Poem in Response to Doom

All summer long the smartypants at the egghead writers' conference lectured on the end of the world. Mainly, alchemy and acronym: dioxins, polycarbons, PCB, SDI, and AIDSAIDS loomed large. Seals had caught it and in each voice a big finger poked holes in air. My friend and I had come mainly to meet brainy women and secular sermons discouraged us. I slumped sullen and pouty, but whenever the public address system crackled that word "Apocalypse," I blinked awake and leaned forward to hear what revelation was at hand.

Of course the new death is old death. We couldn't play outside, my sister told me, because a "rabbit fox" was loose. She was the one who found this fox at last sprawled by the railroad tracks on our way to school. We clustered two feet all around it to watch it be dead. A boy named Shep cut its bushy tail off but his father burned it and the lunchbox he'd put it in. He was the first prick I ever met. We didn't know Switzerland even had an army then. Our jackknives were all named after cowboys. Horrible flies in splendid colors strutted up and down its toothy grin.

It seemed savage with smug cunning and malice but, in retrospect, I see wry regret. It's fun to imagine

Most Recent Book: Looking Into the Heart of Light (University of Central Florida Press, 1988)

this fox snarling blood-flecked foam and springing with insane barking into the teeth of the locomotive. But anyone who's grown to know the bewilderment of delirium knows better. If such poetry isn't silly, it's cruel. There isn't even a whimper, finally. Just death's dull gray glazing the eyes that speak of what? Mercy! And if I don't take the pain of pity full to me then, it will wait to swarm through me like disease.

Apocalypse: I love to say its sound even better than Armageddon, holocaust, or soft consonants and sibilances in venereal names. All the new diseases were always in us waiting to be loosed. It's so clear I can say it in the real poetry of prose: Nature is without pity. More cruel than kind, no virus even cares about not caring. Harmony without love. We are chaos of purpose; the proper study.

But anarchy to poets who chant names of nuts and berries the way acolytes sing-song the mass. Quavery solemnity to summon back a naive awe in response to awfulness. Puffed like emphysema: a beautiful word. Which is how someone got all Spain to lisp. By the time the mail delivered our cards pasted in Art and signed to the girl with polio named Donna, she'd died. My first time when the awful gloat of death got too chill to thrill. Helpless and stupid-hearted with fear I carried home the gift she never got. Returned to sender, crushed in my lunchbox with all the silly pictures and papers all stinking together like tuna fish. I barely knew her. Like vampires, any Spot or Fluffy carried germs of sudden slathering hate. Toilets and swimming pools seethed with death.

And behind the blandest faces on our block communism was plotting in Russian. Sealed tight in the sour bomb shelter under the girl-next-door's backyard, we crouched beneath stacked cans dripping with mildew and examined each other's genitals with flashlights. I thought my heart would explode from both joy and terror. My yard was just a yard. If the world blew up, we'd stand out in the hot wind of the last Apocalypse. I imagined angels decked out in flowers ancl fruit shimmying and bumping toward us in a magnificent splutter of golden fire. But that's why poetry is so silly and sad: saying all the sounds so you're left alone with whatever^ left.

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