‘Garbled Voices’ and other works
By: Howie Good
Is it legal to walk around naked in your backyard? Only when someone has experienced it themselves can they truly judge. As the theory of reversibility states, the ice on ponds is never 100 percent safe. Nothing has happened to me yet. But it is possible at any moment. There is a bed, and people are being tied to it and abused. Or they are being hanged by their wrists from the ceiling and beaten. It is with a sense of inevitability, and despite text messages, TikTok videos, phishing emails, etc., that the nation returns to when the world was flat.
The Kingdom of Broken Things
I receive a postcard in the mail guaranteeing me a chance to win one of 1,000 prizes. Me! A man who thinks clouds look like things! Meanwhile, a new study has found frequent emoji users “Wear civilian clothes, pass messages, kill.” Many nights I’ve been woken up by sirens and screams and thought, “You’re in the middle of history now.” Even the worst weather can’t stop it or prevent a personal Jesus from selling counterfeit tickets to heaven behind the KFC.
People would just repeat the same stock phrases – “Thank you,” “I love you,” “Awesome!” – over and over in the mindless manner of talking dolls. Then the war started there. They took your passport, phone, and money, and locked you up in a room. Now it’s also started here. “Name,” the older woman behind the glass partition commands, hands poised over the keyboard. She doesn’t look at me but focuses her severe gaze on the computer screen. Most of what she says I don’t want to understand, and they beat me for that. Everything goes dark after the first few blows. The infernal machine has its own internal illumination.
OK, this might not be hell, but it definitely isn’t heaven. Even children have been enlisted, some to fill sandbags and others to roll bandages or strew sawdust on the floor to soak up the blood. We uselessly appeal to the king of the Kingdom of Broken Things for additional help. All the while, an oxygen mask with full face shield hangs on the back of the door. And yet sometimes at twilight if the light falls right, the mountain seen from our window appears an enchanted pinkish purple and as though just returned to its unpronounceable (for us) aboriginal name.
A skateboarder in a black T-shirt and holey jeans and backwards baseball cap rolls down the sidewalk under tall leafy trees, and with his arms extended like wings, clutches the top of a brown lunch bag in one hand and, for a kind of counterbalance, a cup of pink strawberry ice cream in the other, and on his face as he passes through splashes of sunshine and shadow not a smug smile precisely or a frown of intense concentration, but a little of both, like something seen in the only ever photograph of a dream.
There was nothing I could do. I was under a car, sheltering from the debris raining down, bricks and glass and chunks of concrete. Right then I resolved to henceforth be like the unruly drunks you read about who are unaffected when tasered by a cop – even when tasered again and again. In the meantime, the boat in the nearby slip was on fire. Smoke engulfed my head. I swear I could hear a phone bot saying, “All our representatives are resisting other customers at this time.”
The EMT in the ambulance with me had mint green hair. She was trying frantically to undo some knots in the IV tubing. A little voice in my head said, “What have you learned, and whom have you helped?” The LSD I’d taken earlier was lasting longer than expected. It was as if I’d stepped through my eyelids. But the potato chip really did look like Elvis.
A man in Warrenton, Missouri, posted a video of himself licking deodorant sticks at the Walmart and asking, “Who’s a coward now?” I was like yes, yes, yes, I want to do that. I only very rarely experience such sudden enthusiasms. And whose fault is that? Not mine, not when the Wampanoag, the tribe that helped the Pilgrims survive their first winter in Plymouth, still regret it 400 years later.
Apologia Pro Vita Sua
A college age girl collecting money – no doubt for a worthy cause – rings the doorbell, sending our little white dog into a barking frenzy. Sorry, I tell her after kickingaside the dog to get to the door, but we gave last week. She doesn’t believe me. I can read it in the sudden hardening of her face. If anything, she’s probably thinking it’s necessary sometimes to kill what is in order to bring about what is not. I start to shut the door and then stop and glance up the street. The falling leaves die saying, I want to go.
Howie Good’s latest poetry book is The Horse Were Beautiful (2022), available from Grey Book Press. Redhawk Publications is publishing his collection, Swimming in Oblivion: New and Selected Poems, later this year.