Literary Yard

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‘Working Out at the Y’ and other poems by E. Martin Pedersen

By: E. Martin Pedersen

What is Happiness?

I see two old people walk
Our height and weight
What is happiness?
Will the radical ideas
Of youth at least
Provide comic relief
If not solace
In the third age
As our vestments fall away
One layer per cycle
Until we lie naked
Wrinkled, spotted


Why Be Kind To Women

More good witches than bad there are,
But they don’t tell you when they do
You a favor; you get to guess.
Look! People are helping you for no
Reason. The reason: witches.

That smell again: ghosts. That is,
They make no sound, don’t reach out,
But when you cross a creature-sized space
With only the odor of invisibility.
You know but don’t remember: they’re there.

Vampires and ogres also are present annoyingly
But the friendly ones and your
Constant companions will take care of them.
Go forth, for you are never alone.
Can’t you see: God is a ghost too.

Angels, however, are folklore, as are saints:
The all-benevolent beings, providing
For one’s needs. Sorry, nobody does that;
Only your mother long ago,
And she hated you for it.

Which brings us to the holy insane: the slangrels.
Long low lean stick men who need confirmation
Of their alienistic theories, and women wearing bright rag outfits,
Leering into your absentminded soul, singing, “how would
You feel after making love to one of us?”


Working Out at the Y

Took the long road, the high rocky trail
to the crossroads, stopped, sat, scratched, chewed, scoped
down the curvous and straight, the sandy/soft, the daybreak painful-bright,
I slept at the crossroads, I built a lean-to there out of popsicle sticks,
the Buddhists say if you don’t know which direction to go—stand still.
I still stand.

I met a monk in a cell
he lived on prayer, loving a good and bad God
every night the dragons came and he fought with his mighty sword
but never won;

I met a man in prison
he lived on lightning chess, long-distance loving a lizard woman
at night he bolted to escape but the goons always caught him
countdown to delusion;

I met an African in Europe
he lived on wood carvings, trying to remember his wife and growing children
at night he snored with all the other captives crowded together on the floor
chained to Beethoven and Van Gogh;

I met a starfleet officer aboard
she embarked on a five-year mission, of dangerous new encounters, loving the rush
at night she imagined every form of extreme fornication with every imaginable life-form
but never touched herself;

I met a cowboy on the plains
he lived on beans, singing about his ma
at night no dreams, time only for getting up early, busting the body proud
all for the 12-year-old whore in Wichita;

At the crossroads I met a young lover
when he told me of his girl’s grace
we both cried lonesome longing, she had passed by evidently
now he lives with me alone in my tiny shelter both waiting to see her again;
at night no one knows what is real
at night marauders plunder my equilibrium
at night the crossroads are darker than anywhere else, I often stand buck naked in the center there —
arms spread, screaming obscenities, daring some truck driver to run me down —
nothing happens.

But something will happen of course
I’ll either live, die, move or stay put
here at home in my sack o’ bones
here at home at the crossroads.


All the Flies are Dry

Full of clerical rooms
clutter, dust, papers all over the floor
full of filing cabinets
metal desks
broken typewriters
seem okay but won’t write
you try the buttons, or keys rather, over and over
this time they just might click …
some cabinets are locked, some aren’t
the full ones have folders with carbon-copied papers
in a language no one knows
while fluorescent bulbs flicker in syncopation
that’s no jazz no ragtime
a calendar from an auto shop has the address but what no nudie picture?
the water fountain dispenses a faint dribble with dead birds and gasoline in it
a cracked plastic sandwich covered in dried blood from a novelty shop
far down the tunnel in room 304 an ugly man is breaking the floor tiles
with a battery-powered jack-hammer
his face is covered in scales
in his hair powder of cremated bone ash
on the page of a block register
after five columns of figures with mistaken totals
is found at last
this is the sum
we have

Yet I suffer
mash my legs into lust for amputation
electrocute the rest of the body external
take away all motion-sickness
lay me in a tank of oil, black as pitch
Yet I sense
and will never sign
re-sign or concede authority
you cannot have my essence while I can still
perceive lack of wind, a numbing head-ache glory
or remember Cynthia Ross’
smooth high tanned forehead
I so desired to kiss
in 3rd grade.


Ban Assault Weapons

In the world of leeches and flesh-eaters
one killing is no good
We need serial killers
to keep us engaged
A constant trickle of blood,
no, a flood
Burgundy rain
gutters full, underground rivers
We drink yet
we cannot forget
The unnatural death
We profess.

When you walk unarmed through every pitch-black forest
in this treacherous land
By every rock
shore and cliff-face
Baptism creek and holy lake
Sunset, starshine
Curl this Circle of Hell
Till revenants fade and disappear
The water runs clear
From your own sweet well.

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