Friday, January 14, 2011

Everybody and His Uncle by Ron Padgett

You know what is a great magazine? The Sienese Shredder is what. This Ron Padgett poem is from their first issue, published in 2006. I feel like I've been leasing a room in this poem for the past year. "total illusion/and total reality at the same time" = YES


I was waiting to happen.
At a stoplight
the buildings curved up from my ears,
office buildings
with offices in them and people
doing office things, pencils
and paper clips, telephone rings—
Where is that report?
At Echo Lake the vacationers
have made the city only slightly
emptier, how did they get there?
By station wagon and dogsled
in the “old” days. The forest ranger
was Bob. He said we could spell his name
backwards if we wanted, then
our laughter vanished into his tallness.
I thought maybe he was not a forest ranger,
just a guy named Bob, but
it turned out he was part of the echo
of everything around there, which radiated
out a few short miles before the farmland set in.
The farmland had waited to happen
and then it did, just as it knew it would.
A farmhouse appeared and a front porch
and on it sat my Uncle Roy. He was very farmer.
Get on this horse, he said.
But the horse said, Don’t.
I would prefer to play baseball, I said.
Later we took Rena Faye to the hospital.
Darn that horse, Roy said, when his ears
laid back I saw trouble. The light changed,
my shoes went across the street
while I rose straight up into the high part of the air
so as to form a right angle
with the dotted line that lit up behind my shoes
as they turned into pots of gold
receding into that smaller and smaller thing
we call distance. But I was already there
in the distance, I had been waiting my whole life
to be wherever I should be at any given moment,
a ring around not anything. Wake up, Rena Faye,
said Roy, we need to take you to the hospital.
She gave us the most beautiful smile
but it bounced off our faces and we forgot
to pick it up and put it somewhere safe.
It’s probably still lying there on the road
in front of the house. Come to think
of it, I did pick mine up
as I looked out the back window of the car,
and as we skirted Echo Lake
everything got twice as big and then three times,
like laughter and hiccoughs flying among children
whose immortality has turned them
into temporary rubber statues of curvature in confusion
that slides into the appeasement of early evening.
That is, Rena Faye felt better, at least she was able
to know there was a bump on her head, and inside
the bump a small red devil running furiously in place.
Rena Faye is going to be okay, said Roy,
but I wasn’t so sure, there was a doctor involved
and a hospital with a lot of white in it.
The house hadn’t changed, but the barn
was gone and the land stretched out flat
to far away. The horse was still waiting, for what
who knows? I was waiting at the light, and when it changed
I went on across the street
to where another part of town was waiting,
it was Europe and I was in or on it,
I had Europe touching my foot, the train
was pointing its big nose toward the Gare St-Lazare,
where you wake up even if you aren’t asleep.
Rena Faye opened her eyes and said, “I don’t think . . .”
and then a funny look
came across the street toward me, the one big horrible face
of surging forward, but I was like whatever bends
but doesn’t break because I didn’t give a whit about any of it,
I was in the forest and my name was almost Bob and the trees
didn’t care about any of it either because tallness can’t care.
Roy wasn’t really my uncle, we just called him that.
When the sun rose his new picture window could be seen through
to the lone mimosa tree, its pink blossoms smiling frizzily,
and a car went by, not a Chevrolet or a Ford,
not a green or blue car,
just a car, with a person driving it. My notebook
and its pencils were ready to go and I
moved toward them as if music had replaced the sludge
we call air. I.e., Swiss cheese had become gruyère.
The car started, then rolled back and stopped.
We got out and looked, then kicked ourselves. Moon,
is that what that is, that sliver? I was thinking,
the car was not thinking, my pencils were almost thinking,
all three of them, but they took too long and so
time went on ahead without them.
Then an angel from the side touched my head inside
and my head outside surrounded less and less.
His wristwatch is a street, green, yellow, blue, and open
as a meadow in which your parents are grazing
because the fodder and forage are stored away
in the kitchen cabinet too high for them to reach
with their muzzles. And lo the other parents are mooing
plaintively, tethered to an idea they like to dislike:
The fox is free. Silly old cows, the fox is never free,
he is just running, and with good reason, and with good legs,
from the ooga-ooga. Brrrrring!
Waterfall of afternoon!
And I left.
I went east three miles and then
fifteen hundred more, and then
three thousand five hundred more,
and then I turned around
and came back five thousand and no hundred.
My mother was still in the kitchen
standing on the yellow tiles
as dinner rose up out of the pots and pans
and hung in the air while she adjusted it.
Soon Dad came home and we dined
but he didn’t and neither did Mother
and neither did I. We put the food
in our mouths and chewed and swallowed—
it tasted good—and we drank liquids
which also tasted good although
they were across the room and on the wall.
The phone rang. It was meaningless
like a proton, but Mother laughed
and said words that were exactly the words
she would have said, total illusion
and total reality at the same time, just as
Dad coughed fifty years later, it was me coughing,
which is why I left, heading east, and stopped
after fifteen hundred miles, and coughed again.
So this is Echo Lake? Sure looks nice.
Ice had once gone by.
High overhead was an iceberg just checking on things,
wings folded and in flames.
The soul materializes in the form of an echo and says
“I’ve been following you.”
“But you are a shadow and only a shadow!”
“Only in the dark am I a shadow,” the soul replies.
“In the light I am a very good light bulb!”
“You are a big nothing something,” the soul says.
The light changes and I start across.