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Paul Hoover

Three Poems

button Night of the Hunter
button Belief and Poetry
button At the Desiring Vine

Night of the Hunter

According to the theory,
Madonna erased Madonna Ciccone;
white men erased the Cherokee nation;
Serbs erase Muslims; black men erase
black men; and guns erase everyone else
as night erases day.
                     Everything is erased
including the trace of history,
which, like a cartoon dog,
draws the trail with his nose
but erases it with his tail.
Half erasure, half wisdom,
history rocks in her chair like Lillian Gish
in Night of the Hunter, a shotgun
in her lap. She loves the black-frocked
stranger with LOVE and HATE
tattooed on his fingers, despite
his being white and crazy — the kind of person
children flee like insects from a fire.
After locking him in the barn,
history waits for the sheriffs siren
to wail out of some perfect future
where everything is revealed, everything forgiven.
As poetry thrives on a perfect indifference,
history grows from hate and love.
It’s like taking a nature walk
in the outer blast zone, where,
hidden in his burrow, a single badger
drags to the surface the accidental seeds
that will reconstruct the green forest.
This leads to other life and later of course
murder. The fox must have its mouse;
the mouse has lice. I read the other day
that some of the early Germans inhabiting
this country were so pacifistic
they refused to raise a hand when
the Delaware warriors killed their wives
and children. It was God’s will,
they said: One must never kill.
One of them, however, kept a loaded gun,
and when a Delaware tribesman
walked over a rise, he shot him
in the forehead. The pacifists banished
him forever, and that is history.
We do the best we can to keep
from being erased. But time and the moment
wear us down. We are here and gone,
a flicker on the screen brilliantly remembered.
Even as we speak, words change the shape
of our mouths, creating and erasing
the captions beneath our faces:
(1) most authentic (2) hurricane victim
(3) future engineer (4) politically correct.
Pure form is finally shapeless,
or words to that effect. In an age of private jargon,
one can always make the dead zebra stand.
At century’s dead end or walking
into stars, what was done to us
was done with our consent and shines more fiercely
than we are allowed to remember.
In the entry to that place, a beaded purse
from Oklahoma is ripped from fragile hands.

Photo of Paul Hoover by John Tranter

Photograph of Paul Hoover
copyright © John Tranter 1989

Belief and Poetry

After James M. Cain
The rumpled tenor
blinks. The sign
says EAT — blue

neon juice in
a flat black
dark where shadows

shine and hurt.
Maybe you are
there, maybe you

are not, motoring
up from Texas
with underwater thoughts

packed in a
green hatbox. Trees
at the Twin

Oaks Diner shaking
with their passion.
A lake surrounded

by blue curtains.
Bite me, Frank,
she says. As

the road tilts
up, they tumble
down in blood.

The tinfoil hero
dreams flying over
pines. Oh, town

absorbed in shadow,
the blond mad
king is driving

Yellow Cab from
Laguna Beach to
El Cerrito. It

happens every day.
On light-blind
water, surface gods

shatter yet hold
like metaphysics to
old chronologies where

rage can suddenly
matter. The lake
shakes twice but

only slightly spills.
Blood absorbs more
slowly, dulling as

it dries. One’s
concept of dimension
suffers challenge then.

The fence tends
limits, breaks linear
circles frozen as

a rope. Something
always happens; someone
nearly tells all

we might have
guessed. Rob Roy’s
blood plot defeats

effete evil. Leaves
surmount the wall
restricting other worlds

and fall to
pieces there. Eyes
blue as doll

shoes, she tells
the movie version
but swells, stops,

waits as Frank
kills Nick. A
cut or gully

ferned drops hard
into the dark
like Nick’s last

note. Each short
sentence is mildly
elegiac as death’s

breezy manner, out
of breath just
now, drives with

both feet toward
endlessness and dinner;
where, after Oakland

falls, she’s silent
on the bed,
white lips pregnant.

Story needs such
heat freaked with
murder plans. Overheard

at home: I’m
in the death
house now, story’s

cousin chained to
truth and sleeping,
linking method and

comprehension in the
syntax of love
letters ever more

remote. This is
called fiction in
mother’s night garden

wet with sun.
After Cora dies,
it all goes

blooey. Angels are
heard to weep
every fifth sentence.

At the Desiring Vine

- after Elizabeth Willis

He who hesitates always gets lost.
Postmodernism disrupts tradition.
A rolling stone gathers no moss;
necessity is the mother of invention.

Postmodernism disrupts traditions
like “half a loaf is better than none”
and “necessity is the mother of invention.”
Shadows passing through imagined pavilions

are less than a loaf but better than none.
We stage the event in an infinite circle
where the towers of imagined pavilions
are indelible, mortal, and eternal.

Caught within an infinite circle,
everyone gets a video erection —
indelible, eternal, and immortal.
History lacks mass media protection.

When everyone gets a video erection,
a video condom constructed of lead
provides the needed media protection
from graphic images, living and dead.

A video condom constructed of lead
says: Handsome is as handsome does.
Graphic images, living and dead,
grow in the postmodern video garden.

Handsome is as handsome does,
says Nam June Paik, creating eye candy.
His postmodrn video garden grows
until the video cement hardens.

Nam June Paik says that eye candy
joins the elite and popular cultures.
But when the video cement hardens,
poetry’s rhetorical factory closes.

The elite and popular cultures
are joined like oil and blue water.
As the rhetorical factory closes,
poetry becomes voice-over narration.

We join like oil and water, but then
where are we? A story to tell but no telling.
Poetry becomes voice-over narration.
We get a movie from the slasher section.

Then where are we? A story to tell
about decaying gracefully, thank you.
The movies in the slasher section
are pure fiction, except in this country.

We’re decaying gracefully, thank you,
and shaky as a “trembling prairie.”
We’re pure fiction in this country,
where a perfect knowledge of grammar

might as well be a trembling prairie.
Playing classical music in a boom car,
we have perfect knowledge of grammar,
no story to tell but a way of telling.

Playing classical music in a boom car,
we drive into the cultural scenery,
no story to tell but a way of telling.
The future is blank, the page is written.

As we drive into the cultural scenery,
the eye is mild, the landscape persuasive.
The future is blank, the page is written.
Necessity is the mother of invention.

Photograph of Paul Hoover by John Tranter
Paul Hoover’s sixth collection of poetry is Viridian, published by the University of Georgia Press. He is the editor of Postmodern American Poetry — A Norton Anthology, and (with his wife Maxine Chernoff) co-editor of the magazine New American Writing. He divides his time between Chicago and San Francisco.

Photograph of Paul Hoover
copyright © John Tranter 1989

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