Cathexis Northwest Press
After Reading Ed Skoog...; Attention Like a Rabbit; Valentine's Day
By: Mark Simpson
After Reading Ed Skoog's Poem about Topeka, a Town in the General Vicinity of Where I Grew Up
But Topeka was big-town,
unlike the place I grew up.
In my town Dad is at Fritz's Tavern after
work, a few quick ones before going home.
The place was dingy, like its facade
that blended in with every other facade
on that small-town side street.
(A block from the BN RR tracks)
(and twin cement towers of the abandoned
grain elevator, not used since the locals gave
up corn for hay and cattle, where the money was.)
I peaked in the window once.
I saw him sitting at the bar alone, smoking,
staring into the bar's dark corners.
My thoughts then? I don't know, but
probably sprawling and self-indulgent
like the empty cattle cars coming up
from Omaha, or something handed down
through a family's generations, something
you couldn't help, a visitation from
an angel passing overhead sending
out the secret code to everyone but you.
But those corners—could be I'm the only
one who saw the dark, afraid of what
might be waiting there. Where I
grew up it was perfectly OK to sit in Fritz's
any time, sipping CC and Seven Up, a pack
of smokes for company.
Then I walked on up the street, toward the town's
one stoplight that sometimes worked, sometimes not.
An uphill walk, as I recall, north past Bigelow's
funeral home, past Atkins and Atkins Attorneys at Law,
the empty first national bank building,
Shorty Miles, voice of the Holt County Independent,
at the only typewriter in town.
Reference points for a small town's future.
Reference points for mine.
It was all one neighborhood,
and things were probably better than I remember.
But how it really was? It must be in that
secret code the angel handed out.
I do remember there was only one way home.
Attention Like a Rabbit
Good lord, they're out there this season,
not a quarter mile up the logging road
I count a dozen, two dozen—a lot, anyway,
scattering from clearing into underbrush—
sword fern, salmonberry, brambles rampant
and perfect for them, a pliable hermitage
ground-hugging and thick.
They move so quickly you don't know they're
there until they aren't, small presences of fur,
light against the greens and browns.
I'm vain enough to think they watch me
as I pass, but they probably don't—
they're munching berries or green stems,
my presence once nuisance not even memory,
just a faint tickle of recognition in rabbit consciousness
kicking in, instinct inbred and functional.
So many of them, there, not there.
I'm sure they're back on the road now,
nibbling the tender grass where light filters through,
such small presences, attention's rift and scatter
coming around again to the beginning.
How is your heart how is your heart how….?
This is repeated I don't know how
many times--but how
the hell should I know, some
kind of navel gazing going on here, that
deep inward glance of "meditation"
they're doing in rehab now, the old
and the bored dropping off for
a nice twenty minute snooze punctuated
by the therapist-monk-in-training
intoning the names of body parts
and what you should do with them
now that the bottle's locked up
and hope's in its grave which isn't
what you are supposed to say, you're
supposed to say "fine, just fine,"
so I do and
the monk-in-training looks at me
my eyes suddenly open after
a hard rap on my skull, and
says like hell.
Mark Simpson lives on Whidbey Island, WA.
"After Reading Ed Skoog's Poem about Topeka, a Town in the General Vicinity of Where I Grew Up"
First, thank you Ed Skoog, for the Topeka poem. The origins of this poem are in a small Nebraska town. I grew up there; I left in 1970—haven't been back except for a few quick visits before my parents died. A lot of the details are, in fact, pretty much fact: Fritz's Tavern, my Dad sitting in Fritz's after work, the walk home form there. The irony: as I revisit the poem, I see that there is more than one way home.
"Attention Like a Rabbit"
Attention is a big deal for a wandering mind. The details in this poem—all true, although the rabbit-thoughts are surmise. I do walk the old logging road here, and good Lord, the rabbits! The themes of attention/seeing/re-seeing interest me. Perhaps the writing of this poem is a form of attention and a means of seeing.
I wrote this poem on Valentine's Day, the day celebrating romantic love, the day of Hallmark greeting cards, boxes of chocolate shaped like hearts. I had been reading a series of poems by another poet who was writing about romantic love, heart break, all that. I started with the heart image and went from there. I didn't start out to make a point or whatever—I just started riffing off the idea of heart. The details of the poem—some filched from my experience; some not.