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.
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.
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By TOM YUILL
THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESSCopyright © 2010 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBIT: AN ODE WITH THE ROLLING STONES
PLAYING IN THE BACKGROUND
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.
ODE TO THE WIND
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.
TWO EASY ODES
1. ODE TO THE MOON
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.
2. ODE FROM MY HEART
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.
THE BLUE-EYED GIANT, THE MINIATURE
WOMAN, AND THE HONEYSUCKLE
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.
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
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 TwoMEDICINE SHOW
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.
THE BLUE BALLOON
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
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.
YOU WERE NOT HANGED, AND IT WAS NOT
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.
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Table of Contents
Bit: An Ode with the Rolling Stones Playing in the Background
Ode to the Wind
Two Easy Odes
The Blue-Eyed Giant, the Miniature Woman, and the
The Blue Balloon
You Were Not Hanged, and It Was Not Science
To Love Thrown Like a Rope
Dinner Party in the South: A Vision
Embers of an Ode
Father to Son
To the Sound of a String as It Snaps
Debate with His Heart
Made of Coral