Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998
Poems by Lou Gallo
how you learned not to think
in the behaviorist square dance—
how dare you assume a turkey
it’s that other, a posteriori,
that Skinner and the pragmatists
but I prefer a priori
because then I can believe
in God if I want
and maybe you too
and maybe also in Aphrodite
otherwise, it’s test tubes
and schematics and electrodes
and all that circuitry
whereas how fine is the attar
from an invisible rose,
Some say it’s the opposable thumbs,
some the wisdom of play, others, leisure,
that swelling of the neo-cortex,
otherwise a pathology—wise?—
or bad luck? We’re out of focus,
double negatives, or, as in physics,
the ultraviolet catastrophe of
black box radiation, sad infinities
in the equations, a freak super-imposition
or errant misalignment . . .
all so we can suck the meat out of
crawfish heads on Saturday night
and wash it down with a chilled Dixie
and perhaps, with a flash of magic,
compose another Paradise Lost
or Ninth Symphony.
FOR RICHARD DADD (1817-1886)
Today you would be practicing
Relaxation exercises in a sterile
But comfortable clinic.
You would concentrate on how it feels
To murder your own father
And eventually unlearn the guilt
You cannot bear.
You would be declared totally cured.
Some corporation with a federal grant
Would hire you to file IBM data,
The “Fairy Feller’s Masterstroke”
Would unpaint itself along with
The lunacy and rage.
But those treacherous gnomes,
Those sinister daisies,
Would re-bloom every now and then
Whenever you felt compelled
To fold, spindle, mutilate or shred.
The entire past up for grabs!
Who are we but our memories of the past?
Yet the “experts” tell us that what we think
We remember about our pasts is fantastical,
Mostly untrue, mostly false, mostly invented
As we grope along attempting to chisel identities
From shards, scraps, hangnails and fringes.
Thus you can be anyone you want to be—
Say, Ponce de Leon scrambling for that
Fountain of Youth or a Xerxes or two.
Since I remember a coonskin cap
From the party store, I’m Davy Crockett.
King of the Wild Frontier . . .
Or was is Dan’l Boone?
Or maybe you’re somebody you don’t want to be,
A grotesque Pol Pot or Vlad the Impaler.
One thing we’re not—this phantasmal creature
Living and breathing right now, in the present.
The present doesn’t exist. The moment you say “now,”
Now is gone, buried along with all the other
King Tutian doodads in some dusty pyramid.
So get used to this alternate you, the real one,
Except when the shindig’s going on and
You’re too drunk to notice or care
And you’re neither here nor there.
They called it melancholy back then
a much more poetic and thereby beautiful term
than “clinical depression.”
He had it severely, brutally, and resorted
to the laudanum that eventually killed him.
How can anyone with even paltry insight not
succumb? His friend Wordsworth figured
that he needed more walks in nature, that
city life doomed him, Wordsworth, a kind of
mega Billy Collins of his day, tried to suppress it,
conjured up those dancing daffodils when
oft in “pensive mood.” Which tells us what?
You can sink or you can tread water.
The daffodils, long dead, still danced
in memory, a simulacrum, cut-rate surrogate.
Coleridge’s line, “nectar in a sieve” sums it up—
it’s not the despair, it’s the joy that’s lethal,
the mind as sieve, leaking all that fleeting
bounty, sweetness, beauty, the awareness
of what we shall miss soon enough, the
ephemeral nature of nature, of this slice
of heaven that comes piecemeal, erratically.
If only that person from Porlock had not
interrupted his dream of the pleasure dome
with a knock on the door . . . perhaps he
might have remained within (flashing eyes,
floating hair, that visionary, dulcimered damsel
of Mount Abora, sunny caves of ice) . . .
and hence short-circuited the dismal revenance.
What Aeolian harp sings when the wind dies?
for Billy Collins
Billy, I cannot, as you contentedly report,
slouch back after a meal of osso bucco
and fine vintage wine
and feel more than a sliver of serenity
because I will instantly regret the finale
of such harvest;
nor can I wrap my arm around her fine waist
as the ship goes down and commence
one last waltz (although I have indeed
held her by the waist) for the same reasons:
the finality of endearing moments,
the apprehension that they will never reenact,
the sadness inherent in the transient
specters of happiness satiety, privilege,
pleasure and delight.
The absurdity of living for moments
that dissolve precisely as they evolve.
You may ask, what choice do we have?
Exactly the point.
Three volumes of Louis Gallo’s poetry, Archaeology, Scherzo Furiant and Clearing the Attic, are now available. Three forthcoming volumes, Crash, Why is there Something Rather than Nothing? and Leeway & Advent, will be published in the near future. His work will appear in Best Short Fiction 2020 forthcoming. A novella, “The Art Deco Lung,” will be published in Storylandia. His work has appeared or will shortly appear in Wide Awake in the Pelican State (LSU anthology), Southern Literary Review, Fiction Fix, Glimmer Train, Hollins Critic,, Rattle, Southern Quarterly, Litro, New Orleans Review, Xavier Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Missouri Review, Mississippi Review, Texas Review, Baltimore Review, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, The Ledge, storySouth, Houston Literary Review, Tampa Review, Raving Dove, The Journal (Ohio), Greensboro Review,and many others. Chapbooks include The Truth Changes, The Abomination of Fascination, Status Updates and The Ten Most Important Questions. He is the founding editor of the now defunct journals, The Barataria Review and Books: A New Orleans Review. His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize several times. He is the recipient of an NEA grant for fiction. He teaches at Radford University in Radford, Virginia.