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Fall 1997, Volume 14.3

Fiction

 

A. J. Rathbun


A. J. Rathbun (M.F.A., Western Michigan U) has poems forthcoming in
Teacup and The Poetry Miscellany.

 

The Meanings in More

It's the afternoon after I left you
and I'm sitting on one of the docks
Lake Michigan has on the city-side
of Chicago's Lakeshore drive. Two ducks
nibble at a flotilla of soggy Saltines
an old man flipped, end over perfect end,
each cracker floating in air for a second
before hitting water, while I listen
to a little girl repeat the words
her mother says as she drags her,
one skinny arm stuck straight
and one limp, to the rounded edge
of the docks. "The one with a green head
is a Mallard," she says and her daughter
repeats "Mallard" in a tone that reflects
boredom through a flat sound kids produce
around adults. Soon the two ducks
will get separated by a group of fifty
white terns who slide their bodies in
from nowhere to reach for the disintegrating
crackers, channeling the ducks in opposite
directions, opening the small bay's small
waves into a rougher pattern which eases
the idyll into just another disrupted pair
of animals. Isn't that what I told you
we were all destined for while we fought
about what 1994 had to offer our world,
no place for attachment unless it is
tied down with the clinking tightness
a new steel chain carries, like the dog
that's now in the vacant lot outside
the window. He's swirling black like
an oil spill in sunshine, an errant
combination of breeds that has left him
huge sloping shoulder muscles and legs
the size of cattail heads, soft white
tissue under pecan skin. This dog is
chained, hooked to a pole, surrounded
by dirt, shoots of spring grass still
untrampled and big city trash,
but there's always cigarette butts, irreducible shards
of glass. He sees something different.
Maybe it's the myriad shapes of a thousand
imaginary cats, or the welcoming set
of movements a friendly hand displays, whatever
it is forces him to pull his body faster
than should be possible on such short legs,
circles which cause his chain to lessen
by five links on each turn until he can only
bark into sweat. Isn't it strange
how things never work out? My friend Rich
is up alone again tonight, writing songs,
acoustic notes tracing miles between
his open window and that of his newly
divorced wife. She's across town, which
may as well be the southern hemisphere,
holding their daughter, charting lines
and the space in sorrow, threads
stitching a house half-empty. Mostly words
get hung on these walls, a few stomp
floors, funneled through tubes, giving
the world one more lost soul to think about.
Tell Rich that, or tell Edgar Allen Poe
while he tips optimism continually upside
down, like words people say after the mess
has been made. Oh yes, Poe's here too,
along with my friend whose marriage
dropped, a brick off a tall building, exploding
on the sidewalk, red shards, like
this poem. A poem that seems to be including
everything, Poe, the failing beauty
in anything no-one understands, a pair of ducks
in a bay or the first pair I saw flying
across an acre-wide sky near my uncle
who stood beneath dry leaves, waiting
to shoot the male he said was heavier.
You were right. The songs about leaving
get played and eventually fade into long
vinyl seconds, dandelions on busy sidewalks
while the night above quietly starves, stars
vanishing, and there must be more to this world
than despair. There has to be. The trapped dog
has started barking again. It's crisp. Clear
and he hears every word we have to say.

 

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