Robert Peters: What Dillinger Meant to Me


Eagle River, Wisconsin: 1930


My Father as House-Builder
Snapshots with Buck, Model-A Ford, and Kitchen
Nude Father in a Lake
Pig-Family Game
Potato Bugs
Summer Litany
Garter Snakes
The Butchering
The Sow's Head


Deerskin Flowage
Memorial Day 1933
Bridge Climbing
Car Trip
Hot Bread
Biology Lesson
Few of Us Feel Safe Anywhere
That Family
Cousin: Snapshot 1
Night Swim
Forest Walk 47
The Lake
Lucy Robinson
Tommy McQuaker
Old Carlson
Married Cousin
The Secret


Personal History
Canoe Journey
The Prom
Rites of Passage
Carnival Man
Young Man on Sunday
Rev. Joseph Krubsack
Tableau in a Lutheran Church


What John Dillinger Meant to Me
Night Visitor
Radio Report
Snow Image
Dillinger in Wisconsin
The Watch-Dogs
Birthday Party
Night Accident
Saturday at Little Bohemia
The Raid
Everywhere, Yet Nowhere


Father: As Recollection or the Drug Decides
On Not Attending My Father's Funeral


The Little Square Review: 14 Poems, Santa Barbara, John Ridland, 1967
Songs for a Son, W. W. Norton, Inc., 1967
The Sow's Head and Other Poems, Wayne State University Press, 1968
Eighteen Poems, privately printed, 1971, 1972, 1973
Byron Exhumed, Windless Orchard Press, 1973
Red Midnight Moon, Empty Elevator Shaft Press, 1973
Connections: In the English Lake District, Anvil Press, London, 1973
Holy Cow: Parable Poems, Red Hill Press, 1974
Cool Zebras of Light, Christopher's Books, 1974
Bronchial Tangle, Heart System, Granite Books, 1975
The Gift to be Simple, Liveright, Inc., 1975
The Poet as Ice-Skater, Manroot Books, 1975
Gauguin's Chair: Selected Poems, Crossing Press, 1977
Hawthorne, Red Hill and Poet-Skin Presses, 1977
Ikagnak: The North Wind, With Dr. Kane in the Arctic, Kenmore Press, 1978
The Drowned Man to the Fish, New Rivers Press, 1978
Picnic in the Snow: Ludwig of Bavaria, New Rivers Press, 1982
Shaker Light, West Coast Poetry Review Press, forthcoming


The Crowns of Apollo: Swinburne's Principles of Literature and Art, Wayne State University Press, 1965
Pioneers of Modern Poetry, with George Hitchcock, Kayak Press, 1967
The Lost Ghabals, Red Hill, 1979
The Great American Poetry Bake-Off, Scarecrow Press, 1979
The Great American Poetry Bake-Off, Second Series, Scarecrow Press, 1982


The Letters of John Addington Symonds, W. Herbert Schueller, Wayne State University Press, 1967-1969

Victorians on Literature and Art, Appleton-Century Crofts, 1961
Gabriel: A Poem by John Addington Symonds, London, 1974
The Collected Poems of Amnesia Glasscock (John Steinbeck), Manroot Books, 1977
Letters to a Tutor: The Tennyson Family Letters, forthcoming
The Peters Black and Blue Guide to Current Poetry Journals, forthcoming

Copyright © 1983 by Robert Peters
All rights reserved.

Some of these poems have appeared in the following little magazines: Stone Cloud, The Fault, Hanging Loose, North American Review, Poets' Almanac, Mouth of the Dragon, Word Is Out, The Berkeley Poetry Review, Blue Buildings, Wormwood Review, Abraxas, Amicus Journal, and Poetry L/A .
"Night-Soil" appeared in The Windflower Home Almanac of Poetry (Windflower Press, 1980)
I am grateful to Ted Kooser for supplying me with the little-known information about Dillinger I use in "Radio Report." Also, I greatly appreciate the faith the Wayne State University Press and Granite Books had in my work early in my career; some of these poems, including the title poem, were published by them in The Sow's Head and Other Poems (Wayne State, 1968) and Bronchial Tangle, Heart System (Granite Books, 1975).
And final thanks to an unusual friend, George Leonard, the novelist, who suggested that I return to this Wisconsin material and write about it extensively.

Library of Congress Cataloguing in Publication Data

Peters, Robert
What Dillinger Meant To Me

ISBN 0-933322-09-7

The Sea Horse Press, 307 West 11 St., New York, NY 10014

[text from back cover:]

WHAT DILLINGER MEANT TO ME is the most personal statement by the distinguished poet and critic Robert Peters since his anguished first collection wherein he discovered not only his subject but his calling.

This, his eighteenth book of poetry, culls Peters' most autobiographical works from early volumes, and is graced by many new poems written especially for it. But, more than a gathering, more even than a summation, WHAT DILLINGER MEANT TO ME is a regrasping of Peters' impoverished (yet poetically rich) childhood and youth in rural Wisconsin: a slice of life of a vanished world, of hog slaughterings and innocent games that reveal profound truths, of a boy's first grapplings with the nature of family, companionship, death, religion and sex.

Peters' portraits of country people and their rituals, their hypocrisies and lecheries are certain to remind readers of Edward Arlington Robinson, Robert Frost and Edgar Lee Masters. In Peters' work too the regional becomes a universe.

Above all looms the menacing, desirable figure of John Dillinger -- the arch gangster of the American Thirties -- whose presence in Peters' young life becomes more than a symbol, becomes almost a Grail as the poet comes to terms with his volcanic same sexuality.

I don't even know what killed them.
Or him. And I do not want
to think it was the loss of the blood
of manhood. There is always more of that.
- John Logan, "The Experiment that Failed"

Shall I make sense or shall I tell the truth?
- Randall Jarrell, "Seele in Raum"


In memory of my father and mother.

EAGLE RIVER, WISCONSIN: 1930 Gangsters came to Eagle River but not one singer writer or painter. I can show you where Dillinger sweated at Little Bohemia where Mayor Kelly rubbed his belly and shot well bodyguarded rounds of golf where Capone's crew sniffed danger adjusted their knickers masqueraded as berrypickers in the less ominous air of Eagle River when the home zoo grew too hot and governors La Follette and Heil paused awhile patted their wallets observed the state of the wild blueberry crop gathered votes were startled to note so few folk in that beautiful backwoods of logged off, mined out land -- while Herbert Hoover chose the Brule for hooking trout, saw Eagle River as nothing to shout about. And yet one could/can flounder up to his eyes there, and the mind could/can blunder frenzied there, poems choking the throat.
FATHER 1. A creaking on the stairs. A nail scratches a stovepipe. A face, furred eyes and cheeks, hover over. Is it Dillinger adorned with spruce boughs, moss? is it a monster? My father, by synapse, projects dreams -- his father drowned in prairie grass. He orphaned, school-less tramping after threshing crews, carnivals, on a trail blocked out led by his brother to Wisconsin speech and singing guitar violin accordion mandolin a genius for machines for building and repairing them: in his hand a pickax, under his arm a dynamite cache. 2. He slipped into shadow into the enfolding woods and returned late, with game after I had seen him transformed into treebranch, into wolf, bloodsmear on snowcrust, ephemeral whispers garnered from the bloodcells of swamps, the ventricles of trees, the cavities of a heart, from a flashlight cell.
MY FATHER AS HOUSE-BUILDER Cedar poles skidded by horse from swamp to highland, stripped of bark, hauled to the house-site on a knoll near the public road. A pattern in the sand for the two rooms and kitchen, drawn with a sapling and a rule. Cedar poles adzed flat for the frame. Other poles notched for walls. We chinked logs with swamp-moss, gathered by pails-full, held in by slats, then plastered over. We puttied the windows, tiny to hold in the heat. Scrap-lumber for the roof and floor. A cellar hole in the livingroom, the sand fetched up by buckets on a rope and dumped outside in a marsh-hole filled in for a garden plot. The upper story, hip-roofed, low, bedroom space for the kids, built without plumb lines, as a hedgehog might, in haste, hurrying before summer blazed off into snow and ice. Tin smoke-pipe leaning north, tied by guy wires to eyelets in the roof. We nagged dad to finish the walls with boards, which he never did. The bare studs, he said, were good for hanging pots, clothes, and pictures from. The ceilings and bedroom walls we insulated with flattened boxes and pictures cut from the Sunday news.
SNAPSHOTS WITH BUCK, MODEL-A FORD, AND KITCHEN 1. The buck's neck in a twist beside the car's head lamp. His tongue sticky, pimpled cardboard. Gashed throat. Eye glassed over. Opaque milk. Belly slit, incision swept with blood-hair. His hooves secured with a rope. Magnificent twelve-pronged antlers. 2. Dad whetted a knife on his emery stone. A galvanized tub caught the dribbles. He sliced off the lovely head, disjointing the neck bone. He severed the hooves with a saw and placed them, on paper, in a row under the pot-bellied stove. He shucked the hide, wet ivory integument and muscle, would later treat it with lye and cure it for mittens. Grease in the black pan on the stove sizzled. Dad pushed his thumbs into the savory venison, Discs of marrow-bone, piles for soup. Piles of purple meat for grinding. We buried the venison in snow on the roof, to be eaten as needed. Morning, tracks circled our house. Wolves had snapped at one another's heels all night maddened by blood and spoor.
DIALOGUE "You stole the dynamite, dad." "On $40 per month, son, the WPA won't miss it. When I build the basement it'll be handy." "That's robbing...." "We're poor. We've got our own laws." "I'm scared when you go hunting." "Don't worry, son. Just keep your nose clean and your britches pulled up. We've got our ways. There's struggle. We have to make it, what ways we can."
NUDE FATHER IN A LAKE I've never stopped, even in my sleep, seeing him in the lake facing me with his hands all wax over his sex. His throat and his wrists are burned. He is so white. He splashes me with water. I yank my baggy swim trunks off, dive, and reach cold mud. I hold a submerged branch. His nudity no longer shimmers . . . a dance . . . a fish . . . green cartilage between his eyes . . . a hinged mouth. I surface and watch dad retrieve his clothes from a bush. He keeps on walking, without asking me, entices me to follow, from the rear.
MOTHER Girl, sixteen, straining over a washtub in an iceshed of a house chinked with moss veiled with tarpaper House alive with mice in warm weather, in cold with ice. Your stuttering washlines strung up through the house: slab underwear (flat salted fillets) sheets, shirts, board-stiff dresses, nightshirts. And the meals: pancakes whipped out of batter kept in a crock fermenting on the back of the woodstove. Peanut butter (County Relief) extended by blendings of bacon drippings . . . Repeat those gestures! Strip away all subsequent events! Goad us out to the pasture, to the starved potato field, and the bean field while you prod, curse your life, as night (a peddler) drops poisoned seed, and a wreathing fog settles in, soft underbelly, soft thighs, tight against the throat dark lovely throat of night. I crouch again waiting, hoping you are near. Touch me! Touch me!
MISCARRIAGE My mother bathes alone -- the metal tub, the kettle of hot water, on a strip of carpet, in her room. She has lost another child. Dad buries it under the birches behind the well. God is on her side. She didn't want the child. He listened to her when she cried. He opened a fresh wound wide in His eternal side. The baby slipped in and hid there when he died.
DOCTOR He was drunk, and his breath stunk. He wore a brown wool suit and a tan coat. His voice was brusque demanding water, cloths and a small brush. His hands fluttered when he said the birth looked bad. The cord strangled the baby's throat. He failed to cry. He would die. I saw the red body in the air. It had black hair. The Doctor waved us off -- "Wait in the kitchen," he said. "We'll clean up now. The boy's fine. We'll be done in no time." We sat across the table. The kerosene lamp in the middle. My sister was staring at her knuckles. I saw her skinny breasts, her brown hair braid, her small, firm lips. She looked at me. I thought she would cry. I didn't know why.
GAMES 1. My sister had a tiny room under the eaves where she pretended we were hidden in willow leaves. A moose chomped pickerel grass and yellow water lilies. We inched forward on our bellies. 2. We played family -- she was always the mother. I wanted the kids. I was tired of being the father. "You can drive to work," she said, "and bring home flour and bacon. I'll cook the meals, milk, and toss down the fodder. Too bad, the mother's taken." 3. I played her way, afraid she might not play at all. She said "no" when I suggested gnome or troll or ball. We'd quarrel. She vowed she'd run to the lake and drown herself. I saw her gingham dress flash down the path, as death. 4. I slept in a strawberry patch.. I hoed some corn. I pumped cold draughts of water from the well, caught the forlorn Clang and tinkle of cattle bells. The lake was calm. Footprints by the shore. No cloth-scraps to show that she had gone Into the deep, chill, ochre-tinted water. Minnows flashed around an old boat pier. I dashed towards home. Halfway to the pasture gate I reached an old hayrick. My sister's sudden laughter made me sick. 5. I flung her to the sand. She yelled that I had sprained her hand. I knew she'd tell our dad. I hid until they'd gone to bed. I crept upstairs, lay down and drew a blanket over my head.
PIG-FAMILY GAME I was the sow, she was the boar. Six kitchen chairs for a pen. We put on winter coats and grunted. I lay on my side, coat open and birthed six pigs. Only one was runted. Six squirts, minimal pain, minimal swelling. I peeled the after-births, then nudged the piglets into standing. Boar was in a corner plowing up edible roots. Sow ate the placentas. The piglets yanked and nuzzled her teats. Sow-milk ran, her ovaries tingled. There was froth on her mouth, in the black juicy loam of the pen.
SMUDGE-POT 1. Mosquitoes plague the house at dusk. They bite your arms and face at will, plump with blood, like small overloaded tubers. They float to the nearest twig. The welts burn and tingle. 2. I cram dead leaves, paper and shavings in a pail. I raise the bail, strike the fire, then douse it with wet grass. Smoke-roilings! I bathe and drench the house. I shut the screens tight and hope I'll sleep that night.
POTATO BUGS Dad paid us a nickel a quart to pick the bugs. The plants, just blossoming, were infested. By dropping the bugs into a jar, fast, they didn't juice our fingers. They exuded a noisome odor. We poured in kerosene. When dad paid us we drained the fluid to use again, dumped the dead bugs on the manure-pile behind the barn.
SUMMER LITANY "If we don't pick berries we'll starve this winter," mom said. Dad was sweat-soaked from working in the field. "We'll paint our butts with varnish to keep `em warm if some money don't come in." "Rob the bank, pa." "Those rich buggers, floating on top, ought to spread their money around." Dad knocked his pipe against the stove, stood up, stretched, and yawned. "Maybe that Dillinger or whoever's robbin' the banks will come out here and help us."
NIGHT-SOIL It was always this way: each spring dad shovelled up outhouse winter deposits. He dug into the pile from the rear, shovelled it onto a stone-boat hauled it to the fields, borrowing my uncle's horse. Pages torn from Sears catalogues stuck to the soil, patchwork of men and boys in underwear cheap suits, overalls, tough boots and shoes. Dad claimed he knew each Saturday's deposit, when we ate peanuts, played cards, and heard the Hit Parade. He strewed the offal over the fields, then plowed it under. The disk restored some to the surface Where squash and corn grew large and green sprouting from night-soil, rich, rich ordure, human.
RAT 1. We heard him in the cellar-pit below the floor. Dad lifted the door, shot down a light, caught him in a beam, on a pile of sand. Milky potato roots writhed up the stone walls. I saw the yellow teeth. 2. Dad built a trap from an apple-crate. We smoked the box to smear out human smell. Inside we threw some wheat. A rigged door. We waited to hear the trap latch, for the rat to screech and scramble. At midnight we went to bed. 3. Next morning dad left for work on the WPA crew Nothing new in the cellar. "He's too smart," dad said, "We'll have to shoot him." 4. I was stoking the wood-stove fire . . . an incredible bang and rattle! Mom rushed in from the kitchen. "We've caught him!" I shouted. 5. I raised the trap. The rat plunged and snarled. He gnawed the wood. He bit through the chicken-wire. We removed the stove's top lid and slid the trap, door down over the flames. I opened the trap. The rat clung to the screen. We beat his toes with a poker. I struck his teeth. He fell into the fire.
GARTER SNAKES There was so little to do. We caught big garter snakes And hacked them in two. They slithered best when the days were blue. We found them in the pasture and Near the outhouse where mullein grew. We knew they ate mice and rats. We believed they devoured cats. They were vicious, satanic -- we thought we knew. They hissed and tried to bite us -- What else would a snake do? They jiggled long after they were cut in two. (I noticed drops of snakeblood on my shoe.) We draped the chunks over a barbed-wire fence, Sure that we'd saved our innocence. We joked, saying snake would make good stew. That's what Indians were supposed to do -- Brew up snake, rat, stoat, and caribou. Around the farm our fears and superstitions blew. We thought we knew. We thought we knew.
CRANE A gray crane on a rock glares. He might be stuffed, except that an eye blinks. He scrapes his beak on his wing, raises a leg. I grab a stone. A bone cracks. A red eye swims. Feathers fly in the wind.
SKUNKS 1. A skunk stomps his feet, erects his tail, tip down, and then by raising the tip spins noisome fluid from his anal glands up over you. The odor spreads for half a mile. 2. They are frequently smashed by cars. Instead of running, they hold ground. 3. They burrowed under our coop. One scooped dirt, hid in a gasoline tank dad had converted to a heater. The skunk nipped off several hens, sucked their blood, stuffed the tank with their bodies. 4. Dad fished the animal out with a pitch-fork and buried it. We stripped the dead hens. My mother canned the meat. It tasted sweet.
THE BUTCHERING 1. Dad told me to hold the knife and the pan. I heard the click on wood of the bullet inserted, rammed. Saw a flicker thrash in a tree beside the trough, saw a grain in the sow's mouth, felt my guts slosh. "Stand back," dad said. Waffled snow track pressed by his boots and mine. Blood and foam. "Keep the knife sharp, son, and hold the pan." One of us had shuffled, tramped a design, feet near the jackpine. "She'll bleed slow. Catch all the blood you can." A rose unfolded, froze. "Can't we wait?" I said. "It should turn warmer." Spark, spark buzzing in the dark. "It's time," dad said, and waited. 2. Bless all this beauty! preacher had exclaimed; all sin and beauty in this world! Beast and innocent! Fistbones gripped the foreshortened pulpit rim. Thick glasses drove his furious pupils in. 3. Dad brought the rifle to the skull. The sow's nose plunged into the swill, the tips of her white tallow ears as well. Splunk! Straight through the brain, suet and shell. Stunned! Discharge of food, bran. Twitch of an ear. Potato, carrot, turnip slab. "Quick. The knife, the pan." He sliced the throat. The eye closed over. Hairy ears stood up, collapsed. Her blood soured into gelatin. She had begun to shit. 4. We dragged her to the block and tackle rig. We tied her tendons, raised her, sloshed her up and down. We shaved her hair, spun her around, cut off her feet and knuckles, hacked off her head, slashed her belly from asshole down through bleached fat throat. Jewels spilled out crotches of arteries fluids danced and ran. We hoisted her out of dog reach dumped her entrails in the snow left the head for the dogs to eat -- my mother disliked head-meat. The liver, steaming monochrome, quivered with eyes. We took it home. 5. I went to my room. Tongues licked my neck. I spread my arms, threw back my head. The tendons of a heel snapped. What had I lost? bit bridle rage? Preacher in his pulpit fiddling, vestments aflame. He, blazing, stepping down to me. Hot piss came. I knelt on the floor, bent over, head in arms. Piss washed down, more. I clasped my loins, arm crossed over arm. And I cried loving my guts, O vulnerable guts, guts of creatures.
THE SOW'S HEAD The day was like pewter. The gray lake a coat open at the throat. The border of trees -- frayed mantle collar, hairs, evergreen. The sky dun. Chilling breeze. Hem of winter. I passed the iodine-colored brook hard waters open the weight of the sow's head an ache from shoulder to waist, the crook of my elbow numb. Juices seeping through the wrapping paper. I was wrong to take it. There were meals in it. I would, dad said, assist with slaughter, scrape off hair, gather blood. I would be whipped for thieving from the dogs. I crossed ice which shivered, shone. No heads below, none; nor groans -- only water, deep, and the mud beds of frogs asleep; not a bush quivered, not a stone. Snow. Old snow had formed hard swirls bone and planes with windwhipped ridges for walking upon; and beneath, in the deep, bass quiet, perch whirling fins, bluegills, sunfish, dim-eyed soaking heat. Mud would be soft down there, rich, tan, deeper than a man: silt of leeches, leaves tumbling in from trees, loon feces, mulch-thick mudquick, and lignite forming, cells rumbling, rifts. I knelt, chopped through layers of ice until water, pus, spilled up choking the wound. I widened the gash. Tchick! Tchick! Chips of ice flew. Water blew from the hole, the well, a whale, expired. My knees were stuck to the ice. I unwrapped the paper. The head appeared shorn of its beard. Its ears stood up, the snout with its Tinker Toy holes held blood. Its eyes were shut. There was grain on its mouth. It sat on the snow as though it lived below, leviathan come for air limbs and hulk dumb to my presence there. I raised the sow's head by its ears. I held it over the hole, let it go, watched it sink, a glimmer of pink, a wink of a match an eyelid . . . A bone in my side beat.
DEERSKIN FLOWAGE The river is mineral-red. A trout snaps at a may-fly. You can't see where the bones lie, Glacial, among boulders.
UNCLES 1. My uncles were gassed in the trenches, pissed out their fear in the trenches saw horses blown to scrap, dragged comrades from barbedwire traps fought off bronze rats in Ypres, Belleau Wood, Chateau-Thierrey, Verdun. 2. Don't be afraid, son, if there's war you'll come back. And when you're forty, home, you'll rest in a swamp of death, dying all around. I'll die then, and you won't know. It's dirty. No wishing on a moon, son, wow! 3. Trailing piss my uncles run nowhere to place hands nowhere to insert wound-rags nowhere to scream, blare claw smoke nowhere to latch the mask no nose to hang it from throat, lingam shot away, shapes dangle from bones running, running this way, running.
MEMORIAL DAY 1933 1. Observe how no ornament impedes your climb. The girders are red-orange triangles and lines. Pillars beneath north and south connect the dim side of town with the other side. 2. Hang by an upper girder. Swing out over Eagle River. The sun is white. The dentist is in his aeroplane. 3. Zoom Zoom. A rapt crowd. Dr. MacIntyre's aviator cap. The quiet motor. The slap of an arm. A wreath of poppies hits the river . . . In Flanders Field. 4. Rifle shots. The cannonade. More fusilades. The two-winged plane dips low in homage and speeds away. Flag-colors at noon. Milton Boho's silver whistle the high school band starts its march to the cemetery.
BRIDGE CLIMBING That still point that point beyond the girders, the steeple, that still point in the eyes of those who've felt they're anointed peeling the last orange peeling off their clothes their eyes peeled their intercostal muscles, heart-fibers, nerves. that still point poised on the girders among swallows I balance this morning, sunday wanting . . . Like a cat about its business I have buried disturbing questions. And yet there are flames, burnings, scribblings by some unkempt hand in a language I can't read of a tongue I can't understand. I think it has to do with sex, anxiety or the rope of the self drawn tight about the throat about the groin that still point Up on the girders swaying above the curved town, my arms out from my body -- I know my weight and my height. The curve of the river is a perimeter, the undulating clouds form another. I won't come down.
CAR TRIP This sandy-haired uncle was twenty. I was five. I remember his hand as he drew me up beside him in his car. We left Wisconsin at night, in his model-A ford, going to North Dakota to visit my grandmother, near Fargo. As he drove, I put my head in his lap. He stroked my face. Heat rose from the floorboards. The motor purred. When he stopped, he changed my clothes and bathed me and put me to bed, where I snuggled against him, and fell asleep.
HOT BREAD Over and over again, from the start, he stands on the rim of the gravel-pit staring at Clark Gable, shirtless, wearing dark glasses, near a whitepine. When he comes, the hole he feels in his heart hurts as much as it did before: he can't go west! He can't study law! He can't teach or sing. . . . He smells fresh bread, and he wipes himself with leaves. In the kitchen as he eats he knows that a half is enough, the raisin, or the unmilled wheat, in the hot, sweet loaf.
BIOLOGY LESSON A spotted newt beneath a pile of leaves. Three more beneath a stone. They're quick -- you slap your hand and catch them to take home. You put them in a jar. You take them to school. They hibernate far down in the muck and leaves. They drown, or so it seems. You find them: limp, white bits of pork fuzzed with mold. Was the jar too cold? the sugar-water too sweet? You throw them out. Instead, you hatch frog-eggs from a pond, find turtles buried in hot sand near a log, catch twenty still-blind field mice.
FEW OF US FEEL SAFE ANYWHERE He recalls digging up moleroutes, looking for moles, in a schoolyard. The mangy grass bound and flattened by mud and water rose up beneath soft channels burrowed by molesnouts. He unearthed a fertile nest, fought down two friends to keep the blind pink furless creatures to himself, warm between his hands. He won by running up to teacher intending to present her with those jewels, his catch a quest, possession all his own, for her, his lover. But others watched, grinned as he drew apart those palms, revealed those pinkish forms, stilled, calm, their shanks of legs drawn up beneath their toothless jaws, their whiskers bent, their mouths each bearing blood.
THAT FAMILY That family had ten kids. They bred like rabbits. That family used their fingers to eat from pots of venison and beans. That family tapped maple trees for sap, fished and hunted -- they sniffed animal spoor, like beagles. That family never wiped their asses clean -- there was no paper. That family slept four to a bed, the girls slept with their parents. That family tied up the oldest brother's morning erection, hooked the string to the ceiling, woke him with a yank, induced an ejaculation. That family -- the mother had great brown breasts and a hairy chin. She wore one single dirty dress fastened with safety pins. That family played hot pinochle, poker and rummy. They never went to church or believed in the Easter Bunny. That family worked at the sawmill in town, swilled booze, had fist-fights and spent nights in jail. That family took me fishing, taught me sex in the barn, and invited me swimming We showed our asses to the girls and called them "moons." I loved that family. They were fantasy country, somewhere south of Eden, north of Daniel's den.
COUSIN SNAPSHOT 1 I see him nude on a tamarack log poised over Minnow Lake ready to plunge. He doesn't see me. His throat is tan, as are his hands. His body ripples. He's making hand motions. I want to stroke him. I want the timing right. We jerk with the same thrust: cream flies away on the stream. This is neither fantasy nor dream.
NIGHT SWIM The wild apples were bitter, as we knew they were. We skipped them over the lake, quit finally and built a fire on the shore. Three of us crouched near the flames. Toads swam to the firelight from all over the lake. On the oily surface, their knobby heads left wakes. I reached along the sand and touched Bill's scrotum. I held him in my hand, as the toads hopped from the black water, croaking, tumbling over one another in foul copulation, beside the fire.
FOREST WALK Cedar, spruce, and pine. Jack-rabbit tracks, red snow Offal pellets, yellow rounds of urine. Where's the lake? Deer trails moving south. Buck and doe. Rush of snow Tumbling from spruce trees. Snow is a smoke, powdering the trail. Fox yip, partridge clatter, bubbling Stream. Rifle shot. Moss-ice Red spoor encased in blue. Let's start back. Rotten pine stump, freshly clawed By a bear. Nest of piss-ants, A prize. We eat them, peppered slivers of ice. A sheltering pine. The snow thickens. Brittle pickerel-weed and flag on a glazed stream. Click of rubber boots, cracking ice, lake-thunder Startled geese. I knew! The sun broke through.
THE LAKE The lake is anvil-shaped, its edges roughened, off-center, as the boys said it was, the boys who fished there each summer, who boasted later boys from town with their own canoes bought, not built like mine, pretested on the water. In the mind: crippled trees -- a brainful. The lake is a shape, in a haze, a rasping wind. Shore foliage and water weeds. No one will find you here.
LUCY ROBINSON Lucy Robinson's rimless spectacles rode athwart her nose. About her neck were chunks of fur which made it appear that she had tiny rabbits on. Masses of hair hung down her face (old curtains belted low about the waist). Her wrists were fat. Her hands were knobs, the knuckles bumps and knots which creaked to open. Her mouth seldom parted when she spoke. Through the musty curtains she would come shattering the sleep of moths, hums of flies, raising dust. Massive creature keeping the shoestore in the parlor of her decayed lath house selling one pair a day, two before school began and more for Santa Claus. I see her with a box fetched from a shelf behind a cage. Dad pulls me up, points to a brightening shoe. Lucy wheezes and the light is dim. Her arthritic finger latches in behind my heel. A dead bird. I feel its bill. I want her hand free! the size to be right! The shoes will pinch and blister. I shall have to break them in evenings drawing water for the cows! She stuffs dollars in the tight mouse of her hand, whiskers on her knuckles twitch, and whiskers on her mouth . . . In that debris, in the dust a hunger now -- except for an image, a lampwink, a jewel, a gland (faint radium pulse) a spotted lung, striations on a hand, an arthritic spur, a claw quivering near a baseboard hole . . . What have you done Lucy Robinson?
TOMMY McQUAKER Tommy McQuaker's soft fat dad clerked at the bank. His bosomy mother Pearl talked a lot. Her orange hair was tightly curled. Tommy was home only in summer. He walked like a woman down Main Street, and led a poodle on a leash and smiled. He wore shorts, sandals and a polkadot tie. We said he lacked balls that he cupped his hands around his cock when he peed. He was into theater and poetry. He had a "boyfriend" in Chicago. That town's exotic. I'd walk three miles to see him stut his dog, greeting his mother's friends. I kept my distance, as I did from Catholic nuns, on the far side of the street. I feared Tommy'd bite my lips and give me diseases. I craved his obscene squeezes.
OLD CARLSON Evergreens were buried to their tops. There were no tracks in the snow. I decided to visit old Carlson, living alone forty acres away, in the storm. Sunset, iridescent sky-breath, sun-dogs purplish cold, red-gold slashed clouds. Snow swirled about his house like a hot tongue, leaving the earth bare. Drifts sluiced. My rubber boots kept me warm. Drops of breath froze on my scarfs and mittens. I knocked. A shuffle. A cough. A hen danced over a wooden floor. Snow blew from the roof. "Come in," he said. Coal-oil stench. His gray underwear was unbuttoned at the waist. Greenish pubic hair. Testicles and old penis dangling there. "Have some coffee, come eat a bite." "I have to do the chores," I said. Spun-sugar breath followed me home. The man's penis cascaded foam. My testes shrivelled into tiny stones.
COUSINS They slept three to a bed. Winter and summer they wore split-seat underwear. They were in their teens. I was twelve. A late-spring storm. Severe. My aunt says, "Stay the night, with the boys, in the big bed." I undress in the dark, fear they'll see my pubic hairs and my tiny cock. They doff their clothes in a heap and are ready to sleep: Albert on the outside, French in the middle, then Jim. "Jump in." I lie on my back. Aromatic breaths. Fear. I turn. French's rear is bare. Albert tuggles. My heel touches his balls. I pretend to sleep. His penis hardens. It snakes my buttocks, and I wait. My craving funnels itself, roilings of sweat, sweet stench of ivory and leek .
AUNT The river drowned its banks, washed down fields, nests, stray planks, cats, dogs, porcupines. It reached her farm sloshed through her barns and sheds, encircled the log house on its mound, dropped towards the lake, fetching in its wake three occasions (two of which I saw) universals in this conundrum -- the if and when: a: Her eldest son dead by the garage. A bullet in his head his leg drawn up stiffening. b: A fire smothered the summer. Crews imported trucks, shovels to fight the blaze. Her farm was a base. c: With mower rope she tied herself to a joist ripped her dress from neck to hem took advantage of her menstrual flow screamed to the god of virgins she was ravished, found her victim in an aging man who resisted her advances, and who went to prison, despite his protestations languished there and died. d: I found her in bed the covers thrown back a hole the size of a fish's sphincter ripped below her navel. A trace of powder a folded rose of pain rubbed smut against her. He did it, she screamed. The son of a bitch! After all these years. We found her revolver under the woodpile where she had thrown it. We found it the next afternoon.
MARRIED COUSIN To stand near Matt was to be in detention, bound by one of Matt's guitar strings. He tried being nonchalant, smooth. But he tripped and fell into a jangle of strings. He slept with Matt when Matt's wife was having a baby. Matt's groin smelled of swamp and onions. "I want to run off with you," he said, behind barbed wire, before Matt drifted to sleep. "We'll hunt deer, and fish out of season...." He craved to kiss Matt, to break his bones! "You're too young," Matt said. "Well, I'm already nine. I'll love you even more...." "Go to sleep, Bobby." He chewed bitter clover. His thighs ached as men, cut from wrapping paper, with brimmed hats and holsters, guns drawn, surrounded him, and yanked off his breech-cloth. Another unsprung trap
ALBERT He was as hated as a runted shoat. He was his mother's not his dad's. He wore no colored coat. They beat him with horse-harness, as they would. They called him bastard, and told him to be good. He had to do chores, as the younger brother said, And hoe the corn and chop the wood. Whenever he went alone to the lake for swimming, They waited to give him another trimming. He smiled at strangers, excelled at school, Was liked by the teachers. He was lithe and tall, with jet-black eyes and hair. The girls stared and giggled. He clerked hard in a grocery store one summer. His folks took half his money for room and board. He bought an old Model-T, gabardine pants, a shirt and tie, A 21-rifle, and a strong light to check his beaver traps by. That winter he shot two bucks for food, And caught the largest pike, fishing through the ice. He chopped half the winter's supply of wood. When they killed the sow he caught the blood. Spring came. A row over the plowing. He was needed at the store and begged off farming. His half-brother Jim chased him with an axe, and Screamed he would kill him. His leg was hacked. The bone-pain shimmered. He grappled with his brother. His mother struck him with the axe-haft. It splintered in pieces over his back. He gasped, freed himself, and ran through the trees Beyond the meadow. He swam in the icy lake Out past the middle, dove, retrieved handfuls of loam And when he was spent, returned home. He strode past the men who were plowing. He entered the house, ignoring his mother's shouts. He grabbed his rifle, inserted a shell Announced he would shoot himself, down by the well. "You won't!" his mother screamed and barred the door. He shoved her aside and cocked the gun. He knew she was watching through the window glass. He bled to death in the deep green grass.
THE SECRET He knew he would be a man. It had to be God's plan. He was adept at chopping wood, Milking cows, looked after the hen's brood. He talked dirty with boys at school, Cultivated an interest in his dad's farm tools, Imagined the family he would someday sire, Tried business by selling garden seeds and picture-frame wire. He fondled girls' breasts in his dreams, Expressed his guilt in night-screams, Watched his cousin Grace at the lake disrobe, Went along with the local homophobes.
LOCALE Locale is a symbol is a violet which near path or walk trembles as it unfolds. It can be photographed and mapped can be limned with chalk and can be painted. But as lodestone or magnet a violet can be transfixed if at all by wailing (honey or gall) by a mouth spewing shapes: the gasping O trying to recall figures seen as in a scrim as in a dream and that is all.
PERSONAL HISTORY 1. At twelve I had myself baptized induced my family to attend church taught sunday school mowed down various adolescent heresies with the jawbone of my zeal, sang Solomon's songs and erotic hymns, savored the cannibalism of wafer and wine, made the savior's wounds my own, displayed myself upon crosses, prayed myself into onanistic sweats during pounding thunderstorms, dressed in a sheet, communed with my lover, saw the world entirely as glass. 2. To walk three miles on a Sunday, a hick boy strewn with the ids of his ancestors To see his first movie Rose Marie I love You. Warbling away those singers smothered mountains with layers of chocolate sound. But my mother's hats were not Jeanette's. And I never saw my dad, strawboss of a WPA crew lead his troop of men, shovels over shoulder sing out his lungs in a hairy-chested marching song.
CANOE JOURNEY 1. The canoe slides casily down from the top of the model-A Ford. I launch it regard the trees shivering aspen huddling wall. Is there blood? I see headlamp eyes, saliva, and a hairy jaw . . . My dad's tracks race through the woods. 2. My knees touch the metal mouldridge of the sides. Cordstrand of trousers. A bursting river swollen now where water newly freed from ice is glazed by an oleaginous dark . . . If I could reach bottom and rend that cluster of underwater garnets broken on granite! 3. I pass demolished trees where a storm has splattered them. Debris is kindling-spun. I slide beneath tamarack and spruce. The dipping of a spoon into a springful of water. Grabbing branches I slide the boat along pass through a bronchial tangle, heart system. The air is sweet with alcohol and blood, no houses near, no farms, deserted. I skim through and come to a meadow faint frozen green, red moss-spoor, the sky smoky, anger in the clouds, blue, a dram of it, and red. The blue vanishes. The sun is faint, suddenly hurricanic. I beach the canoe. Birds rise. The canoe wavers at sapling anchor strains for midstream and lake, muskellunge in cold waterbrake. Beneath the marshgrass routes for ferrets tracks for snouts, mouths feeding on veins, capillary streams. My boots are soaked past the laces. I am in past my knees. 4. Whish and slash of weedspear, scrape and tear of lilypad, scum on spruce branches. The prow rises. The paddle drips fine silt. Air, sharp diamond, pricks my throat. My shirt is soaked. Pikeweed trails from my hand. A mouth, gelatin hard swirls and sinks. A muskellunge strikes. Water and a stone mica-shining below . . . I crave for a voice, for a hunter (my father), for a soldier, for a swimmer, for my dead cousin for Dillinger. 5. The sun blisters forth, a tangle within a body, within a chest, as the canoe fans, turns upon a vitrescent wave the color of cinnamon. The north sky slides with icelight in daylight. A wind clatters reeds and grasses drenched with ice. A merganser honks, banks and drops a shadow, strikes north, disappears. A claw draws up a black lamp towards Cassiopeia.
THE PROM I asked her to the dance then ran from school, from home, from my ugly clothes. I gave her flowers: a gardenia, an orchid, a pink tea rose. I pinned them clumsily to her clothes. She would not dance with me. She danced with many others. I apologized for being green. She wouldn't be seen, she said, stumbling and fumbling. I left her in a field of crows. I ran five miles home, five miles to my bed, five miles to the quilt over my head.
RITES OF PASSAGE 1. Snow patches. Stone-marrow, maidenhair Faint rubbery buds, at dusk. Star-flower moss. Mist-swallowing water steaming, welling from whirling and ashes, subterranean limpid and potent, sexual flow and current. 2. Coyotes yipped and howled. Fir trees cracked with cold. Moonlight flashed snow. A stream spewed ice, gurgled and flowed. Blue-ice stars swung within reach. A teal cloud covered the moon. Vertical tiers of magnificent northern lights!
EILEEN 1. Meet me in the dark root cellar earth, a kerosene light, burlap, no thought of morning to answer this why without flowers you overwhelm me with orchids and violets to the act of my loving you myself as rigid earth in the darkness lying without blankets for hours in the musk without caring brought into it into its particular treasure, the pounding hooves of goats, the red tongues of parrots. 2. It was a mood disrupting the black fog throwing off singly the burlap bags. Who could be natural? the pickle jars sneering overhead the stench of rotting potatoes whiffed sensuality fat wet mushrooms, carrots, onions softening. Nor did fantasy work. Erect it shrivelled when you said "Don't be dirty." I dropped free dressed again in the black house of my own clothing but did not know it.
CARNIVAL MAN I tried to lock the door. The sound of whipped leaves was hard to bear. I pounded my feet on the floor. I should not have gone to the fair. I had helped him erect the tent. We both held the central pole. He was southern, brown, magnificent. I was his branch, he was my bole. I watched him undress in his trailer. He thought I was older then. He gave me two dollars for my labor, and said "keep growing" -- he'd be back again. I couldn't lock the door. Horses were loose in the storm. I huddled on the floor. I shouldn't have gone to the fair!
WOODS A meadow in the pines and birches. Wild-clover, strawberry vines and larches. Timothy-heads, plantain, Indian pipe, hawkweed, wild gentians. The stones in the path absorbed my heat. Sunlight. I removed my overalls, undressed. A clutch of sperm induced, directed, spent is a precious element: hot translucent pearly testament zinc, iron, copper, and aluminum.
DANIEL From his upstairs bedroom window he sees violets. It's winter. He thinks it's amusing, the bang and tingle of fire swelling the stove-pipe. Creosote smell. Six inches from his face anemones of frost, nipples around nail-ends poking through the roof. He laughs, catching water on his tongue. He grabs the Bible, opens it to the mezzotint of Daniel facing the beasts. Daniel's cheek is downy. His lips are as sweet as hawthorn berries. His throat is musky. His belly is arbutus and fresh milk.
YOUNG MAN ON SUNDAY The mirror reflects his teeth. He plasters his hair with brilliantine. He walks two miles to Sunday school. He memorizes one psalm walking in, one walking home. He rehearses the Golden Rule. His pupils are town kids, Lutherans. He exhorts them to Jesus. Fear is love. Love is fear. Pennies dropping.
REV. JOSEPH KRUBSACK He always glowered from the pulpit, for we had broken all ten commandments simply by being born. Behind the reredos a fox chewed his entrails. Pain rounded his vowels. He sputtered Teutonic hisses. To his right, above the altar, Jesus wearing his pastel robes and a touch of red on a nipple extended a beneficent lean arm. Slowly Rev. Krubsack embalmed himself. The winds of sin smacked his jowls. His chinfolds turned to icy tallow. He crushed a silver communion cup between his teeth and swallowed it. Frightened, I saw the blood on my county welfare suit, and, as fat caterpillars crawled like larval angels from Krubsack's mouth, I flew to Jesus, cradled myself in his arms and was comforted by his breath, by gasoline and cinnamon.
TABLEAU IN A LUTHERAN CHURCH Paralyzed by sin the young man kneels in a pew, facing Jesus -- pastel robes trimmed in gold, golden hair, beard, blue eyes, all of tinted plaster, above the altar. Overwhelmed by blood the young man kisses the out-turned pierced hands. He forgets the promises he's made to be good, frightened in his bed. Ecstatic the young man weeps, spends kisses in that exotic holy place. Christ's warm skin. True love embraces kith and kin, woman and man, man and woman.
WHAT JOHN DILLINGER MEANT TO ME The Wisconsin lodge where Dillinger slept with Evelyn Frechette in a musty bedroom hung with staghorns is legend, has become locale. Last week there were arbutus this week violets and next there will be snow. Here was Robin Hood, thirsting, despising law, loner, who by miracle knew and fled, left Evelyn behind, her and her friend. And snow follows snow. Flickers drill the trunks of evergreens for grubs and nuts stored there by squirrels. Bears lie fallow, the paps of summer in their dreams. Skunks garner oil rub their legs together to quiet the seeping. I did not see the pustules on his jaw, the chipped tooth the crooked finger, the fact that he had clap. His hands were beautiful. His breath as fragrant as one of Solomon's lovers. And his picture on my bedroom wall, pasted to the corrugated box smashed flat and nailed to the two-by-fours to keep out cold! How immaculate his stance before his Flivver! Felt hat back on his head, shirt sleeves rolled above the elbow, trousers high on the waist, a band, Hollywood style, set with pearls to hold them tight. His legs spread wide, and, held even with his navel, his Tommy gun. Again the stance, a perfect V, zodiac man. What had gone wrong at the forked bridge outside the town? What had transpired at Sunday School? Was it poverty? Despair? The wheel at the fair? The gingerbread man rides the stream on the slick nose of the fox, Robin Hood romps in a costume, Arthur in armor.
NIGHT VISITOR Night sweat, hard breathing. Agate moonlight shed through the window, as the outlaw, white-throated, in a white shirt with rolled sleeves strokes the sleeping boy's shoulder. He lifts the boy and holds him sheetless, nude. The boy tastes Dillinger's mouth, the fleshed inner lip, the tongue, the zinc-taste of warm water. "Take me!" the boy pleads. The creaking is the roof's wind, the bronze spittle of the home.
RADIO REPORT Dillinger stopped for gas in Guttenberg, Iowa, with three other men, in a black car with metal shields fit to the tire rims, extending down over the tires, to ward off gun-shots. The gas station owner locked himself in the women's rest-room. When he emerged he found money left by the gangsters to pay for gas and candybars. In Ames, Iowa, the town police set up a roadblock at the bottom of Watermelon Hill. When Dillinger's car appeared, going fast, with gunbarrels protruding, the police scattered and hid in the cornfields. Dillinger crashed through and drove on.
SNOW IMAGE I quarry his image from snow. The radio says he has fled -- to Wisconsin or Illinois. On the roof in the moonlight, feet tread. A man in a silver sky wears holsters of stars. Blood drenches the clothes my mother dries. Blood frosts her fresh baked cake. Dillinger's hand covers my eyes. "Sleep," he says. "Sleep." His face is on my pillow.
DILLINGER IN WISCONSIN 1. He drives north, 300 miles, in his Hudson Terraplane. "Leach, you fucker," he exclaims, "I'll get you! Purvis, you scum, kinky-haired Hoover's pretty boy. Shove this up your ass!" Then he misses Billie who is in jail. They are already on his trail. 2. J. Edgar Hoover flails the roadside trees. The stench of an Illinois jail on the night breeze. Shotgun barrels protrude from white birch trees. North of Oshkosh, fallow rolling fields. Jiggling lights (a Model-A Ford) speeding. Dillinger detours. The auto passes. No guns, horns, or whistles. He has survived, in these pristine woods. 3. He looks at who he was before he dies -- if he should die. That damn gross penis! huge prepuce, stone. Even at fifteen it wouldn't let him alone, clumped between his legs, obscene, in his overalls or gabardines: big head, bemused, nestling over the tight balls. In school he hated the sperm-stench and smegma in his clothes, the stale wool, the pulpy skin between his toes. He kept to the far corners of the school. Baths were once a week, as a rule, in a galvanized tub placed near a kitchen stool. His dad rubbed his back, or his sister Audrey might, if her husband wasn't home that night, off playing poker with the boys or smooching at the picture show. 4. He stops beside the road. He climbs out, yawns and inhales the piney air. The stony road reflects moonlight in its ruts, dark spruce and tamarack spires. Blueberry swamp. Two more hours to Little Bohemia. He thinks of Billie in her bed. He kisses her nipples. He cradles her head, then thinks of how she'd bled when he first took her. His loins are parched. He rubs his glans with snow. "Billie, Billie," he says. His perineum burns. Hot copper moves over his lips. He strokes his groin, harder! harder!
THE WATCH-DOGS Earl Wanatka, saloon-keeper now owns Little Bohemia a touch of old Bavaria fifty miles from Rhinelander fifteen from Eagle River. Two watch-dogs are barking. Nan Wanatka tells her sister the true identities of the strangers: the man with the dyed red hair and the mole is Dillinger. The others are Baby Face Nelson, Nelson's wife Helen, Homer Van Meter, Tony and Jean Caroll, Marie Conforti and her Boston bull puppy, Pat Reilly, Pat Cherrington and Roy Hamilton. The watch-dogs keep on barking. Wanatka joins his guests in a pistol match by the garage. The gangsters are poor shots. They play ball. Dillinger sends Reilly to St. Paul for money and ammunition. Pat Cherrington goes too -- she needs a physician. The watch-dogs keep on barking.
SONG He has gunpowder on his breath. There is brandy on his lips. He's an asphodel, a hyacinth folded in this loving night. They'll never find him here.
BIRTHDAY PARTY Wanatka drives his son to a birthday party. He has to wait -- for Dillinger sends Van Meter to guarantee that Wanatka doesn't talk. Wanatka balks, knows he is in danger but decides to write a friendly U.S. attorney, in the Windy City. Nan tucks his note in her corset, waits to sneak it to the post office. The dogs are barking. She pulls the throttle. The engine keeps dying Finally, she propels the car towards Mercer.
COW I heard the radio news at ten. Dillinger was in Wisconsin. I led our cow to a new pasture. She walked calmly on. I followed. At the first creek I let her graze: marshgrass, brown, seed-headed, resembling flax. She stood in the whirling stream. Frogs leapt when she moved. Red-winged blackbirds warbled in cattails. A breeze.
NIGHT ACCIDENT 1. Dillinger, "Public Enemy No. 1," is a vicious killer. If you see him grab the nearest phone, keep your wife and kids at home, load your derringers. 2. At 2 a.m. a commotion in the road. Banging metal. A car has overturned. A stranger staggers to our door. We've never seen him before. We watch through the window, pretend we're not home. We have no telephone. 3. I fail to comprehend my cowardice. I rationalize, say the man with the car was drunk. And I couldn't shoot a gun, never could, although dad gave me one, a 22. Big hunter! Killing bees by shoving the barrel in on top of them inside morning glories! A bang, a pop. A pollen-bag on a leg. A drop of snot.
SATURDAY AT LITTLE BOHEMIA Baby Face Nelson pursues Nan Wanatka. She reaches her brother's farm. Lloyd rides on with her to Mercer. She buys candy, ostensibly for the birthday party. Nelson glares through the window. Candy is Nan's alibi, logical, if she has to tell it. Lloyd mails the letter at the railroad station. Nan tells her story. Voss says they'll be dead before Monday. He'll drive to Rhinelander and phone the FBI.
PURVIS "What if it all stops?" thinks Purvis, rushing to the plane. He's still knotting his tie, wears his third fresh suit of the day. Silk underwear. Damp, cold scrotum. Such limits: his plane in the lead, a second is following, owned by the actress Ann Harding. Eleven agents boarding. No chartered lanes, auto maps only. A sick pilot, bush-leaguer. 300 miles, a three-hour flight to Rhinelander. 2. His bullet-proof vest presses on his chest, holding him warm, free of bodily harm. God must be looking down, thinks Purvis. Fame conceals her curves in a rose. Purvis in the movies! Nubile creatures on the zoom, in pink bedrooms. Boys eating boys, girls eating girls, men eating girls and boys . . . and Daddy J. Edgar, Mentor . . . He must stop Dillinger: Dead or Alive!
WAITING A fear-leaf brushes the hood of Reilly's Flivver. He reverses, speeds off with the money and ammunition. Upstairs Dillinger paces. Something's wrong. He wants to run, before dawn. He sees men at the window. A shape in a uniform crouches in a tree. He goes to the bar to wait for Reilly.
BURNING Nothing is crystal here -- mica in stone, iron-veins, gravel on a hill where partridge fluff, absorbing heat. A weasel. Everything is sullied, fits of breath, death, or so it seems.
THE RAID 1. A wheel brake on Purvis' plane fails. The plane tips over. Purvis takes orders from Clegg, another of Hoover's officers. They commandeer a revved-up Ford and other autos. The plan: three bullet-proof vested men will storm the lodge, and five men will file left towards the lake. Another five will veer right. It's still too cold for boats, too cold for swimming. 2. The roads are in spring thaw. Two cars break down. Eight men ride double on running boards, burdened with shells and rifles. They cling to freezing chrome with bare fingers. Two miles from the lodge, headlights off -- eerie swamp sounds, sluffed branches, frozen pines jab men's faces. 3. Wanatka's watch-dogs bark. They've barked so much Dillinger keeps on playing cards. The G-Men start running. They've lost their cover! Two bartenders ask why the dogs are howling. Three locals start for the doors, for home. Five men, then, about to leave the premises. What should a frightened G-Man do? Shoot the first thing that moves! 4. Purvis shouts "Halt!" Bullets shatter the auto glass A young CCC cook is shot, a gas salesman is wounded. Eugene Boisneau does not move. He's dead. Shot through the head. 5. The agents tangle in a barbed-wire fence, stumble into a trench. The gangsters jump out an upper window to a pile of snow below rush to the bank, to the lake and escape. Purvis keeps firing slugs at the front door and at the front window.
EVERYWHERE, YET NOWHERE 1. He escaped, remained as elusive as air. He seemed to be everywhere, yet nowhere. 2. "Well, they had Dillinger surrounded and was all ready to shoot him when he came out, but then another bunch of folks came out ahead, so they just shot them instead. Dillinger is going to acci- dentally get with some innocent by- standers some time, then he will get shot." - Will Rogers
NOW 1. The farms are ploughed under, bulldozed, erased. The trees are gone. The creeks diverted. Grass where the slops were thrown is still fire green. My parents are dead. 2. My early friends are grown -- each has danced most of a life away. Shy lovers and forward ones toss in their beds, among the sheets and gauze of sleep churn towards decay. Each of us makes a pitch, tosses coals upon hard fires, hoping for a flash of gold. I'll settle for less: the mothering woods, a wolf at my feet, and Dillinger, on his way to my table and my warm bed. 3. I have not taken his picture from my shelf, nor his poster from my wall. I've had my own flames, breath to burn. I believe the real Dillinger got away. They shot the man without a mole, without a scar. There was a stand-in at the Biograph Theater.
FATHER: AS RECOLLECTION OR THE DRUG DECIDES 1. He is at the table again, after his absence. Where have you spent the day? dumped the truckrubble? He had driven off at noon, wearing shopcap and overalls -- to the store, he said, before he puked, for milk to flush out poison drawn in with smoke from welding galvanized metal earlier that morning. What have you eaten? with whom spoken, fornicated? You have been drinking. It tells as you glance up from your plate full of warmed-over meat. It is late. A nighthawk has swept its wings past, and the water in the lake is chalk and silver. On the cold stove sit pots and pans petals without arrangement holding no milk which you did not buy which you will not touch but which you will note and remark upon as mold encroaches forms olive scum, foam on clabbered ponds. Once more you have proved yourself a man. 2. And he will wail. His face will stream with revilings. Self- denigrations will clog his nose, as he clambers out, once again, out of the smashed crib of his childhood, wailing for his mother earth-struggler, mechanic, lumberjack tearing himself down stripped into glass balsawood, ravished machine mother dead in an ironposted bed belly rupture and measles and ratted hair the sweat on her face salt and no consolation none none anywhere no one to scrape his pants make meals -- his dad off scavenging coal from a decrepit mine to hawk in town, confront the whores. 3. There is a price a price to pay which I share, share as I spill these words in a tongue you never mastered, heard as lice clamber, itch in memory's dank black pubic beard. your evasions scald, your submissions passion and anguish rancid self-equations burn and freeze me. I draw in my shoulders press on this pen caress the breath slinking between the syllables correct that breath shift, redirect it grow bolder, long finally for the stranger to cross the doorsill knife bared, scimitar: one of Rimbaud's indians, or Dillinger intent upon setting our boats moored as they have been (the slaughtered haulers) as they've seemed to be with silken threads adrift.
MOTHER The resuscitation team had little time for deceney: his mother lay on the floor with her nightie hiked around her neck. The team seemed indifferent to the exposure: the shanks, the little body like a worm in a nutshell, the sagging breasts. He grabbed an afghan from the couch, one full of strong flower-colors, and covered her parts. The team kept thumping on her chest. They clamped an oxygen cup over her mouth. Nothing helped, as she sunk deeper into the floor, through the cement slab, lower than the potatoes.
ON NOT ATTENDING MY FATHER'S FUNERAL 1. The land was rock and sand, the growing season short, the acreage minute. We hoed potatoes, watched corn grow, cultivated turnips for the hogs to eat. Dad was always there. He barely wrote. He almost never read. His language, though, fed similes and metaphors. He taught himself to play six instruments. He could fix anybody's car. He swung farm implements as if the earth loved his assault, even when he was fatigued he laughed. He often sang. I could not bear his absences at work. He built a house of timbers he himself had cut and hewn. As we grew he added other rooms, modified the roof hip-style, and piled rock, stoneboated from the field, to build a basement. He shot deer, rabbit, quail. He caught fish through the ice. His labors were in pleasing us. We rode to town with him in a model-A sedan he'd converted to a truck. He breathed in fumes welding steel in shipyards and drank to counteract the smoke. He never saw a doctor, lived on beer. Later, he bought a welding shop, inhaled more fumes, cast the right scams but never charged enough. He reviled himself, lamenting his dead brothers and sisters, hungered for his mother. He became one of us. He stopped singing, spent hours before the television set. He built a second house of cinder blocks. He never finished it. Studs and two-by-fours left bare, a primer coat of paint, an unsmoothed concrete floor. He was always cold. His cars ran, but now never with that earlier precision. He was indifferent to his gift of touch. A bone prodded him. He grew thin. A cancer was removed. He walked needing a stick, huddled in a soiled overcoat. 2. The town dump in mist and fog. Girls brought a dog for him to shoot. He placed the rifle to its skull, pulled the trigger, missed. He fell, scrambled on the ground in leafless brush, was dead. 3. I won't see him dead! A maudlin gathering of tears over broken hands and arms beat into shape lifecolored by a cosmetologist! Speak! dad. Sing! Your visits in my dreams remain benign! The flesh I grasp -- my own my sons', my lover's -- is your continuing life. My fantasies are yours, as is my strength. I find the animals you shot huddled before me on the path. I stroke their fur. I see your houses, crops. Your accordion and mandolin waltz past me. Your metaphors dance and craze my mind.
BURIAL While the grave-digger dug his mother's grave squirrels romped beneath an oak tree. The old digger cut quilt-exact squares of turf and piled them on a tarmac. His shovel had a square end and easily cut through the sand and roots. His mother would lie beside his dad, her concrete box containing her blue coffin touching his gray concrete box containing his brown coffin. He had the digger pause while he stroked his dad's box: dead twelve years -- bones, shredded clothes, and little black beads for his eyes. The sand was carrot-red. Would their juices, in the sense of mush, blend through into some neutral space? His mother preferred no coffins or cement -- just her corpse arranged feet down, head up, in the sand. He had touched her hands and kissed her forehead and knew how iced-over death is. Spiney carrot tops struck him in the face, hard across the mouth.
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