Horse with No Name
He’s been on my back for three days. You’d think a shrunk
104 pounder wouldn’t be so heavy. But the Nevada desert
is brutal even in March and he wants to hit the Strip — should
be fun, an honor but he keeps steering me off the path
to Wendy’s for free senior Frosties. He’s going to play craps
and you know that means me standing the whole time, him
on my shoulders because there’s no chairs at crap tables. My back –
he never asks. At the buffet, we’re juggling loaded plates, one
on my head, two in my hands, one wedged in the crook of my arm.
He’s up there waving — a big hit. How ya doing, cowboy? they ask.
What’s your horse’s name? I want to hear: Good Boy or Sonny.
I’m prepared for: It’s not a horse, it’s a jackass. That’s exactly why
I need him to ride me – to learn gratitude, humility, selflessness. Look
Dad! Crab Legs! He kicks as though his puffy prescription shoes
for his excruciating arthritic feet have jingle-jangle, blood-letting spurs.
Have you heard — Klaus
has set up his luck shop under
a ladder! He’s wearing a purple cape!
He sells heart beats, too. For years,
he’s collected the sounds of champion
athletes in mid-stride, atheists in doubt,
mothers at birth, infants’ first, criminals
picking the bank’s vault, heroes’ final,
saints suffering, the cow as the rifle cocks,
the inventor at their instant of discovery.
When shoppers ask what good does it do -
listening to another’s heartbeat? Klaus
answers, that’s why I also sell luck.
The Butcher Fired Me
Now my apron is green. In my mind it’s white, dripping dark red. The wood crate is the body. I hack into the slats – the skin and bones. I cut the stems and leaves – the sinew, tendons. I lift the apples, pears, tomatoes – the steaks, liver, tongue. I hose them down, let the water run off like blood.
The Photographer, Valenska
That year, in July, the photographer Valenska
put out a notice for models, male and female,
to be photographed while defecating. A serious
bachelor esteemed for his Baltic seascapes and
studies of sleeping Welsh sheep, he was buoyant
and surprised how many were willing to be captured
in this state, though he was stupefied that only
two would be photographed wiping. “Why?!”
he moaned to his apprentice and nephew, “is the
human adverse to acts of cleanliness? We are most
happy creating messes: wars, children, cooking.”
This led Valenska to his celebrated exhibition,
Bubbles and Brushes. On November nineteenth,
he was discovered with the Queen’s slightly damp
towels and beheaded.
When the phone rings mom calls, “Phone! Bob! Phone!” to the official phone answerer. Dad’s hearing aids are curled up in a paper coffee cup in the kitchen. I tell her what he does when he has them in and the batteries aren’t dead, “Let the machine pick it up!” She always pushes the speaker button on anyway. She misses her friends. She says hello. “Do you know how important you are, Mrs. Mark?” the voice says. “Mrs. Mark, did you know Alzheimer’s disease thus far is incurable? 46 million people living with dementia. 1 out of 3 families are affected. Someone develops dementia every 3 seconds.” After every statistic, she tsk-tsks, same as when she can’t find the kitchen or when I point out beautiful birds, or when she and dad watch rerun after rerun of The Big Bang Theory every night through the nights. “Do you know how important you are, Mrs. Mark?” the voice says. Tsk, tsk. “Mrs. Mark, are you still there?” I am here, yes, thank you. “You can see how important you are to people with the Alzheimer’s disease, can’t you?” I think so. “These people are personally counting on you, Mrs. Mark. Your neighbors, your friends, maybe even family members who are too ashamed or don’t know yet that they carry this burden. Isn’t that sad, Mrs. Mark?” Tsk-tsk. “Mrs. Mark?” My mother asks, Do you know me? “My name is Brian.” My mother takes the pad and pen by the phone and writes. “Can your friends and family count on you, Mrs. Mark?” Brian, Brian, she hushes to the pad. “Mrs. Mark, your family and friends want to know if they can count on you – can they?” I will try. “Very good! Your $100 donation today will help these dear people. Do you have a credit card handy?” Dad took hers, replaced it with an expired one when she got upset. “Mrs. Mark? Can your family count on you?” I don’t know. I hope so. She puts the pad back, holds the pen. “Very good, Mrs. Mark. What is your credit card number?” She puts the pen down. Maybe, I think maybe it’s best for you to call later and talk to my husband later. I can’t drive anymore. “How about 25 dollars, Mrs. Mark? Even 10 dollars can help fight this disease that steals memories and destroys lives.” Tsk-tsk. “Mrs. Mark?” I don’t know. “When is a good time to call back?” She looks at the red numbers on the alarm clock, then her left wrist, to the window. “When is a good time to call back to talk with Mr. Mark?” I don’t cook anymore. He gets angry. “Ok. I’ll call back before dinner. Have a good day.” Thank you. It’s a good today — I think. We haven’t been outside. I put the newspapers away. But I have to wait until Bob reads them all – he puts them together on my chair for me when he’s done and he looks at the bills – The dial tone comes on – the letters, the mail, then we will go out with our son, Michael. He’s here from California. I think maybe he is sleeping, too – he lives in California and we will decide where to go for lunch. I like Wendy’s chicken nuggets. Bob likes hotdogs from…from… She looks around for help. “Hey Ma!” She turns, smiles like she’s been waiting there happily, for years, just for me, her too thin arms rise high, spread. I fill them. Over her shoulder, the notepad by the phone, her clear, careful handwriting: 1 out of 3.
Michael Mark is the author of Visiting Her in Queens is More Enlightening than a Month in a Monastery in Tibet which won the 2022 Rattle Chapbook prize. His poems have appeared in Copper Nickel, The New York Times, Pleiades, Ploughshares, Poetry Northwest, Sixth Finch, Southern Review, The Sun, 32 Poems and other places. His two books of stories are Toba and At the Hands of a Thief (Atheneum). michaeljmark.com