g r a v e l
A L I T E R A R Y J O U R N A L
Dante’s doom of triviality
For months, she rented Marilyn Monroe’s mansion,
another starlet whose very name wasn’t sweet enough
to lick up, so she slipped inside the tight skin
of another. Now, the pouty-mouthed Playmate
with curves and curls and blink-blink-blink is dead.
Inkspace and airwaves help fill the open time
in our days, filling it with her busty name,
Anna Nicole Smith, and the fate of her small child
filling spaces in our longing as we try on another life.
I know all this from E! the Entertainment Network,
a brainless vanity I’m ashamed to watch,
but watch I do—the red carpet critiques
make me glad for my Dockers and plain oxfords,
my uniform of convenience, plainness within limits.
Not that I’m some broad-rimmed oatmeal box
Quaker peering out at America’s breakfast table
to pronounce: “Deep down thee are too shallow.”
I too am a homegrown tuber planted couchwise
and I join the chorus of condemnation,
judging the talent on talent shows and home videos,
complaining of commercials for meds, ads
that arm us with so few facts we may as well
rub our foreheads with the pill bottles—
those Tai-Chi grandmas who later grin so wide
as they loft a gleeful toddler overhead—
I’m no doctor but I watch them on TV.
I’m no cop but I know my rights,
I could secure the perimeter of the crime scene
before snapping on surgical gloves to investigate.
I’m no dim-witted giant but I have one inside
groping and flailing its monstrous arms
as I settle in for another hour wondering
How could he say that? How could she wear that?
Don’t they think anyone’s watching?
Dante’s doom of violence and senseless rage
Usually enragement moves in one direction,
coming at me in bad coffee and rude clerks,
cop shows, Readers Digest, Ivy League attitudes,
movies that use too much handhelds,
when I’ve put off taking headache stuff.
Rage is blind but not senseless. Let’s save that
for the Louisiana guy, the homeowner
who shouted “I’ve got a weapon!”
then shot the intruder dead. Afterwards,
the police said the Japanese exchange student
was learning our Halloween customs,
probably didn’t understand.
Not the command,
nor even his own costume.
Certainly not the bullets.
No real reaction in America,
Home of the hyper-individualist,
armed king of the castle. But in Japan,
over and over I was asked to explain
both the event and the lack of outrage
in my countrymen. So I’m left
with petty angers, really, like cellphones
and anything on TV
that calls itself reality.
Dante’s doom of nonsense and arrogant stupidity
Despite the whole opposable thumbs thing,
I said once over dinner, proud of my cleverness,
human beings have a stupid streak
the size of the San Andreas Fault.
In New York City, they post signs like
“Cars are made of steel—you’re not,”
warnings necessary in part because we enter
disembodied places as we yap along on cellphones,
listening to a voice burbling
just barely over the “distraction” of buses,
so we tip our head down and away,
shouting “What?” shoulder-whacking strangers
immediately before stepping into a Budweiser truck.
We make this stuff then complain
about what it’s doing to us, the radio waves,
the slow explosion of cancer in the brain.
In Paris, lights flash and sirens scream,
Emergency. Get out of the way, in French, of course.
They have to rush to the hospital
people who slipped on dog shit—
I could get the number but it’s hundreds.
Every year, it’s piles and piles
of thoughtlessness compounded.
I’ll never forget the catalogue of idiocy
Leslie ticked off over dinner, her ire rising.
Little did I know that anger
was easier to bear than nightsweats and weeping.
I’ll also never forget how she poured
the yellow sleeping pills
into my hands saying she couldn’t get rid of them
saying she wanted to take them all
saying she didn’t want to be alone tonight,
and I, stupid with grief over a recent break-up,
Like a woman in her situation would want
a friend of a friend she’d only had dinner with once
grunting on top of her. Anyway,
I stayed and held her until she slept
and witnessed her wall-scratching nightmare,
but she felt that pause, and she knew
whatever love was offered was grudgingly given.
Edward A. Dougherty's the author of Backyard Passages (FootHills Publishing, 2012) as well as four other chapbooks, and of the books Pilgrimage to a Gingko Tree (WordTech, 2008) and Part Darkness, Part Breath (Plain View Press, 2008).
After finishing his MFA in Creative Writing in Bowling Green, Ohio, Dougherty taught at BGSU and was poetry editor of the Mid-American Review. In 1993, he and his spouse traveled to Hiroshima to be volunteer directors of the World Friendship Center where they served for two and a half years, witnessing the fiftieth anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They now live and work in Corning, New York, a place defined by the confluence of three rivers and a glass company you may have heard of.