http://www.albany.edu/offcourse
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 ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


 

"American Mobile," by E.M. Schorb

                                                        The pure products of America go crazy . . .
                                                                                —William Carlos Williams

                                                         Miss Smith, she dead.

 

 . . . my blind left eye don’t stop me    
I swivel quick around then get ahead
back at the panorama    
striped down and then back up the hill
to any future peak greened brown black cut through    
white striped like up the leg on a uniform    
the wind don’t wall me    
my aerodynamics    
they’d lift my license for my eye full of sugar    
but I still drink    
that VA doctor’s lower’n fish shit    
no beer no way    
but I drink Lite test my blood take my insulin
I eat right mostly but my Drake’s cakes    
I’m thirty-three feet back
sixty-six long times to here    
always dreamed of motorhoming
free to be you and me    
Maxine’s you
she sips at that beer    
stares through the wraparound
like she’s watching home movies    
and shoots bytes at me like look there
did you see that 
she’s frightened at being sixty next week     
I told her look at me—you plus six
and I’m still steering    
still truckin’ but I never was a trucker    
was a kid a soldier a vet a cop and
a guard at Disney’s that was my whole damned life    
that back there behind me on the road    
but it comes along with me in my sugar-eye    
my shotup shoulder from War Two    
my skin cancer from standing all those years in the sun
reflecting off tarmac and parked cars at Disney World    

Max says look Jersey plates  
she says Joisey we started out in Jersey    
we fell in love haven’t slept together in years    
Max thinks I’m not well interested
but it’s the sugar    
I don’t tell nobody not even her not especially her    
suppose she knew I couldn’t    
what kind of man would she think    
look she says back in back her mother sees it too    
I don’t know what it is must be on my blind side    
but I don’t say no way I let them know    
I’m blind as a blackboard over there    
not hurtling along at eighty    
they’d piss their beer    
you got to hold to your lane    
the old lady’s nearly ninety but full of it    
not only beer either if you know    
look Max says
shut up Max but I don’t say it   
I don’t listen about Alabama moons
Georgia peaches glorious Asheville leaves
I talk to myself  my only friend
they suck me in like black holes    
the old lady and Max everything goes
into them nothing out  toward me 
did I believe in love    
I’ve stopped laughing even    
I’ve been driving too long       

I see us off the edge of a cliff if I don’t keep him awake    
old man hunched up at the wheel was he my hero    
I think there’s something wrong with his eyes now    
the way he jerks around to see   I’ve noticed    
I ride not swiveled in a bucket by a tilted instrument pod    
but sometimes behind him astraddle his first Harley    
his long blond hair snapping in my eyes no helmets    
my fingers feeling in the deep holes
through his shoulder and his ribs
where the sniper’s bullet drilled through
he died he said and came alive again on a table in England    
I still wore his white dress shirt    
hanging out over my rolled-up blue jeans    
shiny pennies in my loafers    
Frank Sinatra made me scream  Elvis my one daughter    
Buddy’s blonde princess  the Dead my grandson    
nobody sings anymore all back there somewhere    
with my mother boozed up at ninety     
a Depression-made cheapskate
sipping cheap port    
and a hundred thousand in the bank    
how did we get here

where are we going   why must I come    
Harry could save me    
clever with life how left-handed he
mangled his right hand in the leather machine    
made them think he was right-handed    
more compensation    
at last a little house and money in the bank 
and I got us out of Jersey    
like war in the project then
the Sixties the long hot summers
bullets through the windows    
down to Max and Buddy in Orlando to my little house    
Harry why must I travel with them    
the youngsters even are old but Harry’s gone    
crazy at the end    
fighting in the trenches again    
Argonne  Belleau Wood    
gone on the road behind us    
dead and buried in Orlando    
buried and lost his grave lost    
we are going to sue    
I have no place to put flowers    
no place to talk to him anymore    
they lost my Harry    
tough leather guy from Brooklyn    
tough guy so sweet once    
poor old crazy man    
gone back to the trenches back to Pershing    
mustardgas and Belleau Wood    
another world so far away 
to his grave at ninety-five    
I don’t want cable    
only my one soap-opera station
only my wine    
don’t even want life to come back    
what is the wind
Star stories say some of us are aliens    
supermarket tabloids Maxine calls them    
and tries to make me think they print lies    
sometimes I think Buddy and maybe even Maxine too
I bore her but maybe pod people have taken over her body
like that old movie
maybe she isn’t Maxine at all she doesn’t act like Maxine    
I could have a baby too    
like the hundred year old woman in Australia    
it would kill me at ninety they must eat something    
yogurt like those Russians who live forever aliens too    
and the little girl no older than smaller than    
who had quadruplets by a tom cat    
all of them born with whiskers    
the pictures were right there I saw them    
whiskers and pointed ears and long tails I saw them    
what is that going by where are they taking me

“Good Housekeeping” said
the kitchen was the warm womb
of the colonial home and early-American women
would stand at the hearth watching the turkey turn
as they pumped up the flames    
packing sandwiches for an airline ain’t exactly
the big time but we made it    
Buddy and I paid off the American dream
for his bedroom and my bedroom    
and the alligators down on the lawn
to the rock seawall wanting sun    
what’s life   
put the rocks back put
back build up fall put back    
two slices Wonder Bread    
one slice waterpumped ham mayo mustard    
my long thin fingers all little silver scars
I’m nobody what did I deserve    
not Buddy and my mother anyway    
sixty ain’t the end yet    
not even with all my loose belly skin and
stupid strokefoot dragging when I’m tired
like Buddy on Omaha Beach    
but I got it right through the head    
like being brain-shot and nine weeks in the hospital    
stealing our money
there she is sipping her wine at ninety    
defying nature and three out of five of us kids with strokes    
always demanding maybe she gave us the strokes    
but nobody’s dead yet they say we are all lucky    
so that’s what luck is not being dead
a case could be made    

driving into the dusk is like driving into a dream
better hit the lights    
that big cluster of stars down there
I aim my good eye on ahead    
now in the dusk it gets tricky
but I don’t let Max know 
extreme macular degeneration    
sugar-induced doc says    
then he says you got varicose veins in your eye   
laser beams he says  burn ’em out    
so I see blue for a week from the dye
and the blue fades to gray and that’s it    
my credit’s good    
social security  veteran’s pension  Disney retirement
I’m a triple dipper    
plus equity in the house poor boy makes good
I’m driving fifty thousand dollars across America
like I started out with anything but
a piano-teaching widowed mother
like I had a chance in life    
I play my own tapes me at the organ
singing Willy Nelson songs
“On the Road Again” Max hates my music
she’s jealous but says I could of made a living
at it could of but couldn’t take the joints
composed some myself  guitar piano organ
my tape plays “King of the Road”   
my plates say NO MORTGAGE NO BOSS
NO JOB NO WORRIES  I’M RETIRED    
twenty years standing in the sun eating Twinkies skin cancer    
Harry thought Max could do better    
he  never had a home like ours right on the gators’ water
he’d say he never had alligators on his lawn either
only stinkbugs in his old palm tree    
sometimes I miss fighting with him
him on the Kaiser me on Hitler    
who was worse all ancient history     
even the Commies are dead
nothing left for Freedom to fight
and the world moves moves into the next century    
away from us what we did and needed    
it’ll all be computers and new people     
no more like us we’re dinosaurs
old people but we move    
and we take our houses with us like hermit crabs
we circle Asheville in leaves  we land at Normandy    
not ten minutes in and all my bones break  
until I wake up on the table in England   
purple heart silver star
I remember the sea swashing puffs of smoke    
our flag it still stands   yesterday’s news who cares    
Max is sarcastic once she was proud
I can’t help it Max    
it’s the sugar sugar

. . . who betrayed me so many times with his Harley
with somebody else’s legs around him
fingers in his wounds    
hot stuff and joins the police
to wear his beautiful blue uniform
and ride his police cycle with his blond hair
fluffed all around his blue visored hat    
and me pregnant alone with his blonde love in my stomach     
stud making a fool of his wife making a fool of his life
with nogood burgling cops only Orlando left for us
thank the chief who saved us and that was when I began    
when I began I began began to be old    

Maxine looks like me at sixty
you could compare her to a picture of me then
O Harry do you remember    
where are we    
North Carolina    
why are we here climbing this mountain
full of beautiful leaves    
is that heaven up there what is that up there    
a jetstream
a flying saucer    
why don’t we just stay home    
where I know where things are    
they don’t think about me how I can’t see    
how I wish Harry were here    
how he was when he was young    
so neat courtly so kind and sweet    
not like at the end afraid of the Hun    
hiding under the table gone crazy old man    
with old-timers disease
it was all there again for him    
no time had happened    
no me no all that life all wiped out    
and he was there again and it made me wonder
if we aren’t all just here or there or where are we

Asheville we pack it in at Nashville    
Max and the old lady won’t go to the Grand Ole Opry    
so I’ll leave them to themselves    
I’ll go like I always said I would    
could hear it in Jersey when I was a kid     
could hear it all over the country    
Hank Williams Minnie Pearl Tex Ritter Hillbilly Heaven    
a southern yankee I never get enough of that wonderful stuff
Max says we should of gone the other route    
to Memphis first Graceland  Elvis can wait I say    
but it turns out to be Hank Williams Junior and Rockabilly    
not like I dreamed of it glitz and bang    
even a vet can yearn for the old sweetstuff    
Junior’s daddy the original Hank the real thing
the lyrics were in a language I could understand     
we fought the wars and longed for love    
they march for peace and seem to hate
like I’m still waiting for the fat lady to sing
President Truman even introduced Kate
Smith to the Queen
as “America” Oh beautiful for spacious skies   
but the Opry’s like the rest of it now    
maybe we should try Dollyland at Pigeon Forge  
no Max wouldn’t like it because

angels come to our door but Buddy won’t let them in    
do you know these are the last days    
not if you have something spiritual    
it’s on Earth
he was sent by the God of Love    
that’s why Graceland is a church    
even if it’s like they say    
that his body ate twenty Big Macs a day    
his soul had to live on Earth didn’t it had to eat   
so Buddy’s blonde daughter tells me    
my daughter too but more his blonde like him    
now nearly bald not her him not dark like me    
well gray but if Elvis could bring happiness    
then he is a god    

he’s one of those aliens Max    
he was sent here to sing and bring love    
they say Graceland is more beautiful than Heaven    
that it’s all blue like the sky with no clouds
no thunderbooms and tin-roof rain clatter    
where are we

like when Buddy grinds his choppers
he is eating us up in his sleep    
our night war like our day war cannibal
shoved our beds apart into separate rooms   
trumpets saxophones trombones
Buddy names my snoring while he grinds on    
and her crazy on the convertible back there   
all night coughs and chatters in her sleep
about chicken wing prices
it’s like a gone-nuts orchestra
OOMPA OOMPA OOMPA CLICKETY-CLICK BLAH BLAH    
his teeth telling how much he hates his life    
at different times broken uppers and lowers    
life that never did what he wanted it to do    
we rocked that motorpark in Nashville    
hooked up Winnebago nearly laughed itself free    
electric lines tore out as it rolled over on its side
and later shaking with screaming
Mama and I had sucked the city of any last drop
of Southern Comfort    
Buddy never came back from the Opry till it was dying out    
drunk himself from shit-kicking with urban cowboys    
I told him his sugar’ll kill him he sleeps grinding his life    
like steak into hamburger I’m his life    
what’s life
Mama refuses to die until we do    
gray and stroked and sugared and beer’d under    
but how could we leave her at home who’d watch her    
nobody’ll take her in if we go she has to go    
won’t go to nursing home no way you know no how
and I don’t mean not to go go go before I die    
thank GOD for Winnebagos
next stopover next postcard    
P.S.  life’s a war and you can’t give up
love Max at sixty  

heaven is a place like Graceland
they say Elvis’s daughter owns it now    
she’s the spitting image spitting image
listen Max at least the foreigners don’t own Graceland
like they do everything else    
it ain’t true that we don’t work as hard as the Japs    
but the unions Max  I never did trust the unions    

you think like a scab-cop    
my father was a union man Buddy    

her father was a union man    
Harry was always a good union man    
and a good Democrat    

if they’re good for anything the aliens’ll be UNION
if I didn’t belong to a union
do you think they’d of paid me so much
for making lousy sandwiches    
did you get enough sleep    
we should of gone to Graceland first   
read a “Reader’s Digest” article once
first it was the farmlife held us to place    
then industry mills and trading and
later the big factories up north
made cities centers now no more    
anyone anywhere now the computers
no more fixed life  no more unions no more
democrats no more stay put go go go    
like the damned beatniks hippies used to do
on the road in the sky    
a whole corporation inside your portable
computer workforce anywhere  
regions don’t mean nothing cities countries
my country ’tis of thee    
I’m caught between the old lady back there
and my grandson    
he’ll be part of it the brave new world he said
college boy and his kids won’t even know
what we were
can’t you just see it grandpa
no boundaries no borders
even space the moon Mars
business everywhere signals flying through the air     
caught between times becoming part of it
losing it at the same time
with my sugar walking down the street    
I never noticed how sweet beer is    
injections they’ll be able to fix that too grandpa    
and the whole world and even space
will become AMERICA

you look at your mother and you think
how could I have come out of that sixty years ago    
HAPPY BIRTHDAY Max
it’s a chorus of whiskey-cracked voices    
a duo of dead and gone ghosts
calling back over their shoulders    
it’s bye-bye Maxine you’re as good as dead    
with your mastectomied pumped-up plastic tits    
what’d you need them for for him     
could of caused the stroke I’m told    
but then why my brother and sister stroked out too    
my face I had burned with acid and scraped
for him forty years ago    
acne pits from her tea and cheap day-old cake    
to stuff us just before supper all of us
faces like burned-red moons    
from her brother-can-you-spare-a-dime
cheap Depression soul    
the old man back from Belleau Wood
mustard gas and the formaldehyde stink of the tannery    
the whole goddamned century’s been a war    
I could live to see the end of it    
no more goddamned Twentieth Century
now we fight each other we can’t stop fighting    
we’re like three hairy-assed Marines
landing on each other’s beaches    
HAPPY BIRTHDAY Maxine    
Christ he kissed me breath like death blow out my candle     
if I could I’d blow them out of the Winnebago    
and get my wish a little time on earth alone a little life before I die

Max was always tough even as a little girl
she always fought    
her father’d have to drag her off
from a fight but he was proud    
my Max don’t take no shit he said    

we had to be tough Jersey we all glow in the dark
better than hard cold and cheap
we had nothin’ but trouble like the plague    
Nineteen-Nineteen she says    
the doughboys brought the influenza back from Europe    
all those displaced persons    
my best girlfriend died of it everybody
was dying you’re too young to know    
good to be too young for some things    
why do you think God does it    
screw that
God helps them who help themselves Buddy
he likes that one   damned Republican
but he’s right  it’s like Elvis
a success a blond guy with black hair and a cape
God loves us all Max He’s sending them to help us  
well He’s got a damned funny way of showing it    
your granddaughter says He sent Elvis
or is it Elvis sent her   
I told her he came in on a saucer    
they’ll all be here soon

Buddy singing playing the organ he installed    
coming in on a wing and a prayer    
his feet pumping he loves to show off    
he says Harry was just a leather worker    
says my mother taught piano   class will tell 
your people don’t have no class no way    
then it’s a Donnybrook
in the musical world

in heaven this couldn’t of happened    
if Max would spell me
I’d go back and get drunk with the old lady    
sit in my Seat w/Telescoping Pedestal
and stare at her until I could see inside her BRAIN            
but Max won’t spell me won’t drive no way no how    
just sucks in sixpacks and farts at speed bumps    
I’m mustard gassed like Harry at Belleau Wood
turn on the BTU’s she says watch out
open the vents here comes Max   
but she admits it was damned embarrassing   
we got the Arizona state troopers all over us
here’s the old lady telling the pump jockey    
at our time of life we want full service telling him
I’M BEING KIDNAPPED BY ALIENS
I have a lovely home in Orlando    
they’re forcing me to go with them    
they want my money a hundred thousand dollars    
it belongs to Harry he earned it with the wrong hand    
call the police help help
it takes some explaining but I tell them me I’m an ex-cop    
look I say but they got me and Max over a car hood
if I had one of those BIG FOOT trucks   
I’d drive right over top of this traffic jam
crushing cars like an angry giant    
that’s why everybody loves Big Foot    
I look at the cops and twirl
my finger in a circle at my temple    
nuts the both of them I say
they feel sorry for me and because I’m an ex-cop

get real Buddy do you think God’s in California    
or in the Painted Desert or the Petrified Forest   
I want to see the first Disney place is all                 
Max is mad like Mel great roadman      
people say it’s the end of America
from the coast there on it’s out forever    
and the sea climbs into the sky    
Buddy it’s your music    
sometimes you sound like some godawful poet    
song of the open road Max    
there’s good trucker songs Max
trucker poets cowboy poets    
you’re ignorant Max    
don’t start Buddy don’t start
I tell you what Buddy    
Vegas is God    
you get a bucketful of change and pull handles
until something good happens    
gangsters built Vegas Max    
gangsters built everything Buddy    
Bugsy Siegel is God and Vegas is heaven    
for shame Maxine    
what do you know Mama
it’s all a chance and to hell with your aliens    
can’t you see saucers Maxine    
clouds Mama we’re in the mountains    
Sierra Nevadas Mama    
I’m not your mother  I’m hers maybe    
and the white bombs of love    
like the Star says it’s Elvis in his saucer
lots of Elvises because this is the end of time    
they have big dark eyes and sideburns down to here    
real smooth cheeks and they wear wonderful jumpsuits    
with colors like Las Vegas that night    
the first or second  so it was stacks of colors
and everything blinking they wear clothes like that    
with glittery things hanging down from their sleeves
I was a little girl when Dreamland burned down    
my mother your grandmother Maxine    
said you could see Dreamland burning from Jersey    
I had been to Coney Island I had been to Dreamland    
I’m sure I saw Vesuvius erupt and a great naval battle
where New York was bombarded by foreign ships
and then an American admiral went out
and defeated all of them    
you see children it is all a dream    
and you keep waking up to something new    
we aren’t really here at all we are here
and somewhere else at the same time in Dreamland    
Meet me tonight in Dreamland under the silvery moon    
my mother used to play that one Mama   
I am not your mother don’t call me Mama    
you’re alone in the world  Harry never liked you
motorcycle-head he called you
Maxine’s got me if she is Maxine    
of course I’m Maxine    
Christ of course white bombs    
SNOW
where are we Maxine    
if I smashed this pedal down down hill    
I saw a movie once about a wagon train full of people
heading west on Donner tha’s it  the Donner party    
they were going over these very mountains they were up here
high like this and there was a blizzard and they got caught    
and they couldn’t get down out of it    
blizzard starved and they began to eat each other    
don’t look at me Buddy    
the saucers will save us
they’ll snatch us up into Graceland   
they can do anything they can make us fly     
can they take us back to where they came from    
is it a musical place
of course it’s a musical place    
Elvis is King    
yeah Graceland is the real true blue heaven    
beyond the cheap chicken wings of the world Mama    
beyond the world Maxine    
or whoever you are    
Buddy my ears just popped    
we’re climbing Max    
it’s getting dark Buddy    
you better stop    
can’t stop on the highway    
some articulated eighteenwheeler    
some BIG FOOT
come behind us    
no visibility
now I nail my one good eye
to the white-dark wraparound    
like one big cataract
faint red lights
turning off ahead    
now nothing    
down there’s a turn    
somewhere down there    
I hit the gas down hard to the floor    
it’s dark and white like being wrapped in ermine    
if we weren’t doing eighty ninety a hundred      
it’s like a toboggan like the OLYMPICS  
SWOOSH SWOOSH and we’re out off in SPACE    
the cold moon and stars ahead    
I push my WING-EXTENDER BUTTON    
and now it’s STAR TREK
THE PANORAMA OF SPACE
I can see through the thick clusters of stars    
Ahead there deep      
GOD’S BRIGHT MUSICAL CASTLE
but the saucers  hold us floating in air    
HIGH OVER GRACELAND
You can see the lights    
I told them I told them
And THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS
of GOLDEN COINS COME GLITTERING
CRASHING OUT

 

Schorb’s most recent collection is Dates and Dreams—short fiction, prose poems, and cartoons—with an introduction by X.J. Kennedy. Last year, The New Formalist Press published Schorb’s Words in Passing, a selection of formal verse. His work has appeared frequently in Offcourse, most recently in The Devil's Tavern, Issue #60.



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