by Howie Good
The History Place
There’s a globe in the schoolyard that has been crushed by a tractor. The building itself isn’t only empty, but abandoned. You walk in and it smells of stale ideas. Papers and books have been thrown to the floor. On the blackboard someone has written an apology or possibly a plea: Forgive us. Flowers (geraniums) from a class project are still alive in their clay pots. It’s the most important thing and almost a secret. Does that make sense?
The cows in the field dissolve in slow motion like thin and sleepy smoke. A grandma bending over a washtub in the yard looks up. There isn’t a bird left in the sky. Spies and provocateurs go from room to room, a faded poster of the leader on the wall, a plaster bust of the leader on a desk. The sun spirals down. It’s almost like home, only with roadblocks and document checks and statues of people instead of people.
A man digs in the garden with a stick instead of a shovel. The laundry hanging on the line has long ago turned black. Time is tightening like a garrote around the village. He doesn’t remember collecting mushrooms the size of human heads from the forest. It’s already history, the history of a crime. A woman appears at the window. Her eyes trickle while she watches foxes and wolves wander into the village to play with the children. Explanation is useless. The elderly stand as if waiting to push off in a small boat.
Would Jesus Wear a Sidearm?
Behind us the long line to enter the mansion grows even longer. In front of us the river, muffled by distance, looks like a painting of a river. I glance around for signs that can direct us later to the Museum Shoppe at Mount Vernon. On the tree-ringed green that black slaves would have mowed with scythes and then flattened with heavy iron rollers, children are racing and jumping and wrestling. The line shuffles forward. White-haired widows from a tour group maintain a surprising equanimity under a sun with teeth. They seem the sort of people who might be able to answer the question, “Would Jesus wear a sidearm?” A placard on a small outbuilding — a shed, really — identifies it as once the slave hospital. Although I don’t see any musicians, I can hear a fife and drum start up. The sound is very faint at first. I would say it’s less like a tune than like the gasps and sighs of a dying angel.
I see the ad everywhere. Modern homes, it says, burn 8x faster. Think about that. Someone was responsible for doing the calculations — a man in his late forties, early fifties, with a sagging belly, perhaps, who chews a mint-flavored toothpick as he returns to the office after a greasy lunch, an ominous crowd of birds preening on the power lines.
A dyed blonde who buzz cut her bush calls in to ask how long before her pubes grow back. It used to be a lively topic of debate, who would you rather fuck from Gilligan’s Island, Ginger or Mary Ann? The hotline hums with the characteristic themes of isolation and escape. More than one caller threatens to do harm. Another suffers from an irrational fear of thunder. Being connected only seems like sharing. Throughout the downpour, shipwrecked sailors search for ship timber in the debris of Flint, Michigan.
It was the sort of place where the locals remembered when the church used to be a Pizza Hut.
Howie Good’s latest poetry collection is Dark Specks in a Blue Sky from Another New Calligraphy. He is recipient of the 2015 Press Americana Prize for Poetry for his forthcoming collection Dangerous Acts Starring Unstable Elements.