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Friday, January 28, 2011


by John Paul Davis

1. The Invention Of The Internet

Dear Al Gore: I learned about your marriage ending
on Twitter. I Googled it. I watched a Flash slideshow
of photos from your 40 years together. I read about the email
you used to inform your friends on Wikipedia. I went
& watched the trailer for An Inconvenient Truth
again on YouTube. Melissa Ethridge wrote a song
for your movie but I didn't even want to steal that.
You're starting to look more & more like a grandfather every day.

2. Photographs of Natural Disasters

New Orleans under water. Hazmat suits in Love Canal.
Cars & dressers & bedsheets
pimpling a beach in Chennai after a tsunami scraped
its great slap of a paw over India. The heart
is a clear-cut forest. The heart, strip-mined.
The heart, little red beast cooked out of its habitat,
wandering a sickly planet. The heart, petroluem-clotted,
its feathers matted under the wet weight of history
gone dark from millennia of pressure.

3. May 19, 1970

My anniversary, when I was still married, was May 27. We lined
the hallway leading to the sanctuary with thousands of sticks
so it looked like we were walking through a tunnel
deep in a forest. Alecia & I decided the theme
of the wedding was Narnia. Because it felt like magic.
The invitations said Welcome To Our Country. We made
promises. The church's red doors laughed open & it felt real, like destiny,
like I was finally doing something right. It was real, wasn't it?

4. Carbon Dioxide

You breathe out a greenhouse gas. Trees inhale
it & return it as oxygen to me. If trapped
in a sealed chamber I will suffocate myself
with what my body makes. We have built machines
which are very efficient at making more carbon dioxide.
We have machines which are very good at cutting down trees. I have trapped
myself before. Al, you seem much calmer
about your marriage dying than I was about mine
but somewhere hidden from tv cameras,
your heartbreak slowly fills an impenetrable room.

5. Retreat Of The Glaciers

Any complex system, polar ice caps
or marriage, can repair & recover from damage
unless pushed over entropy's threshold. To kill a giant hornet,
Japanese honeybees will swarm around it in a seething
ball until it dies of heat stroke. One degree hotter
than the combined heat their wiggling produces
& they'd die too. I don't know why my wife
& I got seven years, & you got 40. I don't
know why anyone gets any time at all.

6. A Love Story

For a month before I moved out, we made public
appearances - her parents' house, potlucks, the local
coffee shop. We went on dates. Silence began
to feel like a third person. One afternoon
in the library I excused myself to the bathroom
to cry. The entire planet pressed against my eyelids.
Everyone was so surprised. Us, of all people. We were
who the other couples admired & wished they were.
Today, on the news I keep hearing the phrase 40 years
in voices of amazement, over & over.

7. Gusher

The news is saying you & Tipper sent out a polite email
letting everyone know about the separation. I remember the weeks
of calculation, of comfort in reason, the cold weighing of options,
pretending I knew what was doing, what was coming,
that I knew at all what love was. There should be a law
against the phrase its for the best. I should mention
the afternoon I fell apart in Hannah's living room,
months after I thought I'd put it all behind me,
it shredded me open like a ruptured oil line
roaring & roaring, a pillar of smoke beneath the ocean
& 47 days later still roaring & roaring more.

8. Permafrost

I sing of what is dormant below the surface
of things. What is solid can melt. The universe
builds fires that can liquefy anything. Permanent
is a word meaning "lasting for a time period
longer that I care to imagine. But everything
falls to pieces. We are gods to mayflies.
To them, Al & Tipper were wed long ago as Zeus
& Hera. Or Alecia & me. To the mortal,
whatever outlives it goes on for eternity.

9. Atari Democrat

In the 80s they called you that because they found
your preoccupation with computers for business
laughable. You believed in a network with no center,
machines that could nurture democracy. Where you saw freedom
some of us saw the wild west & the boys in marketing
saw newer, better ways of being evil. In 1983, my friend Mark
had a theory: since Pac-Man's enemies are ghosts
he's really in a contest with his own dreams
Like us, he's all mouth, doomed to swallow & swallow.

10. I Used to Be the Next President of the United States

On December 12, 2000 the day the Supreme Court ordered
that Florida's votes should not be counted, I was working
my job as a bike messenger in San Francisco. From the top
of Nob Hill I could see everything, Oakland, the Golden Gate,
the fog rushing in to fill the cupped hands of the Bay.
The night before someone had pasted stickers
over all the signs for Bush St that read Puppet. The sun
was useless in the smudge of a sky, & there were the useless
streets, the useless skyscrapers. I called the woman I'd
just married to tell her. On hold I watched the useless trolleys
going where they were told, chuckling their useless useless bells.

11. An Oil Spill The Size Of Manhattan

From space, the coalgray slick swallowing the Gulf of Mexico
is a dark eagle smoothing its wings apart, opening
& closing its talons, beak pointed at New Orleans.
From the edge of the solar system, our planet
looks like a pixel against a forever night. From the next
galaxy over, we do not formally exist. Radio waves
with news of your divorce will reach beings living
there in 2.5 million years. They will never know
anything about mine. I think that makes me lucky.

12. Antarctic Ice From 650,000 Years Ago

With a drill that pierces the planet
like a mosquito's stylet scientists bring up cylinders
of ice from before humans could talk. Air
pockets of history wait there. If we each breathed
air preserved from our wedding days
would we fall in love all over again? Would we
taste our vows? Would they still be sweet
or would they have fermented?

13. The Decay of the Nuclear Family

In 1985 Tipper & my stepmom agreed that Prince's lyrics
were something terrible, although both seemed to enjoy
the Beatles. I was 10 when I heard Tipper worry
for everyone about families falling apart. I have clear memories
of  my parents divorce, the two of them yelling
at each other in front of our Christmas tree,
only there's no sound. I can see their mouths moving,
but no voices, no soundtrack of terrible unbinding
music, just the heart's deep anger disfiguring their faces.

14. The Keeling Curve

The air's hotter now than it was in 1970. I married
 when I was 25, divorced when I was 32. I don't stop
using paper so they don't stop winnowing
forests so the planet finds it difficult
to breathe. I gave up my car. I want to visit New York
this summer. I want to visit New Orleans. Al & Tipper
married when they were 23. I ride my bicycle
everywhere. I miss being in love. The air is hotter now.

15. Photographs of Al & Tipper Kissing

I've seen the two of you kiss more often than my own parents.
During the 1988 campaign. Inauguration Day, 1993. 1997.
Armed with Starbucks coffee on a sidewalk in 2000. Standing
on a platform underneath premature fireworks & balloons
Election Day 2000. The live studio audience
whooped like teenagers when you bent her back
on Saturday Night Live in 2004. And here's what I want
to know, Al: how do I tell when love is real?

16. Subsea Blowout

Something started a fire. Something else was ready to burn.
With the right equipment & preparation
things usually go according to plan. But look, all it takes,
even after decades of gears dancing together
perfectly is one spark, one shudder of the ocean
floor. So used to life & the living we're shocked
by disease, breakdown, dying, as if these were abnormal,
as if the ink of danger that careens inside us
were something other than our own blood.
We're surprised when our own darkness fills up the sea.

17. The Tipper Sticker

Ice-T famously said that Tipper is the only woman
he ever called a bitch in his lyrics, and that he meant
it in the worst way possible. She doesn't deserve
it but three years ago I'd have paid a handsome sum to hear Ice-T
spit a dis track about my ex-wife. Now, look, Al,
I know right now you're playing
the "this is a mutual decision" card but when Tipper
calls you in the middle of the night to push the knife
in deeper, maybe with some I thought I married
a president shit, the album is called
The Iceberg. The song is called Freedom of Speech.

18. Earth Tones

They said you should not be president
because your shirts were the color of deserts
& the nippled skin of mountains. The Lorax dressed
in tropical colors & got no further so ignore
them. I know you do. You kneel to the earth,
fill your mouth with soil. When you speak,
it is with the authority of those centuries,
what grew from the land & ate of it & returned to it again.

19. 1965 St. Albans School Senior Prom

You and Tipper met at your high school prom.
I never went to prom. For the record I asked,
and was turned down by four girls, two of whom
also didn't go at all. For my wedding reception,
I hired a 20-piece swing orchestra. I designed
lanterns with beeswax candles that hung from the ceiling.
I handmade the place cards. I took dancing lessons.
I still believe in magic, even today, even if I have to lean
into the work of it, even if I have to make it my damn self.

20. Deepwater Horizon

On the ocean floor there is a dirty mouth
that won't stop swearing. There's a greedy heart
that won't stop vomiting. The total planet,
diseased, sags with humans & all their tiny
wants & burping machines. You leave Tipper
one night for the last time, walk on the surface
of the Mississippi down to the delta, then on the waves
of the Gulf to Macando Prospect, to the slumped
rig & you sink a mile down to the angry flume
of oil. You step in. This may be what heals
the earth & all of us. You offer yourself to the fury.
The raging stops. The earth, your love,
she takes you. She takes. She takes. She takes.

John Paul Davis’s poems have been published in print and online journals such as RATTLE, The Columbia Poetry Review, WordRiot, Apparatus, The Cordite Poetry Review. He was a 2009-2010 writer in residence with Vox Ferus. Currently he is the video curator and projection designer for The Encyclopedia Show in Chicago, a founding member of Real Talk Avenue, a regular contributor to The Paper Machete. He is editor and designer of Bestiary Magazine.