Monday, November 15, 2010

Monday's Poetry: "Five Houses Down"

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

McDonald County, Missouri, could be one of the most beautiful places in the United States.  It has wooded hills that flower heavily with the blossoms of Dogwood trees every spring, clear streams with gravel beaches, and limestone bluffs that hang out over the roadways in many places.  The county was home to gospel legend Albert E. Brumley who wrote many time honored classics including "Turn Your Radio On," and the immortal "I'll Fly Away."  It was also the filming location for the 1939 movie, "Jesse James" which brought Hollywood stars Henry Fonda, Tyrone Power, Nancy Kelly, and Jane Darwell to the county for several months.

But given all of its breathtaking scenery and history, McDonald County is anything but beautiful.  The citizens of the county are fiercely independent and do as Ronald Reagan instructed them to do - they distrust their government.  The result is that they don't want anyone, especially government, telling them what to do.  There is practically no zoning in the county, resulting in a situation where every wistful vista is scoured with rusting cars on blocks, dilapidated trailer houses, cur dogs running wild, and enough litter and rubbish along the roadways to fill a fleet of trash trucks.

Who cares if not having property zoning laws makes prime real estate essentially worthless and drives off tourists?  At least the locals don't have to suffer government telling them what to do.  McDonald County is probably what the whole country would look like if Sarah Palin was President.

So I have selected the following poem, "Five Houses Down," for this week because it reminds me of McDonald County and particularly of some of my neighbors on Old Pine Trail.


Five Houses Down 
by Chris Wiman

I loved his ten demented chickens
and the hell-eyed dog, the mailbox
shaped like a huge green gun.
I loved the eyesore opulence
of his five partial cars, the wonder-cluttered porch
with its oilspill plumage, tools
cauled in oil, the dark
clockwork of disassembled engines
christened Sweet Baby and benedicted Old Bitch;
and down the steps into the yard the explosion
of mismatched parts and black scraps
amid which, like a bad sapper cloaked
in luck, he would look up stunned,
patting the gut that slopped out of his undershirt
and saying, Son,
you lookin’ to make some scratch?
All afternoon we’d pile the flatbed high
with stacks of Exxon floormats
mysteriously stencilled with his name,
rain-rotted sheetrock or miles
of misfitted pipes, coil after coil
of rusted fencewire that stained for days
every crease of me, rollicking it all
to the dump where, while he called
every ragman and ravened junkdog by name,
he catpicked the avalanche of trash
and fished some always fixable thing
up from the depths. Something
about his endless aimless work
was not work, my father said.
Somehow his barklike earthquake curses
were not curses, for he could goddam
a slipped wrench and shitfuck a stuck latch,
but one bad word from me
made his whole being
twang like a nail mis-struck. Aint no call for that,
son, no call at all. Slipknot, whatknot, knot
from which no man escapes—
prestoed back to plain old rope;
whipsnake, blacksnake, deep in the wormdirt
worms like the clutch of mud:
I wanted to live forever
five houses down
in the womanless rooms a woman
sometimes seemed to move through, leaving him
twisting a hand-stitched dishtowel
or idly wiping the volcanic dust.
It seemed like heaven to me:
beans and weenies from paper plates,
black-fingered tinkerings on the back stoop
as the sun set, on an upturned fruitcrate
a little jamjar of rye like ancient light,
from which, once, I took a single, secret sip,
my eyes tearing and my throat on fire.

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