Poem of the Day, 12/18/12

Today’s poem is by Roger Fanning (no relation). “An American original,” Tom Lux calls him, and I couldn’t agree more; his new book is as haunting, funny, quirky, and dazzling as all the rest. Jarring and brilliant. Nobody writes better titles. Nobody matches the quirky, off-beat diction, no-one transforms ordinary words or phrases into verbs better (“all thumbs”). No one captures the sad-happy America everywhere. Enjoy!



A beach town in the offseason where fog
allthumbs everything ashore
and radio stations fade to sand:
that’s the destination I had in mind.

In my rented Pontiac Grand Prix (black),
I motored dreamily to town for a burger
and fries, my face faintly green, a tad
malevolent from the dash light.

I had scribbled all day, spoken to no one.
A writer-in-residence type deal.
My treatise on loneliness will begin
with a riddle: hagridden/raghidden,

get it? The answer’s what they used to call “self-abuse.”
I sat in the parking lot gobbling my food.
In the Playplace a magenta slidetube mimicked
the birth canal, from which children shot out.

A bespectacled chunky cheerleader
in a blue and white uniform laughed
her head back, braces glinting,
because the Willapa Bay Wolves had won

the big game! It was crowded in there,
the rest of town dead. Center stage
a man who looked like me sat
with his family (wife, two boys),

and the youngest one, the tenderest face kept looking straight up,
as though his birthday balloon had escaped. I understand,
I understand that such bright franchises are what pass
for magic in out-of-the-way places everywhere,

and sometimes I think America is just this wreckage
I saw rumbling along in an electric wheelchair once,
a pasty guy wearing a black leather jacket
the hottest day of the year, sweating hard.

The sign on the back of his chair said BEYOND REPAIR.
And once I saw dead, dried-up, wings-askew
birds suspended in jars of clear red gelatin—
detritus handled gently—and lit from behind,

throwing Gothic shadows. It looked like they were soaring.
Put it another way, Ronald McDonald
makes a spooky mascot, but those french fries
do taste good, especially good

in a beach town in the offseason
where fog all thumbs everything ashore
and radio stations fade to sand, to surf,
to the white noise of a wheelchair’s motor,
and birds fly south with their bones sticking out.

from “The Middle Ages,” (Penguin, 2012)