Featured Poems by Greg Grummer

 

FEATURED POET GREG GRUMMER

I guess I wouldn’t have noticed the fall of communism if it hadn’t been for the series of messages left on my answering machine by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. I was otherwise occupied that day, as I had been looking out my window and saw a woman throw a blue flower under the hood of a running car my neighbor was working on. She drove up in a red convertible, parked her car next to his, got out, and before he could stop her, she threw a blue flower onto his engine block, slammed the hood down and drove off.

I tried for the rest of the day and night to appropriate the incident for myself. When Hegel called, I heard the phone ringing, but I was too absorbed to answer it. It wasn’t until the next morning, when I’d given up on the blue flower affair, that I played back the messages. Upon hearing what Hegel had to say, I knew instantly that the Berlin Wall must have fallen in the night, and that communism was over, and that there was nothing anyone could do about it.

3 Messages Left On My Answering Machine By Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel The Night The Berlin Wall Fell Regarding The Moon Becoming Full

1.
Hello. Hello. It’s me. Pick up…
Are you there…? All right. I just wanted to say that the
moon rounded itself, finished, while I was in a church
filled with Lutherans. I was filling my pew with my
“What?”and aboriginal cries of “Next!” when I felt, right
through the ceiling, a bowl-skull turn to itself through
mediations of light, and finish there, gorgeous, devoured of
change. The day took its last sex with it into the candle. I
saw this as most-minister ended his benediction, his hand
orbiting factual breath, my wife installed on the creatures
of a futureless “thou.”The night flows, the sacraments, the
sheep of our congregation beheld the oceans within them
fulminate in absolute attraction to a butchery that has
hounded them all their lives, while God’s tear (the full
moon) was finally buttressed from under and above at one
and the same time differently, and now swells with perfect
address and annoyance. Yea, entirely, the moon moved a
further quarter inch into the dark, and the God who lives
on the other side, in its black town, chortled in my root.

2.
It’s me again. I guess you’re still out.

Did you get my last message? This I asked my wife when
she surprised me on my knees, on the kitchen floor,
praying to our kitten. “O, little kitty, things started going
wrong, didn’t they, when you were caught embezzling
bones from the sparrows.” My wife begs me not, but the
moon is, variously, now and completely full, and
comprehends itself thus, therefore I know I must return
my future to its prognosticators e’en as the whiskey slips
back into the bottle once the drunk is asleep.

And now my wife holds up her hands, dripping with birds,
and now I’m down on my knees in a basement that comes
up through the kitchen floor whether I can stand it or not,
and now, throughout the neighborhood, soldiers are seen in
flashes of lightning as wind sears the face of an inland sea.

3.
Hello. It’s me again. Pick up if you’re there…

Okay, well, here goes: I just wanted you to look out your
window so you could see that the moon has become full,
like an atom in the hands of a sexy, young scientist.

I wanted you to see how completely the moon and night
have raced themselves, both coming in first, colleagues
admired and fructified, while I came in a last second, and
slipped, evaporating, beneath an aggregate pine, the pins
of its leaves glotted by arrivals of flame.

See how the moon’s rounded itself, finished, and how I’ve
let fall my complete shadow, meaner than any stranger’s
wounds, oh Samaritan, who has no clothes for bandages or
money for wine.

And now my children walk over me as if I were only a
name and not an absence of light in which they might think.
And that leaves the moon, framer of ducks and barns, to
migrate inside the racial memory of a lark.

On The Second Disk Of The Boxed Set Of My Movie “Long After The Fall Of Communism” I Lecture The Cast and Crew On How To Invest Money

The scene opens with me sitting in weeds
behind a barn in Iowa.

I thought at first I would have myself surrounded
by 10 or 20 successful investors, and a new tractor.

Then later, I thought perhaps I’d just show myself
with a 410 over under shotgun, shooting a pigeon.

After which time, I would divulge the following information:

Invest a lot in conflict, but then invest a little something
in peace also, as in a wedding between two dignitaries
it’s good to have agents on both sides of the isle.

Invest a portion of your monies in money.
When this is no longer sound policy, flee the country.

Whenever possible invest in steel guitars, wind chimes,
empty tortoise shells and God’s eventual resurrection,
as there’s no one who doesn’t love some form of music.

Invest up to 50% of your savings in friends and lovers
as your welfare is bound up inextricably with theirs.

Fill a sock with large amounts of cash and then lose it
somewhere in your house so that in a time of financial crisis
it’s possible that diligent searching might save you.

Look for the artists among you who are alienated, cranky, proud,
unable to condescend to modernity; who are bony, refusing
either to wash or die, and invest in everything they most despise.

Then, buy several of their most enigmatic works.
Invest heavily in companies that invest heavily in politicians.

The night we shot the “Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand” scene was perfect.

The moon was full. The pavement on the roadway, the sidewalk and the metal on the bridge all gleamed. Individual leaves were visible in the trees. We were going to have to get the “idiot shot” in one take. A row boat was ready beneath the bridge. We would follow Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand and its idiot from the End Of The Road Bar to the bridge in one long tracking shot.

We wouldn’t follow the idiot over the bridge railing and down, but rather would let the sound of a body hitting the water tell the story. Then we would pan up from the bridge railing through the trees, and up further, towards the moon, across which, hopefully, a large bird of some sort would be flying.

The scene of the accident would be trickier. Of course there would be a pile of wreckage, with bodies strewn about…but how to capture relief on our face when we realize we weren’t the ones driving…to have one’s body bloodied and broken, and yet still wear a look of relief…impossible. But then I realized that, of course, the relief wouldn’t show on the face, but rather would be evident in the peacefulness of the hands.

Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand

We’ve all got one. I keep mine on a chain at my neck.
I use it to pray with when things become too obvious.

It’s the hand that dips into the crowd, picks out an idiot,
takes him or her out for a drink and then throws them from a bridge.

It’s the hand that wrote the line:
I’ll be seeing you but you won’t be seeing me.

It’s the hand that gives the countersign we’ve waited for,
that signals a release from grief:

we weren’t, after all, the one driving.

It’s the hand that wears the ring that would cement,
if it were possible, our marriage to the contingent,
the accidental war, the silence between strangers.

It’s the hand we shake to authorize the completion
of the sale of doves to the magician.

The hand we use to dress our imaginary wounds in similes for red;
the one we extend to open the door to the priesthood

when it’s clear we no longer believe.

In scene after scene Madeline was required to look at the moon. She went through her entire repertoire of moon-gazing positions, but she wasn’t getting it.

And no wonder. The proper attitude for moon-gazing had to come from within, where it couldn’t be manufactured, but must instead be summoned. The proper moon-gaze must arise out of the core of one’s being, like a gathering of bats flying out of the bottom of a well, summoned by the first odors of dusk.

I explained this to Madeline, but she still couldn’t get it. So I gave her a series of visualization cues that, when practiced nightly, would eventually lead to the look I was going for.

Visualization Cues To Summon The Correct Moon-Gazing Pose

Picture the moon as an oligarchy going off a cliff,
or why someone would rob you in the lobby of a hotel.

(The moon: what you can tell your anesthesiologist
but not your priest.)

Look at the moon like it’s your dog’s last days on earth.

Sometimes you’ve got an hour in the bank.
You spend that hour foolishly, feeling euphoric.

And then you have to go up into a eucalyptus tree
and unbangle the moon.

Is spring in control of the flowers of industrialism?
Is August simply the separation of July from September?
Can winter stem depressions that flow from vast reservoirs of laissez-faire?

Go look at the moon.

Last night I threw a party at some friends and hit them
in a museum. They went off, one after the other, like echoes.

Then war jets from the south filled the skies
and in the north movies vanished from around their heroes.

And now the moon and I protect both the wealthy
and the sane;

me hovering over the world like a hornet
hovering over all the world’s sweet grasses;

the moon blossoming and blossoming
until everything’s fair.

Look at both of us in that way.

Ken Starr’s Search For Weapons of Mass Destruction

A search no lonelier than any other, Mr. Starr leaves
the house in the morning knowing that he could be gone
for minutes or even for hours.

As he bends to his job, his hands deep in the froth and corridors
of some other civilization, he thinks he’s found something—
but no, only a thimble filled with widow-grief.

His tally so far, including the thimble: 247 farthing sparrows (fallen—
God knows where,) the numberless hairs of the bald, shards of infra-
structure, a one act play, a black rotary telephone, gravel,
an over-wound watch, Santa Claus and a country once known as Belgium.

As for bombs, death-drugs, corrupt judges, entrails of the atom,
evidence of the malfeasance of strangers, the mercy of Christ—
all, for the moment, unavailable.

But Mr. Starr didn’t take this job hoping it would be easy,
or even possible, he took the job because in the taking
is the reformation, and in the reformation is the honey,
and if the honey is pure then that’s good for the heart.

And so the shadows lengthen, and the desert flowers smell sweet;
and there’s a modern breeze blowing off an ancient river;
and the bodies of the dead make living even more effable;
and the sand ruins machinery; and oil is a hammer’s laxative.

Mr. Starr prepares to call it a day. He hangs up all phones, closes
all open windows, cleans the face of the shovel, rejoins the legs of the protractor,
and shuts the book that holds in it all that hasn’t yet been revealed,

and the book is thick and comforting. Precisely at 4:30 Mr. Starr
heads home, glad that tomorrow, as always, is another day.

On entering the house his wife takes a deep breath of him and says,
“Honey, what’s that scent you’re wearing?” and Mr. Starr answers her
with a laugh, for this is a joke of long standing between them—“History.”

Greg Grummer

*****

Critique by Bendan McEntee

There are two responses to this poem. The first is a surface read: the snickering, insider textbook liberal in on the joke, enjoying the absurdity of the situation or the knee-jerk offense of a harrumphing conservative. The set-up is fairly straight: Ken Starr (Independent Counsel with the broadest authority investigating President Clinton’s alleged misdeeds in the 1990’s) set up as an epic hero set on a quest to find justification for one of America’s incursion into Iraq in the 2000’s, however, it is the skill of the poet to allow his Ken Starr to become a character, while, if not relatable, is certainly understandable. The incongruous is given depth.

A search no lonelier than any other, Mr. Starr leaves
the house in the morning knowing that he could be gone
for minutes or even for hours.

There’s quite a few wonderful moments going on here. With the phrase “A search no lonelier than any other,” the poet steps away from the potential caricature and creates an earnest, diligent American Everyman. His task is both Herculean and his reward Sisyphean, and yet he will go about his task with diligence and vigor. This isn’t reductive, it’s relatable. The poet also sets gives a measure of distance and deference, referring to Starr as “Mr. Starr” throughout the piece: there is respect to be had. Rather than dissolve into agit-prop, the poet’s level of seriousness creates the humor of the absurd, layers the topic. “Look,” he seems to suggest, “we behave exactly like this.”

As he bends to his job, his hands deep in the froth and corridors
of some other civilization, he thinks he’s found something—
but no, only a thimble filled with widow-grief.

“Froth” is a wonderful choice of word: airy and light, made from excessive insertion of hot air all belonging to Starr. What is more interesting is that his hands are also deep in the corridors of some other civilization–this can be read as Iraq but also the halls of Washington, whose principles have been twisted and reworked to serve the needs of the current government, or even a post-9/11 America, unstable, unsure, still coming to terms with its experience. Given the broadness of the line, of the “some other civilization”–the poet has Starr dismiss a “thimble filled with widow-grief,” again, a potential 9/11 reference but also a nod to those that remain after any combatants die.

His tally so far, including the thimble: 247 farthing sparrows (fallen—
God knows where,) the numberless hairs of the bald, shards of infra-
structure, a one act play, a black rotary telephone, gravel,
an over-wound watch, Santa Claus and a country once known as Belgium.

As for bombs, death-drugs, corrupt judges, entrails of the atom,
evidence of the malfeasance of strangers, the mercy of Christ—
all, for the moment, unavailable.

The bible quote underscores the zeal and the discord allowed by Mr. Starr, in fact his appointment in trying to discover something. All shall be known, and the means shall bear fruit, be it a zaftig intern or a nuclear arms program. In the other items found:
“shards of infra-/structure, a one act play, a black rotary telephone, gravel,/ an over-wound watch, Santa Claus and a country once known as Belgium.”
the poet toys with meaning, generally accepted concepts which can be as ominous or innocent as they are uncovered. The playfulness at breaking infrastructure, that the organization is, at heart, broken is almosttoo cute. “A country once known as Belgium” brings to mind Serbia and Yugoslavia (and Belgium), the melting and the melding of identity, of how words work to provide context for communication but can become so much more as they age. The poet seems to work this idea, that there were countries that existed twenty, forty even sixty years ago, which may, through manipulation of governments, be reworded out of existence.

But Mr. Starr didn’t take this job hoping it would be easy,
or even possible, he took the job because in the taking
is the reformation, and in the reformation is the honey,
and if the honey is pure then that’s good for the heart.

The poet moves Starr beyond politics and into belief–the most insidious of causes are those that have the most dedicated believers, for after a point, the faith is more important that the consequences. In fact, to question the faith is to sin. Faith needs no facts, no basis in reality; faith is the ultimate denial. The poet plays with Miltonian notions—if Starr the man isn’t sympathetic, Starr the poetic creation is identifiable. To castigate Starr is to reject our ourselves. Who hasn’t taken a job, or volunteered, thinking that they were doing something good for the world and for themselves? The use of the word “job”–the separateness from one’s own identity, the meanness of the word–indicates the distance that Starr sees himself and the benefits, the “reformation” that his spirit will receive as a result of doing this potentially unpleasant task. It is a thin line between righteousness and delusion.

And so the shadows lengthen, and the desert flowers smell sweet;
and there’s a modern breeze blowing off an ancient river;
and the bodies of the dead make living even more effable;
and the sand ruins machinery; and oil is a hammer’s laxative.

This stanza, besides being beautifully written, addresses the reason for the search for the weapons and is quite powerful. There is benefit that is gained by Starr’s effort, one that the U.S. citizenry gains by: the genial stance of stanza one is cast off: Starr’s search is a search for the continuance of survival of one nation at the expense of another. To reject Starr means actively seeking other methods of survival that run on the bodies of the dead. There must be limits.

Mr. Starr prepares to call it a day. He hangs up all phones, closes
all open windows, cleans the face of the shovel, rejoins the legs of the protractor,
and shuts the book that holds in it all that hasn’t yet been revealed,

and the book is thick and comforting. Precisely at 4:30 Mr. Starr
heads home, glad that tomorrow, as always, is another day.

On entering the house his wife takes a deep breath of him and says,
“Honey, what’s that scent you’re wearing?” and Mr. Starr answers her
with a laugh, for this is a joke of long standing between them—“History.”

The reader (hopefully shaken) is returned to the mundane environment of office worker Starr, harshly contrasting what it is that he is doing with the outcome and is left with a fatalistic last word. Starr, and all those like him, are drones in service of something larger which existed before-and shall continue after he’s gone. To condemn Starr is to miss one’s own role in history.

Note: Earlier versions of two poems above were first published at http://nowculture.com.

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