Raccoon Face

— Jerry Dyer

Lathering at the mirror,
I notice the brilliant line
between my bare face
and the shaving cream,
my florid hue bleeding pink
into the foam.

I won’t live long, I muse,
Everything in me boils
right to the top: the spicy food,
the salad oil, all of it glistens
in an instant on my skin,
as if my stomach were the root
of some voracious
red blossom.

I shake my head, not wanting
to admit that my feelings,
too, roil uninterrupted
between the surface and the depths,
that my face is but a shiny cousin
to my heart.

I finish shaving,
squint into the reflection,
see the baggy shadows
white around the eyes,
like a photo negative, reversed,
or a raccoon’s face, caught
in the glare of sunlight,
drained of all its lies.

Not Counting

— Jerry Dyer

I’ve been alive for exactly
2,880 weeks.
This is very accurate, including
even the thirteen leap-days
that I have been forced to endure.

If you want to count by season,
I’ve entered my 221st.
I’m long past my axial age,
way past the first mud of spring,
more than a kite-string’s length
beyond summer, deep into leafless Fall.

The morning sun is pulled out
of the bag of night like a scrabble-tile.
There are only twenty-six
possible shapes to the day,
not counting the two blanks that
give us the chance to make something new
out of what we have.

Then again, there are only 23
pairs of human chromosomes,
our stencils, shaped and cut out
by our forebears or our race,
giving us all the instructions
that our living gets to use.

I’ve been alive for exactly
20,162 days.
This is approximately the number
of human genes, which sets us squarely
between the chicken and the grape.

A Personal History of Globalization

— Jerry Dyer

I have changed so much.
Growing up as I did
behind the cotton curtain, on branch lines
of the chitlin’ circuit,
before dollar-a-holler was gone
from the afternoon a m radio dial,
I dreamt in black and white.

The world then felt nailed down.
Oshkosh might have been the door capital
of the globe, but porch swings came from Carolina,
and in Birmingham, Alabama they made steel.
All our mirrors were virginal,
and opened into depths.
My friend Ducky Paulson
had never been to Memphis,
let alone seen a Jew.  Memphis, we knew,
sits south of Cairo on the Mississippi,
and apparently the Egyptians know that too.

How little we note the history that winds its way
East and West, then burrows beneath the skin.
Manor homes and churches rear up,
columned and porticoed like Athens or old Rome.
In old Quebec, the Chateau Frontenac,
on its hillside in New France, was built
of orange Scottish bricks.  They came
as deadhead ballast across the eastern sea.

Other Hearts

— Jerry Dyer

“The world is
 not with us enough”

     — Denise Levertov, “O Taste and See”

I’ve decided to walk
on the ridge of hunger,
to see if the palette
will turn mystic,
when enough ribs show.

I won’t let my body
anymore bribe my soul.
What suffices? Start here:
Do other hearts need to stop beating,
for mine to pump blood into my lungs?
Is lambs’ meat flavored by the sun?
Can I taste brooding in the hen?

Hunger is heuristic.
Our bodies have thoughts, and cravings
will hollow us from within.
O taste and see! Water and bread
hold all the flavors of the world,
once imagination finds its tongue.

Obituary Notice

— Jerry Dyer

So private was his passing,
the crematorium failed to issue smoke.

An empty seat has appeared
on the 4:30 light rail, and
the downtown sidewalks warm
to the tune of one less shadow.
Fewer Braeburns disappear
from the pyramid
in the Zanotto’s bin.

On Friday nights, the tap
of the Old Speckled Hen
at Café Trieste feels two fewer tugs
toward the barkeep’s heart.

In his apartment, the bookmarks
root in place. Moonlight glides
over the spines of orphaned poets,
and all their verbs are withering into nouns.

I Forget

— Jerry Dyer

Whenever I’m reading a book,
I forget what the cover looks like.
My jaw becomes a mystery to me,
if for three days I fail to shave.
During the summer, I don’t remember
the gentle static of winter rain.

I sometimes still expect my first cat
to run to greet me at the door.
I remember only the apple scent
of my first girlfriend’s hair,
the ginger bangs, and her shoulder blades
working beneath my palms.

What was her name? I can’t recall.
When I am old, I will harvest
the solitude of empty mailboxes
in that cul-de-sac I call my soul.
If God ever did live in my heart,
his forwarding address is now unknown.

Dry Run

— Jerry Dyer

Sober days link one by one,
a lengthening train
that forms behind me,
like box-cars—coal,
cattle, or rattlingly empty.

Come night, the couplings groan,
hinges stretch tight,
fretted by the weight
of old blind pigs, or because
I feel the pull alone.

At every crossing,
clinking glass can be heard,
lights flash through swinging doors,
and voices thresh the air,
weightless with words.

“What are ya gonna do,”
I ask myself, “it’s a small town,
especially on a Friday night.”
The bars breathe in and out
with laughter.

The night air is everywhere wry,
ripe with juniper, fennel,
moist with the memory of sin—
but I force my legs eastward,
moving through trunk lines of starlight,
waiting for dawn’s pewter train
to pull round the bend in the sky.


— Jerry Dyer

There’s a hole that cannot be plugged
in the Gulf of Mexico—
and in the Chesapeake, the fish
are dying by the million,
their unblinking eyes
asking questions of the tide.

Smudge-pots flare
in orange grove rows,
factory flues glow,
and car exhausts
form mirror-clouds
above cities, their suburbs and slums.

Jet fantails web the sky.
At night, airliners cant downward,
headlights burning,
catching our gaze
under Orion, below the moon.

In Arkansas, birds
are falling from the air,
black as sin,
their wings on fire.

The Bent Elbow

—Jerry Dyer

It’s Monday, and I need
two fingers to start the day.

My feet follow one another
to work.  My job follows
the curve of gravity,
pain’s rainbow,
and by late afternoon,
my life feels
like the dubbed version.

After hours, the sunlight drains
down the boulevard,
and I am cast ashore
at The Bent Elbow.

Behind the bar, Bert
waxes philosophical:
“Between the lift and the sip,”
he says, “fermentation
neither begins nor ends.”

It’s true, nothing enters
our stomachs or our dreams
riding a straight line.
We start breathing, after all,
between the doctor’s slap
and the scream.

Dumb Drunk

—Jerry Dyer

Toward morning, the sky begins to bleed,
and car keys being unfindable,
I decide to water the lawn.
Dressed in dontcaradam clothes,
my thumb frames an anchorage for a rainbow,
and Sunday turns into June.
And neither roses nor crabgrass will ever
thank me, or pay for another round of drinks.

These lost weekends are always the same:
twenty books open to page two or three,
the CD player left humming,
candles guttering out. Above the piano,
the traffic lights’ reflection forms an emblem:
window-paned, washed-out red giving way,
for just a sec, to a ghastly green:
The kingdom of stop and no.

I grew up where they measure life
by hurricanes, and now I count off days
waiting for the earth to move.
Tresha says sailors always drown face down.
It’s fifty two miles to the Golden Gate Bridge,
but I know I would never be able to pick
between the city and the ocean view.
Yeah, I’m so dumb, if I was a bird
I wouldn’t even know
which end of the worm to chew.