ALL IN THE PRESENTATION: SPRING WATER, MICHIGAN, 1977
(for P.T., 1957-1977)
Out Old U.S. 27, between Elwell
and Shepard, between dead bird
and shredded tire, between yes
and maybe, between love
and something like it, she spotted
the gray pipe rising from the ground,
and I fishtailed my Beetle into gravel.
Our bodies jerked forward, then back,
laughing in sync, plastic jugs tumbling
over us from the back.
They stuck Old in front instead of renaming it.
Old Pam and Old Jim on Old 27. If U.S. 27 rises
yet again, will they call it Double Old 27?
We were 21 and 20. In three months,
she'd be 20 forever. Melodrama, she'd say.
And I'd say, I'm no stranger to Melodrama.
In fact, I've slept with Melodrama,
and she'd hit me over the head
with one of those empty jugs.
We tossed them in the weeds, then she
danced a circle around the pipe. The dance
one does when surrounded by fields of flatness
to rise above the earth, to levitate. Students
of the myths of our own generation, we spun
like warped vinyl in late summer heat.
Her loose peasant blouse, pleasant sweat
trickling between loose breasts.
The world was no trick when water
tasting like earth itself poured from a pipe
in the Middle of the Mitten where U.S. 27 and 46
cut the lower Peninsula into four quadrants
the snow belt blew across each winter
in a band as wide as the gap between
two horizontal lines on your palm.
There I go, switching to you again.
When people die, I want to go on,
reminding them of that one time when.
I've been trying to write about her
for 32 years and counting, passing right on by
Old 27—all I’ve got so far is "her hair like lit candles
and a voice far off singing.” Or,
“She is the one pipe sticking above the earth,
the one that flows always.”
On the way home, we met two aging
Edmore Potato Festival Queens at the Elwell Tavern.
How lucky is that? she asked. Pretty damn, I said.
French fries for everyone.
I’m not too crazy about still being sad.
Just a little crazy. We filled up every jug
till the Bug scraped bottom backing onto the road.
She made up a song about jugs in a bug
that would bear repeating if I could remember it.
Or maybe it was all in the presentation.
After she died that winter, I shared the last of the water
with my dog, Jake. A gesture I believe
she’d appreciate, she who loved dogs and children and—
it’s winter now. Her nose would be running
if she were here, past 50, like me. Excuse me
for believing she’d still be lighting up the world—
let me throw it in reverse:
her long blonde hair hung straight
from her tilted head as she bent toward the pipe,
her throat open to the cold, cold earth-water.
I watched her neck as she swallowed.
When she'd had enough, she looked at me,
a trickle at the side of her mouth,
and she smiled.
COMMUNISM, MARLBOROS, PEACHES
My wife's cousin Neven never met us
at the dock in Split as planned. We waited
dusk into dark, on a dirty plastic bench
as the ship emptied cars and comrades
and nuns intent on the miracles at Medjugorje
till we sat alone with customs agents
who recognized her name as one of theirs
and kept asking why she’d want to come back.
In the morning, we cycled up the Adriatic Coast
toward Baric Draga, where Neven lived—
Yugoslavia, 1985. The pure sun rose
quick and sharp, the one thing not prescribed,
scripted, restricted. Our lips cracked, throats seared.
Sweat streamed into our mouths.
Nothing was open even if it was open—
if they’d sold enough, they stopped selling.
Every puzzle was missing a piece. A tooth.
An eraser in the shape of Tito’s head.
A land of erasure and echo, a shadowless land
of mirage. No one let us fill our water bottles.
The sea on our left, cliffs on our right.
Trucks bullied past while we wobbled on the edge,
dying of beauty and thirst. Then, beside the road,
the hazy vision of a wooden stand of soft, ripe peaches.
We bought a basket full. Glorious juice ran over our
chins, down our necks in front of the old woman's face
chiseled into not caring. We devoured them, laughing,
delirious, tossing pits into the sea.
Neven answered the door and gaped at us
like we'd risen from the sea itself.
He kissed our sticky faces.
He died in the war ten years later,
but he still smiles at me from that door
with his one good eye.
We left him our tent and a sleeping bag.
In 1997, we found them in the closet
of his old room in a free Croatia.
Finally, we abandoned the docks and pedaled
to the bus station, where no driver would allow
our bikes. We did not understand the language
of bribery, the blind fish of underground currents,
bitter streams. In dim light, a young woman
who spoke enough English to be nominated
for sainthood led us to a tourist hotel. We gave her
a carton of duty-free Marlboros from the boat.
You do not know what you give me, she said.
Later confirmed by every relative: one pack was plenty
and should’ve gone to a bus driver in the first place.
The cigarettes had been for them.
Absence makes the heart—into a lung? They put on
the old-country charm, smiling for the camera—
evidence for my father-in-law back in the states,
the man who sent them money. Dollars, not dinars.
We ate dinner at the hotel while an Elvis impersonator
passed his hat. I didn’t remember Elvis wearing
hats. “Love Me Tender” translated into a dirge.
We called Neven to ask where he was,
and he told a long broken-English story compressed into:
under Communism, gravity has mixed allegiances.
Our maps rattled like ghosts in the superstitious wind.
I just want to tell you about the peaces—
we never say peaces. Always singular, though war
goes plural—the peaches. Give peaches a chance.
Oh, we held up our arms
and the juice dribbled down.
COMIC SHORT, DECEMBER NIGHT, PITTSBURGH
Shovel scrapes cement
like the tumble of breath toward dying.
So, the low-vision specialist says
to the low-hearing specialist….
Five trips to take the trash out tonight.
8 white bags, 4 blue. Flattened cardboard
and a mangled clock’s mute hum. From here
to Kingdom Come cannot be map-quested.
The tap-dancing specialist said to the sad dog.
Linoleum and grief. The rotten tomato
said to the hot potato. What’s lacking in punch
made up for in crunch. Why did the blue dream
cross the road? Abide, abide. A car door thunks.
And another. The wind takes down a few branches
just on principle. Snow cushions the blows.
A dozen trash bags take a bow.
The garage door creaks down its jangling chain
and the credits begin to roll.
Jim Daniels’ recent books include Having a Little Talk with Capital P Poetry, Carnegie Mellon University Press, All of the Above, Adastra Press, and Trigger Man, short fiction, Michigan State University Press, all published in 2011. Birth Marks, BOA Editions, will appear in 2013.