Sunday, September 30, 2018

Lincoln, Nebraska, USA 2018

  Past Passing at Present
A shoe and its weathered sole, 
and a hole in the soul of my being 
seeing what in truth was leaving 
so long        gone. 

My father wanted me to see him. 
Simply      see him. 
To accept him for who he was. 
The He of past tense 
somehow more substantial than 
his presence within this present.
Hence, he would have me see him whole, 
and that whole of him 
would include that of he as child. 

One hour further into our future, 
we arrive there at his birth. 
Rather, there at the place of his birth. 
Tired tread across gravel less traveled, 
we pull up full stop, and 
a plume of grey dust there 
descends upon our heads. 
And as such silt settles 
upon both his boots and mine, 
we ingest motes of memory mined 
from a long distant youth. 

There upon hill, a house and a home. 
There down below, 
a barnyard and its cattle-tank. 
Said bovine vessel of some eight foot expanse, 
before which my father soon comes to stand. 

“We use to swim in this tank,” 
his hand gesture there reflected 
in the water’s still surface. 
And there he is further reflected, 
so much younger then than I in this now. 
He, his sister and brothers—
they on a hot summer’s day, 
thrashing about in that water 
while cows stand off in the distance, 
waiting their allotted time perchance 
to taste this essence of childhood. 

There my father dunking a brother; 
there my father splashing his sister. 
He as small boy submerging; 
he as my father emerging; 
he now catfish flounder, 
there to flip and upend 
over the cattle-tank’s rim, 
and out onto the hardpack 
sprawling at our feet. 
And with a ripple of skin 
and fan of his fins, 
he sprays us in his spittled wake 
as he dashes toward the house. 

And as a certain youth’s passing 
comes to evaporate there before us, 
my father and I follow its path 
up to the clapboard structure 
ensconced at the top of the hill. 

Passing to the house’s far side, 
I’m shocked to see that well over 
a third of the structure has collapsed 
and imploded inward. 
Before I can ask, 
my father blurts, 
“Tornado.      Big one.  
Couple of years back.” 

And though the house exists 
mostly as a twisted sculpture of 
strewn and splintered wood, 
I ask if I might look about inside. 
“Oh no,” he responds. “No. There’s 
   a woman who lives in there.” 

And in awe, I come to wonder 
whether just such a woman 
abides within that present tense 
or some lesser   disturbed past. 
Whether her psyche is supple and sound, 
or therein lies collapsed amidst 
the further ruin of a decimated mind. 

Passing on to the far side of the house, 
my father guides me down to 
a dried up creek bed and the 
stand of straggled trees which line
its long forgotten purpose. 
Presently we pause beneath a 
substantial time-hewn oak 
whose tangled boughs reach forth 
to eclipse the far bank and beyond. 

And there as hands expand 
to frame the base of this ancient tree, 
the composure upon my father’s face 
returns to that of the puckish boy 
reborn to his huckleberry youth. 
Some sense of pending intimacy 
conveyed from this wag-tailed whelp 
now far younger than myself. 

And here his hand comes to point 
to one large root of which 
the flow of the creek 
had long ago washed away 
its surrounding dirt. 
    That hole...” 
and he extends his hand 
toward the circular gap. 
“We use to crawl through that hole,’ 
   and he winks,
“It was our secret tunnel.” 

And I find myself gazing 
at how small the opening is; 
at how small a boy would have to be 
to crawl through its pint-size portal. 

And there’s my father 
standing just beside me. 
And there he is upon tattered knees, 
barefoot in a child’s bib overalls, 
with his head passing 
through this womb of root; 
through its vaginal girth 
and my father’s re-birth.

And moving to the tree’s far side, 
I look for this one boy’s emergence, 
only there to find my father laid out 
   on a stainless steel gurney. 

That which was him 
now draped in funeral cloth 
and looking rather smaller 
than I as his son 
           remember him. 

2018 Jack David Hubbell

Sunday, July 15, 2012

   Dementia Pugilistica
Pounding away with aching fists,
   he stands before a
taped and tattered heavy bag,
   and there mid-flurry,
thinks to himself,
  "I    will die    fighting."
And this somehow
   brings him comfort.

That his knuckles flash forth
to slam into bag
is not so much an effort to
send them out from innermost being,
but rather that the bag  pulls them in.
As if his fists were lumps of iron
and there at the bag's core
exists an irresistible magnet.

There an invite to hate, and
what is he    if not unleashed?
To damage.
To be   destructive.
This was never about
   the act of creation,
for to create would imply
   the intent to benefit others;
that others might flourish
from the fruit of his efforts.
   But no.
That is not him.

He was always one to
tear things down;
to    rip things up;
to    knock things over.
To sling axe and drop a tree
was always preferred to
the sink of nail;
the rise of wood;
the sheen of polished grain.
That which brings the rage.
For what is the application of varnish
  if not submission
to some excepted ideal?
What is the ultimate act of survival
if not a smashed and splintered chair?
Everything as tinder for the flame.
"I will die fighting."
And such becomes his mantra.
A repeat petit mal of the soul.
A daily validation for self-immolation. 
The wrapping of hands.
The donning of gloves.
The dip of a vasalined head
as it ducks beneath rope
into a four-squared ring.

The Ring.
The ring of the bell and its
blissful invite to execution.
Death in convenient segments,
each defined end to end
by some siren peel of steel. 
"I will die fighting."

Getting hit    while giving it.
This was his modus operandi.
This his subtle strategy.
He was not a boxer.   No.
Nothing so senseless as sport.
Forever stepping to his demise,
everything he threw
was meant to bring
the end of the world.
And instead
it brought him constellations;
collapsing galaxies;
a Milky Way maelstrom of ill-lumination
swirling away    just before
his punch-drunk eyes.

The bruise to the brain.
Its momentary blackout.
Synapses in mass, all reset to zero.
And yet...      And yet the ability to
step forward when asked to.
To have your name ready
when the question comes.
This was his one    true    talent.

Eleven times seven equals seventy-seven.
He acknowledged that there were others
who could compute this by
merely using their minds,
but how did this compare to
being able to correctly state your name
   at the end of an eight-count?

No one cheers when some
certified accountant
puts the books in black,
yet there three foot above concrete,
where blood oozes forth upon canvas
   to mingle with the past,
what is he if not someone to look up to?
A Journeyman.  
   A tomato can.
      An also ran.
A professional palooka.
"I will die fighting."
Of course its important
   to have goals.

   Saw you fight last night!
Ya didn't go down 'til the final round.
Yep. You sure can take a punch.
One    hell of a brawl!"

And ever the fighting cock,
he raises hands and assumes a stance—
though the only pose
they ever wanted from him
was best defined as
white outline upon asphalt.
And he says, "Thanks. Thanks.
   It means a lot."
Then finishes off with his catchphrase:
"I will die fighting!"
And everyone chuckles.
He,        such a character.

Just what character can you attribute
  to a punching bag?
One of so many suspended from chain.
One of many   with layer upon layer of
  duct tape wrapped about it.
There dragging out the abuse
'til the day its guts
spill out upon floor.

And what is the character
of this bag before him now?
This bag which   exists
if only to absorb a certain rage.
And he who stands before it,
seeing in it…    himself.
He who has known such hate.
Such hate as to make fists ache.
Yet what would it be to
deny enduring pain,
if not to give in
to a certain    death?

©2012 Jack Hubbell

   Counting Coup
There was a lot of death
and   dying up there,
and if I   remember correctly,
it gave me a bit of a thrill.
Of course there were the good guys
   and   the bad.
Both of which were in that process
   of dying unto death.
And I knew I was supposed to be
cheering for one side to
prevail over the other
but in truth,
I was somewhat indifferent.
It was the death; the dying.
Yea, and okay, the living as well.
That flux   in between.

We had yet to progress to post mortem
but that’s not to say that
the exact instant of death
can’t have a stench unto itself.
From where I was standing,
the expected smell of death
was mostly non-existent.
Rather, this death
smelled more like stale beer.
Fifty plus years of spilt pilsner
which had saturated those
rotting floorboards upon which I stood.

My father was awfully fond
   of that pool-hall.
Perhaps fonder still of the bar in the back.
Fond of those men
who shared his fondness.
There across from this bar and
upon the not too distant wall
   hung a painting.
A crude hunk of art which was
taller than I was at that age
and three times that measure wide.

And I stood on that barroom floor,
yet also stood within that painting.
But if you asked whether
I stood with the good guys or the bad,
I’m not sure I could tell you.

There were Americans in that painting
and I figure they had to be the good guys,
but then, isn’t that always the case?
There were Injuns… Indians.
   Native Americans.
Yes, Americans in that painting.
“The only good Injun      is a dead Injun.”
Now who was the American
who first came up with
that    delightful phrase?
Very likely the same asshole who
stands dead center of that painting.
Dead center.
                      Dead center.
Right where he was supposed to be.

Back in the Fall of 1967,
Canadian actor Wayne Maunder
was hired to portray
a character of infamy
in a prime time television show
   called        “Custer”.

And I as a child was mesmerized.
And I as an adult remain    mesmerized.
You see,
because George Armstrong Custer
   was portrayed as a hero.
Long-haired hippy Custer circa late Sixties
had his finger on all the issues of the day.
“Let’s sit around the camp-fire,
pass a well-packed peace pipe.
Yo Yo Yo, lite that thing up.
George.        Yellow Hair.
Whassup wit dat bogart, dude?”

So you had actor Fess Parker
   as Daniel Boone
and Wayne Maunder
   as Custer.
Both upstanding righteous guys.
Righteous.      Righteous Hell.
In that TV show,
Custer was friends with Crazy Horse.
They hung out.
Smoke a bowl or two.
Passed that bottle of Mad Dog
   without wiping off the lip.
Yea, a TV show’s rewrite of history
that surely brought
   a rancid rise of vomit
      to the entire Lakota Nation.

But there as a child,
standing beneath Custer’s Last Stand
   at the Little Big Horn,
I didn’t see the racism.
Held no comprehension
of the decades of genocide
that led those Lakota braves
to their final moment of payback.
And where that painting was
supposed to project the final moments
of one of America’s greatest heros,
for me it was no more than a still frame
   from a damn good snuff film.
Well… snuff painting perhaps.
Indeed, I as a child got to re-enact
Custer’s brutal death over and over again.
And my memory of this     pleases me.

As a youth, I suppose I
took the side of the Native American
   a little too often.
The “Noble   Savage.”
And just what   does that   mean?
Are we to assume that the Lakota,
or the Cherokee,
or the Mohawk, the Apache,
or any of the other
original indigenous nations
ever considered the term “Noble Savage”
   as endearing?

Osama Bin Ladin dies
and a nation of Americans
bust out their doors,
look up to the sky and
do a little victory dance.
George Armstrong Custer dies
and a nation of other Americans
   do exactly the same.
Noble Americans.
Mobile Americans.
Third-World Americans
force marched and
sequestered away in their
Third-World isolation.

As that same child,
a trip with my father
once took us in proximity
to an Indian reservation.
Descendents of those same warriors
who counted coup on Custer.
Those noble Indians
standing proud beneath their
regal war bonnets.

I wanted to see that.
I expressed so to my father,
and with a glint in his eye,
he agreed to take me to them.
Diverging from our course,
my father steered us
towards that reservation,
and as we traveled into the past,
I scanned the crests
of each and every adjacent hill
in search of feathered silhouette.
And yet we never actually
made it to the reservation.
Instead, my father drove us to a town
   there on the edge.

And there he pulled up in front of a bar.
And there father and son
pass from blazing sunlight
into the dim inky darkness
   of the bar’s interior.
And as eyes strain to adjust,
my father makes a
small flourish with his hand
and says,
There are your Indians.”

And I turn from the
whiteness of his gleaming smile
to the squalor of that saloon.
Before me I see
my precious Indians
collapsed upon the bar,
sprawled about
the assorted tables.
Passed out and
bodily strewn across the floor.

There     are your Indians.”

And I hear my father chuckle.
He finding mirth
in the destruction of
my naïve illusion.

Would that I might have gathered up
those assorted Native Americans
and taken them in mass
to a certain bar that prides itself
   of Custer’s Last Stand.
To usher them all down to the lone man
sitting drunk at the end of the bar.

“There,” I’d say.

“There’s my father.

There’s your White Man.

There’s your Custer.

He in his own
dying unto death
   Last Stand.

Do with him

what you will.”

c 2011 Jack Hubbell