Howard Elman and the Contrarian Voice

You never made big money.
But earned what I got.
Not hard to do when it’s not much.
You only formed two worthwhile friendships.
Yes, Ollie Jordan and Cooty Patterson.
A reprobate and a hermit,
neither Jeffersonian nor Belichickian Patriots.
Served my country best I could,
worked, worked, worked to build
the country best I could.
Hunted the white tail deer,
think maybe hunting is inherited
like a serious overbite.
You married too young.
But stayed together.
You never really got to know her.
But produced healthy children.
Except too many.
That last one, a surprise, a doozy.
A doozy? What is a Doozy?
A doozy is a daughter
singing startling and sweet
as boiling maple sap
spilled on fresh snow.
Ache of her loss, a guilt,
a feeling you resist.
I don’t respect guilt-riders.
But there it is, Octogenarian, a guilt.
Smoked the Camel with great pleasure.
Gave up the Camel.
Not soon enough to save the wife.
Second hand smoke.
The past hangs over you.
Preventing you from hiking
that last trail
into the gloom of dark matter, no?
Yes, I admit it.
Least you could do, Voice,
is let me forget.
A man can look neither to the past
nor to the future, because ... because?
There is no such thing as time.
That's right.
The only legit questions are found
in the pauses between changes.
Calls for immediate action.
The “now whats.”
Your son got it right
with that word you can’t pronounce,
the “i-n-t-e-r-s-t-i-c-e-s.”
Oh, shut up!
Will not. Listen to me:
Do not dwell on conditions
that presume a flow of time--
hope, yearning, nostalgia, regret.
Guilt fades with the echoes.
All is quiet. For now.
The Voice will be back.

Everything is all right.
Everything is not all right.
You are an ignorant old man,
and you don’t have the wherewithal
to make wrong right.
What the hell is a wherewithal anyway?
It’s a wheelbarrow to carry burdensome ideas.

About six inches had fallen.
Nice little storm.
Junior was just finishing up
plowing out the driveway.
The Octogenarian walked over to the truck.
Junior rolled down the window.
"How come you, not your dad.“ "He bought the farm yesterday,” Junior said, just as calmly
as one talking about the weather.
Bought the farm? How did that come
to mean kicking the bucket?
Everybody knows that
kicking the bucket and buying the farm
mean the same thing.
Kicking a bucket and buying a farm
at the same time would kill anybody.
“I’m sorry to hear that, Junior.” Actually, you’re not sorry. In fact
the news gave you a jolt of vigor:
well, I outlived that bastard.
“It was so sudden," Junior said. He held the steering wheel
in a kind of caress.
Junior’s only emotion
at the moment was glee
at the thought of inheriting
an almost new truck.
The grief would come later.

Munch on an Ancharsky Store grinder
while you imagine Wife
standing at the sink
and gazing out the window
at the bird feeder,
just as she had done in life.
Tell her how sad you are
at the loss of your tree,
connections and conniption fits
that enriched your life:
The Hermit’s stew pot,
a thousand memorized glimpses
of New Hampshire trees, stone walls, ledges,
old mossy grave stones,
fences and hosses and cows
and chickens and porcupines
and deer and skunks and woodchucks
and beavers and squirrels,
gray and red, and damn raccoons
and screeching foxes
and screechier fisher cats
and once in a while a coyote,
couple times a bear, bobcats,
no you never saw a bobcat,
(so what—lay off) Saturday morning yard sales,
old tools, junk cars,
rides to the dump with the son
when he was a boy,
your mechanic’s pit that the son
helped you dig when he was a boy,
the sky over your property,
town meetings, disasters
in the son (son, son,
why did you change your name?),
even black flies,
yes, even you, evil ones.
Don’t you understand, Wife?
We are giving up our home,
our town, our region, our weather,
our soil, our nighttime star show,
our very selves.
The worst of it, Octogenarian,
is that your anger,
the fire that kept you stoked
all these decades--
that had produced smoke
to shield your fears--
has died to embers.
The figure of Wife fades,
and without it loneliness
envelops you,
a kind of suffocating protection
like a
in a
on a
rainy night

White birch logs cut with a bandsaw
and put through machines
to make Scrabble tiles
to be stamped with letters,
which will be arranged
on game boards to make words
that will be scattered by a cat
and rearranged into a pattern
and questioned on the basis
of their authenticity
and so on until the human epoch
ends in a great stillness:
That’s your end, Octogenarian.
No fire, no ice, just stillness,
which gets the many-letter bonus
but whose individual letters
are only worth a point each
on Wife’s Scrabble board,
which she played alone because you,
you puissant fraud, didn’t like losing
and would not indulge her and,
face it, didn’t know that many words
to spell. “Husband,” Wife had said,
“‘correctly’ does not have a ‘wreck’ in it.”

Octogenarian is thinking about the Devil,
which of course he does not believe in,
at least not strictly
—guy with horns sticking out of his head and a tail.
Why would the Devil have a tail?
If there is a Devil
he would not look like the Devil.
The Devil would be a smoothie;
he would look like Evil Selectman.
Octogenarian suddenly realizes that Evil Selectman
resembles that boring band leader
Wife had a crush on.
Lawrence Welk!
You may or may not have to face
the Devil,
but you do have to face death.
Think about the possibilities.
In bed sleeping. Car crash.
Slo-mo and incapacitated
in a nursing home.
A fall.
Lost in the woods.
Lost in dementia.
Icepick in the ear.
Gun fight,
like John Wayne in The Shootist.
Squashed rasslin’ with the Orc Lass
in a giant bowl of Jello.
And the afterlife?
For your sins, Octogenarian, for your sins:
Strapped down in front of a TV.
What's on in my long tonight?
Lawrence Welk band for all eternity.

Daddy, I want to swing, push me.
You start her off,
release her, watch her.
She's on her own now.
Pumping the swing, pumping, pumping,
leaping from the greatest height
into the great big chasm of her destiny.
You understand now, don't you, Octogenarian?
Yes, once the child
can pump the swing for herself
the male parent is no longer necessary.

The only person at this hour
in the town hall is the Orc Lass.
She’s only maybe fifty,
but she acts seventy-five.
Which for you, Octogenarian,
is the attraction.
She refuses to use a computer
and types all the town business
on an ancient IBM selectric typewriter.
I figure she's ... what's that word
with the tit in it?
Yeah, that's the one,
sexually titillated by her power
to manipulate the ball
that strikes the patten.
Actually, it's you, Octogenarian,
who is titillated
watching her type.
You resist the urge to shout
"type my balls." Orc Lass is one those women
blessed with giant bazzooms.
She has a big frame,
wide all the way around,
grand hips, protruding ass,
shoulders like a sidewalk curb.
With her squared glasses
and drab gray dress
she looks like a cement truck
driving into the sun.
Yes, beautiful.

Loss Lass seemed to be holding back
tremendous energy and at the same time
a great sadness.
It was the sadness of youth.
Different from the sadness of old age.
Octogenarian had seen the sadness in his children,
remembered experiencing it himself
oh so many years ago,
a feeling that there was so much to see,
so much to do, so much to grab for,
and you didn’t know what it was,
but you wanted it all—but not alone,
you wanted it all
with that special person
that lived only in your imagination.
All of it.
Knowledge. Love. Adventure. Exploits.
The admiration of elders.
The respect of peers. Thrills.
Many thrills.
All of it.
With that special person.
And the sad part was that
all of it
to be

Octogenarian tripped and almost fell.
Oh-oh, hip.
But he regained his balance,
and there it was:
the corner of a log sticking
out of the sandbank.
Octogenarian had found his namesake tree,
the lo and behold elm
that those bastards
cut down and buried.
Are you weeping out of happiness?
Or is it the great sadness of The End?
Maybe just an old man’s female hormones?
Shut up, Voice--I just got myself
in a mood, no big deal!
Bring the logs to a saw mill,
make boards, erect a casket,
lie in it during that long intermission.
Can you feel it in your grave?
Petrifying with the tree, tree to stone,
man to stone, monument to an era.
Yes, I feel it. Era today gone tomorrow.
Don't be a smart-ass, Octogenarian.
Thing about a sandbank
is that it visibly changes.
What you see today is not
what you get tomorrow.
It is like watching the evolution
of a celestial body speeded up.
Aging is like that.
When you’re a kid time goes by
very slowly, older you get faster
time appears to go bye bye.
No such a thing as time.
What you think of as time
is only change.
Clocks measure change not time.
This sandbank is telling you
there ain't no God.

Pick up car-killed creatures
along the highways
for the Centenarian's stew pot.
—birds of different feathers, coyotes, deer, porcupines, woodchucks,
squirrels, muskrats, beavers,
raccoons (many raccoons),
perhaps a bear cub,
and even a fisher cat.
Please, no skunks.
Add vegetables
from grocery store dumpsters
and compost piles,
an occasional noodle or grain,
herbs with 'h's" removed, and salt
(as Leo Lavoie used to say, not too much now).
The Octogenarian laughs and says,
“You and me, we’ve gone off the deep end.”
“Deep end? End of what?” The Centenarian seemed
to ponder his phrase.
Then he repeated, “Deep end, end deep.
How deep is deep,
how far the end,
and where do we go from there?”
Smacking his lips
as if tasting the words,
but of course it was only stew.

They sat around the tiny table,
Octogenarian and Centenarian eating stew,
Cyborg Lass and Cyborg Lad sipping some kind
of herb tea concoction.
Who put the “h” in erb tea?
“Hiss, hess, hoss,” Dyslectic Cyborg Lad said, as if speaking to his handheld.
“What are you studying?” Centenarian asked. “The Latin language.” “When I was an altar boy, we used to speak Latin in church."
“So, you could teach me Latin,” said Dyslectic Cyborg Lad.
“Can't; they didn’t tell us what the words meant.
What do you know so far?”
“Not too much; I just started. Hiss, hess, hoss,
hew I us, hew I us, hew I us.”
Cyborg Lass put in her two cents worth,
“The correct pronunciation is hick, hike, hock,
whoweeus, whoweeus, whoweeus,”
I think huius subs for Julius,
like Julius Caesar who
conquered much of the known world.”
“He was probably compensating for his sissy name,” Octogenarian said.
Centenarian turned to Dyslectic Lad,
“Me and Octogenarian, we’re hicks, so that’s the hick part.
Hike could be like when you’re playing
football and the quarterback says ‘hike,’
or maybe it’s like take a hike,
and hock is like you leave something
at a pawn shop."
"Hock could also be a hunk of spit," Octogenarian said. He winked at Cyborg Lass
to confirm his humor.
“Put them together,” Cyborg Lass winked back, “hick, hike, hock could be translated as ‘Country boy pawns his football.’”
“Wouldn’t that be hick, hock, hike?” Dyslectic Lad asked.
“By gosh, you’re right,” Centenarian said.

Octogenarian loved the startling shapes,
textures brought on by time,
paint losing struggle with air,
incursions of plant life
in the crannies of stressed
and distressed metal,
patterns and play of light
made by smashed glass,
the fading from something to nothing,
the aura of the former owners
glowing in a half halo
around the junk cars.
What is it about you, Octogenarian?
I like rust, I like dead end streets,
I like a break
in a Jack Landry curve ball,
I like cracks in the pavement.
So what? You hurt people, too.
My loved ones mainly,
though not on purpose.
But you hurt them.
What can I say about that?
You can say,
there's humanity in a mistake;
there's entertainment in guess work;
and hope is a four-letter word.
Yeah, well, I can say c-o-r-n-y
adds up to five letters, so what?

First day on the road is an up day.
Octogenarian is excited and optimistic.
Day two belongs to Voice.
Remember how you betrayed your last daughter …
and so forth through piles of miles.
On day three distance substitutes
for memory
and Voice goes silent.
All Octogenarian knows is the road.
The trip begins.

Octogenarian liked the isolation,
liked the lazy lagoon,
liked the fishing boats
in their little water cubbies
in the man-made harbor,
liked his fellow retirees,
their pauses before thought,
liked the red fish served breaded
and cooked in boiling oil.
With his Social Security check,
the small retirement buckaroos
he and Wife had saved, and the dough
from the sale of his Darby property
he could get a nice mobile home
here in the local trailer park
and maybe, just maybe,
have enough left over to buy a boat.
Imagine that—a boat
for local ocean travel.
Octogenarian could see himself working
part time repairing boat motors.
Catching red fish. Musing.
Eating the local oranges
that grew on trees.
Imagine that—oranges grow
on trees in South Texas.
Pick your orange from a tree
in your yard.
Eat the local cows
cooked on mesquite fires.
Octogenarian more or less resigned himself
to this new life
right into December, weather so nice
it was a joy to walk the gravel flats
of the Laguna Madre,
just watch birds for a while:
waiting to die
in Port Mansfield, South Texas,
not home,
expire without a grumble,
not home.
Almost convinced himself to stay.

Back in Darby to die and resurrect
which is what you do when you can’t erect.
Wonder if they have revenge
in the afterlife.
Is Bugsy LeClair lying in wait
for me on the other side?
Do not concern yourself.
No point in guilt, no point in shame,
no point in ambition, nor contrition:
your life is all a show.
Centenarian got it right.
To feel at home grab the popcorn
and walk into the movie screen.
Slide out
from the 20th century stockade of guilt
into the loony toon arcade
of our current epoch.
Epoch? How come they don't spell it
e-h-p-i-c-k, like you epoch your nose?

Forgetfulness is the ultimate blessing
for the demented and the dead.
Unless you are religious,
in which case you are confronted
at the gates by St. Peter
or some other asshole
holding a ledger of your sins
who will remind you
there are places to go
after death besides oblivion.
Like blivit city.
Blivit? What's a blivit?
A blivit is ten pounds of religious shit
in a five pound bag of Faith.
“I’m just gathering the evidence,” St. Peter will say, “God is the judge.”
Why should God give a flaming fuck
what my sins are?
Doesn’t he have enough to do
without bothering us octogenarians?

Octogenarian had taught himself to understand
the written word,
and sometimes he talked a blue streak
(was it blue streak lingo that turned people blue in that movie?)
but he had trouble spelling,
and he could only type tiny thoughts
with his fat fingers.
Tell Sane Daughter that after all these years
you met Betrayed Daughter’s daughter,
Loss Lass.
No, I don't want to start
another family avalanche.
Tell Sane Daughter you discovered
Critter Culprit cut your elm tree
but for reasons unknown.
Tell her that there is a dark secret
in the town.
Tell her your plan
to build your own coffin.
Don’t tell her your selfish desires,
apologize to her for being a bad father.
Octogenarian typed, “Cold,
wind from the north.
See you later.”
His email got him to thinking.
If gnaw is spelled g-n-a-w,
why isn't n-o-r-t-h spelled g-n-a-w-t-h?
He said "gnawth" out loud,
clicked “send” and went to bed.
His email traveled around the world,
into space and beyond in that realm
where Elements are recycled into stars.
St. Peter, cranky gatekeeper of Catholic heaven
and frequent lurker on the Internet,
intercepts Octogenarian’s message to Sane Daughter.
Checks it off as a venial sin
and files it in the data base.
St. Peter is tired. This job is a lot of work.
“Don’t we have enough data for judgement day?” St. Peter asks the Angel Gabriel.
Octogenarian wakes from his dream
and says aloud, “For Pete’s sake.”

You think it was the knights
of old that built the castles?
You think it was the tycoons
that laid the rail tracks,
put down the asphalt for the highways,
stoked the foundry fires,
built the rockets,
and packed the computer chips?
It was dirty-face people like me.
We ran the looms in the cotton mill,
We hauled the trash.
Without me and the likes of me
there would be no civilization.
But your offspring have betrayed you.
They are ashamed of you, Octogenarian.
Get out of the way, preferably--die;
they're going to kill you anyways
with their robots.
What do you prefer, Octogenarian,
lethal injection, hanging,
firing squad,
flattened by a steam roller?
There are no steam rollers any more;
they all run on diesel.
Just a manure of speaking.
Yeah, well, everything is
a manure of speaking.
You can't say
nothing without it means something
you don't want it to mean.
Words corrupt everybody, Octogenarian.
What you think you know
is all a big pile
of manures of speaking.
What do you think, Dirty Ernie?
I think the ones with no education,
the ones who made mistakes in youth
and paid for them over a lifetime,
the ones that built the pyramids,
and the cathedrals,
and that stupid wall in China,
who sawed the Scrabble tiles,
who mined the coal,
who built literally everything,
the ones left out of The Great Gatsby
and most of the rest of literature.
-they are all fucked. And fucked again.
And fucked over.
And fucked forever,
the working people.