanity. We took the artist’s hand and dove into the painted window, flew over a landscape of farms and manor houses, streams and meadows. We swooped down to graze the faces of villagers haggling on market day, they were young and sturdy with rotten teeth, the stench of dung and manure was overpowering in the air and the pilloried thief they pelted with offal revolted the senses—then we took off again, alighted on a tree opposite the cathedral-in-progress, hundreds at work around it—“The Sea of Faith / …round earth’s shore / Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled…”

The artist was about to exclaim at the majesty of the scene when he froze into a miniature man-figure in the corner of the stained glass window, and there has remained ever since. Some maintain that in the moments before his transfiguration, he almost succeeded in forgetting how much he’d once hoped to be remembered.

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Categories: Poetry

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