fluke

pronunciation: “flooooook”

a noun for fortune

for every word uttered

on the television

every ten word song

written by seven songwriters

every poem written by a robot

or under the influence

of mechanization

 

or, creation via fluke

allowing the truth

to bubble up thru the surface

 

or, a parasite

or, a fish

depends on who you ask

 

a fluke is not a nuke

a fluke is not a matter

of life or death

 

like the last shot you took

or the first time you have sex

 

human civilization is a fluke

and we’re happy for it

 

etymology: parasites

is the common consensus

among scientists

Philadelphia Psychosis Part 2

Later that night, while walking back home from work, Dave decided to venture the extra four blocks to the beer store on the corner of 9th and Washington even though he was exhausted. He made up his mind that he would purchase a six pack of PBR pounders and a 32 ounce bottle of Yuengling Premium instead of what he would usually get, which was just a six pack of Yuengling Lager, which, as a native Philadelphian, he simply referred to as “lager”. His legs felt kind of numb but mostly a little weak from all of the standing and walking that he did that day.

Dave used to think that the young black guy in the white t-shirt and white do-rag in front of the beer store was actually a police officer, because he carried a badge and a gun, but eventually realized that he was just some kind of security guard. Although his badge still said “Officer Benjamin Davis.” Dave had figured out that the man’s getup was absolutely necessary fairly quickly after first becoming a regular at the beer store (while still a teenager) because it wasn’t actually just a beer store, but an elaborately organized, old-fashioned and notorious saloon. He had often heard other residents of the neighborhood, known as Bella Vista, call the beer store “The Stabbing Grounds”. This wasn’t an over-exaggeration either, as Dave had witnessed one stabbing at the saloon, and had heard talk about many more.

The inside was split between the walk-up beer store on the right side, and the sit-down, rowdy saloon on the left side with the two sectioned off by a four foot tall concrete wall topped with just-as-tall stained plexiglass. From Dave’s experience, the beer store was oftentimes filled with inner city punks, former suburban hipsters, and out-of-town crusties, while the left side was populated with moody-looking druggy white trash couples, groups of laughing and yelling Mexicans/Central Americans, and African American loner-con-men. When Dave opened the glass door half covered with Latino music advertisements he immediately smirked at the sound of a regular eccentric skillfully making music by slapping two spoons together. The security guard approached Dave with his hand out, using the universal sign to hold up.

“Yo, what’s up?” Said Dave.

“Oh, my bad man, we’ve been havin’ some trouble tonight. There was this punk-ass kid who looked kinda like you fuckin’ with customers.”

“Oh, word. How you been B, haven’t seen you in a minute.”

“Chillin’ man what’s good? Yo, that chick you was with the other night, she had a fat ass. I was like damn, you hittin’ that?” The security guard laughed, then amicably slapped Dave on the back.

Dave liked Officer Ben, whom he called “B”, especially because he reminded him of John Malkovich’s character in the play True West. B gave off a somewhat similar kind of wildcard vibe, except ironically being even more wildcard by being in a position of authority with a gun. B also had a significant gap in his tooth, the result of which was a slightly effeminate-sounding voice that foiled his tough-guy exterior. Dave had played that same character in an acting class once. His professor claimed to have worked with Sam Shepard. Thinking about John Malkovich momentarily made Dave depressed.

“Thanks. I know, right?” Dave said.

“She your girl?”

“Yeah, B, you knew that man.”

“Word. Ight man, I see you.”

“Take it easy.”

“You too.”

Dave waited in line behind two Mexicans and a white girl whose behavior and skin marks exhibited that she was addicted to meth. She was trying to convince the two men to come back with her to wherever she came from, but they just kept shaking their heads and laughing at how brazenly fucked up she was.

It was Dave’s turn to order, but he had forgotten what he wanted.

“Yuengling bottles?”

Out of habit Dave said “yeah” to the Asian guy behind the counter. The clerk started asking Dave this question whenever he came in after a couple of months of him ordering the same thing all of the time. He spontaneously ordered a shot of Jack Daniels as well. The Asian guy smirked.

“Shot of Jack?”

Dave informed the man of this phrase a few months before when he had ordered a shot of Jack and the guy didn’t understand what he meant. Dave swiftly placed a twenty on the counter underneath the shoddy bulletproof glass. He downed the whiskey, turned around, nodded at B, then headed out the door. He closed his eyes, tilted his chin upwards, and breathed through his nose while drowning out the sound of bums arguing with each other a few feet away.

“Young bull.”  A homeless man with an idiosyncratic gait approached Dave from the cluster of bums.

“Whatsup John.”

Dave instinctively pulled a pack of cigarettes out and handed the bum one. The man looked like a tramp, but really the opposite was true. John was a salesman of grocery bags in the Italian Market. He was always either in front of the beer store or at his spot in between stalls across the street. Although he never really had customers, John would stand by two shopping carts overflowing with brown paper bags and plastic bags all relatively organized and fairly new-looking. If a person had the compulsion to purchase bags at 25 cents each in order to shop at the vegetable and other various stalls in the outdoor market, he would be the man to go to, but that was rarely the case. John had told Dave many times of the travails of being a shopping bag salesman. Perhaps back in the seventies selling used bags was a legitimate business, when John had began his life-long career, and when the Italian Market was in its prime.

“Buncha’ assholes claiming I owe them, I don’t owe them shit, I’m an artist baby. You know that, you seen my drawings right?”

“Yeah man, they’re pretty good.”

“I know. Young bulls aint givin’ respect no more round here, ‘cept you man, what’s your name again pal?” John had a smooth, soulful but soft-spoken voice as if he always had an ulterior motive, even though he was a genuinely honest man.

“Dave, remember, I gave you a beer last night.”

“Aye man, I don’t owe you shit.”

“Nah you’re good.”

“Ight man, yo I ever tell you I was in Rocky?

“Yeah.”

“You see me in it?”

“Yeah man, when he runs through the market. I’ve seen you.”

“Yeah man, yeah. Don’t get recognized no more man, shit.”

The long light on Washington turned green. There wasn’t much traffic on a Friday nearing midnight, but the cars that were on the street would speed at about forty to sixty miles per hour, making it difficult to cross without getting stuck precariously in the narrow median. Dave used this as a mental excuse for himself in order to get away from John the bag salesman, not because he felt uneasy around him, but because the bum somehow emitted melancholia without ever seeming unhappy himself.

“Alright John I gotta’ get going, take it easy.”

“Peace man.”

Dave hadn’t actually seen John in Rocky, but he liked humoring him, and also felt bad because some of the younger guys who worked at the butcher would mess with him. They’d steal his boom box, which was his prized possession, as he lived for listening to soul and Motown. One time Dave felt horrible because he’d seen those guys cajoling John since he couldn’t jump high enough to grab a ten dollar bill that one of them was holding in the air above him. When Dave would stumble home from the dive bar at two am he would sometimes stop and stare at John sleeping while sitting on a milk crate not far from 9th and Washington. Dave would watch the old man sleep, listen to his congested snore, and admire him for living such a difficult and lonely life without outwardly showing any shame and even spreading a bit of joy via sparing loose change for candy from a nearby stall for children here and there.

Even though Dave was only on slightly cordial terms with John the grocery bag salesman, he felt a peculiar, inexplicable sense of camaraderie with him. Dave was aware that this feeling was somewhat due to naivety on his part, but it made him feel good anyway. He lit a cigarette and enjoyed the rush of wind against his face. Then he started walking back up 9th street.

He felt dizzy, not because of the whiskey, but because of the lingering soapy aftertaste from the under-the-counter double shot glass. He had become familiar with that uncomfortable feeling and grew to like it because it quickened the disorientation process that was necessary for him after a closing shift.

Dave put his hand in his back pocket and realized that he had left his keys in his room, so when he got to the house he pressed the buzzer and waited for someone to come to the door. He stood there for a while drinking a beer and looking at the bourgie people strutting into the Italian restaurant a couple of doors down. Dave would sometimes have a cigarette with the VIP parking guys during the day, but at night he disliked them out of an odd sort of temporary envy of their servile purposefulness.

Dave sat down on the stoop and pulled another bottle of beer out of the black plastic bag. He thought that the women in red and black dresses were sneering at him, so he considered chugging the whole beer in one big swig and throwing the bottle in their general direction. He imagined the glass bottle shattering into hundreds of pieces and flying into the pack of middle-aged women, cutting into their exposed legs like shrapnel from a roadside IED. He just chugged the beer and placed the empty bottle on the stoop. Someone that Dave barely knew opened the door to his house. He realized that his roommates were throwing a party.

He brushed past the person at the door and ignored everyone while heading to his room. He was tired of everyone around him coming from privileged households. He couldn’t believe that he had used the word household while thinking to himself. He put Cupid Come by My Bloody Valentine on and fell asleep while horizontally drinking lager. It felt wet inside his chest.

Denying All-Encompassing Meaninglessness

Every day I try to maintain or reconfigure my poetic compass. Although I don’t necessarily write a poem once a day. I like the idea of writing poetry each and every day, like William Stafford did, but I think choosing not to write a poem at a given moment can do as much nurturing as writing one would. I went to a reading where Curtis Bauer mentioned this as an important question that the poet needs to ask, should I write this thought or experience as a poem? I find that if I internalize a subject, a poetic idea in particular, then all different perspectives of it brew in my mind, sometimes subconsciously, and so I’ll get to the point where the poem blooms out of me seemingly spontaneously. Yet how can this be true? Shouldn’t the poet be content with attempting to create something out of nothing at the moment the idea sprouts? That’s true, but there needs to be a reason for searching for reason.

For me, not writing a poem helps me think poetically. Much of my poetry has to do with observation, hence relating external reality to internal semi-reality. I used to think that there was no such thing as objective, external truth. Surprisingly enough poetry has changed that for me. I hear people say that poetry is the most subjective form of expression when it comes to literature, and I couldn’t disagree more. Good poetry should strive to be universal. And no, I don’t claim to believe now that poetry is in the business of telling the truth, not only because that’s cliché, but because it’s insincere when poets exclaim that, and also not humble. Apparently the mindset for many in contemporary poetry is that you’re in one of two camps: the self righteous truth-seekers, or the insincere, excessive irony users. I’m not explicitly in the business of irony because that’s all been said and done before. America’s popular culture and capitalist society are irony-laden enough already, there’s no reason to unnecessarily inject more into the mix.

What’s the point of irony if you’re only unveiling something that’s thinly veiled? I’ll be honest; my poems are often dotted with observations of the ironic. Take On a Corner of “the French Quarter” for example. It’s a poem that at first sight is simply observational, a street scene, one that is stated to be insignificant in the first line. But there’s more to it underneath. “A cameraman from Channel 6 Action News/films insignificance on/the corner of 18th and Walnut./A police car is parked in front/of TD Bank across the street./The trash can named/’Big Belly Solar Compactor’/overflows with debris and graffiti/has been sprayed on the side.”

These first three images belie irony because they allude to larger societal problems that can be seen in the dichotomy between the rich people strutting around and those who come up to me asking for a cigarette or spare change at the end of the poem. The cameraman is filming a supposedly innocuous street scene that in reality portrays the outward signs of income disparity in a section of the city that caters to the upper class. The police aren’t protecting people but banks. The supposedly high tech, “green” trash compactor doesn’t do its intended job and has been reclaimed by the streets with a graffiti tag. These are just two images that are at first only observational but then become ironic given societal implications.

And yet the irony in this poem is not overblown and not meant to be obfuscating. It’s even originally unintentional, as I set out to simply describe what was happening before me. Yet as I revised the poem I arrived at a point where I was able to extract meaning out of the seemingly mundane, the otherwise insignificant. I realized that the poem reflected a nurturing step on my poetic path. My goal is to reconcile truth and irony, and in order to do that I must nurture my writing at times by not writing, but thinking poetically. I try to analyze the world around me because there is meaning in the mundane. And doing so helps me fight against nihilism, which is the reason why I write poetry in the first place.

Kierkegaard wrote about overcoming what he called levelling, which is similar to nihilism. Sketch by Christian Olavius Zeuthen.

Kierkegaard wrote about overcoming what he called levelling, which is similar to nihilism. Sketch by Christian Olavius Zeuthen.

Locating Dislocation

There is a problem with contemporary poetry, a problem that intrinsically stems from the issue of bewilderment. Poets and humans in general, don’t just feel lost, but disconnected from the world by being fractured in time and space. I understand and can relate to the idea of bewilderment, or the status that is prevalent in contemporary, (some would say post-modern) poetry, of being in relation to awareness of the Other. This quest is a vicious cycle. Searching for what cannot be found through words or even reality leads to confusion and the debasement of poetry itself. I believe that poetry needs a mast, one which will inherently guide the boat of the mind by the winds of emotion and thought. This is in contrast to the trend of scattered bursts of a faulty mechanical propeller. Poetry can be natural without having to be confined to the constraints of nature.

Poetry is inherently personal. This is even if the poem is detached, even if the voice is third-person omnipresent. The problem of being everywhere and every-when at once is one that Fanny Howe analyzes in her poetic and philosophical essay entitled Bewilderment. In introducing her poetics to the reader, Howe begins to explain how the characters in her fiction make her feel, as beings completely apart from her own construct and mind. Howe relates this concept to her poetry as well, and claims that the relation correlates in that she has to confront the same problem in expressing her thoughts on reality through the words she writes on the page. “I would have to say that something like the wave and the particle theories troubled the poetics of my pages: how can two people be in two places simultaneously and is there any relationship between imagination and character?” Howe reconciles this problem for herself by ending her essay with an oxymoron exclaiming that art is supposed to prove that life is worth living by expressing that it isn’t. Fanny Howe’s quest ends in a full, bloody circle.

However, poetry doesn’t have to be cyclical in order for it to stretch the limitations of conventional thought. Writing is an interpretation of life. And even though life in the 21st century is fragmentary and deterritorialized by the digitalization of even the most mundane aspects of life, (think checking your smartphone for the weather before going outside instead of looking at an analog thermometer, or even physically going outdoors to feel the temperature) the poet mustn’t succumb to the current poetic trend of expressing their perception of the world through detached mechanical incoherence. Yes, using technology may seem more accurate, and reporting on different perspectives of characters is difficult when not being able to convey multiple existences simultaneously, but attempting to express the ontologically inexpressible too often results in contradiction, and ultimately nihilism. This is what Fanny Howe does in Bewilderment.

Gabrielle Calvocoressi approaches bewilderment differently in her poem, Late Twentieth Century in the Form of Litany. This poet confronts the fragmentation of expression in a seemingly cyclical sense, because of her repetition of “I thought I heard voices.” Calvocoressi even ends her poem with the line “Over and Over I thought I heard voices”, which could be construed as a form of admission to mechanical detachment. And yet there is a clear progression in this litany that leads the reader from thinking about the character’s possible auditory hallucinations to knowing the voice’s source when the poet breaks from repetition. “Mother took all the pills and I looked at the clock.” Through this line alone, Calvocoressi locates the source of bewilderment.

Seep into Skin

In foreign air where your ancestors breathed

no longer than a century ago,  you

comforted a belle whose fiance was

lost in twisted charred metal. Look back and

think about how that should have been your fate;

the poison in his system only tasted

sweet for so long. When words came out of his

mouth the acrid smell of death lingered, and seminal thoughts

rush back through your mind and below your spine

in tidal waves of lust, touching thighs under

the table, that was enough of a contact

in order to transfer the tension of

a dead man and his now tranquil lover.

Accidental gravity remains as

the only not so distant memory.