Georgia O’Keefe used to baby-sit

Georgia O’Keefe used to baby-sit.
When I was little I stayed with her at her place;
we played checkers and watched the Three Stooges
through the snow on her television
out at the Ghost Ranch.
Her favorite show was Andy Griffith;
she thought Floyd the barber was dadaistic.
I didn’t know what that meant but I would nod
enthusiastically—
anything to make her happy.

I liked her.
I liked to watch her move.
I liked the way she tilted her head and studied the air,
and how standing in the sunbeam she could be all

bronze and stone and soap and bread and wine.

She showed me thrilling, flowing paintings
which she said were close ups of different flowers
AND NOTHING ELSE, GODDAMN IT;
she said it just like that, all caps.
I had no idea what she was talking about
being only nine or so,
but then David Hockney
snuck in my bedroom one night
and proved that she used a camera obscura
to cast her crotch onto a canvas.
Then she colored it up
like irises and stuff to hide it from people.

So now I don’t trust anybody anymore

—Don Whittington


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106 Degrees: Bring on the Bears

We’ve hit 106 a time or two already
but now we’re settling down
for our August run of misery.
A man once said if he owned both
hell and Texas he would live in hell
and rent Texas out

I found the bear-cam in Alaska
I watch from the salmon-berry’d shoreline
as the bears try for sockeye in the icy river
I could use an icy river
I will arise and go there
and a cabin build there of materials
trucked in from the nearest Home Depot
nine bean rows will I have there, and a hammock
and live alone in the bear loud glade

And me and the bears will eat fish every day
and me and the bears will form a conga line
and me and the bears will act out Hamm’s commercials
from the 1960s
until one of the bears—
the chief choreographer—
will take me aside and tell me I don’t dance well enough
to be a proud Balooey bear
he will take me off separately into the woods to tell me this
so I am not embarrassed
(bears are the most polite vicious carnivores)

Instead I will stay in my hammock
I will stop trying to make the bears dance
they will agree not to eat me
I will hear the splash of their paws in the water
and the soft pad of their feet on the shore
and the ursine thud of their wise hearts
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

—Don Whittington (with apologies to WBY)

Some Advice

 

Some Advice for the NBC Olympic Crew Covering the 2012 Olympic Games in London, United Kingdom for the American Public: the Most Sincere and Heartfelt Poetry Sort of Thing I’ve Ever Written

 

Shut up

Show the events

Save the documentaries and biographies for Ken Burns

Delete Ryan Seacrest

Shut up

—Don Whittington

 

 

I’m not sure how I feel about my past

I’m not sure how I feel about my past
a man should be able to say
this was good
this was bad
but there is nothing you can trust about that strange little worm
that is one’s memory.

I drove a 1970 Datsun 510 sedan
(unless I didn’t)
and descended on Monterey Bay nothing like
the Assyrian
(unless I did)
no wolf on the fold
no one mad, bad, or dangerous to know
trained to look backwards through the telescope
to see everything as small
pretending experience
instead of lying back
instead of letting the warm glory
of youth ravish me
as it should

I have finally learned to let go
but now there is nothing left of me that tries
to get away

—Don Whittington

A Guy Falls and Hurts Himself a Little

The day dawned like every other day since first God’s cosmic jism resolved itself into a manageable and predictable system of galaxies and nebulae and stars and planets and all the other things that conspire to give us upses and downses and sidewayses just so we can navigate an ordinary street without falling on our collective glutei like so many surprised muffets, but, unlike every other ordinary day, this was the day that God, in his wisdom, decided to stop jacking with the cosmos and jack with me instead.

So rather than walking naturally and calmly across the street like most folk I managed to slide off the edge of a curb and fall roughly at the speed of sound to the hard pavement of the street and hurt my shoulder. I did not hurt my shoulder a whole lot. Indeed, a lesser man would have said the shoulder hardly hurt at all and would have sprung eagerly from the asphalt all self-deprecating smiles and rapid assurances of, No, no, I’m fine, thank you; but doing so the lesser man would have missed the poignant significance of this event. It took a man of my insight to realize that this was no ordinary fall, but in fact the first step in an ugly vendetta against me by the Almighty.

Despite my lack of serious injury, it remained a tremendous fall. As my flesh collided with the earth it seemed to me at first that I might very well die. My life flashed before me, as lives do for people faced with their imminent demise, but I—resentful as I was of the entire situation—refused to watch it. Instead, I lay on my back with my eyes closed tightly plotting my future strategy. God had started this; his was the first move. Now it was up to me to return fire, but how?

A voice above me asked, “Are you all right, sir?” A voice above me! Could it be God? I opened my eyes to find that it was not God, but rather an acned avatar from Domino’s Pizza.

“Don’t touch him,” said a woman’s voice.

“You sure went down hard, mister,” said the pizza man.

“Don’t touch him. He might have multiple sclerosis,” the woman said. She leaned down to peer at me, checking over my scleroses, I presumed, counting to see just how many extra I had. I doubt I’d have paid any particular attention to her had she not borne a striking resemblance to my third grade teacher, Mrs. Gompers, who had inspired my love of learning as well as my first public erection.

“Thank you for your concern, Madam. I am genuinely touched. However, you are treading on my right hand with your brogan. Do you mind?”

Oh my,” she said and leaped backward, ordinarily a capital idea had she not used my hand as a springboard. Others were gathering. “I am so sorry,” she gushed, then held out her hand to ward off the others. “Don’t touch him.”

“And don’t step on his hand,” said the pizza man.

A new figure squatted beside my head, so near his touch seemed imminent, and I feared the faux Mrs. Gompers might perish from a purple snit of anxiety, but she braved the moment. The new figure said in a calm, assured voice, “Just lie quietly, I’ve called 911.”

“Good God, what an extraordinary thing to do,” I said.

“What happened?” asked some newcomer.

“Guy fell,” said the pizza man.

“It’s muscular dystrophy,” said Gompers redux. “I’ve seen it before. Don’t touch him.”

I considered her comments. Apparently, God assailed me in earnest, giving me not only a likely bruise on the left shoulder but a teeming horde of sclerosis, an achy hand, and a withering attack of muscular dystrophy with all that implied including, I presumed, a hug from Jerry Lewis.

“Excuse me,” said a new voice. “I can see there’s been an accident and all, but do you think I could have my pizza?”

“Sorry,” said the pizza man. “Over here.”

“What kind?” asked the man hunkered by my head.

“Ham and pineapple,” said the pizza man.

“Is that good? I’ve never tried it. I’ve always meant to try it,” said the dopple-Gompers.

“No time to try,” I muttered. “Probably too busy learning to spot a spastic colon through binoculars.”

“Look, I only ordered two pies. There’s not enough—“

However dire my own situation, I could not tolerate this vulgar creature’s complete abnegation of the social contract. I chastised him loudly from my spot in the street. “If you did not have enough for everyone, you should never have brought it up.”

“Hey, look you—“

“Leave him be. Can’t you see the man is dying from progeria? Don’t touch him!”

The group moved away from me and towards the pizza delivery car. There was no denying their intent, and like many another man confronted by the mob, the customer relented. Soon pizza was being passed around like hallelujahs in a Pentecostal whorehouse.

An ambulance chose that precise moment to take the corner on two wheels, sirens blaring. The driver’s eyes widened at the sight before him of some half a dozen terrified pedestrians waving pizza flags. He cut the wheel hard to the left which, I noticed with some small amount of trepidation, put him decidedly on a course with my own supine self.

The driver, a man of astonishing physical gifts, immediately recognized his error and corrected his bearing to miss me entirely save for running over both my legs. I noted with interest that this final adjustment was just enough to send the ambulance directly into the bole of a majestic pecan tree which—with an obstinacy typical of such trees—was disinclined to dodge, and instead took the impact with such vigor that the driver and another, rather sad-faced old gentlemen were thrown directly through the windshield head first into the tree where—one must presume—both perished immediately from the blow.

My own situation was no bed of roses as I now had suffered a rather nasty tire smudge across my trousers compounded by the nuisance of being pummeled by several thousand ambulanced pecans. Here God had already struck his second and third blows at me while I had yet to lift a finger in my own defense. Indeed, were it not for the fortuitous declivity in which my buttocks and legs lay, and were it not for the fact the ambulance had taken the corner on two wheels, and were it not further for the fact that my Samaritans had—only moments before—moved away to gorge on questionably topped pizza thus prompting the newly deceased driver to veer away from them straight for me, and that the unit’s forward momentum propelled it such that it passed over me only as the driver’s side rear tire descended to earth just enough to soil my trousers before landing with a screech on the pavement immediately beyond me, goodness, were it not for these perfectly ordinary bits of physical business that ambulance’s tires might well have put me to considerable inconvenience. In addition, my attempts to keep up with all this frenzied activity while lying on my back had given me quite the crick in the neck.

Meanwhile the crowd grew and the general mood escalated from a tailgate party to a caterwaul.

“Are—are they all right?” someone asked.

“They’re dead.”

“Oh God, the humanity, the humanity.”

“Don’t touch them.”

A man, white with shock, dropped to his knees beside me. “Don’t move. I saw what happened. We all saw it. How are your legs?”

“They seem to be fine, but I’m not sure that tread mark is ever going to come out.”

“Easy, easy. Help is on the way.” The man rose and said to another, “He says his legs feel fine. How is that possible?”

“It’s the shock,” said someone else. “He’ll feel it later.”

All around me men stumbled, women sobbed, and pecans scrunched under shoes. I wondered idly if there might be any pizza left, but was distracted by the sound of more sirens in the distance. Determined that there should be no repetition of events, the Gompers clone took sentry twenty feet down the street to guard me against any further ravaging by medical care.

However the sight of her, arms wide, legs spraddled like a human railroad crossing sign so shocked the driver that he hit his brakes without thinking. This was news to the driver of the ambulance barreling up behind him who, unaware of any Gompers doings, simply plowed into the rear of the first ambulance (or second, if you count the pecan dispenser) without benefit of deceleration sending both units screeching in a shower of sparks across the street where they crashed into a bus filled with touring nuns who had stopped nearby to offer intercessionary prayers on my behalf and to ask for directions to bingo. The air filled with flying nuns and emergency medical technicians all suffering grievous wounds and all landing with sickening crunches on their noggins.

The bogus Gompers wailed like a stricken gospel star. She spun round and round until, overwhelmed by the numbers of people to protect from anti-curative human contact she collapsed in a swoon in the middle of the street, untouched herself until the fire truck ran over her.

Said engine, large and heavy and shiny red, effectively cut the mirror Gompers in twain throwing me into a dolorous mood. Now I was left with no more than a slight ache in my right hand to remember her by, that and an overwhelming urge to enjoin the firemen against groping her.

And perhaps I would had done just that had not a lit cigar jutting stubbily from the thin-lipped Mother Superior come in contact with the rapidly spreading pool of gasoline which leaked from the rutting ambulances. The resultant conflagration swept the street catching all, including the fire engine in its blazing fury. Before the firemen could react to save their engine the ambulances exploded with a mighty whump sending shock waves so powerful they disrupted the beating rotors of the CareFlight helicopter overhead which fell like a rock only to burst spectacularly like some flaming,  spidery egg on the fire engine.

It was at this point I considered getting up.

The depression in which I lay ran decidedly downhill such that the gasoline was never really a danger, but the heat from the chopper’s fireball was deucedly warm so really, I had little choice.

Springing to action, I rose and moved away from the flames. I shook a fist at the sky, cursing God. “Is there no end to your enmity? How much more must I suffer?”

The police and National Guard had arrived and might have helped me away had not hundreds of men wearing camouflage ball caps and brandishing rifles chosen that very moment to stream forth from their compound shouting “No more Wacos!”

The air shimmered in the crackle of the flames and the roar of gunfire. The ensuing firefight among the three groups made passage difficult, and the noise from so much rifle fire got on my nerves. I massaged my brow thinking this was going to give me a headache for sure. Somehow, slowly, I picked my way across the battlefield ruining a perfectly good pair of shoes in the gummy blood on the ground. It was all him. All Jehovah. What did he want from me? How much did I have to sacrifice?

But as I reached the edge of battle, I could not help but notice a pair of butterflies flitting above the body of a young corporal. I reconsidered. Could I stay angry at a creator who could make such heart-breaking beauty? I could not. What I took for an attack was only God’s love, reaching out to me, to teach me a lesson about working through the pain, being a better person.

Just as Christ had died for me, all these people had died for me, too, to teach me to show more empathy. God makes a man in some foreign land beat his wife for me. He allows tens of thousands to starve for my sake. Every bad thing on the earth happens just so I can learn a little lesson. I felt humbled.

From that day I became a new man. I was firmly on God’s side no matter what. And I learned to look on all the world’s ills as a kind of wacky reality show. Bring it on, God. Bring on the tornado, the tsunami, war, pestilence, earthquake and volcano. You know me. I’ve been tested.

I can take it.

—Don Whittington

My aunt told me demons

Brain Demons by amfiria, available through Deviant Art http://amfiria.deviantart.com/art/brain-demons-81011286

My aunt told me demons came to her bedroom.
They stood at the foot of her bed like, I suppose,
those guys in the kung-fu movies,
waiting to attack
instead of just closing in
and forcing her to serve Satan.
She woke her husband Arnold who is a minister
but notorious for sleeping through demonic visitations.
Together they sang
There is power, power, wonder working power
in the blood (in the blood) of the lamb!
until the demons writhed in agony and disappeared.
That was lucky
that they knew a good demon-thwarting song.
I would have probably called for direct angel intervention.
I’d have screamed,
“Help me, Jesus, help me.”
I would have never thought to sing to them
any more than I would try to stop a robber
by showing him a photo
of the Emmy nominated cast of Hill Street Blues.
But my aunt and uncle knew exactly what to do.
Which brings up another point.
What kind of hapless stupid demons
are they trying to palm off on us nowadays?
Of all the houses on her street,
this was the one house
where demons had no chance.
To my aunt and uncle, heaven is like
a celestial Olympic Games
for which they are constantly in training.
What were they thinking?
It’s the demonic equivalent
of walking into a Hell’s Angels’ bar
and yelling “All you pussy bikers suck!”
Bad strategy, boys.

The demons never returned to my aunt’s bedroom,
but stay busy nowadays directing the conduct
of America’s political parties.

—Don Whittington

Love Never Seeps

Honoria looked radiant in the sun’s dying glow as the day slowly nodded off to twilight. She turned to smile at him on the balcony with her champagne.

“Oh, darling, I’m the luckiest bride that was ever in the world.”

“And I the luckiest groom,” he said. Is she smiling at me with her mouth or with her champagne? he wondered. Oh, well, as long as she’s happy. “Shall we embrace?” he asked.

“You betcha, buddy,” she whispered anti-sibilantly. Their lips touched for only a second before she turned to sip at her champagne. “Oh look,” she said. “That funny man on the beach. Whatever is he doing?”

His lips still feeling let down, he looked gamely to the seashore below, and the sight he saw was a sight he sought to unsee ere he saw it.  He gasped with recognition.

A man worked frantically on the beach, trying to mold a golem in the sand. He would manage to get a crude homunculus formed, but always as he stepped away the figure collapsed.

“Gerald, my darling, you look so troubled. Do you know that man?”

“No, I don’t know him.”

“Don’t lie to me, Gerald. Let’s not start our marriage on lies. That was a gasp of recognition if ever I heard one. Gerald, who is that man?”

Gerald turned to her, his face stricken. From the beach the man waved his fists in Gerald’s direction while shouting too faintly for the lovely young couple to hear more than a barely audible “eck oo” or something like it.

“That man is my arch-nemesis: the Sandmaster!”

“The Sandmaster? What the hell is a Sandmaster? I never heard of a Sandmaster. Sounds like some kind of vacuum cleaner you’d buy from an infomercial.” She tossed off her champagne in a gulp of exasperation, the kind with too much air in it that can give you the hiccups.

“If only he were. No, Honoria, the Sandmaster is the world’s most dangerous super-villain. He can bring figures made of sand to hideous life to do his ghastly bidding. Fortunately, he is an awful sculptor, so it takes him many tries to get one to hold together long enough to crank it up. But he will succeed eventually.”

On the beach the man continued frantically molding the sand only to see it collapse again.  Fuming with rage he looked about and noticed a young boy with a pail nearby who had built a magnificent sand castle. The man and boy were having a conversation as Honoria watched. Then it seemed like the Sandmaster was writing out a check.

“Well, that can’t be good,” she muttered. She moved swiftly from the balcony toward the room. “I’m breaking open the scotch,” she said as she stepped past Gerald, his nostrils tingling from the scent of her delicate perfume.

“I was going to tell you, Honoria, I was. But I was so afraid that if you knew the life we were to lead, if you knew the deadly danger that is my bread and meat…”

Honoria stepped back out on the balcony and plopped into a chair, poured a stiff drink of Bell’s into a squat glass, and knocked it back like a pro. No air this time at all. She poured another as Gerald stared at her.

“I had no idea you were such a drinker.”

“Back to the program, Jerry. ‘Bread and meat’ you were saying.”

Gerald shook his head. “Of course. Deadly danger, my precious one. Gerald Monckwhistle is my real name, but it is not my real person. It is my secret identity. The secret identity of that hero of justice—” he stopped and looked over to see if she was paying attention. She was and motioned in the air with her finger as if to say, go on. “—Pus-Man.”

Honoria blinked several times. She stared down at her drink, back up at Gerald, back at her drink again. She set it down. In as calm a voice as she could muster, she said, “Who?”

“The Amazing Pus-Man!”

“You’re Pus-Man.”

“Yes.”

“You have suppurative super-powers.”

“More precisely I have super-suppuration powers.”

“I want a divorce.”

“Darling, I know it’s a shock.”

“A shock? Finding out you were a woman would have been a shock. A pleasant one, but that is neither here nor there.  Finding out the man I married can turn into a great glistening ball of fetid purulence is the end of the world. I want a divorce.”

There were shouts from the streets below, screams. Honoria paid them no attention. “I can just see me with the other super-hero’s wives. ‘Well my Spidey swings,’ and ‘My Superman flies,’ and ‘My Flash is ever so fast.’ ‘What does your man do, honey?‘ ‘My Amazing Pus-Man? Oh, he’s an oozer. He oozes.’”

“I don’t ooze,” Gerald said through clenched teeth. He turned to see the cause of the chaos beyond their balcony. The screams broke through to Honoria, and she joined him at the railing, the bottle firmly in her hand.

A demonic, monstrous sand figure of Dora the Explorer came slogging toward the hotel, smashing vehicles and store windows as she passed. The Dora golem howled in rage and by her side stood the Sandmaster, a smile of triumph on his face.

On the balcony above, Gerald was already changing, his skin glistening.

“Oh Christ,” said Honoria, gagging, “that is disgusting.  You are disgusting.”

“Don’t fear for me, my darling. You’ll see. I shall prevail.” He grabbed her by her upper arms and made as if to kiss her, but she spit a spray of scotch into his face. He averted his gaze, sighed, released her, and glopped from the balcony to the street below.

As the sounds of battle rent the night, Honoria stared ruefully at the pus marks on her blouse. “That is never coming out.”

Will the Amazing Pus-Man win the day or will the dreaded Sandmaster destroy his nemesis and take over Hawaii with his henchman Pail-Boy? Will Honoria divorce Gerald, or will she reconsider when she remembers his riches? Tune in to our next installment of Love Never Seeps when you’ll hear Honoria say:

“Are we talking Bruce Wayne rich, or what?”

—Don Whittington

people are getting away with stuff

people are getting away with stuff
i don’t care for it
told my friend emmanuel and he said
theres four kinds of people in this world
theres the people who are getting away with stuff
like you he says
like me I says
buy yourself some punctuation he says
buy yourself some capital letters
don’t make people guess about every damned thing
stacy keach
see like that what the hell does stacy keach have to do with anything
not much i say
but enough
then theres the people who don’t care for it
me again
then theres the people who hate the first two types of people
im like that
then theres the people who hate the first three types of people
i hate everybody
but that means im all four types
so which type are you
none of them
that makes five types then
so sartre was right and you the fifth type dont exist
because there is no fifth type and i
who have the four types within me
and am alone
with all that represents the existence i created for myself
can finally relax
knowing that even though i’m getting away with stuff
its already my stuff so no harm done
so that eliminates the second type
which cancels out the third and fourth
so i am all alone while people are getting away with stuff
i don’t care for it
told my friend emmanuel and he said
let me stop you right there
and he puts his finger on my lips

—–Don Whittington

The Pearl River is not so mighty

The Pearl River is not so mighty
as the big muddy,
but she is lush and fresh
in a way Twain’s river will never be again.
She comes barreling through
the crust of cotton country,
her banks banging left to right,
like Marilyn Monroe going up a narrow stair,
then sabering down to shear the toes from
Louisiana’s  boot
leaving the whole damned state
to limp along forever.
We Louisiana people are not like you
no matter how the movies and the TV
and the social workers try to make us so.
Sure, we hate the water and the wind, but
like a woman who requires bad love from the wrong man,
we cannot live without that edge, that frisson,
that moment when we stand before the widow-making,
widdershins winds and shout like mad prophets
our throats choking with the hammering rain.
When we look right up Katrina’s goddamned dress
screaming,  Is that all you got?
Laissez les bon temps rouler, putain!
and she rolls right over us, like any other
accommodating prostitute.

We will all of us walk around stunned for a little while.
We will some of us decide that we cannot live through this another time
and having decided, will leave forever.
But because we really are Louisiana people
and we are not like you, most will simply stay.
Most of those who go away will also come back
when they see how small the rest of America has become.
Once we get over being stunned
those of us who did not leave and were too stupid
to die when we could make the most money from it
will withdraw a little bit, as we do when we need
to remember who we are, and why that is enough for us.

The Pearl River is where we go to heal.
The Bogue Chitto, the Atchafalaya, the Amite
those are the rivers a man can wed, can live with happily.
Trees hang heavy over the banks
like women in shawls weeping in each other’s arms.
The water is thick, dark chocolate from the crud and crap
Katrina drove into her stream, but hell, she’s always dark
and thrilling as a sporting girl from Storyville.
This is my place.
It is what makes me a Louisiana man,
unlike any other kind of man in America
for all the good and bad you can imagine.
So be it.
My spindly gumbo-hut of a fishing camp
is still on its pins, its furniture nailed to the floor.
The river rises and recedes.
I chase the snakes through the front door
like they were naughty puppies and laugh thinking
how damned immortal we all are,
snakes and men together,
ever since Eden.

 —Don Whittington