Bob Sharkey started on the open mic scene over ten years ago and reads out often locally. He has been a featured reader at many venues (most of which have closed) including Lemilly’s Art Gallery, Changing Spaces Gallery, Caffe Lena, The Pride Center, Poets in the Park, The Night Sky Café, The Howland Arts Center, Billy Jack’s, and The New Age Cabaret. His poetry has appeared in many publications including Pudding, Quercus Review, Blue Collar Review, Plainsongs, Off the Coast and Main Street Rag. Bob’s chapbook, The Yellow Fairy, is out and Politics and Earthquakes and the End of the World is seeking a publisher.
just off the southwest corner
of the K-Mart parking lot,
there’s a small memorial-
one name in English and Arabic-
a thanks to a young pilot,
whose plane full of cancelled checks
plunged down from the night sky,
for avoiding the nearby homes.
This need to name the dead.
You could spend an entire day
in the nearby capital city
reading each individual name
on its monuments and memorials.
A tale most eloquently told
on the long, black granite wall,
this naming in such contrast
to the lone soldier with musket or rifle
standing for the mass dead of past wars,
this naming so unlike the fate
of the Irish famine dead,
their names ripped in shame
from their parish registry pages,
this listing of precious lives
that would seem to ward off
more war, disease or tragedies.
But nothing ceases fire.
We go on naming,
adding panels to the quilt,
have faces and stories for each
soldier dead from our wars.
And each day adds its untold toll:
from the Congo, from Pakistan,
Columbia, Peru, Sri-Lanka
Palestine or Liberia.
And each day has its tale of tears
from famine and disease.
Each day, somewhere, out there.
We do not know their names,
have no images of their faces,
no idea of their likes or dislikes,
of who they left behind,
of what they did before they died
and nothing ceases fire
out there, somewhere.
Old, tiny, lame, hunchbacked,
she raises her crooked, wigged
head and smiles-
revealing lipstick, pearls,
and, as she passes,
an exquisite perfume.
How to sum up a year like this?
March 17th compared to same last year.
Despair disgust replaced by
oh fuck it death goes on what
can I do about it got my own problems.
The people on the street any city street
the one we’re on now
going to or from work
standing at the bus stops
coming out of or going into
coming out scratching for escape
in the distance the war proceeds
towards the next 17th of March.
The men lined up to sign up
their brown body parts flew into the air
our armored troops tanks arrived
to reconnoiter secure the area
into the air flew the dark body parts
of men who’d lined up to sign up
our armored troops tanks arrived
for the cleanup the cameras
the bodies of men who lined up to sign up
were blown into the walls the street
our armored troops tanks arrived
to cordon off the area.
Where was the will to change to manage
for our armored troops tanks to arrive
before the men lined up to sign up
so only dust of the desert blew into the air?
Did anyone call congress on their behalf?
I didn’t. Did you?
We had our own problems worries
and plenty of them
let me tell you.
Early spring along the Willamette.
Our son got married in August.
He aged away from any draft. Won’t go anyway.
How about them Red Sox!!?
And Beslan was only a nightmare
we quickly forgot, right?
One love won’t read the paper anymore
another hits the flashback before anchors
can say the “raq” in “today in Iraq…”
If our leader is like Hitler
then who are we?
So it ends even worse here
and in the distance, much worse.
I’ll proceed as a twittering fool
go out at night among the shadows
of children in far away places
friends loves lives long gone missed
promises desires possibilities lost faded
specters of myself also gone
or perhaps to come
post notices looking for those met once
who might have found the answer:
We met on the midnight bus out of Albany.
It was 1976.
You were a paralegal. I was a laundry worker.
In Buffalo, you got the next bus to Toronto;
I the one bound for Detroit.
I didn’t find a job there, had the best fried chicken
in the Cleveland Greyhound station on the way back,
found someone that looked like you
in the 25th Anniversary edition of Playboy,
pretty much led a charmed life,
never found the answer.
White sheets hold
tree limb shadows.
Nerve bundles connect.
New snowflakes reflect
moon and star light.
The wind howls, the sun is weak, the scones stale. But.
Up the band that played “Louie, Louie” in front of St. Patrick’s!
Up the old jazzman who quoted “Danny Boy” late in the subway!
The crowd from the Whitney Biennial has traded spaces
with Old Country Buffet denizens from Latham Circle Mall.
Thin girls in jade leather boots scream
“BRING THE PEASANTS HOME NOW!”
as they sit breathing the antiseptic cafeteria smell
where thick toothless women gummed green Jell-O.
Stunned bald men and their progeny suffering from
unintended consequences of electronic Little League scoreboards
carry signs saying “BRING THE CHIC HOME NOW!”
as they shuffle where sensitive dark-haired young men
tried to be, oh, just so in the moment yesterday.
On Broadway, tourists snap shots of genuine
NYC style sign waving loudly shouting demonstrators
crowded into pens behind steel barricades,
mostly young and cute despite their anger.
A gray generation interspersed screams, “AGAIN?”
Their collective amplified protestations,
their three year old NOW’s
sucked into the energy of the city
like yesterday’s seven hour parade,
like its most grievous wound.
Enough debate about what art is! ENOUGH!
Paint, sculpt, film, photograph, dance, act, write, juxtapose and compose.
Slip into an obit, “his last words were, ‘bring them home.’”
Tag the walls with the ashes of burnt flags spelling NOW!
I’d been walking over a river bridge in Cohoes. Suddenly, a cloth with a strong medicinal smell was pressed over my mouth. When I came to, I was at a table in a stainless steel room sitting across from a very tall young woman who was staring down at me. Her dark suit made her appear very official. I scanned her shimmering black hair, long shapely legs, a skirt and blouse seemingly tailored just for her body. She was ravishing.
“Awake at last,” she said impatiently. “I’m from the FBI and will give you your final instructions,” she continued ominously.
Ah, the new FBI, I thought. Well, I’m old school and thinking massive thermonuclear blowjob from you my dear.
“Why are you smiling?” she asked.
“Where am I?” I replied.
“It’s what we call this place. You have no need to know its official name. It’s your final destination. The end for you.”
Suddenly fully awake, I asked, “What? Is this a prison?”
“Not exactly,” she replied, “people get out of prison.”
“I’m here forever?”
“Until you die.”
“You have been found totally reprehensible in terms of your views, your writings, your conversations, your very thoughts. You have been censured by both the state and the federal level. You have been extracted from society.”
As you can imagine, I was shocked. “What the fuck!” What about my rights? Who sent me here? What’s your name? Who’s your boss? I need to call my wife to let her know where I am.”
“You have been extracted,” she said calmly, almost soothingly. While she wrote on a clipboard, she went on, “I will bring you to a small stainless steel cell. You will be locked inside it. Forever. It’s designed to meet your basic bodily needs and provide physical nourishment. There’s a slot on the top that will open for an hour each day to reveal the sky. I am the last person you will ever have contact with. You will have no access to events outside. No TV, no internet, no papers, no books.”
“How about a bible?” I interrupted.
“You have been extracted,” she continued, “you will remain here until such time as you die naturally or such time as your thoughts become reprehensible again, whichever time is less. If the latter, you will be immediately gassed. The cell you will be in can read your thoughts and will know your very dreams. There’s a very low tolerance. We need to turn these cells over quickly. I’ve written additional instructions that if you ever again think or dream of me in a sexual way you will be put to death in a special way. I’ve ordered that, in such circumstance, your end be ‘massive and thermonuclear.’”
One monument is a tree stump.
A bird high in the firs had warned him to avoid that graveyard.
The firs tower over the stones of pioneer woodsmen, their wives.
Have you ever seen a mountainside covered with stumps?
Old growth trees – gnarled, moss covered – strain my neck.
Vast landscape of black basalt. He points out two islands of green amid the lava flow.
5,300 feet. It’s so quiet. A lone crow.
An azimuth points south: The Sisters. Little Brother. The Husband. All snow-covered.
To the north: Belknap Crater. Washington. Jefferson. Black Butte.
He’s climbed South Sister. With his wife.
The burnt slopes are the worst.
To look at.
Man or nature could have caused such destruction.
New firs are already coming up.
Hundreds of green-gloved hands waving beside the road.
The symphony receives a $5,000 contribution.
The check rubber-stamped, “This is timber money.”
This was a thunderhead.
Then an elfin poet told us about the dress.
An “exact replica” of Emily Dickinson’s white one.
In a glass case.
I became aware of diverse views.
Focused on the lava beds, for example.
This became disjointed.
I’ve got a lot of things to look up.
They asked me to make this as clear as they are.
“Us” is him, my daughter-in-law, me, the other people at the reading.
“They?” Let’s say “they” are The Three Sisters.
Years ago, I saw them from a plane.
They are well-named.
Like ships are.
We go up there heavy with the city.
Driven at the speed of city time.
We get out of range of all our devices.
Under the shadow of a savage beauty.
We bring flowers, wine, poems.
She has soup, bagels, cream cheeses.
As much to each other as to her.
She lets our words flow.
Find their slower pace.
Their silent pool.
She throws a stone in now and then.
We walk through the meadow.
Birds. Brook. Wind.
We have trifle. Wine.
She requests a poem.
Seeds on our soles come back to the city.
All the paths through the hand-tinted lush green fields and woodlands lead to this spot by the river. Here where the birds are hushed under blue masks and black robes. Where the birds hold the keys to the kingdom. The man with the bared-teeth barracuda sits in a granite hut on the river bank. He holds the lustrous fish. Not like one in triumph with his catch but cradling it in his arms. As if it’s his child. Which it is. He gives life to plastic. Bee Boy buzzes in the background and bends to kiss Egg Girl. His kiss frees her from the suddenly screaming birds. In the woods, crack-faced porcelain dolls and man-headed dolls cast frightful shadows under their green or yellow skirts. Horse-headed girls in white communion dresses march with folded hands. They pass a yellow-robed priest holding a cigarette in his fake hand. They genuflect before a pig-faced nun. Snow-white bearded dwarfs wielding pitchforks drive a herd of alarm-clocked women from the woods towards the stone hut. The women carry pig-headed babies.