Mash-Up: Mary Shelley’s Letters / Nightmares Across the Centuries
From the bustle of Pimlico, Mary writes
to Jefferson -- “My baby is dead.”
Then, I recall a dream late in the next century
of three translucent babes,
with broken teeth and crooked smiles,
chewing on my wrist
as I awoke before dawn
in a wintry bed in Ohio.
“The sun is set in the dark”
like a tarnished gold coin
tossed by a giant
into the vast March night
where its glinting dies by moments.
“Shelley calls to me from another room;
I shudder to think of him in London.”
There attorneys have placed spies
coldly whispering of his debts
among mendacious crowds teeming in the streets.
Mary and Shelley escape
by crossing the gray-green seizures
of the Channel’s waters.
Outside of Paris, they stop
at a moon-faced hotel
white as a mirage of Mt. Blanc;
there her sleep pictures green champagne
sparkling in Lake Geneva.
Another night they stay in Les Rousses
at a squalid inn
of blown-out candles and unmade beds
where she sees herself
high in the Alps with Shelley and Byron
writing paranormal fables
on an evening of pelting rain
and thunderous omens.
Two hundred years in the future,
I wake to a nine-foot ghost
like an inflated circus clown
severed from an old parade.
He looms over me,
an off-white presence that disappears
in seconds into a filmy, 3 a.m. vacuum.
The Green Chair and The Miller High Life Glass
“I hope no one kamikaze strafes your apartment.
It’s so dreary,” my girlfriend groused.
She had wanted to go to Vito’s for dinner
but we were both on SSI and mendicants
of the food stamp culture in 1977
when I first lived in Seattle; so, I was wary of expense.
Later, we headed into the March wind
on Madison St. toward downtown
and the ragged, yellow banner
of Burchfield twilight blowing above Elliot Bay.
“The photo on your Metro pass makes
you look like you just got off
the swing-shift at a concentration camp,”
she remarked as we waited at 2nd
and Union for her bus to Tukwila.
Perusing that picture years later, I would say
it made my unshaven face -- gaunt on Elavil -- appear
like an apprentice to an anorexic werewolf.
Back in my kitchen, I reached for
the Miller High Life glass
but fumbled it and watched that vessel
from Woolworth’s shatter at my feet.
Then I went into the main room
and listened to my portable GE radio
while reclining in the green upholstered
easy chair I bought the August before.
A few weeks earlier, my girlfriend nodded off
on her anti-seizure medicine and burned
a hole in the arm rest with her cigarette.
The soft-rock station was playing Barry Manilow’s
“Trying to Get the Feeling Again” – soothing me
with its plaintive flute intro I had heard on
air plane headphones when I flew out here.
After my girlfriend and I broke up,
we swept aside the shards
of our downbeat time together by telephone.
Other friends from the day treatment program,
we were both in, would visit then
and we’d talk about Pink Floyd and paranoia.
Sometimes when I hear that Manilow song
unexpectedly, I see her and other faces
I knew when I first roamed these streets
under long, gray clouds like apparitions
above the forty-seventh parallel.
Turning Up the Debussy
My mother was heart drunk
with the Impressionists
with the Afternoon of the Faun
and the musicality of W.H. Auden
when he walked out one evening
into the Time haunted streets of Birmingham.
My father, on the other hand,
was inebriated with the Brooklyn Dodgers
and the cheers of Ebbets Field
that faded into history.
Then he rooted for every team
in the different cities we lived
and sat in a trance
before the televised play by play –
not noticing when mother slammed
an adjoining door
and turned up the Debussy.
Daydream and Shadow
After the Pledge of Allegiance,
the class sang “O’ Maryland, My Maryland,” –
our state anthem of hackneyed praise
set to the tune of “Oh, Tannebaum.”
And then we sat down to arithmetic
but I thought of peanut-butter cookies
waiting in the cafeteria
and my mind flew off
with the balmy, September sky
pouring through the windows
with a sun-lit haze of ADD
that scrambled the numbers of the lesson.
But my slightly taller shadow
whispered incognito: “follow
the instructions and finish;
that’s how you get along.”
Sometimes, a cold wind blew
down the coast from Sheep’s Head Bay
to the Chesapeake with rainy syllables
hectoring on Saturday mornings
when my father checked my math assignment
like an East Prussian pedagogue
in General Electric light.
Then I wanted to bolt
to the fair-weather recess fields
of Glendale Elementary
where I could play baseball
with my friends or go further
to a silent, vacant place
under the halcyon vault
that was the absence of my parents
and sing an epiphany of notes.
But then, my shadow-self arose
like voices from open windows
in a thousand Brooklyn apartment buildings
that chorused: “Your parents are looking for you.”
On a street corner, a pay phone rang.
I picked it up and heard:
“This is your father; your mother and I
have been worried sick about you.”
Ball Park Frankenstein
Maybe you’ve seen him in left field
during batting practice
shagging would be homers –
lumbering toward the white spheres
flashing out at him like lasers.
He likes it best when shadows
fall long and cool upon
the manicured green
to provide a peaceful haven
where his dread visage can’t be seen.
Made as he was from the cold flesh
of the dead, he will come
alive when the scoreboard
charges his brain with the electric
message that his team is ahead.
He used to work in concessions
carrying metal trays
of peanuts and root beer
but beneath a long-billed cap
his face always inspired fear.
He likes the rainy evenings
he spends on the ground crew,
rolling the tarpaulin
like a heavy shroud on base paths
under the liquid gray heavens.
For love of the game, he stays on
in this loud stadium –
a continual fright --
and can be an icon only
on Halloween bobble-head night.
See him far out in the bleachers
under a bucket hat,
drinking cheap red wine –
ball park Frankenstein.