Excerpts for Useless Landscape, or a Guide for Boys


USELESS LANDSCAPE, OR A Guide for Boys


By D. A. Powell

Graywolf Press

Copyright © 2012 D. A. Powell
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-55597-605-7

Contents

Almonds in Bloom..........................................................................5
Tender Mercies............................................................................6
Cherry Blossoms in Spring.................................................................8
The Fluffer Talks of Eternity.............................................................9
Landscape with Sections of Aqueduct.......................................................10
Useless Landscape.........................................................................11
Bidwell Park..............................................................................12
The Kiwi Comes to Gridley, CA.............................................................13
College City Market, College City, CA.....................................................14
Seven Sketches for a Landscape, Unfinished................................................15
A Brief History of Internment.............................................................18
The Bathers...............................................................................19
Little Boy Blue...........................................................................20
Dying in the Development..................................................................21
Chicken...................................................................................23
Bojangles.................................................................................24
Dying in a Turkish Bath...................................................................25
End of Days...............................................................................26
That's Where They Hide the Silos..........................................................27
Panic in the Year Zero....................................................................28
Landscape with Temple, Mosque and Little Crosses..........................................32
Landscape with Combine....................................................................33
Quarantine................................................................................34
Release the Sterile Moths.................................................................35
Valley of the Dolls.......................................................................36
Landscape with Figures Partially Erased...................................................37
Homesickness..............................................................................39
Bugcatching at Twilight...................................................................41
Head Out on the Highway...................................................................43
Tarnished Angel...........................................................................44
Riverfront Park, Marysville, CA...........................................................45
Love Hangover.............................................................................46
Landscape with Lymphatic System, System of Rivulets, System of Rivers.....................47
An Elegy for My Libido....................................................................49
Abandonment under the Walnut Tree.........................................................50
The Price of Funk in Funkytown............................................................51
Traveling Light...........................................................................52
Outside Thermalito........................................................................55
The Opening of the Cosmos.................................................................56
One Thousand and One Nights...............................................................57
Funkytown: Forgotten City of the Plain....................................................59
Notes of a Native Son.....................................................................61
Donkey Basketball Diaries.................................................................62
A Little Less Kettledrum, Please..........................................................64
Narcissus.................................................................................66
My Life as a Dog..........................................................................67
A Guide for Boys..........................................................................68
Boonies...................................................................................70
Lessons in Woodworking....................................................................72
Pupil.....................................................................................74
Elements of a Cross-Country Runner........................................................75
Magic Kingdom Come........................................................................76
Space Junk................................................................................77
Sporting Life.............................................................................78
Dying in a Fallow.........................................................................79
Reaching Around for You...................................................................80
Goodbye, My Fancy.........................................................................81
Hereafter.................................................................................83
Midnight Cowbell..........................................................................84
Do the Hustle.............................................................................85
Once and Future Houseboy..................................................................86
Backdrop with Splashes of Cum on It.......................................................87
Transit of Mercury........................................................................89
Platelet Count Descending.................................................................90
Backstage Pass............................................................................91
Having a Rambutan with You................................................................92
Summer of My Bone Density Test............................................................94
The Great Unrest..........................................................................96
Orchard in January........................................................................98
Ode to Joy................................................................................99
Missionary Man............................................................................101
Mass for Pentecost: Canticle for Birds & Waters...........................................104


Chapter One

    ALMONDS IN BLOOM

    In heaven, I believe, even our deaths are forgiven.
    —Dunstan Thompson

    Who could sustain such pale plentitude
    and not want to shake the knopped white blossoms
    from the swarthy branches.

    The petals seem more parchment, and more pure,
    in her upright phalanges

    with a box of soap flakes, tackling the mud-cake
    somebody made on the quarter-sawn floor.

    Just when we think we've been punished enough,
    there's a bounty to contend with—
    she's at the spinet, now, and every key's a plunker.
    She hasn't had it tuned since the flood.
    Yes, she really troubles heaven with her deaf singing.
    But after all, it's heaven.
    Even death will be forgiven.


    TENDER MERCIES

    The dandelions, ditch-blown brood,
    the evening snow and dew-soaked phlox,
    the Brewer's pea, the Jepson's pea
    (these, the bright eyes of the viridian fields)
    in chaparral, the hillside pea and angled pea,
    intensities of light and pomp
    that distress the easy upswept grass.
    The smack the rain plants as it smudges past
    and penetrates the canvas.

    The smattering on field and railroad tracks,
    both hardy blooms and dainty flowers,
    the judge's house, the chicken farm,
    a migratory camp, a flesh motel,
    a stucco digs
    where all that mitigates the August swelter
    is the swamp cooler's immutable burr,
    a straggling house that draws its water
    from a hard-water well and flushes out
    with the help of a crude sump pump.

    Before the flatland is occluded
    by the staunch of light at end of day,
    I wanted to be content with all its surfaces:
    weed, barb, crack, rill, rise ...
    But every candid shoot and fulgent branch
    depends upon the arteries beneath.
    The houses have their siphons
    and their circuit vents.
    The heart—I mean the literal heart—
    must rely upon its own plaqued valves;
    the duodenal canal, its unremitting grumble.
    The brain upon its stem,
    and underneath,
    a network, vast, of nerves that rationalize.

    The earth's a little harder than it was.
    But I expect that it will soften soon,
    voluptuous in some age hence,
    because we captured it as art
    the moment it was most itself:
    fragile, flecked with nimbleweed,
    and so alone,
    it almost welcomed its own ravishment.

    I was a maiden in this versicolor plain.
    I watched it change.
    Withstood that change, the infidelities
    of light, the solar interval, the shift of time,
    the shift from farm to town.
    I had a man that pressed me down
    into the soil. I was that man. I was that town.

    They call the chicory "ragged sailors" here:
    sojourners who have finally returned
    and are content to see the summer to its end.
    Be unafraid of what the future brings.
    I will not use this particular blue again.

      —for Betty Buckley


    CHERRY BLOSSOMS IN SPRING

    I've already pieced it out in my head:
    there's almost nothing to go back to.
    The wide flat palm of the prickly pear
    outside Bent Prop Liquors. I kid you
    not that the air's so red, day's end,
    that it unlooses a fat ribbon of regret.
    Yet the air does not move; it hangs
    its squalid rags on the post; it poops
    dirty bats out of the public
    library's colonnade. I wasn't the first
    kid you raped. In this indifferent orchard
    where many a shallow boy got dumped.
    I think of you often. I think of you never
    so much I dare to touch my stolen twig.


    THE FLUFFER TALKS OF ETERNITY

    I can only give you back what you imagine.
    I am a soulless man. When I take you
    into my mouth, it is not my mouth. It is
    an unlit pit, an aperture opened just enough
    in the pinhole camera to capture the shade.

    I have caused you to rise up to me, and I
    have watched as you rose and waned.
    Our times together have been innumerable. Still,
    like a Capistrano swallow, you come back.
    You understand: I understand you. Understand
    each jiggle and tug. Your pudgy, mercurial wad.

    I am simply a hand inexhaustible as yours
    could never be. You're nevertheless prepared to shoot.
    If I could I'd finish you. Be more than just your rag.


    LANDSCAPE WITH SECTIONS OF AQUEDUCT

    If the crown of day is not gold, then it's a marvelous fake.
    Merciful present tense: if the brown grass is always flowing,
    if the sun is always just brushing the dry hills, and if
    last summer's suicide is still a loner whose white t-shirt
    knotted, so tight it had to be cut off his neck with a penknife,
    then evening is the same bare patch and the same fat crows,
    the crushed aluminum cans and the hamburger wrappers
    or the ribbon of tire tread where a road crew hasn't come by.

    They have taken him away and I do not know where he is laid.
    Among the soft cheat and meadow barley, a live oak begs relief
    from the hardened light, the beating of its own gnarled limbs,
    and the unrelenting rustle of its own beige blooms that tumble
    together shyly like a locker room of boys once boisterous, now
    called to roll and suddenly bashful, clasping at dingy towels.
    Let the dead be modest. Give the tree, solitary being who feeds
    on wind and the mote of another's distant beauty, cause to brag.

    Except that the kernel would fall upon the soil, it abides alone.
    One guy peeled labels off beer bottles here; another climbed
    the remaining concrete piles and wrote JUSTIN LOVES, wrote
    stephen loves, wrote hang 'EM HIGH—CLASS OF '93.
    Cabbage moths flickered in tansy and clustered broom-rape;
    bore the pain of creation for a little yellow dust, a smear of light
    on their fidgeting legs and the sudden buoyancy in updraft.
    Ruin, by the wayside, you took as sacrament. You, abiding rock.


    USELESS LANDSCAPE

    A lone cloudburst hijacked the Doppler radar screen, a bandit
    hung from the gallows, in rehearsal for the broke-necked man,
    damn him, tucked under millet in the potter's plot. Welcome
    to disaster's alkaline kiss, its little clearing edged with twigs,
    and posted against trespass. Though finite, its fence is endless.

    Lugs of prune plums already half-dehydrated. Lugged toward
    shelf life and sorry reconstitution in somebody's eggshell kitchen.
    If you hear the crop-dust engine whining overhead, mind
    the orange windsock's direction, lest you huff its vapor trail.
    Scurry if you prefer between the lime-sulphured rows, and cull
    from the clods and sticks, the harvest shaker's settling.

    The impertinent squalls of one squeezebox vies against another
    in ambling pick-ups. The rattle of dice and spoons. The one café
    allows a patron to pour from his own bottle. Special: tripe today.
    Goat's head soup. Tortoise-shaped egg bread, sugared pink.
    The darkness doesn't descend, and then it descends so quickly
    it seems to seize you in burly arms. I've been waiting all night
    to have this dance. Stay, it says. Haven't touched your drink.


    BIDWELL PARK

    When the previously withheld faces grew tough as flax
    or softened into pliant pine in the umber wood, inclined
    together, numerous, when the cobble crushed underfoot,
    and pistachios cracked in their shells, grown heavy,
    grown consummate among the nibs of leaves, then curious
    seemed the stars, those nether eyes which scrutinized
    each shape that stirred against the unlit trunks of trees.

    He could say he knew the men he did not know. Arrived
    in the cedar grove and parted, sated with little effort,
    or left unsatisfied, ruminating upon such unfamiliar flesh
    across the glade. Silent the approach, a fawn, fluid
    through the damp grass, the current in the full creek
    surrounding the mossy rocks, pulling them a spell
    a little ways downstream, inevitable their deposit.

    Thus he would peer the woods, and quarry eluded him,
    sloughed that lustrous hide and slipped innominate away.
    Retraction: there were times he stood the corsair's nip,
    gained midnight's reticent stroke, the haphazard coitus
    of loaded collegians stumbling the poison oak. Hermit
    thrush or Wilson's snipe. Something bolts the dark,
    flushed from the thick rushes, that most temporal cover.


    THE KIWI COMES TO GRIDLEY, CA

    At first it seems truly foreign, like the downy brown nutsack
    in a health class textbook: almost too firm, almost too perfect
    to be edible. If it gives to the touch, it's ready to pluck.
    No robin's egg, though you might nestle it in your hands.

    A few more boys deployed this week. Under jade green vines
    they crawl on their crusty elbows, helmets tipped, their
    backsides up. And they all went to bliss in their little skiff.

    You may never understand the intersection of small & large,
    conquest & defeat. For now, miraculous surges simply come,
    a series of peaks which are not quite the purple monkshood,
    not quite the crusty, papillated surface inside an alien geode.

    Consider this odd yield: overgrown berry with its easy sway
    and pubescent peel, how it will proffer its redolent fruit.
    This mysterious being now enters you: to arms, to arms.


    COLLEGE CITY MARKET, COLLEGE CITY, CA

    When you come to a fork in the road, you've reached the limit
    of inhabited space. That goes for most points on the compass,
    leastways true north. And it is true, the pavement that splits
    the difference, offers you half its lean sandwich, sanderlings,
    stink bugs. When you just can't drive: offers you a pallet.

    The register sticks. The swatter will not nearly vanquish its prey.
    Bursts its lid in geyser spray, a jar of pickled pork rinds.
    Eats its way through tin, the green chile salsa called verde.
    Dies one afternoon, the rat who had nibbled too much cereal;
    and, though his location is vague, you can smell him decay,
    up through floorboards wafting. Light a candle then blow it out.
    When a customer wrinkles his nose, just look the other way.

    Grasshoppers pitch themselves against the wire front door.
    Nothing in the cooler they desire. They don't want flan or beer.


    SEVEN SKETCHES FOR A LANDSCAPE,
    UNFINISHED



    1

    The state, begun as a series of missions,
    used native men & women as cheap labor,
    edified through occasional public floggings.
    As the indigenous populations began to die,
    they were replaced by immigrants from China
    used to build railroads,
    with pickaxes and blasting caps.
    And when the Chinese were too many,
    the US Congress passed exclusion acts.


    2

    In Wheatland, hops pickers, fired upon
    by Yuba County sheriffs and their henchmen
    for attempting to protect themselves
    against exploitation and unsafe working conditions,
    retaliated by rioting; were beaten and cuffed.


    3

    In Cocoran, the Mexican strikers were refused relief.
    Some infants starved. Some workers died.
    The farmers dumped their milk into the sewers,
    and burned acres of corn, rather
    than provide for upstart laborers.


    4

    Old man Nakagawa, divested of his property in 1942,
    returned to Marysville following the war
    and opened a small grocery.


    5

    While then-governor Ronald Reagan
    stood in the capitol's rose garden,
    members of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense
    entered the senate chambers,
    armed to protect their community
    from the abuse of power exhibited by Oakland police.


    6

    When the Islamic mosque on Tierra Buena Road
    was set ablaze by arsonists,
    the neighboring Sikhs opened up their temple
    as a place of worship
    for their historic enemies.


    7

    The rains still bring the rivers to a crest.

    [Here's where you imagine the rest.]


    A BRIEF HISTORY OF INTERNMENT

    Hence the wild daikon.
    We've made the landscape mean here.
    And then we put down roots.


    THE BATHERS

    What a reprieve from all this stultifying heat.
    And all the threats implicit in that heat:

    the sweep and snare of blackberry,

    razor barb of concertina wire.

    The bluish teasel nearly chafed you
    with its bracts.

    You've made it through some muck
    with your absolute body
    still intact. So far,

    the Camp Far West lakewater is barely blue.
    That might make two of you.

    Who is the other whom you seek?

    They found a body in this lake; it wasn't his;
    it wasn't yours. And so the shore
    persists in summoning you.

    He may be waiting.
    His body hasn't lost any allure.
    & nor has yours.

    But sorry is the heart
    that knows
    what's round the bend.


    LITTLE BOY BLUE

    He finds himself inside the Sunrise Mall,
    but not at Waldenbooks. He seeks no solitude.
    His second great awakening has started,
    subdued interstices between kiosks and stores;
    the proximity of skimming eyes, or studious eyes
    that read him like a copy of Leaves of Grass.
    He has come in his holey, worn-out jeans.
    He has come there in his flimsy little thongs.

    And there's those hankering eyes that seem
    to sample him like Orange Julius eggwhite froth
    or bits of free salami cubed upon a paper plate
    & stabbed by frill-picks.
    Don't meet those eyes.
    The arcade's packed with Pac-Man players in a jiff.
    Gobble the cherries. Gobble that consecrated ghost.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from USELESS LANDSCAPE, OR A Guide for Boys by D. A. Powell Copyright © 2012 by D. A. Powell. Excerpted by permission of Graywolf Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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