• Vol. 03
  • Chapter 04
Image by

American Gothic

For God's sake, don't hand me

the pitchfork. I'll nestle instead

on the porch, by the geranium

that mimics those treetops ballooning

over the roof. The geranium,

that means, perhaps, incompetence

or friendship. Maybe both.

The geranium, the sweet scent

of which, I read somewhere,

resembles faintly the smell

of the ozone layer. Let me travel up

now, far from curtains and dentists,

through the simple stroke of a leaf―

a pioneer of the deficient,

piercing the clouds as I rise.

1

This Land

              This land’s so full of spikes like you wouldn’t believe. Saul broke earth this spring early and found rows of them, growing like dragons’ teeth under the thin soil.

              “Come out, Alice,” he yelled. “See this.”

              Then it was a lot of questions for me. Had I happened to drop them, while I was out walking so much? I said, now where would I get a handful of spikes like these from? They were two inches long, of a thin bright metal, no sign of rust. Much heavier than they looked. The blunt ends plain and the sharp ends enough to poke through a potato’s eyes with no resistance. I know, I did it at the kitchen table, after Saul was done trying to get his answers from me. Potato with spikes through it. It looked like some kind of witchcraft, so I pulled the spike out and threw the tater quick on the fire.

              He asked around the neighbours – each a half-hour drive away on the tractor – someone should know what the last leaseholders had been doing, if it was anything so strange. The neighbours said it was our land, our problem now. Saul tried to puzzle that one out a while.

              “They seemed like good folks,” he told me, “but they went cold when I mentioned the spikes. They wouldn’t even take a look at them.”

              “All of them the same way?” I asked.

              Saul looked to heaven, “Yes, all of them, like I said.”

              I was cleaning out the barn for the cattle coming. It was a fine place, no need of repair. But in the back there was a shelf, and on the shelf I found the spikes, raised up. Free standing like there was weights in the bottoms of each, but when I plucked one up, tried the same on the floor, I couldn’t find the balance. Read more >

2

Milk

I try to push through

to the pitcher of milk

that waits on the table

of the mourning house

 

but there is no

approaching the farmer;

his grip on the throat

of the pitchfork,

 

nor his solitary child;

a mute stockade

of unpainted fields

and deep buried bones.

3

Implement

To be born with a chin

so forlorn it’s a buttress against the neck

a night without sleep

            an Emily Dickinson impression

stubbornly held to; the kind that hopes

neighbours will remark            My! doesn’t she look a poetess

 

It was their compromise that the pitchfork

sit front in his hand, a whole fist

around its shoulders

with finger room for spare

            it was infidelity’s price

 

but how she loved its delicately

tripled tongue, the sharpness

of that humour

            off-set by its cleft - into

the wooden handle      that it was upright

and while directionless - aspirational -

Read more >
4

Gothic Telltale

Behind the agricultural frown are olden denim overalls. : The spectacled heron woos its paramour behind closed curtains.

Craning its long neck it remembers the sleeted wheat field. : Like a presaging raven portends the eventual sunset.

They age reluctantly. : Eyes open in voided obedience.

Faded and forked years are engrafted into the mona lisa background. : The whiteness of the American porch almost frightening.

5

Archaic Emoting

God bless the American Insurance system.
Think: you could get some new glasses,
a thicker pitchfork that doesn't buckle
from the weight of a corncob.
A real man's pitchfork.
A pitchfork to skewer the heart
of every liberal sceptic in the country.
I could get a new dress, finally.
Or a new man. Hardship has made me
easy that way. Let’s burn it all down, honey.
6

Pretzl

I will believe the Lord is good.
I will believe the land is kind.
I do believe the fruit will fall
if not picked first and where it falls
must be controlled for fallen fruit will
surely rot and rotten fruit will sour the lawn.

My husband knows the hand of God
and God himself has made it known
that we should pick the ripening fruit
and love and keep the seeds we've sown,
we've sown. The precious seeds we've sown.

The cellar doors have sturdy locks
the windows open just enough.
Enough to let His spirit blow and clean
and keep the darkness holy, holy.
The shade that breathes in there.
Our seed that breathes in there.

7

Prongs of Three

He stares ahead,
face wrinkled uniformly,
shirt mirroring the pattern of the prongs.
Garden pruned, woodwork washed
over the hauntings of gothic americana.
Hints of normality pushed aside,
the window shutters slammed shut. Woollen dress, so repressed
her life that could have been.
The prongs of three held steadfast amongst old time suburbia.
The air weighs heavy on his mind.
Where did it go so wrong?
8

Neurosity LXXXV: meditations on triangles in the early morning rain

dead leaves float free like emotions
with an equestrian discipline, cloistering
patterns of liquid hardness lightly aligned
with the borrowed warmth from your barefoot
contessa. the momentary solitude of mental
misfires hustle rational thought without furnishing
proper connecting dots in return. the way deer chat
on people’s lawns at dusk in your home town where
rivers flow in the wrong directions and smell like sulfur;
a town full of rawboned cows and crocked roads,
twenty churches and no bookstore to be found.
on your bed, you sprawl out restlessly thumbing
my words, allowing them to permeate your mind,
and decide that loneliness does not have to be absolute,
for now, even, just for now, but the physicality of words
is stale in comparison to the acute peppery-sweetness
of freshly chopped emerald basil. let me stay,
let me stay with the ease of watercolor
9

That’s Right, Ain’t It?

‘When I said, Defend the Faith, I didn mean what you did, you old fool. But you gone and done the worst thing a man can do, didn you? Jis because he didn agree with you. And you call it defendin the faith. Well it ain’t. And now you’s pretendin everthing’s all right, ain’t you? But I’s right beside you and I knows jis what you done. Even ifn you cleaned that pitchfork til it shines you ain’t gonna git away with nothin, cause I’s got you by the short and you-know-whats. Cause I knows your peculiarities.

‘You kin look all serious an sorrowful and like you’s no idea what I’s talking about, but you’s been and gone and done that awful thing and you’s goin to hell for it, donchu know it. So you stop starin out into the distance as if you’s all innocent as the day you’s born. You turn to me, your lawful wedded, and give me that damn’ pitchfork so’s I can do the necessary.

‘Tek them spectacles off, that’s right. Undo that collah stud, that’s right. Look me in the eyes. Straight on. Go on, stare at me, jis the way you’s been staring all day. Jis the way you musta stared when you done this god-awful thing, with that all-sorrowful, I-ain’t-done-nothin-but-what's-right look of yours. Well it ain’t gonna mek any diff’rence. Not now.

‘Watch me while I bend these prongs together, jis a bit. That’s right. You forgit I got some strength, didn you? All that log splittin and dough poundin. All that butcherin and tenderisn. There. Now, they’s jis the distance between your eyes, ain’t they? See that? Jis the distance. And if you’s worryin where that middle prong’s goin, there’s no need. I’s got the strength to plunge it between those sorrowfuls of yours. Easy.

‘Why’s you shakin? Divine Vengeance is acallin. You’s so busy cleaning them prongs you forgit to bury him proper. That’s right, ain’t it?’

10

The man who had no neighbours

‘No, I’m not a Hindoo,’ he said as he explained the picture on the bedroom wall and answered the question asked by the stranger who wanted to spend the night in his house, and then added, ‘and I am neither a farmer.’ Well, the house in the background too isn’t mine, he thought, but decided not to mention this. After all, if he started counting everything that wasn’t related to him, it would also mean the woman standing beside him, the pitch-fork, his clothes and even his stern and piercing look. Nothing was his and he knew this.

The stranger went on, ‘That weapon you’re holding is what the Hindoo Gods have in their hands. I can say this as I’ve seen plenty of pictures of these Gods.’ The stranger paused and then added, ‘And Goddesses.’

He remained silent for some time and then said, ‘Do I look like one those Gods in those pictures?’

‘The expression is quite like them,’ replied the stranger, ‘but I haven’t seen any of them as bald as you are.’

‘What’s the weapon called?’

‘It has a tri which is three and…’ the stranger paused as if squeezing the rest of the word out of some fold of his brain, ‘I think it was drool. No. it was school. Nah, can’t be that. Was something that rhymed with a fool.’

‘It is ok,’ he said, ‘it is enough to know that I resemble a Hindoo God.’

‘You also resemble someone who tried to molest my wife,’ began the stranger and he put his left foot on the rim of the bed on which he sat. The bed was next to the wall and he knew he couldn’t get off the other side. Read more >

11

Yokeland’s Best

“Babe, I want the bacon to be more crisp next time.”

“Yes dear.”

“And not just crisp around the edges. I want the entire strip of bacon to be uniformly crispy.”

“Yes, I’m sorry, of course ...”

“And the orange juice had too much sugar. If you can’t find oranges sweet enough to juice as is, added sugar isn’t the answer. Next time consider a different fruit. Grapefruits.”

“Certainly.”

“Pineapple maybe. You can add sugar to grapefruit or pineapple juice. But orange juice should be pure.”

“Then that’s what I’ll ...”

“Please, stop interrupting me. The pancakes were too dense. Did you beat the egg whites like I suggested?”

“I did, yes.”

“Well then you didn’t use enough baking powder.”

“I see.”

“Or the baking powder was past expiration. When was the last time you bought new baking powder?”

“Well, I’m not sure. I guess I’d have to ...”

“Just throw out the baking powder and pick up some fresh baking powder.” Read more >

12

Monsanto Ted Talk Plan

Develop, select, pay; register, analyze, define; survey, question, invite; winnow, weed, tier; reject, stalk, shade; budget, invite, manage, nag, deal; list, research, overestimate; borrow, beg, barter, pose: regionalize.

Engage, entice, excite; rope, follow, feel; group, tweet, skype; campaign, notify, email; prompt, invite, center: mythologize.

Register, check, brand; badge, bag, feel; stimulate, stream, flow, wow; hydrate, caffeinate, feed; enfold, squeeze, reap; network, interact, spam, engage. Curate. Satirize.

Take, get, upload; request, build, touch; keep, stay, engage; upload, spread, analyze; update, send, keep; stay, post, pay. Sleep, praise, litigate.

13

Land-bound Poseidon

This is where he makes his stand
Against any encroachment
From us, the outsiders
No point of entry

Trespassers beware

Trident in hand
He becomes a land-bound Poseidon
A tight-lipped sentry
Preparing to repel all invaders
Barricading his life behind
Closed curtains and closed doors

None shall pass

With his cameo consort at his side
As tight-lipped as he
They are proud in their defiance
Their rejection, of a world
In which they no longer fit
But here, it is we
Who are the strangers

And we are not welcome

14

Cameo

Sharp as metal eyesight
the iron fork is clean
as a collar-less shirt
denim dungarees
a starched pinafore
all those stern faces.
I bet if you pinched
their prayers, squashed
their long necks, tickled
the church spire that
the unsoiled couple
might contour a smile,
tis a human thing ain't it?
15

Pitchfork Justice.

I've told you before, they are not welcome here, Millicent.

They don't belong here with us, they are evil, foul creatures – not worthy of the name 'human.' They take liberties. They are other than us. They don't understand sensibility or sense.

Our lives by comparison, are pure, heartfelt, peaceful. There is no reason for us to change. We are innocent ones. Like finches nesting on the church – we are free. We are also free to plant grain and to sing songs of life and culture.

When you go to bed don't forget to pray for our souls, M. We are regular people, people who fear God and who are not afraid of His power.

Never forget – we are not like 'them.' We have no reason to feel guilty.

Your loving husband, P.

16

History of art

“What’s this?” you ask.

I take the sheet, two black and white photos, very cheaply printed. Are kids these days not entitled to a bit of colour?

“Oh, that’s American Gothic. And the other one looks like it’s by the same guy.”

“Gothic, like the ones in town?”

I smile. “No, not like them.”

I hope you won’t ask me to explain it properly. Once upon a time I would have been able to, would have been totally clued up. But that time has gone.

You don’t ask. You just give the paper a last scrutinise, brown wrinkled. Then you abandon it and run off. It falls to the floor like a feather.

I sit, overcome with a sudden heavy feeling, a kind of exhaustion but not a throw-your-hands-in-the-air one. A quiet one. My eyes slump shut, the paper blurring white and then disappearing into blackness.

Pictures jog across my vision. A Renoir-esque scene featuring a bunch of happy young things in a boat, the river green and the sky cloudless. A Mona Lisa, smiling but with that sideways, distant look, holding a scroll. Van Gogh fields with a swirly sky and a young woman wandering, attracted by the storm, by such blinding, flickering blue. Dali dream sequences, faces distorted, the world all the wrong colours and shapes and reality becoming further and further away and then – Guernica. The town bombed. Children screaming. Read more >

17

Aging in Place

It’s time to leave the man alone.
He’s getting old, his wife says.
He’s really slowing down.

He’s always been a man
occupied with one thing
or another.

No half way with him.
Now he finds harmless things
just to please the wife.

Three packs a day he smoked,
drank a pint every night, then
quit both for her.

Stopped chasing women too
when a widow nuts as him
called the wife.

All he does is weed
their garden beds and lawn
four seasons of the year

with the wife upstairs
at every window
keeping an eye on him.
Read more >

18

This is this and not that

Why people cannot see what this is and why they waste. It's a matter of liberty and the few things I have I have of my own sweat as it mixed there with my tools, the things I make and do with my ends. She says - when she sits down with me at the table after making food with her own hands - she keeps saying "we have what we have and they take it. I never wanted more than what was fair and I don't want to think about it. Not one bit."

As for me, I get up at the same time as ever and I do things careful and there it is. This is the thing, I got my end handled and why it's not working out? It's not on me. I'm not scared. I am full. Full up to my eyeballs. I don't want to make a deal. I don't want any more anything but I do want what's fair. It's got to stop. They have to stop. It's too much and I am full.

19

From One Man to Another

Yours is the face I recognise
Among a thousand fat-assed kings,
Drunk poets, wig-topped wankers and
I-know-you-did-last-year Christs.

I hold my broom to match your pose.
I have more hair than you. Har har.
No glasses, too. I'm fatter, though.
I wish my belly wouldn't grow.

These people never understand
How life is for the likes of us.
Their hands are good for dollars, dicks
And danishes but that is it.

We know the way of callouses,
And dreams that fade to darkness but
What did you dream of, buddy? Sir?
About how you had married her?

20

Stay Steady

The found her body by Forkfly Bridge, folded in two on the riverbank, a dismantled easel: limbs all over the place.

“She’s Bill Nightwalk’s girl,” the sheriff said, as he flipped her like a catfish, and she turned to face him: blue eyes clear as truth, hair draped round her neck like a lady’s choker, arms and legs marked by a mutter of bruising. A whisper that ended in silence.

“Who murdered her?” they cried that night: the man from-out-of-town in the idle suit, the fat bachelor drunk in the bar, the four-eyed kid in the steaming backyard, the greasy-haired mother by the too-hot kitchen stove, the bitter pin-thin lady at the Laundromat where Betty Nightwalk came to wash her clothes; A-line skirts, nylon blouses and cotton underwear. No nonsense. Betty was a bank clerk, a plain-faced girl, Bill and Annie Nightwalk’s only child.

Sheriff was the one to tell the family. Travelled to a dirt sprung farm, twenty miles from town. A journey so dry his tongue forgot to speak. Said words like a shot dog, a burnt house, a revolution:

“Betty’s dead.”

When he left, Bill took his pitchfork. He walked out of his house into a silence that swallowed the horizon, ate everything that had ever come before.

“Stay steady,” Annie said, “stay steady.”

21

“Beautiful Day, Sheriff!”

Ma couldn't help but nervously glance in the direction of the police cruiser pulling up the driveway.

Pa, on the other hand, stood stoic, steely eyed, and unflinching.

Ma worried they might have come with a warrant in hand.

Pa knew there was no way in hell he was going to allow those prying swine in HIS house, warrant or no warrant.
Inside their quaint, unassuming, farm house, the pile of bodies was still warm.

Back to back draughts and the two years of failed crops that accompanied them, mixed with the possibility of losing the farm that had been in their family for three generations. This had taken its toll on the two.

Pa had concocted a country-bumpkin conspiracy theory - he blamed the continual bad luck on the farmhands that showed up looking for work.

Ma and Pa were kind enough to give the guys a job when they appeared at their door after hoping off a freight train, but their tempers slowly boiled over as task after task turned into disaster.

Everything these guys touched turned to shit.

Pa began to think that the hobos were sent there by the bank to ensure they lost the farm.

Earlier in the day, Jimbo, the worthless worker/hired saboteur, ran the tractor into a culvert out in the field, rendering it useless. Pa had had enough.
Read more >

22

My Name is Dominika

If my icy stare startles your pitiful glare,
it's because of my empty living tomb -
My internal eternal gloom.

Let my lily-white complexion not divert
your eyes from my shameful family
connection – As his pursed determined
lips harden with each painful grip.

If my Siberian glinting orbs conjure up
tales of icy warmongering wars, then
drown in my lifeless fading frown -
As we guard this forlorn beastly town.

Don't be fooled by the pristine homely
ordinary facade, rather try to hear my
beaten beating bleating bleeding heart -
For my traditional pristine pressed dress
hides his painful camouflaged cursed
carnivorous caress – Each daily chore
ends with his vodka vomiting lustful
roar, this beast whose once saintly
heart is no more.
Read more >

23

American Gothic

Everything points to heaven,
roof finial and ridge tiles,
arched window centred
on the clapboard house’s face,
porch pillars, modestly turned,
the woman’s hair, pinned
to make a steeple of her brow,
twin furrows above her nose,
ric rac binding her apron’s neck,
peak after peak after peak,
the pitchfork’s three prongs
in the lofty man’s firm grip.
The peep holes of his spectacles.
The black holes of his eyes.
24

The Upstair Neighbors

The daddy must be gnawing at the bones
of the mommy who coos, coos and coos
over the crying baby who makes a boo-boo, like all nocturnal families

do, oh they do, don't they, they do

the clunkity-clunk, the yakity-yak,
and the bibbidi-bobbidi-boo,
the happy rigadoon and a mouse at two

in the half-moon bedroom. I'm running out of
sleeping capsules, my tricolored silencio!
Red, white and bright starry blue. Saviors of America.
I mean, insomnia. No, really, I do
mean my nebulous wakefulness
at half past two.

Tell me what I should do, do, do
to stop my roof from – boom! boom! -
falling down. The woeful spinster clomps, clomps, clomps

clomps down on my papery skull. Why wouldn't she take off
her wooden shoes? Is she masking the echoes

of the owls' raucous hoots?

Up, up, up
into the reddening sky
I see them go.

They are all in cahoots!

25

A Garden of Beauty

Hank took his pitchfork and turned the soil. Insects and pebbles came to the surface while flies buzzed in his face.

“Will you remove those spectacles; you’re going to knock them clear off your face,” Hank’s wife Mary said from the front porch.

“Do I tell you how to cook? Go back inside and take that cameo off your blouse. You shouldn’t be wearing that in the house. I gave that to you to wear on special occasions.” He wiped the sweat from his face and sighed.

“Like we ever have any special occasions. It might as well sit in the box then.”

“Oh, go cook some dinner and leave me alone so I can tend to the garden. I do this for you, you know. I could have one of the neighbor’s sons do this instead of me breaking my back.” He touched his lower side and grunted.

“Yeah, like you’d pay someone to do gardening. That’s a laugh.” Mary tapped her knee and chortled.

“Don’t you have to cook dinner? Go inside and make stew or some other horrible dish that makes my stomach churn.”

“Keep it up and you’ll be eating outside with the cows tonight.” Mary slammed the door behind her.

Hank shook his head and continued with his work. After he finished with the soil, he pulled some weeds and planted a few yellow marigolds and pink begonias. His back ached, his knees throbbed and he was thirsty, but he stood tall in his blue trousers, filthy with dirt, and admired his small garden of flowers. He hoped Mary would appreciate it.
Read more >

26

A Modern Interview

"Are those glasses real?"
"What do you mean, 'real'?"
"You know, like, are they lenses?"
"Yes."
"..."
"Why wouldn't they be?"
"Because other people wear them without lenses."
"Do they?"
"Are they Dior?"
"No."
"Where did you get them from?"
"The thrift store."
"Really? Cool! Where's that?"
"Not really, I got them from Hank's Opticians."
"Oh. I like your dressing gown. It's very 'now'."
"It's a jacket."
"I see. Sorry. I can't see below your waist."
"Probably a good thing."
"What's that?"
"A pitchfork."
"Oh cute! Do you work on the city farm? I heard they do a great vegan breakfast."
"No, I have my own small holding."
"Like an allotment? That's so sweet. I've always wanted one of those. I like your dungarees."
"Thanks. I have seven pairs of these."
"Are they different colours?"
"No."
Read more >
27

The Guardians

Hardware store's clean out of fiery swords
so my good old fork will have to do
to guard, at God's behest, our garden gate
from sinners and all uninvited guests.
(It also makes a handy-dandy tool
for opening a can of worms).

It falls to her, meanwhile, to bake
the fruits of all these labours into pies
according to the family recipe.
Perfect prizewinners every time,
they scream when she cuts them.

28

Trinity

We were born and brought up on this land. Our roots have been here for always. Back and back – our tree grew, inked in the front of the family bible. The book got swept away in the great flood, along with Grandpa and half our steers, I can remember it clearly.

We married young.

Seasons and years turned by, births and deaths, the sun always rose again. Crops grew, crops failed; one step sideways, one step back. With the clash of metal on stone, we dug our tears and our seed into the ground.

Pain and joy – the earth took all, twisting and queering our efforts.

Perhaps we might have migrated, but our roots were deep and entwined and we had been there too long. With no stone to step towards, we endured.

We became worn.

Sweat and tears grooved our faces. We weathered. Rain and sun bleached out our clothes and skin, and the wind blew the very fat from our bones.

Our marriage is a pitchfork, the middle tine stabbed into the dust so far, that we twist and turn in the earth’s breath. Together, we married the land – an unequal trinity, until the end.

29

Haul

They said he had crazy eyes, I didn’t
stand a chance at normalcy

but the gothic veneration of the air
that circled his head

the aura over the unnatural
that he exuded control

there was something about him;
his eyes didn’t comfort me like a lover –

they stirred my threshold of stability –

I could wear my prudence right up
to my neck and clench my chest
in corsets from alarm

his superficial glance at my face
would set off;

fantasies of his deft, warm fingers
around my restrained neck

I’d wonder how true his arms were
to the muscle of pitching and tossing;

wearing his heirloom medallion
on my collar like a nun from a harem,
Read more >

30

American Gothic

Holding the morning on the prong of a pitchfork
isn't as easy as it looks. That sudden spring
throwing its weight around, these shadows
of house on the lawn like a broken church.
I know no art but the rake, unearthing straw
by the barn, a festering gold buried under old rain.
God help me, I find my life there, flashes
of the woman I once hand fed raspberries, shrouded
by age. Bun the colour of sackcloth, she approaches,
all wife, whatever she wanted buttoned to her throat.
She sidesteps nibs of daffodils like painter's brushes
wrapped in brown paper, and simply watches me
compost. This man with a rake, dragging
his shadow closer again and again on Groundhog Day.

31

Playing Games

They don't always hold so still,
only when someone looks their way.
Close your eyes and listen
to the pinch of her fingers
on his chin, how his lips
crack and twist like barley sugar.

The handle thumps her foot, chipping
sequins from her thrift store sneakers,
and if you look again you'll see
tears pooled in the corners of her eyes,
how he presses on the handle,
how she can't quite stop her trembling chin.

32

O Master, you shall pay!

It’s such an odd thing to lose
Time has come to give Master some blues.
How dare he put the blame on me?
So easily he asked me to be on my knee.

How he forgot the service of all these years?
He made me cry and gave only tears.
How he yelled before his clan the other day?
I promise you dear, for what he did, I’ll make him pay!

The way you served everyone in the house
Be it his mistresses or his spouse.
The line was crossed when he tore away your blouse
I still can’t believe he’s such a rude louse!

I begged him, I pleaded him, I even prayed
He promised for mercy and then betrayed
One day his body will be decayed
I’ll destroy him and the message shall be conveyed.

Using my instrument, we’ll kill him first
For that’s the only way, to quench away my thirst.
We’ll bury him down and then get dispersed
Nobody shall know of our act done unrehearsed!

33

The New Gothic: Marriage

We resist
the pull of time;
resist being
too weak a word.
How easily
we fell in
love; as easy
as hitting
the floor. Dust
crawling by—
shed skin
reanimating
itself—across
exposed wood.
There is so much
work waiting
to be done.
We’ll get to it.
Just keep staring
straight ahead.
34

We Picked a Bad Time

She has come from the kitchen
(still in her pinafore)
to join him. He has pulled on
his coat, dignity enough
to meet whoever we might be:
company or intruders.

His eyes are fixed on me; I
shift position awkwardly
to ease the discomfort
of his piercing, rock-sharp
stare, but I cannot shift

enough to shake them
loose. In the periphery
of my vision, I escape
to wonder at the perfection
of the tiny stitches, each
precisely the same length,

that fix the strip of white
rickrack to the top of her
brown pinafore so that it
lies flat against the somber
black of her everyday-best
Read more >

35

Sweet Home Chicago

Jayden’s slumped on the bench staring at his feet when Mrs Jacobsen sits down beside him.

‘So, what do you think?’ she asks him.

She means about the painting. Jayden’s slumped in front of ‘American Gothic’ but he can’t make eye contact with it and I can’t say I blame him.

You know the painting, right? The guy with the pitchfork? There’s some serious tight-lipped weirdness going on in that painting, especially when you see it up close. It’s why Jayden can’t look at it. Neither can I.

Anyway, he says nothing to Mrs Jacobsen, just shrugs and makes a little grunting sound that’s barely audible.

The sort of answer the guy in the painting might give if you were to ask him how things were going.

‘Good harvest this year, McKeeby?’

‘Muh.’

Mrs Jacobsen pats Jayden on the shoulder.

‘Well, just write down whatever comes into your head. Go with your gut and see what you come up with.’

Jayden nods and looks up at the painting, but I can tell he’s looking past it at the wall.

When Mrs Jacobsen leaves I go over and sit beside him.
Read more >

36

Farmers Almanac

House like a church. Dour. Ribbed. Centered between these two corn-fed Iowans. Man in overalls and his Sunday best. A hard man. Look at his mouth. Woman in apron and cameo. Look at her shadowed eyes. Imagine the bedroom. The bed. Does she wash the sheets often? Maybe. Notice the one escaping tendril from her bun. Notice the barn. Barely there. What does that say? Ask yourself, whose hand is on the pitchfork?
37

On the Psychology of Quantum Mechanics

So many sighs, those pitchfork smiles
from “farmers of physics,”

there’s much uncertainty about these mechanics,
though someone said, God doesn’t throw dice!

However, I say that the whole prospect
of mining the field is suspect, a huge gamble.

Like some people I know, every particle
of substance suffers schizophrenia.

One moment it’s a wave, the next, a particle
bouncing off walls. I didn’t know that

studying bipolars might make me manic. Still

there’s nothing gigantic about quantum leaps,
just discreteness of encounters.

38

American Gothic

They were made of stern stuff, the Flemish masters. No smiling in those portraits. Immortality was a serious thing. Everything was painted in the light of eternity, even lemons on a plate and still life studies of bread and cheese.

Grant Wood saw the rolling fields of the heartland, black dirt rich from retreating glaciers produced such plenty, too, before fields dried up in the dust bowl, and tears fell on bank foreclosures.

In the American galleries in the Art Institute of Chicago, you will find American Gothic, by Grant Wood. The man and woman stand together in that painting on the wall. You have seen it before. It is so familiar, you can't remember when you saw it for the first time. You have seen it, but not really seen it. It looks like an old painting, from the 1800s maybe, but it was painted in 1930. It is painted in the light of eternity and the Great Depression. There is a seriousness. These people stand their ground.

Today, people come to the museum from all over the world. "Where's the farmer?" they ask. It is one of the most frequently asked questions. They want to see the famous painting by Grant Wood. Everyone sees something different. They want to know what it means.

In the gift shop, there are many versions of this image – mugs and postcards, note cards, prints and posters. There are books on the art of Grant Good. Maybe the visitor will buy a postcard, or a magnet, a memento of this place, their visit to the city, gleaming by the lake. They will take the magnet home to Saint Louis or Paris. They will put it on their refrigerator, where it will secure a shopping list or a child's drawing – a house, and a family, with a cat and a dog.

39

Bloody Where the War Is Waged

It’s OK to scowl
when things ain’t right
with the world

No fake cheese
for the camera
in the cornfields

I’ve got a weapon
you’ve got a weapon
we’ve all got weapons
so let’s go to war

It’s the only rational
proclamation
for a Puritan
dressed up on Sunday
in a tight-buttoned
sun-splashed hallelujah

parted straight
down the middle
of a blood red sea
ready to spill...
everywhere

40

Abe the Storyteller

Of course, it would have to be his idea; he liked knowing what others could only guess at. Abraham was like that; he liked to play games.

Just the other day, he asked Mary Miller over; such a plain, dowdy and simple creature with mud-brown hair and cloud-grey eyes. Recently turned thirty and still a spinster.

I was particularly annoyed with Abe showing Mary our vegetable patch like that, talking about it as though it had won first prize at the county fair. There weren’t many vegetables to show, just rows of shoots pushing their leafy heads through the recently ploughed earth.

Of course I knew the reason for the slow growth of our vegetable patch. (Thankfully Abe kept this little nugget of knowledge to himself.)

I studied Mary Miller’s expression from the kitchen window; she wasn’t sure what Abe was showing her. Bless her little cotton socks. She nodded politely and listened to the great storyteller feeding her lie upon lie upon lie.

After she left, Abe came inside and poured himself a glass of cold lemonade.

‘So, what did you say to her?’

He didn’t look at me. Instead he took a long gulp of lemonade and wiped his mouth on the back of his hand.

‘Nothing important Lizzie, so there’s no need to worry.’
Read more >

41

Refused portrait sitting

In tradition there's safekeeping
in lordly fear the meek may yet thrive.
Fasting for austerity, neatness in all
manner of goodly godliness.

Engage ye must in pitched battle with
the wicked's work... purest living against infidels
has need of ready buttresses. Shoring up all
walls with faith, persistently.

One prong for every three wrong
delivered with forked-tongue.
There is no time, leisurely, to smile sitting
- even less for trivialities.

The land inherits all souls after harvest.

42

Our Home

We cleaned the place before the cleaners came
Not wanting them to sense the slob
Our hearts had became

Our home lingers over us,
Like a spaceship that owns us.
We stand under its spell as ornaments
Needing a good dusting

We watch quiz shows in the day
And the news each night
Simultaneously keeping us fearful
Of outsiders winning our jackpots
Or raping the kids we forgot to make

We’re the fork in the road
That scares destiny away
‘Leave us alone,’ you scream
To the wind blowing the scarecrow’s hair

Our minds are crippled by routine
If anything alien comes between
We will make sure to vomit it clean

Remember, without hope there’s only fear
And without humans, guns remain aimless

43

Anamosa, IA

When I was seven the
neighbors across the street
scared me. They
kept to themselves most
of the
time. They
had no kids,
no nearby kin,
no car,
no criminal records,
no
nothing.

He would
sit
on the porch, rocking
back and
forth
in his chair as his
bones cooked
in the sun. She would
stare from
behind intricate stained-
glass windows, gritting her
shark teeth to tiny
nubs against the
sill.
Read more >

44

Her Comic Valentine

She's on her knees, hands bunched beneath chin, eyes shut. Muttering.

He can't drag his gaze from the fields outside, rows of brittle brown. Don't matter what she asks for, crops are charred.

He takes a stick to Samuel, beating like the sun. Says he'll knock sense into the lad, but all she sees are ticks on ticks, stammers and fits. And falling down. And still he blames her God.

Next year, only the harvest spills across his hands; their girls nudge and pinch through grace, on a rare day spared of chores.

She consents to stand beside him, between meals, whilst a likeness is sketched.

The artist frowns, something's off: bring a pitchfork, he says.

45

Cumin of Agen

'Glanhd don't no messin' no - he tells er stright in thee cumin of Agen,' Frabd said, all beemso and pleesed. Lil shiften and sqkern, the cait's needles were duggin in right and true into her leig.

'Missy doen't do thit, thows sharps wuld maken the waater comes in at bathin' tyme.' Lil put Missy downe inter box-box but she'en cud never stay her place. Frabd pointed duwn at Lily's beluw spacen.

'Dos it hurtend? I member myne, fair red spurtin' hadta catched it in a pan-pan - Ma luked at me lik shesa gonie cooker-it up for dins!' Frabd chucked and squyer louder, Lil red-dener n cheiks. Dullen acke groins and a spotten knick-knucks wasna new, but shein ne'er tolden Glanhd or Planhd efore. Frabhd clappen and chucked seeing Glanhd and Planhd druking the paff towards they twoen. Lil fayre winken and fained at seein the three-sharpen stedl in Planhd's pinks and the blanken bare-ace of Glanhd.

46

A DARKER WOOD

She glares her distaste and anger
Into the back of his right pinna:
Emotions of the model
Encroaching on the character.
She doesn’t like dentists.

Artist slouches behind the easel:
Canvas concealing his grinning face
As wry he reproduces
Each crease of her disapproval.
Adds mother-in-law’s tongue

To porch of Carpenter Gothic:
Borrowed pretentiousness he mirrors –
Pitchfork in uncalloused hands;
Potted Med and African plants;
Starched suit on dungarees…
On beaverboard.

47

They are gone far

they are gone far
out of this country
out of this county
our children are gone

to reach the metropolis
they left their mother
to gain a new patriotism
they left their father

they are gone far
to forgot about farms
to find a new warm house
no more wheat
no more straw

there is no sweat
on their foreheads
there are no scars
on their hands

the ground is left
and so the wound
and the ancient traditions

but we will wait
we will stay here
working with hands
sweating with foreheads
Read more >

48

Mourning Ms Pyrex

Let's give Ms Pyrex
something to remember
something to take home with
as she journey peacefully to yonder

Let's give her something
to look at and say
I was here

The grave indeed is a fine place to be
and I wish Mr Pyrex
had had enough money to call in a gold hearse
but drought visited his farm
and his wealth travelled with the wind

Let's give Ms Pyrex something
to remind her that her struggle to keep the house in order
was not in vain
as she goes straight to the throne of grace singing
Hosanna
glory unto the lamb

Let's give her something
to give her hope
Read more >

49

Simple is Not Enough

Simple folk, with simple beliefs, simple habits
and simple lives.
Hard working, God fearing, narrow minded and
often cold blooded.
To live a life so closed and empty of human warmth
must be so soul destroying.
Living by your principles and your delusions.
There has to be more,
There is more,
You could have so much more.
A life that is fulfilling.
A life that contains warmth of human feelings
and love.
Reach out!
Drop your pitch fork and principles,
Grasp a life you are missing out on.
Before it is too late.

50

Gothic Guignol

The pitchfork’s pale/the church is paler
faces steely, occult violence/palest still
all gothic grimness in the American shale

you can see how the overtmurderousness
can spill and then refill,
these are not undertones of unintended massacre

this is an undivined madness
a cult of deadening souls
determined to be devoted to excess

so why do we love its expressiveness
the death upon death and death
of the destroyer zealot-a'-threatess

the warrior queen Kali the skull-wearer
who loves her man-o'-god
the battleship bully with Poseidon's rod

why do we hail them
these quasi-sacred Shiva shems
perhaps just apothegms

why don’t we name them/not myth
trump and bush and hoover
jefferson and his Monticello slaves

doyens of depraved democracy
why don’t we shame them
these acolytes of a-dolts and the reichs?

51

Nobody’s Dream

Two people pitchforked into,
A world of endless work,
Joy and love bleached out,
Worn and faded with drudgery,
Toiling, day after day,
To make ends meets,
To feed a family, created in love,
But raised on,
Home grown produce and sacrifice,
No Gothic horror can compare,
With the haunting, ghostly fear,
Of hunger and homelessness,
A spectre forever on the horizon,
Shoulder to shoulder,
With grim determination,
They face adversity,
Sharing, forever, always together,
The humdrum and eternal human nightmare.

52

We won’t sell

I don't know when he balded, it must have been a while. When we married, he still was a kind man, good-hearted and of hopeful spirits. That was before the crisis, as the paper calls it. I do not complain, we are getting along. There is work for two other men on the farm, the boys learn the word of God every Sunday afternoon.

As far as I can think, times have never been easy around here, but we wouldn't worry, wouldn't allow sorrow in our honest home. The Lord may lead us, he used to say. Now he speaks of rougher times, I see them deepen the lines down his cheeks and his chin. We don't sell a peck of wheat for what we used to.

The Bickermans have given up, he groans, sold their land to the corporation. What's a man without his land, he shouts, where should he live? We won't sell, I calm him, as he's forcing a laugh. We've tilled this land in four generations, we won't sell. Let the boys learn a profession, we can endure.

We are getting older, he objects, harsh fingers rubbing his forehead. Yes, we always have, and we've always strived. It is a new time, a new land. Let the boys learn, we will settle with what we have. We won't sell.

53

Impressions

Express lunch tomorrow, pitchfork confit pork belly, green papaya, curry sauce pitchfork,
but you probably knew that?
I just bought pitchfork tickets to a pitchfork fuc*ing Tame Impala concert in Israel,
but you probably knew that.
It’s not pitchfork hard to be ahead of pitchfork in the music game,
but you probably knew that?
Jon Bunch pictured pitchfork center,
but you probably knew that.
Pitchfork news: Matmos share pitchfork psychedelic Excerpt Three,
but you probably knew that?
Watch the trailer for pitchfork Don Cheadle's Miles Davis pitchfork film,
but you probably knew that.
Big Boi pitchfork announces year-long Las Vegas pitchfork residency,
but you probably knew that?
Bernie Sanders ends Iowa Caucus speech with David Bowie's Starman pitchfork,
but you probably knew that.
Sicko Mobb pitchfork drop Super Saiyan pitchfork,
but you probably knew that?
Pitchfork sick of watching George con my fellow hard working Albertans with pitchfork guru-isms,
but you probably knew that.
Some pitchfork smoked shoulders and cardio at courtesy of pitchfork the deer,
but you probably knew that?
Read more >

54

What will the neighbours say?

This is the last straw for Mary.
He knows it, too.
They stand there anyway, the semblance of innocence.
It won't last.
Word gets out like it always does.
Even when nobody ever says anything.
People used to smile when they walked by.
Now, steel eyes send shivers.
Still, they stand firm.
She smiled actually, once.
It was like a rainbow under a waterfall.
Not built to last.
Words aren't spoken in this house.
As if meaning didn't matter; only doing.
The turning over of hay.
Until the last straw.

55

GRANITE

Granite.
That’s what he reminds me of.
Hard. Inflexible. Implacable.
She’s only a child, I plead.
Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child,
And the rod of correction will drive it away.
His stoic response.
Her eyes water as it dawns on her.
He will never forgive me will he, Ma?
I wring my hands and speak again.
At least let her in.
Let her put her feet up,
And have a cup of tea.
She looks terribly weary.
His grasps his pitchfork tighter
And my heart constricts.
If I cannot reach him with my words,
Then all is lost, for my hands have lost their touch.
Her belly heaves as she backs away,
Sobs echo from deep within.
Her hands reach out to steady herself,
As she staggers down the unpaved path.
I have no more tears left.
I utter pleas no longer.
For what difference would it make?
He is what he is.
Granite.

56

post-what?

all the bits collected,
gathered up. the waste is the environment now
and remnants of life are the thrown away left-overs.

 

washed and polished, artists bundle them together, or
create little pieces of reclaimed
realness from how the world once was.

 

here we are. the penultimate existence.
sculptures of nature,
rotting.
57

Forks

Forks are sometimes

other peoples' daughters -

other peoples' daughters

turned into forks.

Forks that stand with

parents for a photograph,

prongs raised up like hallelujah.

58

Cameo

This is going to sound weird, she said, the first time
I met her. I have a photo of me at that age
and we look exactly the same. We were the same
age, so it was reasonable, given
fashions, that our childhood photographs would share
a look; two eight-year-old girls would share
some resemblance in the 80s. The only difference was,
I was cradling my baby brother
in the photograph, she was about to marry him.
But it was God's will. Same as it was
God's will when they moved into my house
until they could find a place together.
And it was God's will I slept in the lounge
so that they could have my bedroom,
her coming down with her hair
disheveled, like she owned the place. His
will we were at each others' throats.
But now I think, thank God
she came between us to save me
from fraternity.
59

Harvest

there were the lean
years, wrecked
nights, fevered
infants, blighted
fields, harrying
winds, we grew
twinned, slender
as needles, abraded
then smoothed,
upright as oaks,
silent as drapes,
my heart breathes
a hum that you,
sympathetic tine,
vibrate in reply
a ventricle beat,
a rod against
the lightning.
60

FREEDOM

We are not to be distracted or negotiated with.

We are settled in our utility.

 

If you have come here to broaden our minds,

With your questions and your silence doing the work,

 

You will feel something you did not expect.

You will carry away the marks on your skin.

 

What did you think we were going to say?

Look at us. Look around you. This is it,

 

My friend, the point you turn around,

Go home to spread the word of our welcome.

 

We want to share it with everyone.

We want to teach the world our ways.

 

We are done with being alone.

We are done with being alone.

61

American Gothic

Unspeakable, the past,

but he won't be here long.

Yellow as an old quince

and she knows why.

He's got the shakes

and she knows why,

But the pitchfork helps.

Malice clutches her heart.

Sundays are hard,

church is hard.

but she hasn't got long to wait now.

62

My wife is Althaea

Yes sir, we live right here in Hayesville Iowa.

Lived here all our lives, never ever left the State.

Travis... and my wife is Althaea.

Met at school, so long times now.

Sure, we saw them posters and heard a lot on the radio.

No sir, we never had no television.

Republican all our lives.

No sir, Caucuses ain’t for plain folk like us.

We just finished toasting some marshmallows.

63

Acts of Silence

I watch you look at me. Your eyes say nothing that I will respond to. I am a student of your pupils so in this knowledge of the unseen we are equal.

I feel her eyes swivel with the choking of suppressed speech that is not kindness, regret, pity or even indecision. She taught me the word inchoate. Her carefully punctuated not-looking sprung between my words from my offset. When she folded the clothes of rebellion without comment. As she counted the lashes of punishment without numbers, whilst mentally choosing the menus of reflected choking that surged from my mouth in silence. When she was made into you.

See your eyes. See her eyes. I cannot use my eyes to unsee the unsaid. I cannot speak to puppets or mime artists even if I can understand the artifice, translate the gestures. We share the same lips. Thinly disguised as family bonds. Invisible assertions of nothing. For you can look and not look and still I will not speak.

64

Burn

The artist suggested her husband hold a pitchfork: the artist wanted to paint a portrait of authentic hard working people. She fetched her husband’s pitchfork from the barn, but before she carried it out she scrubbed away the rust.

She prickled with delight when the artist positioned them beneath their arched window. Asked to find a comfortable position she placed her calloused hands against her black dress, underneath her apron. It suited her husband to be silent while the artist painted: since their daughter died from the fever her husband only spoke in his sleep.

As she stood in the heat she heard horns crack through dry skull bone.

That night, upstairs, her husband stripped to the waist, scrubbed the dirt that wasn't there. She raised the pitchfork and beat his arms and back. Moments later she guided him to the chair, bathed the welts in cool water by the light of the arched window.

Downstairs she snapped the pitchfork across her legs. Her face burned as the wood spat and the spikes blackened in the fire.

65

Common Sense

Her father had always said
one must look forward, not back,
and with steady eyes,
bearing the facts in mind, and probabilities,
making a plan and a second plan,
putting a little aside for tomorrow,
wasting and wanting not—
and although one stray
lock curled often out towards
what was not
(some romantic dream)
nevertheless she did her duty as was proper,
combed her hair and kept the house and tried faithfully
to take no thought for today.
66