Medicine Show

Medicine Show

by Tom Yuill


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Medicine Show by Tom Yuill

In Medicine Show, inner conflict is wonderfully realized in the clash of down-home plain speech and European high culture utterances. Freely translating and adapting Catullus (Latin), Villon (Middle French), Corbiere (French), Hikmet (Turkish), and Orpheus (Greek), and placing them alongside Jagger and Richards, skinheads, and psalms, Tom Yuill’s book mirrors an old-style hawking of wares, with all the charm and absurdity that results when high culture meets pop, when city meets small town, and when provincialism confronts urbanity. Here, the poems talk to one another, one poem nudging the cusps of many others, those poems touching still others' circumferences. Yuill, by invoking the Rolling Stones as muses and as background music, offers cover versions of Shakespeare, Keats, and Dylan Thomas, ultimately giving us a new kind of verse, funneled through the languages and rhythms of his masters' voices.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226971650
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 04/15/2010
Series: Phoenix Poets
Pages: 66
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.30(d)

About the Author

Tom Yuill is a lecturer in liberal arts at Metropolitan College, Boston University, and associate professor of literature and creative writing at the New England Institute of Art.

Read an Excerpt

Medicine Show



Copyright © 2010 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-97165-0

Chapter One


    The King squirms, on the spot.
    Each remark makes a wound, like a mouth.
    Each hot thought grins like a raccoon.
    Each moment heats itself against another moment.

    Each thing fucks. Each thing wants.
    Waste and pain again and again.
    They got me with a fine they didn't tell me was a fine.
    They got people like teeth, whose job is being sharp.

    "They got people dressed in plastic bags directing traffic."
    Wake up, King! Wake up the Son of Man.
    The sex between the sexes hasn't stopped.
    The drinking of the drunkards hasn't stopped.

    The King inspects his mud flaps, then anoints his beets.
    Each mouth slobbers. Each mouth eats.


    My brothers, the Wag and the Artful Dodger
    (Really my cousins) awoke me at 3:44. We poured big
    Bourbon and cokes and took a walk.

    Traylor asked how my broken leg was healing,
    I asked how his broken collar bone was healing.
    Charles told us his plan: "I'll take biology,

    And really study. Then, if I receive a B, I leave
    The frat house, study all the time. It's med school.
    I'm a doctor. If it's below a B, stay in the house,

    It's business, I'm a millionaire from business."
    What about B minus? "Still a B. I'm still
    A doctor." And same goes for C plus? "It's not

    A B. So I'm in business, Cousin." They wanted big
    Aquariums. No matter what we talked about,
    Charles had an answer, Traylor had philosophy

    Like this: "If you're ever in a group
    Of people longer than 15 minutes and can't figure
    Out who the dumbass is, you're it." We listened

    Once as a neighbor said he'd been to a big concert
    Where most who showed up after him got in
    For free. "But we were not ripped off," he said,

    "Because we paid, the concert happened, everyone
    Enjoyed it." Sure they said, and Gentleman Traylor
    Glanced at me and grinned like a raccoon, just

    For a second, as if to say, "we've found the dumbass,
    Haven't we, Tom?" Ten years after the accident
    Which I only survived by having missed, I said,

    Voice shaking as I spoke to the 200 gathered
    For the reunion what I'd written that morning
    To Traylor and Charles. "Because I was not there

    At Chamonix to save you, I will save you with poetry
    For the rest of my life."
So I swore ten years ago,
    And for ten years now, they have helped save me.


    The air is hot, it whispers, it has lips.
    It whispers like good news ... the beer is cold.
    She lumbers for one more. "Eywhere'd she go?"
    He thinks, but turns and thinks, "oh there she is."

    He's sitting by her on the floor with lime-
    Peels, open tubes of paint; some Jonathan
    Richman's playing. One of them's been painting.
    Dos Equis are being knocked back. He finds

    He knows where she is. She sees him. It's summer,
    They're on the floor. The music's like good news.
    "I get a facial tic when I drink too
    Much Coke," he says. "Each time I brush

    My teeth I think about Wisconsin," she nods.
    They whisper, purse their lips, it's all good news.


    I'm older now and live without regard
    For consequences less than in my youth.
    And I don't like you stuffing my nose

    Full of sewery rain, whipping swill
    Around corners and overfed pillars.
    I do like the way you make the trees rattle,

    A soundtrack around me, or lover-
    Like presence, for which I am grateful, if I am
    Lonely. But I have to say, it annoys

    Me that you blow, or that you're blown,
    That you don't emerge from some regard.
    What? Don't say I'm out of line.

    I still know about influences, flux
    Of "swirl and vortex." "Weather." Hey, I choose
    To walk this way, I choose

    To stand here being blown by you.
    And though you bring me
    New ideas for lunch—tacos al carbon

    Or crispy sesame beef—you also piss
    Careeningly all over me
    Without regard. This isn't envy here.

    I know you, Dog. I've seen you
    Knock the stuffing from the sea, and
    I've been blown before. Bring it.


    Here beside the fountain I die of thirst.
    In my own state I'm in a foreign land.
    I'm comforted and grin when in despair.
    When dolled up like a judge, bare as a wurst.
    I talk about my pleasures but they're bland.
    I'm always welcomed, always shown the door.

    At daybreak I tell all good night, good luck.
    All my learning's earned by pure, blind chance.
    While lying down I know I'll fall. I'm sure.
    I'm so well set I don't have one sawbuck.
    Am not an heir, expect inheritance,
    Am always welcomed, always shown the door.

    I work, but still don't give a happy damn.
    I'll spend my coins before I stop to think.
    I know it all and my mind is a blur,
    Lies, the truth—to me they're both the same.
    It's soothing knowing the sturdiest boat sinks.
    I'm always welcomed, always shown the door.

    Forbearing Princes, learn: I know the score.
    I'm quite unique, like everyone you've known.
    What's my gift? Retrieving things I pawn,
    Being always welcomed, always shown the door.



    I sit up and see the moon at night.
    It is right there past my nose. The bright

    Half-tortilla, she brings scrambled eggs to mind.
    I'm chirped at by thoughts when I sit up and see

    The moon. I'm not here waiting for the smacking
    Sun. I roll up in a world that licks its chops

    And thumps around me, sometimes stubs my toes.
    (But I wouldn't turn around and hate you,

    World, I learn to love you by the hoist and drop.)
    I do my sit-ups, curling and uncurling, I am half

    A somersault, just like the moon this night.
    Back and forth go the tides. I curl in,

    I go out. I close my eyes almost
    And there's my nose. Back and forth, there's my nose,

    There's my knees, there they go. Let's have eggs
    On flour tortillas. You and me, Moon: you and me.


    Broken, fixed, and drunk with love, I go,
    I gasp, I peak, I spin. I'm lodged but loose
    And chuckling. Glottal thumping—that's me.

    I gape, I eat the filaments from distant
    Vistas coming in a rhythmic rush
    And poop them out. I am the throbbing

    World. I shiver for you, but I am a purring
    World as well. I bloom, I push the papery
    Clouds around me. I live in my vault and love

    And punch the ribbed claw that fixes me. I don't stop.
    I hoist, I drop, soothe, I shower, rush, peruse. I breathe,
    I weep, I plop, I try. I ring, chime, coo, sing, do.

    freely after Hikmet

    He was a blue-eyed giant.
    He loved a miniature woman.
    The woman's dream was a miniature house
        With a miniature mortgage, dork
        For a husband, but honeysuckle
        Growing, a riot of colors, very fine house.

    The giant loved like a giant,
    Loved the giant world, its giant feet of clay.
    His head was accustomed to such giant ideas
    That the giant kept seeing the faces of fathers,
        Of Washington and Crazy Horse, in damned
        Near every cloud. If she yelled at him he nearly
        Snapped. Damn couch legs were prison bars.

    He loved like a giant. His desires were few, but those
    He had he had lots of. He could not knock
    On the door before something of himself was already
    Through it. Could not fit in a miniature house,
        Could not be a dork with a miniature mortgage
        In a house where honeysuckle grows
        In a riot of colors.

    He stayed a blue-eyed giant. He loved the miniature
    Woman. She was a porcelain miniature of a miniature
    Woman. The woman was hungry for miniature prose.
    She needed a comfortable sectional couch,
        She got tired of the giant's long strides, his almost
        Snapping when he stubbed his toe, and, bye, bye, off
        She went to a dwarf with a mortgaged, miniature

    Future, no questions and, sure, a garden
    With some honeysuckle growing in a riot of color.
    Now the blue-eyed giant knows there is no grave
    For a giant's loves. No memory permitted for the love
        Of one who sees faces in clouds, of one who loves
        Like a giant, no recollection of him in the miniature
        Houses whose gardens grow honeysuckle
        In the standard riot of colors.



    adored one

    the sky filled with snow


    her hips as she turns in bed
    to face me

    a swirling and a whiteness

    that fill the sky—

    for Heaven to be

    all of it must be
    all at once—

    white hips she
    turning adored one
    toward me


    Heads shaved to give advantage during fist-
    Fights at soccer games in Manchester or

    Berlin became shaved heads in Addison or
    Farmer's Branch, decorticated smooth to piss

    On both "Thou Shalt" and "Thou Shalt Not."
    Oh, skinheads of the early eighties, yes, you had

    A weird joie de vivre. Stomping and
    Swinging with torpid disinterest. Bloodshot

    Eyes crossing from indifferent headbutting
    Of windshields and indifferent gobbling of

    Acid and Ecstacy. Not even drunken, wobbling love,
    Just wanting whatever the next sting

    Was. Oh, raspberries blown at ennui in the form
    Of noses burst to bloom by redneck fists,

    Were you mostly piss? Ah, Dionysus
    In the eighties, hairspray paisleyed on bangs, storms

    At dinner tables in St. Louis, in Ann Arbor.
    Long sleeve paisley shirts covering tracks

    In Plano. No to the bond salesman father, yes to smack
    After dinner. The death rattle should be adored,

    She'd think, if she had the words. Another Self
    Recorded in London, in New York, gives her

    Her words. Dreams yielding, death seekers voting for
    Reagan again, her own words not shelved,

    Just not there. Grandmother dies suddenly, and dying
    Floats in beneath Mom's shoulder blades.

    Then she starts to smoke again, in secret. No charades
    From Dionysus last. In the eighties people heard no crying.

    "Get six jolly cowboys to carry my coffin,
    Get six dancehall maidens to bear up my pall.

    Throw bunches of roses all over my coffin,
    Roses to deaden the clods as they fall."

    Heads without hair in the cancer ward. Under knit
    Caps, under silk scarves. Under the wig she wore

    As she said, "I love you, too," and, unsure,
    Tried not to cry as she walked in quick polite

    Steps toward the hospital door, and he saw this, he
    Saw this, he saw this, then got in the car

    To go on to the concert. Are teenagers'
    Arguments a good idea or not? Hast thou

    Made the ulcers your idea? The Dallas skinhead
    I knew swapped an Escort radar detector he stole

    At five pm for seven hits of acid, which, poor mole,
    He dropped, rubbing his head.

    "It's always something with you, John," said his Mom
    To her husband of twenty-two years, and he,

    Tuning his car, heard nothing. O Mimesis, flue
    For thistly mote, pearly cell or bomb,

    Or migrating idea. Was he just infected, a Hell of Thought
    In which no thoughts were his? What sign of Christ

    Within his poor scalped hand as he gazes at the light
    Which shivers in the hollow, vacant lot?

Chapter Two


    They just do what they have to do in Texas.
    Researchy and formulaic, husks of laughing hatred rolling up
    In swarms of blood behind your eye. You were a magician, seeing
    A BU undergrad cross-eyed with drink dancing alone, many moons
    Tattooed on her left shoulder blade. See the future: sitting jobless
    On her mothy couch, then in a Cadillac,
    Vintage but with an antique peanut butter cup
    Blossoming mold on her dash board. The words are in my mouth,
    She says, they're in the air before I think. The last of four
    Silkworms you dreamed would eat into your thigh. Such thoughts appear
    Tonight only: another family death, blown like a new war, from Texas to you.

    After Lowell's Saba

    The one time I felt pretty good today
    (Forgive me, Lord, for that excess),
    You wouldn't believe what showed up and ruined it.
    Not someone I'd loved and hadn't
    Married looking white hot at Za Za's
    With upsized boobies and a phallic
    Zirconian rock on her finger—nope.
    It was a little blue balloon, blue
    Like the sky over Waxahachie
    When Mom dropped us off with Grandmother
    To visit. Heaven above Texas
    Has never been more blue.
    Houses so beset upon by light they seem to burn,
    And strings of smoke slip from a charcoal
    Grill. The blue balloon took flight
    And flew beyond all things divine,
    Escaped the thoughtless hand of the small boy
    (Who cried under the crush of this new loss),
    And flew between the Water Tower
    And Big Boy Kip's Coffee and Pancake House,
    Where I was killing time and gaping at the blue
    Balloon, grieving as I watched it lift and dip ...


    A lone, throat-grime song, a barfed sestina
    In the vapid night, a filmy moon, gray
    Like dying teeth, its sheen green splotchwork ...

    An echoed loogey hawk, leaping
    From behind the glandy lily pads ...
    It's gone! It's not! there, in the breasty mud ...

    A toad! O Crappo, why so scared? We're Army,
    I am all fidelity, your lieutenant. See the bald, foam-
    Rubber headed poet, nightingale of muck. Ooog ...

    Brrraapp! He sings! It's horror—sure, but why?
    Do you not see his gloamy eye meet yours? See
    Now he slurps away. Quiet and cold, under his rock ...

    Goodnight ... that toad down there ... that's me.

    BETWEEN 56 AND 57

    Old. Your tutor's drooping. Liver
    Spots, my eyes which were like slate
    Are sausage-grey. Grinded, I still quiver
    At the thought of it, but I'm no bait.
    Guillemette, your tapestries won't answer
    Bill collectors. Lying is their trade.
    Devalued coins will get you better.

    Pay attention, new glovestitcher,
    Time for you to get it straight.
    You too, Blanche, you hobbled cobbler.
    Get what's there. It soon gets late.
    Factory girl—tripping dancer,
    Don't stay shy. You'll never rate.
    Devalued coins would fare no better.

    Help me and yourselves. He baits her—
    Jean, not you. Not you. Life is just hate,
    Just men between our legs. He hates her
    Later. Kate, those memories of maid-
    Hood really cost you so much more. He'll offer
    What you'll never get. Life is a blade.
    Devalued coins will fare no better.

        "Girls, when you see me I ache.
        Listen, but don't look. I'm just a specter.
        Can't go back and circulate.
        Devalued coins would fare no better."


    Is this grief I feel
        These sunny winter days,
        The longing to be somewhere else—
        On the old bridge in Istanbul, for instance,
        Or drinking with the workers in Adana,
        In the mountains of Greece, or in China,
        Or next to her, who no longer loves me?

    Or is this a trick
            Of my liver
        Have I just dreamed all this?
        Or is it loneliness again,
        Or the fact I'm getting close
            To fifty now?

    Friend, in the upcoming verse
    My grief
            Will tip-toe nimbly out,
            It will go back the way it came—
    If only I could write this poem
    Or get a little sleep,
    If only I received a letter
    Or once heard good news on the radio ...


    Furius, Aurelius, my friends—my brothers;
    Whether Catullus pushes to India's extremes,
    To the resonating Eastern shore, so splashed
    With echoing waves,

    Or out to the Hyrcanians or to the plush Arabians,
    Or further, to the Scythians or to the quick draw Parthians,
    Whether to the shores so rubbed and stained
    By the seven-mouthed Nile,

    Or further, to the Alps, to see
    The monuments to Caesar's girth, or further,
    To the haunted Gallic Rhine, the witch-like
    Land of Britons—

    I would travel anywhere, I'd do all else
    The will of God required of me to see
    These words bespattering my former lover's face:

    Live underneath your lovers, live for lust!
    A happy, swelling lust! Dish out three hundred fucks
    At once. No love required—just happy, oily fucking
    Rotting off each crotch.

    And do not think of me, or my poor love,
    Which died because of you, just as a meadow
    Flower dies and falls after the sweeping past
    Of the silent plow.


    She thought she had debased herself
    Just as he'd asked. Gone to his therapist and listened
    While he cried about his acid reflux. Hells of her own
    Bad crying jags alone. Infected nails like dust mites,
    Gathering between his thoughts. The therapist explained
    He was a scientist, objective, and he'd seen a tennis game

    Where he should see a game of building Legos.
    Memory's the scapegoat. It's always
    A memory that makes
    The bile rise again. She listened and stared
    Out the window, thinking, "I have a knife on me."
    They plucked hairs from his head. He stared.


Excerpted from Medicine Show by TOM YUILL Copyright © 2010 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents




Bit: An Ode with the Rolling Stones Playing in the Background

Unsolicited Elegy


Ode to the Wind

For Orleans

Two Easy Odes

The Blue-Eyed Giant, the Miniature Woman, and the


Her Choir

Dallas Skinheads


Medicine Show

The Blue Balloon

The Toad

Between and


You Were Not Hanged, and It Was Not Science



To Love Thrown Like a Rope


Dinner Party in the South: A Vision


Medicine Show

It Happens

Several Histories

Embers of an Ode

Father to Son


To the Sound of a String as It Snaps

Medicine Show

Debate with His Heart


Ah! Birthday!


Made of Coral




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