05 June, 2020

A Strange Poem for a Strange Moment in Time


The visage of Iggy Pop once appeared to me
on a 1977 Lincoln's quarter panel, his sunken-in jowls
marked by where rust had eaten through.
The "Lust for Life" singer talked for the better part of
a half hour, beside the wheel well, about criminal
jurisprudence and reform. I tried to get it all on video.
It came out too dark, but look: doesn't
the voice sound just like his?

At seventeen I died — a wakizashi through the heart.
My body lay twelve minutes in the grass
before the paramedics came, in which time some
part of me, my soul, drifted out and up like a child's
helium balloon lost after the birthday party. I described,
when I came to, the sight of them huddled around my bloody corpse
— the tall man's bald spot when, for a second, he removed his cap,
the woman's sigh and suggestion they pick up Chinese after their shift —
in such shocking detail that both will tell you now that they
have no remaining doubt about the reality of NDEs.
Here are their phone numbers.

My grandmother, maybe on some folkloric impulse,
shoved a bean up her infant daughter's left nostril
to ward off evil. Probably this was a symptom of her as-yet-
undiagnosed schizophrenia, but regardless of the reason,
my mother's resulting rhinolenticula went untreated all her years.
Each spring there was a quickening that her hands played often
at her nose to feel, and I, one morning, sneaked this photo
before her morning trim. That dark spot you see is
not her nose ring but her sprout.

In the coffeehouse, at a table across from mine,
she often sat reading books on philosophy. Her outfits
drove me bonkers, and she was easily the most
gorgeous woman in the place — a model,
I surmised, which turned out to be true when I answered
a Craigslist ad for a nice bookcase and found her
at the door, in one of those skirts I'd previously
stared at from afar. We flirted like foxes, then
went on a date, then two, three, four.
We fell quickly, madly, and the rest.
A yachting accident later left her
in a persistive vegetative state.
The nurses at Saint Mary's were kind,
when I visited every Saturday with Kant
and Kierkegaard, and cleaned up the spittle
dribbling from those pouty lips gone slack.
Her parents pulled the plug, but I still keep
her contact sheets around,
plus countless eight-by-tens.

* * * * *

"Veridical" was inspired by an article I read about near-death experiences (the NDEs mentioned at the end of the poem's second section), and it obviously took on a life of its own. It became an offbeat commentary on what we accept as truth and what proof we demand in the process. Outlandish stories get passed off as factual all the time, often backed up by shaky circumstantial evidence. Pressed to defend their claims, the storytellers resort to solipsism. "Maybe it's like you say, or maybe it isn't," they might assert, as if indeterminacy were any kind of argument. I've also heard, "You can't prove what I say isn't true, so...."

This poem isn't about politics or current events, big-fish stories or outright lies. It's just a poem depicting four pemises of dubious veracity. You can make it about whatever you like, as long as you enjoy it.

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