by: Rob Cook
Rob Cook offers up two stunning poems full of acute and surreal observations about how the “sunlight has turned strange;” illustrating how the world can seem like a threatening mirage, so much so that we become infected with a generalized dysmorphia and are foreigners even to ourselves, or as Cook puts it “a man wearing a coat that looks/ like a different self.”
THE STORE-BOUGHT YEAR
its tentative welcome this store-bought year. Gino stayed
three days in bed
the nosey EMTs found him there
with his stopped sleep
and pillow skins
and the air conditioner not yet out of breath.
Months enduring repetitive flesh karaoke,
skin murals of Mickey Mouse
and Tweety Bird
and green smeary barbed wire
as the always top-selling “right to be me.”
Unrelenting humidity loping across the city
at the speed of students
busy at their cameraphone comas
and digital rosaries,
Mama Kammi, who owns
East Village Farms, all
three of them,
and a factory in Mumbai,
her spirit animal:
a furred, giraffe-tall dollar sign
loping across the song-like savannah
litter after litter of dollar bill cubs
and soft-fanged palms-up hands
making gimme-gimme gestures.
To knock down all the dominoes of the Bronx
is a developer’s dream:
dried-out plants cuddling
on the top floor
of a toddler’s toppling domino,
watching the sky as it tilts.
To tear down every home
every living space
with Super American Mart
and the Buy Your Breath Here Major Mart
so the citizens of the borough of empty storefronts
have to purchase every vital thing
from the borough
of a pregnant man’s endless Wal-Mart.
Clouds with arms and legs walk past
the lost, red cities of autumn
where a plane either crashed
or just stopped growing.
A woman old as a CD player
picks at the holes
of her dog looking
for the rainy Elmhurst apples
and exhaust fume scallops
that belong to her
whenever the burrs of her hands
have once again run away.
A man wearing a coat that looks
like a different self stares
into the nothingness
of women young enough
to be his daughters.
Perhaps he tries to feel something
other than the force of the sidewalk going by,
or the shrieks of the child still incubating
on the bench
beside its mother,
a slow-fingered woman
clutching at a plastic bouquet of kale.
No new autumn will find us here, ever. Just the one I was born with, creeping from a russet-rich nostalgia, a degenerative uneasiness that we are being remembered if not watched by those years-deep signals of woodsmoke and the apples that fell, rummaging through the hardening grass—a tremor, almost, that comforts us.
Two of my neighbors hate each other: the upstairs man walks from one end of his room to the other at two in the morning, and the man who occupies the apartment below and cannot sleep hears only the deliberate dragging of nails across his ceiling.
The two men spend the rest of the night hitting each other through the walls and floor and the ceiling that’s always closer by one psychotic epithet.
It’s like one of those comedies, my mother, seventy-four, says too-too often during her phone calls, where it is still autumn, and still the correct temperature for not losing the people.
The cooing the pigeons leave each morning has deepened, and instead of comforting me, it sounds like the thud of my own blood against the wall behind which the neighbor Frank Rodriguez hides his kites and also the tackle box he keeps as a pet, the one with patches of missing fur, the one I hear sometimes either weeping to itself (or somebody) or suckling the herring Frank caught without bait from a live trash can lid. And he or his enemy has slit open the bellies of five breathing footballs and carved them up into jack o’ lanterns, abandoning one at the bottom of each lit stairwell.
Sometimes it gets a little less hot at night. The days move only enough to notice a month from now, maybe. As for the few leaves scattered on the fire escape, I lured them down from the roof myself, to rid the woman sunbathing on Tuesdays and Thursdays of those scraps of foliage and their pounding, mutant stillness.
The sunlight has turned strange. Only stone now grows, or omniscient pieces of plastic, the Android Era’s month-old trilobites. Slowly, over many Octobers, something replaced the piles of shrieking leaves with piles of pale, silent children.
“Someone is going to die,” Frank says, scratching at the leaf falling from his head, his already faraway grin drifting in and out, almost blinking, his apartment, or the key to his apartment, trembling in his hand.
Rob Cook lives in New York City’s East Village. His most recent books are Empire in the Shade of a Grass Blade (Bitter Oleander Press, 2013) and The Undermining of the Democratic Club (Spuyten Duyvil, 2014) and his work has appeared or will appear in Hotel Amerika, Birmingham Poetry Review, Caliban, Epiphany, Verse, The Laurel Review, Chattahoochee Review, American Journal of Poetry, Redactions, Phantom Drift, The Antioch Review, etc. He is currently working on a biography of Uli Jon Roth and a collection of poems tentatively titled either The War on Little Things or Voyage to the Middle of the Dark Summer.