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The Mind as Mr. Potato Head

                                    Paul Allen


A couple hundred bucks for time away
among this row of cabins built on pilings
over Santee State Park Lake, you’d think
would buy some small reprieve from images
and thoughts—all the damned out there:
the life I’d left, or thought or hoped I had.
I mean, for five days every afternoon
about this time, I’ve prepped myself for peace:
sunset, pier, folding chair, beer.
Then out from the blackening air among the pines
behind me, some daemon child appears,
bringing a bag of plastic body parts:
eyes, noses, ears, etc.,
and plugs them into my lately balding pate,
my regrettable tonsure, each garish piece a sight
or memory, or thought or syllable—
books I’ve read or books I want to write,
my first love’s body back when everything
was sadness in its blossoming, or how
I ought to word a curse on the President.
I’m primed for the kind of peace religious know,
an epiphany of not-world—then zing,
my kitchen sink appears. All I’ve owned
or owned by never owning—a house, career,
or car I’ve had, or seen or heard about.
My head must look like a yard sale by now.

Five days fishing hard for peace, but peace,
the poet says, is supposed to come dropping slow.
It doesn’t, though.
                                  Or hasn’t anyway.
An hour’s drive from here, some of it
the same road I drove up, the Benedictines
are winding down their liturgy of hours,
those times of day they set aside their day,
cease their building, baking, making, mowing,
drop their hoes and take up Os and Aves.
But even they, with all their regimen,
know they can’t create or even tweak
the here and now they stop to celebrate.

Two days ago, between two summer rains,
an osprey brought a fish back to her nest
on the power tower far out in the channel.
For the briefest moment, my life was nothing but osprey.
But then the imp stung me with an eye,
which was the gun a Mr. Youngblood allowed
me to shoot on his farm, me fifteen.
A WW II .303 Enfield.
And that led, naturally, to wondering
whether the osprey was in range, even
with the elevated sight. Then I thought
about the thickness of osprey eggs now,
then egg to mating, mating to my ex.
But there was that clean few seconds.
Maybe that was worth two hundred bucks.
And last night I was fretting about fretting,
when Mike showed up, so unexpected it scared me.
Mike’s a young man I taught. He touches base
when there’s a space between his jobs, or loves.
I had my empty journal on my lap,
pissed about the way the week had gone.
I wasn’t expecting him—or anyone.
He knocked. I opened the door, and there he was,
shirtless, sporting a big shit-eating grin,
holding out a case of beer, his Dobro
slung across his back like silver wings.
And behind the surprise of him, out on the pier,
the light that dawn and dusk activate.
Around that light, golden mayflies swirled.
We drank the beer he’d brought, swapping songs,
our own and covers: Dylan, Brumley gospels.
We played until we got to songs that neither
of us knew, and the light on the pier went off.
We crashed, slept till one, then ate a bite.
He only left a little while ago.
That too was worth two hundred bucks, I think.
The world releases us from worldliness.

I leave tomorrow. Check out time is noon,
Sext at the abbey. By None I’ll be back home,
back helping that daemon child collect the body
parts I’ll curse next year when I try this.
No doubt next year, this year’s osprey, Mike,
the monks, my daily tableau on the pier,
will be among the imp’s gee-gaws of thought.
No doubt too (confiteor!) my tonsure
will have grown, to make more room for them.


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