Two Poems by Matt Dennison

These two poems by Matt Dennison explore the complexity and hidden dangers behind and within the seemingly mundane: how a simple desire to do the correct thing, while not understanding how or trusting life itself (“Not being one to trust the willy-nilly whims/of chance or fate or destiny or mirrors in matters/of great and public importance or of not so great,/and private, importance, even in his dreams, /if truth be told”), can lead to disastrous results…  

by: Matt Dennison

The Man in Back

After finally noticing the large black clouds
that had been nodded at, sighed over, discussed
at great length and commented upon ad nauseum
by every other passenger on the trolley in voices
ranging from the near-silent to violent shouts
of dismay, the man in back carefully observed
the man in front extend his arm and wiggle
his fingers in a strange, stroking, slightly-
obscene underhanded-teasing pattern as if
testing the fullness of the belly of the sky
to determine if, when and how much,
possibly even what, it planned to drop
for he too felt a pleasant surge of desire
to be in the know as to what was about to happen,
weather-wise, and knew that for this to take place
he would be requiring assistance.       

Convinced that he had, at long last, discovered
within himself a feeling that could safely be
referred to as one that fell safely within
the accepted boundaries of correctness
relative to the situation at hand, he watched
the man in front with an intensity previously
unknown in his life, for when his time came,
and come it must, he felt, with a steadily increasing
heartbeat, he wanted to be sure that his arm would
extend with just the right amount of slow, seemingly-
careless deliberation and that his fingers would wiggle
with no more than the necessary amount of tickle
and prod or, for that matter, obscenity. Making it
all the more enticing, which he liked, being enticed,
that is, he was both relieved and comforted to see
that the man in front was having no trouble at all
with the rather intricate requirements of his task,
obviously a reflection of his level of mastery
and accomplishment with investigations of this sort.
As for the man’s face, he could only imagine it to be
full of wonder, awe and gratitude at being allowed
this most private, though necessary, he supposed,
for the good of all, exchange.         

Not being one to trust the willy-nilly whims
of chance or fate or destiny or mirrors in matters
of great and public importance or of not so great,
and private, importance, even in his dreams,
if truth be told, and at the same time being aware
of the necessity of a proper frontal covering if one
expects to be dealt with in a serious manner,
he experimented with faces, rapidly, extremely,
before settling on one that he hoped, prayed,
would not be misunderstood by the sky and he
be mistaken for someone engaged in a disrespectful
act or one of embarrassing simplicity or even,
and possibly foremost, one that did not require
the rather extensive amount of serious face practice
already invested. And so, with his face full of what
he hoped, prayed, were the proper valleys, folds
and little bunched-up places of wonder, awe
and gratitude and feeling that he was sailing off
into the great unchartered waters of correctness,
perhaps the most courageous and certainly the most
reckless act of his life, considering the uncertainty
which still surrounded the eventual outcome of it all
and the inherent possibility of total loss which gnawed
at him unmercifully, he extended his hand.

When he retrieved his arm, quickly, as had
the man in front but several seconds later because
of the time involved in flipping the man’s actions
around in his mind before being able to insert them
into his own, thinking his fingers still to be poking
and prodding, for he had not the quickness of vision
required to see if the man had or had not ceased
his fingerly supplications, for which he cursed himself
most bitterly, under his breath so that no one would
hear and think his curses were for them, as if
such a thing were possible, and so was reduced
to assuming they were, indeed, still performing
their inquisitive little dance, being the kind to lean
toward a belief in the continuation of events
even when he had no good reason to do so,
especially then, instead of expecting or being
able to tolerate drastic change, which cast a pall
of the most distressing ambiguity into the air
like a net, covering, dragging down everything
with its resultant though expected influence
on the whole instead of the magnificent rush
of success for which he had been longing so
unknowingly desperately, possibly nullifying
the entire experience, for he imagined the sky
to be quite the perfectionist, being unable to recall
any dissatisfaction with what it had chosen to present
him over the years for his enjoyment or not and more
than a little demanding of anyone who assumed the right
of stroking her belly for the sake of knowledge,
he was more than a little surprised to find
that he had no hand at all.

He promptly gave himself a good, very mental,
tongue-lashing right in front of himself for not
having paid more attention to the man in front,
which was the one thing he could count on
as being utterly necessary in most situations
and the doing of his only tool or unit of exchange
or means of not falling down and on that fact
he would, if need be, hang his sack right heavily
even though he rarely if ever paid any attention at all
to any of the perfectly good examples of proper behavior
with which the world was continually presenting him
and which he would invariably fail to utilize due to his
basic, though admitted, inability to grasp their meanings,
about which he had deep suspicions of an underlying
simplicity but knew, also, that for reasons he could not
fathom, they wore fantastic disguises of confusion
but should, if they would only go much slower and maybe
repeat themselves a few times, be quite graspable,
if not downright knowable.
He sighed and placed his stump in his lap,
being careful to cover it with his last good hand
so as not to offend the others with yet another
example of his stubbornness, for what else could it be,
after all these years?, looked out the window
as the rain came down, shaking its great wet head
at what would be only one more step in a never-
ending chain of lost chances, the hot tears of shame,
of hopelessness, pooling his eyes, too tired
to even consider the effort necessary to provide
an excuse for his despicable, he knew it, behavior
by rolling down his dusty cheeks, and was saddened
by the thought that now he would never know
if it was going to rain or not.


The Man Remembers

As a means of ensuring that he would remember
what he knew then but needed to know in the morning
when it could be properly employed, the man in bed
removed the ring which had remained, untouched,
on his finger from the first day of their shared
existence and placed it on the floor, secure
in the belief that the surprise of its morning discovery
would bring on a mind search of such thoroughness
that sooner or later he would be sent sprawling
over what it was he had known the night before,
which, being so prematurely conceived, as it were,
had been of absolutely no use at that time. 
It was also reassuring, he realized, not to be
in a position where he could be tempted into thoughts
about the ring by the fact of its presence and risk being
distracted from his task of focusing on what it was
he needed to remember. Still not feeling assured
as to the infallibility of his plan—though quite
positive of its necessity—he decided to remove
the finger on which the ring had resided for so long,
imagining the possibility must surely exist wherein
the absence of the ring could be more disturbing
than exciting to the state of mind he was attempting
to attain, which was one of total concentration
on one single fact: what he knew then but needed
to know in the morning when it could be put to use. 
But now he was afraid he would be consumed
and confused by thoughts of the missing finger
which lay next to the ring on the floor near
the bed. Being well acquainted with his probers
and their inquisitive ways, he knew that surprise
would not be the dominant factor if they kept him
awake all night with questions as to the whereabouts
of their exiled sibling which would, he also knew,
make it impossible for him to perform his meditative
duties in relation to what it was he needed
to remember in the morning. 

In no mood to remove each finger until he had
succeeded in finding the one or ones responsible
for the uproar, which would probably lead to
a very distressed arm or, failing this, frighten into
a state of clenched silence those which remained,
he simply removed the arm in its entirety and placed
it on the floor near the ring and finger, thinking
he had improved his situation in two ways: first,
by eliminating a possible source of distraction;
second, by creating an even more startling sight
for his eyes to gaze upon in the morning
which would cause an even greater shock
and certainly spur his mind on to what needed
remembering, even though he was quite aware
of what it was at that moment. But what am I to do
if my legs start complaining about my state
of self-imposed imbalance? Or worse, what if
they enjoy it, find it a cause for celebration,
laugh at my one remaining arm and get me into
more trouble than would be desirable at this point?
I must remove one of them before this gets out of hand,
he told himself, quite pleased with his ability to grasp
the facts of his life and improve them, shuffle them about
until they stacked up once more—before, in fact, he was
overwhelmed.  Ah, yes, how much nicer this is,
he thought, being so strangely balanced and full
of what it was he needed to remember.
Yes, I think this will do just fine. 

Just then he felt a twitch that he had not
felt in years, from a place he had assumed,
from the general lack of communication,
to be in a deep and permanent sleep. It must be
the leggered amount of blood available, he thought,
tapping his forehead with a long, bony finger.
If I expect to get enough rest to be able to see
what I must in order to remember what I equally must,
then I undoubtedly must relieve myself of this excess
blood before something altogether unsettling occurs.
He reached up with his last foot and opened a hole
on the potential trouble maker, letting the blood—
redder than he was prepared to believe—spill onto
the leg and the arm and the ring and the finger
that already lay on the floor. Near the bed. 
Thinking it best to stop while he still had
enough blood in his brain to make such a decision,
he closed the hole and sighed: Yes, this is going
most satisfactorily. I am thinking of nothing but
what I am supposed to and surely, when I see
my little reminders on the floor in the morning
I will experience such a state of curiosity
as to how they got there, whose, in fact, they are,
that I will be forced to relive the entire chain of events
and will, out of pure logical necessity, end up
face to face with the fact that there might be
something I could possibly benefit from remembering,
something undoubtedly known the night before
and that I was happy with the knowing of
but not able to rest until I had set myself up
to remember it in the morning which must
be today. Yes, I am happy. 

But, he realized with a start, how silly of me
to think I can get away with not removing
my root thing and rounders. For if I have erred
in my estimation as to the excessiveness
of the red stuff and they so much as utter
the slightest sound or move in their furry sack,
then I can expect what is left of me, conscientious
as it may be, to respond in the most unbecoming manner.
No, these too must go, for it must be frightfully important,
much too important to take chances. With his one remaining
leg and toes thereof, he removed his root thing and rounders
and flung them onto the floor with the rest. Now let’s see
who keeps who awake and not thinking about what they
should be thinking about which is, I think, something
I knew last night, no, it is still tonight, which is something
I know tonight, right now, something very important
and which I must, at all costs, remember when I wake up
so I can, in some way, make use of it.

It all seemed a problem of providing a bridge
from one day to the next, one of such powerful,
shocking, if need be, impact that, as if by magic,
his days would not be reduced to solitary spurts
in what should be, he liked to think, a never-ending
waterfall of time with no visions necessary to force
memory upon him, no rips or tears at night to wake him,
gasping and hot, no… But with that not being the way it was,
with it being of the utmost importance to have something
quite unusual to look upon first thing in the morning
so he could remember what it was…what it was…
what it was that he needed to remember, then,
because of that, he was quite pleased at how
he had arranged his floor, for surely there was
no one anywhere capable of saying his would not
truly be a most shocking sight. To make it all the better,
he slipped off his last leg and nudged it over the edge
of the bed where it landed on top of the pile that was now
so huge, so shocking, so utterly convinced of its own existence
that he felt himself pushed dangerously close to the edge
of remembering and had to quickly look away. He was
not about to ruin everything at this point, of that he was sure.
And though he was secretly relieved to discover the presence
of at least one more arm, he shoved that off the bed too,
never having been of the cowardly or half-measure group,
and was both terrified and calmed to feel, no, to hear,
it land on the floor with the rest of his alarm.

Lying there so peacefully, he contemplated
the mysteries of life and congratulated himself
on his ability not only not to be fooled by any of it
or denied his just rewards, but actually to direct
the course of his life, manipulate his destiny and squeeze
what he wanted out of it. Now and then he thought of his
displaced limbs which would somehow be rejoined
to his surprisingly short and blunt torso in the morning
after they had performed their task which was…which was…
which was lying on the floor so he could remember something
he needed to know and would when he awoke and saw them.
On the floor. In the morning. With this knowledge securely
in hand, he decided he had done everything that a man
in his position could do and all that remained was to sleep
and to wait for morning and the memories. But as soon
as he closed his eyes he was cast into a world of unparalleled
visions, most of them quite disturbing, and would awaken,
troubled by what he had seen, and afraid. For had he not
done everything that could be expected of a man who
simply wanted to remember, in the morning, something
he had known the night before? As soon as he had formed
this question he knew what he had not done, what, obviously,
needed to be done. He must remove his eyes. For were it not
the visions that were keeping him awake when what he needed
to do was think of nothing but what it was he needed to know
and the best way of doing that was when he was asleep?
Using the last of his energy and imagination, he shook
his head until his eyes rolled out and came to a stop
somewhere on the floor with all the rest. Now he was free.
For how could he dream, see things not related to what
he needed to remember, when he had no eyes?

Relieved of this terrible burden of vulnerability,
he managed to twist himself into a slightly-but-
not-too-comfortable position. For how much better
it would be if he did not sleep at all, he admitted with a sigh,
if he simply stayed awake all night thinking about what
needed thinking about. But he knew that he was old
and more than a little weary from his massive preparations
and that his mind would be prone to betray him, cast him
into sleepless dreams from which one never awakens
at the exact moment he felt himself to be most alert
and then what he needed to know would be lost forever.
So he settled in a bit more comfortably, but not too,
for what had what he needed to remember to do
with mere comfort? Yes, he mumbled as he drifted off,
it must be quite wonderful to have me go to all this
trouble just to remember it. And now, when I awake
in the morning, I shall be fairly bursting with suspense
and the desire to know what it has been all along
to cause me such effort and I will somehow manage
to move what is left of me over to the edge of my bed,
gaze upon that pile of significance and fall into
the most blissful state of remembrance ever known
to man. Pleasuring himself in this manner to the point
of extreme warmth, he was overcome by the extent
of his folly and the most agonized howl of betrayal
ever uttered by a legless, armless, rootless body
left his mouth to circle endlessly in the ears
which had no hands to cover them. For how,
in the morning, could he see what he needed to see
to remember what he needed to know when his eyes
were on the floor and he was blind?


Matt Dennison is the author of Kind Surgery, from Urtica Press (Fr.) His work has appeared in Rattle, Bayou Magazine, Redivider, Natural Bridge, The Spoon River Poetry Review and Cider Press Review, among others. He has also made short films with Michael DickesSwoonMarie Craven and Jutta Pryor.

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