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Final Poem in the Series—
Last Chance to Rate
To help my friend and colleague Queen Jane Approximately decide which of my poems to submit to publications and contests, I have posted ten “possibles,” poem A, poem B, and so forth, through the current post, poem J, and have invited readers to comment.
Below is the last poem in the series. Please feel free to comment at any time, but I’d be especially grateful if I could hear from you by May 1. Along with comments, I’d love it if you’d give me your ranking of the ten poems, 1 being your favorite and 10 being the worst of the lot. You can leave your assessment as a blog comment or e-mail it to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. Thanks very much!
What follows is actually a unit: a poem set into a silly story. All comments enormously appreciated!
Q & A with Gutroach and Boogerdung at the Sleep-Cheep-We-Peep Inn
Recently I had the honor of being asked to serve on an authors’ panel at the first annual meeting of the Virtually Unpublished Writers of Tasteful Religious Books Society. I did not, as it happens, actually participate, because I went to the wrong hotel.*
* Which I didn’t find out until the next day. The conference was at the Cheap Bed Sheep Shed. I showed up at Sleep Cheap, We Peep. Anyone could have made the same mistake.
I wondered why the concierge gave me an odd look when I asked him to direct me to the conference room. “Well, we have meetin’s in the back of the bar sometimes,” he said, pointing at a faux-hardwood door, which you could tell was flimsy and hollow by the multiple holes at about the level where a man’s fist would be if the man were driving his fist into the door.
Plainly, the VUWTRBS was on a very tight budget. Even so, given the fragrance (Eau de Bud Light Breath with notes of Stale Sweat and Bratwurst Aftermath) wafting from the bar, and the ambience (storm sewer, but darker), I made a mental note to suggest renting the KMart employee break room for the second annual meeting.
Entering the room behind the bar, I was relieved to see a dais, a couple of folding chairs, and an audience of more than a hundred of God’s children who were, like the rest of us, seekers of the holy inner light. I walked confidently onto the little stage, knowing I looked my best, in my navy patent-leather pumps and navy-and-white-polka-dot linen sheath dress with a white Peter Pan collar.
I chose one of the folding chairs—the one without an overturned beer can and a glob of Cheez Whiz on the seat—sat down, demurely crossed my ankles, and waited.
I looked at the audience. They looked back at me. Probably. I can’t be sure, because a spotlight was shining directly into my eyes. The few things I could actually see had this sort of pulsing halo around them, like they were radioactive and about to blow. Someone at the lighting board was evidently experimenting with various effects. It was unsettling. The live sound engineer was even more adventurous, as I was about to discover.
After half an hour, the audience was getting restless, as evidenced by what sounded and smelled a great deal like a certain unseemly type of competition my brother and his friends had sometimes entertained themselves with after they’d had a few beers. Since there didn’t seem to be anyone in authority, I thought it was a good time to show some initiative.
‘We’re gonna tear this place apart’
I stood up and walked to the microphone, adjusted it for my height, smiled a huge, joyous, I-love-everybody smile, and spoke a hearty “Welcome,” hoping I would come across as friendly and approachable. Evidently, I made a very different impression— more in the style of Linda Blair pre-exorcism, when she intoned (in a deep male voice), “Keep away. The sow is mine.”
Determined to retain my dignity, I switched the microphone off, waited a few minutes for my hearing to return, and tried once more to charm the audience members and put them at ease.
I smiled more broadly and spiritually than before, if that were possible, though I had the feeling that my ears were actually meeting on the back of my head and thought I’d probably reached my maximum smile diameter.
“Well,” I said perkily, “this is supposed to be the Q & A session led by Mr. Edmund Digby. Mr. Digby, you’re not out there in the audience anywhere, are you?”
There was no answer, other than a signal that the competition might be starting up again, so I hurried on: “Well, let’s just begin. I’m sure that Mr. Digby and the other authors on the panel will be here any moment.”
I held up a copy of my book. “My name is Mary Campbell,” I said. “You’ll see it there on your agenda, next to Unfamiliar Territory, which is, obviously, the title of my book. I assume you’ve read it and you have some questions. Who wants to go first?”
“I’ll go first,” said a young man in the front row, and the invisible lighting technician obligingly illuminated his face. He was pulling on an odd little pipe, which he then handed to the young lady beside him, and she inhaled deeply from it too and passed it on, and I was about to say something about How Germs Are Spread when the young man spoke again. “My name is Gutroach and my question is, where’s Puking Maggot Progeny?”
I glanced at my roster, pretty sure I would have noticed such an unusual name; as I had suspected, there was no “Progeny” on the list.
“Mr. (or is it Ms.?) Progeny isn’t on my attendee roster,” I said. “Is he or she a late registrant, perhaps?”
“Well, perhaps he is or perhaps he ain’t, but we paid to see Puking Maggot Progeny and by G__d, we’re gonna see Puking Maggot Progeny or we’re gonna tear this place apart.”
She Who Must Be Obeyed
At this I became a little indignant. I had never read any of this Progeny person’s books, nor had I heard of him, but I knew that my work had merit too, and I said as much, with all the asperity at my command.
“So,” I concluded icily, “perhaps Mr. Progeny ain’t gonna be here, in which case you can listen to me and then we can go to the wine-and-cheese buffet before the banquet, or you can all go home and I’ll see that your registration fees are refunded.”
“WINE and CHEESE? Yummy, YUMMY,” he chanted. “Yummy in my tummy.”
Then he licked his chops, scratched his… lower torso, and started to get up from his seat. The odd little pipe, I noticed, had made its way back to him, and I was opening my mouth to give a brief lecture on Hygiene, when he shouted to someone else in the room, or perhaps to someone on the Isle of Wight.
“Hey, Boogerdung,” he yelled, as if Boogerdung were lying inside a sealed casket instead of dozing in the second row, “I got the munchies. You got the munchies? Let’s go grab that wine and cheese and head over to the Scab Zombie.”
I had reached my limit with Mr. Gutroach and I had no interest in hearing whether or not Mr. Boogerdung had the munchies.
“Sit down, Mr. Gutroach,” I said firmly, sounding (I was selfishly gratified to notice) just a bit scary. “The Scab Zombie is closed. Raided. Shut down. Everyone’s in jail. I’m the only act in town tonight, and I’m ON!”
‘He loves that little girl, man’
Mr. Gutroach actually sat down, even looking a little sheepish. The audience was quiet. I cleared my throat and began to read the poem I had selected.
“Pressing on my pearly window, Night inhales—”
“Hey!” Mr. Boogerdung interrupted owlishly. Evidently he hadn’t “gotten his nap out,” as my mother-in-law used to say if one of the babies was cranky. “Who gives a shit about your f–ing pearly window?”
“I have no idea,” I replied. “Who gives a shit if Bing Crosby is dreaming of a white Christmas?”
Silence. Faces blank as notebook paper.
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s try this another way. Who gives a shit if Mr. Marshall Mathers’s public persona intimates that he’s a pistol-packing drug addict who bags on his momma but he wants to take time out to be perfectly honest ‘cuz there’s a lot of shit that hurts deep inside o’ his soul, and he grows colder the older he grows, and the boulder on his shoulder is like the weight of the world, his neck is breaking and he wants to give up but he doesn’t? And why doesn’t he?”
“’Cuz he’s bringin’ in the big bucks, baby,” said the girl next to Mr. Gutroach.
But Gutroach wasn’t listening. “Man, that’s some sad shit,” he said, shaking his head, “’cuz Eminem, he loves that little girl, man.”
“Is that right?” I said. “Well then maybe, if he wants to take baby steps toward responsible parenting, he could refrain from making music videos that end with his doing a great imitation of himself slitting that little girl’s mother’s throat and yelling, ‘Bleed, Bitch, bleed!’”
In the ensuing silence, I read my poem:
Pressing on my pearly window, Night inhales and, bloated
with the noxious air, it tries to come inside and take its
pleasure there. My little lamp is proof against the first
assault, and bears the siege with dignity, but we are only
three—the lamp and Anna here with me, but Anna sleeps
while Night retreats to breathe the venom that it needs
so it can swell again and burst the breach.
All-engorging, thick with vile effluvium, and restive, Night
still heaves against the pane and probes the porous mortar,
thus to gain a continent, and breathe again, but holding
breath within, as if release would leave it spent of form
and substance, vanished in a photon storm.
No, to find fragility and penetrate, just as the hungry sea
assaults the levee where it groans, and swallows up the
shore—except that Night can but devour and look for more,
can ebb but not abate, for it is powerless to moderate
its gluttony, nor would it, if it could.
Anna tosses in her sleep, and if she feels the indolent
oppression, swollen with its kill, she feels it inwardly,
and moans, the speech of wan resistance, drained of
will, a feeble protestation, habit murmuring, “I am.”
Something in her knows the enemy and would arrest
it, summoning a name, essaying ownership. It rises
out of bounds before the net is thrown.
Bereft of thought and consciousness, it senses
nonetheless that I alone am here to watch and to
resist — to fill the lamp until the fuel is gone.
One forgets at midnight that this too will pass; not
even Night outlasts the unremitting circle. But at
midnight one unreasoning expends what has been
grown and gathered season after season, sacrifices
every treasure, throws into the flame a hundred
fragile artifacts, to gain a moment’s clarity. At
midnight, friends have settled in and locked their
doors, oblivious to ghastly appetite, now
thickened by the certainty that Anna will comply
and abdicate her shape, to be a pool, a fog, and
Perhaps she dreams that Night will hide her
face and nobody will notice that the Anna space,
once occupied by negligible molecules, is
vacant now. But Night and I were taken by
surprise; we had forgotten that the planet
turns. At sunrise, the tenacious lamp still
burns, and Anna sighs.
I knew I had them with the ‘vile effluvium’
“Man, you musta been WAY down when you wrote that,” Mr. Gutroach said softly. “Lookin’ at you, who’d of thought you ever felt that dark?”
I moved my chair to the edge of the dais so I could see the audience better. About twenty-five people remained in the tawdry room, with a combined (visible) tattoo count roughly equivalent to that of the U.S. Navy’s Third Fleet.
“You all aren’t members of the Virtually Unpublished Writers of Tasteful Religious Books Society, are you?” I asked.
There were a few puzzled looks, a few guffaws, and one nonverbal comment from a Rude Bodily Noise contestant. I had to bite my lip to keep from telling the offender that he was a lightweight compared to my brother and his friends, who could have, so to speak, blown all the “contestants” out of the water.
“Well, you sure ain’t Puking Maggot Progeny,” said Mr. Boogerdung, fortunately interrupting my train of thought.
The girl next to him whispered something in his ear. He shook his head. “Please,” she said urgently. I thought she probably had to pee.
“She wants me to read a poem I wrote for Mama who died.”
“Oh, please do,” I said, meaning it. “My mom died a long time ago, and I still miss her. I’d be honored if you’d read your poem.”
Apparently Mr. Boogerdung always kept it with him, in his wallet. I noticed he had a library card in there too.
The sheet of paper had clearly been taken out of and returned to the wallet a hundred times. It was about to fall apart at the folds. He opened it carefully, held it reverently, and began to read:
Mama, sometimes at night, when everything’s quiet,
I wonder if you’re near. I wonder if you hear
Me when I talk to you ‘bout bein’ sad and say I’m sorry for bein’ bad.
When you were here on earth, were you sorry you gave me birth?
Daddy always said I was jest a waste of human flesh.
But you always made me feel better inside, like if I tried
I could be great and do you proud. Is that still true now?
Mama, I know you’re in Heaven. I hope the angels up there are givin’
You clouds & harps and such, ‘cause down hear you never got much.
But sometimes I watched you prayin’ to God, and you were sayin’
Watch out for my boy when I’m gone, and if his daddy carries on
’Bout him not bein’ worth a lick, you give that mean old fart a kick.
(Beg pardon, Ma’am, but that’s what Mama said.)
But after you weren’t there to yell at, Daddy didn’t seem to care
’Bout nothin’ else and died hisself. I love you, Ma. Am I too bad for God to help?
You could have heard a pin drop. I was so moved by his sentiments and so impressed with his untutored eloquence that I didn’t know what to do except hug him. He hugged me back, probably thinking of his mother.
“What was her name?” I asked. “Your mother’s, I mean?”
“Well,” he said, “her given name was Charlotte Rae but everybody called her Sugar.”
“Sugar Rae? Oh, wait. Your mother’s name was Sugar Boogerdung?”
Mr. Boogerdung and Mr. Gutroach laughed so hard that Mr. Gutroach belched prodigiously mid-laugh and almost choked to death.
“Them ain’t our real names, Ma’am,” Mr. Boogerdung said after picking himself up off the floor. He leaned toward me and said in a low voice, “I was christened Jody Leonard Bodie. You can call me Len if you want.”
“What about you, Mr. Gutroach?”
“Arthur Billy Clovis Dewitt at your service, Ma’am,” he said obligingly but almost in a whisper and more to his shoes than to me. “My folks thought it’d be cute for my initials to be ABCD. But if you don’t mind, please call me Gutroach or Billy, or Buttface, I don’t care as long as it ain’t Arthur or Artie or Clovis.”
“Great to meet you gentlemen,” I said, taking Len’s left arm and Billy’s right arm and leading them toward where the wine-and-cheese buffet ought to have been if we hadn’t been at the wrong motel.
“I haven’t introduced myself properly either,” I confessed. “’Mary Campbell’ is my nom de plume. At home I’m known as Festering Pustule, but you guys can call me Pus.”