Bill Carty

In the megalomaniac’s playpen
an artist fashions masks
atop the papier-mâchéd husk
of a shopping cart while
a programmer glides north
toward the lake blowing a kazoo
to summon ancient marshlands.
The Earth turned over
in praise-worthy hill-raisings,
last century’s technocrats
re-graded slopes of red
currant and squaw berry bushes,
while today’s credulous
ventures aim billions
toward deep space or sea,
find delight in the underwater
click-through fantasia,
small portals in the window
of a coffee shop, bus ads urging
the to-be-hitched to form
a registry—enlist for a new
casserole or gaming console,
perhaps champagne flutes
to toast sacred songs
to the muses. Outside,
I pivot like a desperate business,
pay two bucks for the non-profit
weekly, a few coins sweating
against my thigh, I find
a fountain for them,
toss as a tip or poker chip
with a wink for the fountain fish,
who come to it together,
a kiss. A pair at the bar
discuss the new boutique,
their work shirts are apt to task,
they boast a half dozen
perfunctory pockets.
The label reads not just China
but Guangzhou, “radical transparency”
being the start-up’s line—
you can go online and see their smiling,
sewing faces. My student’s
family home is there, since razed
for the airport’s expansion.
His uncle sits at one end
of the runway with a dummy cannon,
scaring off the gander.
Some geese hold fast,
eager to glimpse our anxious,
pestilent species. Hey,
that’s us, that’s how it begins—
we arrive and reveal our age
too quickly. It’s easy: count backward
from now until the beginning
of Hesiod’s Works and Days,
my copy’s cover a scratched print
by Anne Carson titled,
“But Often Backward Turning,”
and yes, I too asked, “That Anne Carson?”
It’s safe to make assumptions
regarding the mythological.
On the cover, bearded man
in folded robes, he’s got the ancient
side-eye native to owls.
You’d be skeptical too
the first time you saw someone
turn chaos to atom.
Watch the sky get organized,
herding clouds toward the base
of the hill, herding seaplanes
into the bowl of the lake.
At the red light, a man waves
a conductor’s wand at traffic,
Angel Olsen singing in my ears,
I’m looking out the bus window,
hungry. Someone’s carrying
the ubiquitous pink box
that must mean cupcakes.
Blessed sugars in their ages,
ours being that which builds
towers atop car repair shops.
Please say a prayer
for the Guitar Center.
No, I think that’s still there—
the urge for song.
The bus radio beeps: a girl
is missing, pink boots
with green apples, another
with no shoes, one blonde,
one red, this is the address
they are missing from,
as I miss the next connecting
bus. The man in the seat
in front of me caught it.
I watched him running.
I watched him board.
He wanted it more.
Inhauling exhaust
from the Whole Foods vent,
I wonder how far back
this goes, back to when
Kronos was solo act,
donned the neon cloak
of official-ish work,
and in this grief,
conducted traffic.
The flock abides,
not cheerful exactly,
but not so harried
as to make a fuss.
They fold the sun
into company umbrellas.
Which are yellow.
Which are free. Look how
they flaunt their trust
for one another.
I left my van unlocked
for just one night
and in the morning
my trust was gone.
You may have guessed
that I’ve only ever scanned
the ancient Greeks.
Above, generally flat March light,
and above that I’d have
a hard time buying
some holy spirit within
the cloud-shroud doling
justice. I’ll believe in any hero
who needs a grapplehook
to pull herself from bed
in the morning. This much
I’ve gleaned from
a sidewalk preacher:
“Be careful what you indulge in.
I myself do the same thing.”
I get it. I get a lot from this book
on Scandanavian deathkeeping.
“To hunt for misplaced things
is never an effective use of time,”
says a Swede named Margareta
who has obviously never scoured
the gentrifying city
for the Ethiopian restaurant
of her wedding reception.
Many gyro shops have gone to sea
in the name of techne.
The key is to accept defeat
but avoid humiliation.
I guess what upset me
was that I never saw a person.
I saw a concept form like weather
at the south end of the lake.
It was the fifth generation
Hesiod could do without—
Iron Age—days and nights
of trouble, small occasions
of property crime, the type
that send the fearful
to their message boards.
When weather arrives to defeat
the last pedestrian,
red lights of an ambulance
flash in the coffee shop.
Outside, a Michigan Wolverines
sweatshirt left at the bus stop.
A crow making a meal out of
whatever plus tortilla.
That was the last we ever heard
from Anne Carson:
she painted a brown house blue,
then retreated to her cavern.
Last word was the hawk’s
as relayed by the heron:
It was pathetic, as they fled,
how they left their hats behind
in the rain.

Originally published in Moss: Volume Five.
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