by: Pat Smith
Reading Pat Smith’s poetry is like overhearing an uncomfortable chat between our hypnagogic consciousnesses and our public selves: “…Who are we but screens/ Upon which we misread ourselves…” They are a dialogue wherein our childhood bullies and our lunch orders vie for attention and alteration as we take our Beta Agonists, relax our breathing and drink from “an upturned cup of infinite sky.”
Please order food for today’s conference, Roger said.
I said, Of course. And encrypt the message, he said.
Encrypt our lunch? I said. He said, Send it secure.
We need to be in full compliance. I said, I guess we can’t
Be too careful. Especially about sandwiches.
I’m serious, Murchison, Roger said. I said, Me, too.
I don’t take my pastrami lightly. He said, Pastrami—that gets out,
boom, total red flag. Code purple all over the place. I said,
Jesus. I had no idea. He said, Investigators in our files, circling
like hyenas around the copy machine. I said, The bastards!
We’ll shoot them down like dogs. Roger said, Whoa,
Murchison. I love my dog. I love all dogs. I said, Right, sorry.
I used to have a dog when I was a lad. What kind of
Sandwich do you want? I asked. Roger said,
That’s protected information. Order a selection.
Roger left and a chill went straight through me.
One leak, tuna salad, and German shepherds
Are sniffing under my desk. I’d be out
On the street, aimless, wandering
Lonely as a cloud. And there goes my pension.
I was admiring the knees and elbows
Of my favorite crabapple until I nodded off.
I dreamed a big egg salad sandwich was sailing
Up the Hudson. When I opened my eyes
Leonard Duncil was sitting beside me.
Look at you, an old man snoozing on a bench, he said.
I’d hardly call it snoozing, I said. I was just lost in thought.
I hadn’t seen Leonard, the neighborhood bad boy,
Since 9th grade. He hadn’t aged—same long greasy
Hair and adolescent beard. Are you spying on me? I said.
If I’m a spy, I must be good, he said. You haven’t seen
Me in thirty years. He had me there. Still I was
Suspicious. He said, You sit here moping until you see
Something you think is funny, like a truck for Giant Big
Apple Beer. I said, What’s not funny about Giant Big
Apple Beer? Are you a ghost? Were you an evil pimp,
Murdered by one of your whores? He said, Wow.
I’m an aircraft engineer and a grandpa. I don’t look like
This anymore. Why do you remember me? I said, Blue
Print Cleanse. We Think. You Drink. That’s funny isn’t it?
He said, You and your sisters were straight out of the Brady
Bunch. I said, You were a happy delinquent. I was a lonely nerd.
I gathered Leonard Duncil into my arms
As the crabapple waved in the June breeze.
His dream wakes him
I am the half-dead monkey in the plastic bag, he says
Explaining it to himself
I say, Who are we but screens
Upon which we misread ourselves
Taking cues and mistaking clues
I disabled the memory of the graveyard TV, he says
I say, I thought it was you
I have seen flying clouds curling in arabesque
Predictably unbalanced yet nonetheless entertaining
He says, I am the man with the alligator head
Snatching fish from the trash
I say, Let’s walk across this frozen lake of blueberry mousse
Like two perfect slices of multigrain toast
Popped up in a Proctor Silex
He says, I am the long gone glacier
The tide of grinding ice
I say, that’s perfect
We’ll mix two parts memory
One part desire, add bitters
And share the slanting light
He sleeps he is dreaming again
His face unwinds
An upturned cup of infinite sky
And so do I
Pat Smith was incarnated from joy and confusion in France and raised beneath smokestacks in Ohio. His MFA is from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and his play Driving Around the House, produced around the U.S., is published by New Rivers Press. His poems have appeared in little journals you never heard of. Smith has always had very vivid dreams and believes it means something even though it doesn’t pay very much. He works as a union health benefits advisor for CUNY and lives in Brooklyn, New York.