Unconventionally, the Poetic Asides prompt is not yet up, so I’ve resorted instead to the Big Tent poem for Friday, which is to do a list poem. I am not generally fond of list poems, so I decided to combine the prop of a shopping list with the “dead man” from the earlier prompt. Really I wanted to be more active earlier this week, but the cold I’ve had has floored me; haven’t left the house in three days. Feeling somewhat better today, though, so I hope I’m getting over it… anyway, enjoy.
About the Dead Man at the Market
The dead man stands unmoving at the intersection of aisle five.
He clutches an envelope where things are written, crossed out, written again.
The dead man wonders why he has this earthly need for sustenance.
All dead men are dead; therefore, they shouldn’t feel hunger.
Their oxygen should be built from decomposition, torment, and memory.
Yet the dead man has written down items like “chestnuts” and “sultanas”.
He can’t recall ever wanting these things before, when his cheeks were rosier.
Perhaps he is a Gordian knot, a confused intersection of his own.
Dead men are where threads of other people’s unremembered pasts meet.
They cross just below his pitted pancreas; they loop his undone spleen.
The dead man feels the pullings and tries to sort out what’s his, what’s not.
He searches for the taste of chestnuts while the clock goes tick, tick, tick.
More About the Dead Man at the Market
The dead man apologizes profusely when he bumps someone with his cart.
(One cannot expect dexterity: we know from zombie movies how the dead move.)
He is searching the shelves for what, exactly?
He shows us his handwriting: “lambic” and “Manchego” and “boysenberry jam”.
But he has written other things like “first Christmas by the sea” and “lost things”.
We say, no, the store that sells those things is across the parking lot.
The dead man looks a bit crestfallen, which adds to the look of his exhaustion.
The creases around his eyes suggest the rings bottoming empty mugs of tea.
The dead man carries on, plucking a stray holly leaf from behind his ear.
(They buried him under a holly tree, whose bloodied berries match his tie.)
We don’t know who the dead man is shopping for, this time of night.
It’s no use asking him, for he’s already murmured around the corner.
OK, a curious prompt for Big Tent this week that I’m just posting now. It keys off of Marvin Bell‘s sentence-progression “Dead Man” poems; the one about camouflage specifically keyed something in my head. The goal is to write two poems about “the dead man” (who is suspiciously alive-seeming), internalizing and externalizing an issue about him… I wondered, personally, how he died. But then I wondered what he would wonder about that. And what I’m left with are these two things.
About the Dead Man and the Might-Have-Been
Today the dead man wears his harlequin costume to the graveyard.
The dead man’s wife sewed it for him out of possibilities cut in diamond shapes.
He has a pair of maybe leggings and a jerkin of forked roads looping his shoulders.
They have the weight of an invisible backpack; the dead man can feel it.
How did he come to be dead? he wonders aloud to no one in particular.
If you could see where his wife stitched the insides so cleverly, so you might too.
You might see the patterns of a knife that descends in a fabulist dark.
You might purl the gunshot or cross-hatch the glacial gluttonous undertow.
The dead man doesn’t worry about such things, not anymore.
But he thinks that it’s good to be aware of it, in case someone comes asking.
He can point to his kneecap and say, it could have been this one;
I can’t rightly say, and I always change my answer.
More About the Dead Man and the Might-Have-Been
No one ever sees the dead man wearing what he claims to wear.
A small girl finds him lying prone, half-in, half-out of a brook in the merry woods.
An old man finds him half-frozen to death in the snow on the outskirts of town.
As long as there are incompletes involved, the dead man’s body is satisfied.
Who knows how long it took him to save up all these deaths?
He must have been collecting them from your campfires and coffee tables.
The dead man keeps his biographies in all the cracks of his house.
You cannot call him the murdered man or the vanished man, not really.
You would be true and false at the same time.
If you ask him plainly, he will admit that how is least important of all.
What matters to a dead man, but the what of recognition and reaction?
You see all of nature crouch curled on his breast, staring and anticipating.