“The story of the happening / Becomes the happening”
……………..– Charles Ardinger
Consider the gift shop, sculpted unceremoniously into
Every museum like an afterthought. A Starry Night bookmark
Lazes languidly next to coasters featuring The David.
Each collection of commemorative thimbles is alphabetized:
Braque preceding Picasso, Pissarro following Monet,
Rembrandt far from Botticelli, and lonely Van Gogh
Almost always last. Hold the Dali thimble close
To your ear and you can hear ants carrying drops of water
Into a desert in which the torsos of naked women
Neatly comprise an oasis. How much would you pay to
Give irony a permanent home? This price tag is an Ansel Adams
And that’s why the moon rises just above the dollar sign
Mercifully. Most of the books are quietly dancing about
Architecture, while cash registers ring their approval.
Language sulks, because it’s relegated primarily to
Giving warnings about what not to touch, or
Asking for donations to restore another piece of art
Meant to dwarf the few words on the wall next to it.
At least the cashiers seem well read, offering
The day’s first customer her change and
Exclaiming “I will show you five in a handful of ones.”
Discounts are available in the poetry section.
Idolatry is an understatement.
No fewer than 42 products feature some version of Matisse’s
Dance I: posters, t-shirts, coffee mugs, lighters, and ink pens
In which clothes adorn the revelers until the pen is tilted to
Slowly undress the circle of women. There is a life-size
Punching bag based on Munch’s “The Scream”
Enhanced to include a piercing howl with each hit (batteries
Not included). Last Supper action figures. An Icarus Yo-Yo.
Salt and pepper shakers shaped like haystacks, water lilies,
Irises and Campbell’s Soup cans. CD’s of music for
Blue guitar. Sunday Afternoon play set complete with
La Grande Jatte and working parasol. A shower curtain
Emblazoned with the Mona Lisa’s coy smile.
A woman hurries toward the exit, sack swaying
Neatly as a Currier & Ives snow globe suffers
The blizzard of 1864 all over again. Her receipt flutters
Innocently down to the floor, another reminder
That a body in motion tends to spend money.
Her auburn hair brushes the tops of her shoulders as she
Emerges into daylight, unaware that you are following
So you can return the thin strip of thermal paper to her.
Even when she drives off in her Mercedes Benz, you
Still pursue her, receipt tucked under the hula dancer
Languishing on your cracked dashboard. On the radio,
Origami enthusiasts are folding dollar bills carefully into
Quarter-sized bundles, each pyramid’s lone eye staring
Up. The host says it’s crucial to place them face down
Any time you want to sleep, or they will begin
Colluding against you. Your quarry makes a right
Into a Starbuck’s drive-thru. Since you don’t drink
Overpriced coffee, you ask for the time. Confused cashier
Ursula charges you 50 cents, gives you 5 dimes change,
Says to have a great day! You continue south.
Antiquarian booksellers flood the crosswalk
Near Meadowlake Road, wielding first editions of
Elinor Wylie’s Nets to Catch the Wind, which
Came out a year prior to The Waste Land, but is in far less
Demand. A bargain, you imagine, as you make a right
Onto the highway, wondering where in the world
This road will lead. In the rearview mirror, an angry
Editor cuts down a banner that says “Reading is for.…”
Some sentences never end. A billboard on the left
Lets everyone know that Fritos were the only snack food
In Plato’s Cave. In fact, a light has been installed to allow
Nightly viewings of the great corn chip’s shadow.
God, the word, is only once removed from God,
Entity casting no shadow, as the recently added graffiti
Reminds you. Philosophy, like religion, continues to creep
Into everything, as evidenced by the radio ad for
New “Archetype-O’s” cereal, each tiny complex of oats
Generously frosted, and with a piece of Collectible
Unconscious hidden in every box. Even the stripes
Neatly dividing lanes feature bright sponsor logos:
Icy Hot, Jiffy Pop Tarts, Goodyear and an XBox game called
Need for Speed: Catch my Drift, from their sarcasm collection.
The Six Flags 10 miles ahead offers discounted prices for kids
Except on Saturdays, and based on the group pictured they have a
Really good selection. Still, you don’t have time to start a family
Right now, especially since the lady in the Mercedes is exiting.
Usually you fill-up at Chomsky’s, because of what gas
Purports to signify, but you follow her to the Shell station.
Taking the receipt off the dashboard, you trail her as she
Enters the Subway which doubles as a convenience store which
Doubles (or is that Triples?) as the publishing office for
Subscription Literary Review – that’ll be twenty dollars please.
Currently all counter clerks are line-editing pieces for the issue on
Rumi parodies, so you tuck your submissions away and browse.
Every package of Hostess Ho-Ho’s comes with a free
Autographed pocket edition of this year’s Ikea catalog,
Making you question the Ding Dongs in your clutches
In addition to the very origin of cream filling itself.
Never underestimate the power of snack cakes
Given the right circumstances. You pay for your fuel,
Stash the combination receipt/rejection letter to be
Used in next year’s taxes, and roll the windows down.
Fluttering between the tips of your fingers, her receipt
Floats on the breeze as you watch for her to exit
Into an afternoon so beautiful you’re strangely
Certain you’ll see it featured in an ad somewhere soon.
In another minute, she finally emerges, still
Efficiently drying her hands on what must be
New 3-Ply Bounty. You approach cautiously, tell her
That she dropped this back at the museum, awkwardly
Liken your pursuit to something from Lord of the Rings.
You hand her the slip of paper, and are turning to leave when
She asks, without guile, if this is some sort of joke. She holds
The receipt up and you see a thermal image of a beatific,
Ruggedly-bearded man. “Jesus Christ!” you exclaim.
In your mind, you review the facts: that picture
Didn’t exist when you picked-up the errant scrap of paper.
Entropy’s stock is rising. A cloud blows by looking a lot like
Neruda in swim trunks, or maybe that’s just your imagination.
Taking a moment to collect herself, the woman thanks you
Laconically and speeds away. With nothing better to do
You shrug and head back inside for a package of Ho-Ho’s.
Gary, your childhood Sunday School teacher, calls to ask if you’ve
Accepted Capitalism into your heart. You say “Yes” because you
Really don’t want to disappoint Him again. An errant rainbow
Nefariously beautifies the sky, until a plane’s trailing banner
Eclipses it with an ad for a strip club called Let My Peephole Go.
Refusing to give into temptation, you head home to watch a show
In which people flip houses for a living. All the characters have
Nicer cars than you, so you conclude that you must
Go buy a run-down home and transform it from a Dali to
A Wyeth. You’re certain that wheat will wave in the wind
The moment escrow closes, but you didn’t account for
The pocketwatch puddles, crutches in place of retaining walls,
Elephants, long shadows stretching from stilted legs,
Never expecting the destination to even be related
To the journey. And the newspapers, dating all the way back
Into the 1920’s, fill every room in leaning stacks, smugly
Offering predictions in bold type of flying cars, jetpacks,
Newfangled ways to remove hair from unwanted places.
Eventually, you’re so engrossed in the newspaper
Articles you just let foreclosure run its course. The bank
Really likes the way you’re taking it, so they offer to
Negate your penalties if you’ll appear in a TV spot for them.
Exactly how you end up dressed as a dollar sign remains a
Special mystery, but at least you’re able to pick up
The dance steps in no time. Afterward, you decide to begin
Liquidating your assets. Since you don’t own any stocks,
You start with old photos. Several frame manufacturers offer
Relatively small sums, but then a nasty bidding war
Ensues for your family photo from 30 years ago in which
Pantsuits feature prominently, all fabric festooned
Liberally with paisley. You confirm the frame will be tasteful
And finalize the deal, just in time to collect all the
Compact discs from every shelf and head to the liquor store.
It turns out, 1 CD is worth 12 oz. of anything, so you
Nearly fill the whole car up, but have nothing to listen to
Going back home. Your closet of As Seen on TV items
Clears more than you originally paid, since many are
Only available in pharmacies now, and often a prescription is
Needed. The animated Titanic Chia Pet, which plays a synth
Version of My Heart Will Go On, fetched the highest price
Even though it can’t be turned off, since the Clapper in it
Needs replacing. Last to go is your mustard yellow
Toyota Corolla, the first car in which you ever got a ticket.
Instead of driving away, you jaywalk to the donut shop
On the corner and steal the aromas of sugar and yeast.
Next you wander to the playground, spin the merry go round
As fast as possible while perched on its edge, and then
Lie back and watch the world spin a green and blue blur.
As the earth slows, you have a thought: what if the idea of God
Resisted people’s urges to use it like a Garden Weasel? What if
Given faith, everyone just kept it to themselves? Belief is pretty
Useless as a method of judgment. A grey felt fedora rests
Mysteriously on a park bench, perhaps abandoned by someone
Experimenting with loss. An ice cream vendor pushes his cart
Near a family’s picnic, offering promises of Popsicles tingeing
Tongues many colors. Desire remains our downfall.
Suppose you were satisfied enough that you didn’t dream.
Picture a night uninterrupted by flights that end in a heap
On the ground, no more regrets playing out in archetypes
Embodied by Freud or Jung. What if fear wasn’t
The most lucrative emotion? An umbrella salesman
Interrupts the reverie of some ducks with his rain dance.
Clouds yawn above, having none of it. You stand back up
And head east toward the closed Beanie Babies™ outlet,
Leaving behind the empty swing set and teeter-totter,
Letting wind wash over those remnants of childhood.
You turn north, head toward the YMCA, friendly acronym
Pretending to forget its origins – no one ever baptizes
Random members during swim lessons (that you know of).
Only when you’re in the whirlpool do you realize
Faith is the bubbles breaking against your bare chest,
Faith is what happens without asking, without
Even needing belief. In fact, belief is a red-faced bully
Reprimanding all who question him, demanding
Everyone agree that the moon is just a hole in the sky,
Draining each night to reveal the next morning. Belief
Proselytizes its position to the point that nothing else
Holds sway, and then faith is just a memo line
Itemized on each check piled in the collection plate.
Learning to swim took longer than it should, didn’t it?
On the surface of the water, your limbs grew heavy.
Somehow you had to learn to hold yourself up with
Only the spaces between your fingers and toes.
Perhaps you spent too long staring at your shadow
Hovering on the bottom of the pool, wondering
If you are truly original, if the flickering image below
Could have adorned the wall of Plato’s cave.
At least you accepted the magnitude of breathing,
Letting air make its quiet argument in favor of life.
Lingering in the shower, you remember
Your first job: working nights and weekends
Expressly to earn enough for a new book, baseball cards,
X-ray specs, whatever had caught your attention
That week. But everything surrendered to entropy.
Ragged corners and frayed edges gathered dust.
Even Hot Wheels™ broke down, lost tires driving
Miraculously into the future. And before that you scoured
Each coin return, scrounging for nickels and dimes
Like a gumball addict yearning to turn that silver knob
Yet anxious to discover the color and flavor of destiny.
Itemized receipts for everything you’ve ever bought
Need to be provided to get you past the velvet rope
Downstairs, and into the Kingdom of Heaven, a club
Underneath the YMCA that is so exclusive not even
Salvador Dali can get in, and he’s dead. You sneak
Through the throng, cup an origami dollar bill in your
Right palm and approach the entrance. Shaking hands
Is a welcome distraction for the doorman, so as he
Ogles the folded green item, you slip past him into
Unnerving darkness. When you emerge into the light
Suddenly everything has wings – the door handles frozen
In mid-flight, end tables poised for takeoff, chandeliers
Nervously turning toward the floor. A Thomas Kinkade
Explication of the crucifixion hangs above the fireplace.
Feathers pirouette down from above, and music
Furiously thrums like a hummingbird’s heartbeat.
Astonishingly, though, no one else is there.
Beside the dance floor is another gift shop, this one
Looking like a murder of cherubs – price tags
Yellowing on each winged thing. You slyly pocket
A refrigerator magnet with the Sistine Chapel ceiling
Reproduced in miniature. You slip into Nike’s shoes,
Drop a few bills on the counter, and head for the back door.
In the alley, the streetlight flickers and goes out.
Nearby, a few strains of jazz saxophone argue with the night.
Given enough time, everywhere is walking distance, so you
Emerge onto the empty street and head due east, away from
Retail angels with their worn wings and empty promises.