Detriments and Other Poems


Mutt & Jeff (Wikimedia Commons)

They’ve come in shabby black suits
and after the funeral
Li’l Mutt and Stretch Jeff talk about the detriments
of their respective heights

People discount me, says Mutt
They overlook me
Being bald to boot
my fuckability quotient is dragging on the ground
like a skinny bride’s bridal train

Jeff imagines crawling under that train
For a full ten minutes his eyes glaze
as he fantasizes about what he’d do under there

Mutt is a patient man
He takes this opportunity to steal canapés
from Jeff’s plate
‘til it’s empty

Finally Jeff’s mind returns to the room
Nothing fits, he says
Look at the chairs in this dump
I can’t sit on any of them with more than
fifteen percent comfortability
How does that help me mourn the dead?

We’d both enjoy a few days of normality, says Mutt
Fuck yes, says Jeff

Nostalgic Moment

Li’l Mutt and Stretch Jeff
sit in Mutt’s one-room schoolhouse
where he lives
There’s no electricity, no running water, no heat,
no a/c, no conveniences

but young Doris Day’s legs stretch across the wall
a mural by one of Mutt’s lesbian pals

A bottle of wine and one of Bacardi
sit on the counter of the old grass-green Hoosier cabinet
along with a big bag of multi-grain chips
that reads: Food Should Taste Good

Photos of doors hang on the walls
the art collection of a man
who doesn’t get invited out much

My father died last week, says Jeff
I’m sorry, says Mutt
No need, we weren’t close. You know what he often told me?

I can read you like a book,
and all the pages are blank

They sit in silence for a while, then Mutt says,
My father had a similar mantra:

You’re a bum
and you’ll always be
a bum

Jeff says: My father was more poetic
Mutt says: My father was more direct

The two old men sit quietly
feeling the reverberations of their pasts

Jeff’s lung capacity is down to thirty percent
and Mutt’s gall bladder and kidneys are riddled with stones


Chloe curled her lip:
“You’re a fucking lifeguard, not God”
She was thrown off the beach

The female lifeguard was a mixed martial arts practitioner
Chloe didn’t have a chance

She scraped her elbow when she fell in the parking lot
Picked herself up
Texted her boyfriend:
Only two things I hate in this world—
horse enthusiasts and lifeguards

Moira the American

Moira plays with her lips
tenses them in ways that
she thinks
make her look

She stands in front of the mirror
strikes poses that
she thinks are American
which is what she’d like to be

Fluorescent light
beer bottles on the sink counter
the two X’s from Mexico
her home

A Hard Drizzle’s Gonna Fall

Peering out the window of the small, high-ceilinged room
where schoolchildren once hung their coats
I see nothing but corn running a mile
to Grandpa’s woods
the new ranch house of the city people
and across the road from that
Uncle’s Clarence’s farm
which my wife still wishes he had left us

The barn is falling in
We saw the
first little breach in the roof appear
“Uh oh,” my wife said as we drove by

Uncle Clarence
small, silent, wiry, grizzled, hunched
but even into old age capable of throwing the tackle
over the backs of his black plow horses
Dick and John

It would have been painful
for him to straighten his back enough
to see the 476-foot-tall industrial turbines
that now blight the township’s landscape

He would have peered up from under his bushy white eyebrows
and snorted
like Dick
or John

I can’t see any turbines from my vantage point
in this little room in this one-room schoolhouse
built in 1894
Center Riverton School
but I know they’re there

Clarence was a Woody Guthrie fan
God knows how he ever heard of Guthrie
he never had a radio in his truck
nor in his kitchen
Aunt Mary in her old apron wouldn’t have allowed it
she liked quiet
would have been disturbed by the turbines’ intrusive decibels

Clarence must have heard Woody in one of the stores
when he went into Scottville for supplies

The gamblin’ man is rich
And the workin’ man is poor

Or maybe in the barbershop

and I ain’t got no home in this world anymore

I imagine the song Woody would’ve written about the turbines
about energy company sharpies
and corrupt local officials
who didn’t give a damn
about the concerns of Riverton residents

Woody would have written a line
about corporate welfare
more for the rich and less for the poor
as Democracy is destroyed

and a line about the newspaper scribblers who
shy away from the truth
in exchange for the power company’s full-page color ads
(all the same villains who reigned in Woody’s day
now more entrenched and no less vile)

Smacked by spinning turbine blades
dead birds and bats rain down on our heads
no, not rain
really just an intermittent drizzle
of avian death both real
and symbolic

though Woody’s songs were never about drizzles
They were, like Dylan’s later on,
about hard rain

Mitchell Grabois