I missed the whole Slam Poetry scene. Never attended a single contest. Because I never go anywhere anyway, living as I do under a rock. But I sometimes imagine, with apologies to Bing Crosby, the phonomenon might have generated a behind-the-scenes scene something like this:
The Great Poet stomps into the kitchen. Beth looks up from her crossword. I look up from the dishes. Dad, slumped in the corner, suppresses a belch; his eyelids flutter, trapped gas quivering the rings of flab that stacked together comprise his body.
“I am STUCK!” the Great Poet booms.
I extract a glass – on the lip orange lipstick – from the hurricane aftermath of dirty dishes swamped in gray water. Reflectively set about sponging the stain.
“Word that derives,” Beth’s voice caroms off the mirrors inside my head, “etymologically from FOUR; pertains to squares; nine letters…”
The Great Poet fingercombs his inky beard. Dad’s smothered belch escapes in a frazzled snore that suggests, “Squares-nines-stylish.”
“Yes, Dad,” Beth responds mechanically.
I rinse the glass. Stack it in the rack. Stare down at the overhead fluorescent reflected on the upturned bottom. A negative of a quonset hut overlays my vision. Through the translucent walls of the quonset I glimpse the outline of – suspended on a string from the ceiling – a ball peen hammer.
“Patty Pitak,” I mumble, “Timbang.”
My high school algebra teacher. A Czech refugee, then in her late twenties, who in mid-semester married a Filipino airplane mechanic. The morning we learn her new name, Harry – now a bald accountant confined to a hospital for the criminally insane – leans across the aisle and whispers, “Sounds like a ball peen hammer loose inside a quonset hut!”
Out of the corner of my eye I catch the Great Poet frown. Hear behind him Beth mutter, “Too many words.”
A fart noise issues from Dad’s direction; or maybe he slipped up trying to clear his throat. Always best to cut Dad slack regarding details – nobody, least of all Dad, ever comprehends the reach of Dad’s awareness. Having lived now a life of over fifty years of mediocrity, Dad seems to possess an uncanny ability to dream reality; but just how conscious he is of that dream, none of us ever gets an inkling.
“My problem is,” the Great Poet, wincing, softens his congenitally loud bass, “I need a rhyme for attic.” Seems he has challenged a fellow poet to sonnets – the following sunrise – at ten paces.
I lift a fork from the suds. Work the sponge over egg yoke stuck to aluminum tines.
“Quadratic!” I grunt, sponge having no effect.
I seek a steak knife. Bring one up from under a chocolate-smeared plate beneath an avalanche of greasy saucers. Scrape its edge over the fork clutched in my left hand.
“Hm…” the Great Poet turns on a heel; his tall thin form quietly leaves the room.
“Fits!” Beth chirps.
“The key to deriving the formula,” Patty Pitak Timbang repeats inside my skull, “is completing the square. One must add to both sides,” under insistent attacks the protein begins to peel in yellow slivers from the tines, “of the equation that quantity which turns the left side into a perfect square. Thus enabling one,” it is a fart, because now the stink, “to take the root,” – “Eureka!” cheers the Great Poet, from upstairs, “…in tones Attic/ Of the formula quadratic!” – “of both sides,” – “I AM a genius – I shall kick that poetaster’s ass!” – “and thereby eliminate the squared term, which otherwise,” one of Dad’s orifices snorts, hard to tell which, “categorically frustrates the formula’s derivation.”
I fling the fork into one of its choices. Whatever – clean enough for government work. As the ball turret corpse radioed the waist gunner, “No time to waste!” Dad – despite having worked all his life for the government – hasta get up tomorrow and go to work.
We could all already smell Monday – day of the moon, day of ancient Limburger hangovers, day of moldy mushrooms gone ammonia.
I get busy with the saucers. They are easy; succumb each with a couple swipes to the sponge.
What is hard is not turning around to ogle Beth. Beth is Dad’s baby sister – his sober, intellectual, hausfrau side. To me, she is the icon I masturbate to. For my money she is the Holy Mother of Spunk. Denying myself a peek at her glow at completing a puzzle amounts to squirreling away one more jot of eternity.
Oh, after the dishes I’ll still repair to my basement flop; get undressed; violate myself. But I’ll merely envision her last week smiling over CROONED– the answer I supplied to APED DER BINGLE; then quietly shoot.
Upshot being I can still call myself Dad’s offspring. See myself as a succession of masturbators never quite succeeding in seeing their hands. So much better to fit in than in a fit to be.
Pans out later Beth is my mother. One night a star struck Dad between the eyes. Pierced the pineal. Rattled around inside hippocampus ensconced in that ton of lipids that is – from big toe to fat lip – Dad.
But that story won’t be dreamed for months after this particular attic night. Dad refuses, till that future arrives, barring a few muddled slip-ups, to deny my birth killed Mom. Whoever she was supposed to be.
Dad’s subconscious always cruises scope up to torpedo the cargo out of your belly with guilt. But he came of age during the McCarthy Era – you can’t blame him.
So I trundle to the basement in Oedipal silence – oddly comfortable, evenly dull, strangely normal; expecting an ecstasy blunt as I’ve made that steak knife.
I’m not sure of the afterlife, or the life after, or even the life now. But I know, at the focus of all three rings of my inner circus, the Great Poet will stomp that clown.
Tags: DER BINGLE, Slam Poetry, Willie Smith