Blesok no. 110, October-November, 2016


Ron Koertge

Death’s Dog

    When he hears the car door
    slam, he picks up that red
    ball and wags his entire behind.
    Death says, “Who’s a good boy
    you’re a good boy.” Then changes
    into some old clothes and out
    to the back yard they go.
    Blackie will chase the ball
    until he’s exhausted, then keel
    over and let his tongue dangle
    but his eyes stay on Death,
    who likes to roughhouse
    but has never raised his voice
    much less a hand holding
    a rolled-up newspaper.

A Surprise Visit

    She appears during my office hour, says a name,
    and asks if I remember her son.
    “Victor. Sure.”
    “Did you know he died?”
    That makes me sit up straighter. “Jesus, no.
    I’m so sorry.”
    She shows me a handful of poems written
    in the lilac ink he adored.
    “He wrote these in the hospital.
    Were the other students kind to him?”
    “It was a good class.”
    “He talked about it a lot.” She grips a double-strand
    of pearls. “I promised him I would stop by.”
    I stand to shake hands. Then walk her to
    a door that opens to the usual pandemonium:
    the insults and flirting and threats of the living.

Artemis and Acteon

    I read my students the story. How Acteon the hunter was deep in the forest and stumbled on Artemis bathing and she was so angry she changed him into a stag and his own dogs tore him apart. We discussed the myth in a more or less scholarly manner: What is modesty today? Has the thrill of the hunt been reduced to shopping for bargains? As we did, I passed around postcard-sized prints of the encounter. One from Galloche, one from Balducci, another from Titan. There was Artemis, beautiful and damp, her hair in strategic places or nude. As the discussion lapsed and we simply stared, a cloud passed over the sun. From outside the classroom, the dogs on the quad all dropped their Frisbees and, looking up at the window of my classroom, howled menacingly.

Reading at the Christian Academy

     I arrived and was ushered into a smallish room.
    “There’s been a mistake, I’m afraid. The librarian
    who got in touch with you is no longer with us.
    “We can pay you, though, if you would consent
    to tutor for a few hours and control yourself.”
    So I talked to a dozen students about the fragment
    and the comma splice. They talked about
    my bracelets and the visible tattoo.
    They asked me why I was like I was.
    I said I didn’t know. They promised to pray
    for me. I said, “Thanks.”
    That night in the motel there were two
    Gideon Bibles. I lay in the narrow bed,
    called my wife and read from the Song
    of Solomon:
    Your lips distill
nectar, my bride; honey
    and milk are
under your tongue; the scent
    of your
garments is like the scent of Lebanon.
    “Come home,” she said. “I smell good
    and I’m barely wearing any garments at all.”

“Please Provide a Brief Biographical Sketch”

    I grew up in a tough little town. One taxi. One church. Twelve taverns. Coal miners and farmers. They hated each other and fought constantly even after a terrible day on the earth or under it. First it was just lumps of coal and name-calling vs. rutabagas and name-calling. But the rutabagas invoked not alarm but laughter. Coal has that hard c sound while rutabagas… Well, say it out loud. You’ll see what I mean. So the next time, farmers brought bricks. “Whoa,” said the miners. “The rules are these: one fights with the spawn of his chosen profession. You are not bricklayers, but farmers.” Frustrated, the farmers returned the bricks, getting most of their money back. They returned with clods of earth. Clod also has that hard c sound. The farmers and miners clutched their consonants as they looked at themselves and their enemies. It was hard to tell who was the darker, given the rich black earth of Southern Illinois. But there was still the hatred. For the miners, it burned like that massive seam of coal still smoldering in the Cumberland and for the farmers it scalded like the lye they used to get the hair off a slaughtered hog. All they really needed was for the beautiful daughter of a miner to fall in love with the handsome son of a farmer. But life in my tough little town wasn’t a Technicolor movie that would end with a song. On Saturday night, the music from the twelve taverns was mournful and bitter. The only taxi was busy, though, carrying men too drunk to walk from one drinkery to another and taking coal and potatoes as payment.

Salt from the Market

    The tall woman with the long, mesh bag looks at an array of spices,
    each in its own brass bowl, and at the owner eating yogurt, licking it
    away from his curly beard.
    She likes beards, so she buys a little salt for the tomatoes. He says it’s
    from the Dead Sea and very expensive, but because she is beautiful
    today he makes an exception.
    When he asks if she’s married, she says her husband is busy
    looking for ten righteous men, claiming that if he finds them
    Sodom will be spared.
    He smiles, “I say unto you, probably not in this wicked place.”
    She plays along, “Then I say unto you, we have but little time to lose.”
    He licks his lips, showing perfect white teeth. And he’s burly
    with piercing hazel eyes.
    She savors the near-blue of dusk while he closes up.
    She wonders how Lot is faring. What a shame if they have to flee.
    Surely there must be ten.

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