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   Jacket 31 — October 2006        link Jacket 31 Contents page        link Jacket Homepage

Alan Gilbert

from “Pretty Words Made a Fool Out of Me”

Money gets tighter at the end
of the month. There’s a larger
story to the larger story, while

busy rearranging deck chairs on
the Titanic, or incorporating the
latest cutting-edge design in

sippy cups. A car speeds away
from an accident. Generators
buzz loudly through the broken

night with its occupying armies
and their wars fought at home.
The next day, everyone was an

orphan. Free hot air balloon rides
didn’t change anything, except
the distance to both the sea and

the mop next to the sink. All my
years of service to this company,
and I still can’t tell time; the over-

sized, white-gloved Mickey Mouse
hands on the stopwatch don’t make
it any easier. Capital lobbies the

lobbyists, as poultry farm workers
get paid in eggs. It’s still humid
even after the thunderstorm. What

do boys learn? Masses of metal
hurtle through the jet stream. Other
runners crawl up to the starting

line, their bodies streaked white
with chalk or free guns and
Ronald Reagan bobblehead day

at the stadium. Certain forms of
makeup can be applied without
a mirror. Once every blank file

had been digitized, the technology
was obsolete. Cyborgs staffed
the blood bank, driving out the

vampires who continued to
believe in a strict logic of cause
and effect, but that’s because

they live partially outside of time.
Otherwise, it’s loss by accretion,
chubby bare thighs squeaking

friction on a playground slide.
I wrote it all down in a letter,
which I didn’t write and never

sent. My apologies in advance.
A garbage truck backed into a
diner. Who knew such mayhem

could appear on screen—half
in sun, half in shade? There’s
no limit to what you can win!

That is, right after the laundry
gets washed in cologne and
pesticides. The Kool-Aid man

crashed through brick walls to
reach the thirsty children. Straws
sprouted where each jagged

piece of glass fell. Water kept
the kidneys flushed, as ice
sculptures made from antifreeze

drip onto Halliburton’s free lunch
buffet, shattering the illusion of
professional knowledge and its

hired mercenaries, its alcoholics,
because the whole culture reeks
of booze, you killjoy. Wolves

huddle against a cold rain gobbling
up room on a hard drive along
with prerecorded announcements.

Cupcakes, toothpaste, and steak
sauce go into a backpack carrying
the other raw materials for nation

building. Even the butterflies
were armed, their pollen collectors
sensitized to hunger, like the capital’s

alphabetical street signs blurred
by tears. In the evening, the roads
were almost empty, except for

the dark passage of water-beaded
Town Cars. Television sets end
a thousand silences, and poems

fold into their antennas. Russians
in space ain’t buggin’. A frog’s
skin is particularly vulnerable

to toxins. The dinner hour phone
solicitation was for a free giant
inflatable Coors Light can with

detachable blowup doll. Did you
see the commercial? I spun my
knobby wheels in an all-terrain

vehicle purchased with discarded
fish sticks. Those without currency
are put in prison and forbidden

to wear protective headgear.
Eventually, surveillance becomes
internalized, filling the space

between a vintner’s dirty toes
stomping grapes. Masculinity
is a learned aggression. Jellyfish

DNA makes a rabbit glow, while
researchers work overtime to
develop a gum with literally infinite

flavor. A kite pushed in a shopping
cart soars horizontally. Tom Cruise
ready for love again. Duration is a

performance, a backyard wrestling
ring strewn with upturned thumbtacks,
because this shit ain’t fake, as seen

on TV or the sequel to Military
Spanking. That’s a brave woodchuck,
coming inside to heat up frozen

macaroni and cheese. So where’s
the place for all of us? Here,
with the bathroom in the kitchen?

Let the workers own the robots
and their glossy pneumatic arms.
I came down the assembly line

pushing each day’s needle into
a corkboard mowed to the edge
of a sodded igloo. Marmosets

chattered in the trees, as tractor
mutilation stories softly played
in the lobby. It turns out the free

market isn’t so free after all. The
earth swings through a meteor belt.
What rules the rulers’ suits, pockets

stuffed with plastic medals? Every
self is a construction lost in
particulars silently lifted and time

struck through. The meal eventually
got made. Posterity is just a shot
away in a life filled with cover

versions. When choosing between
similar products, it helps to read
the label. Microwave ovens

wrinkled the meat served beneath
fluorescent lighting that induced
splotches of acne in a room packed

with political operatives. A breeze
stirs the air; electrons stir the
breeze, as the horizon line keeps

tilting toward Monday and its
discarded shopping bags collecting
against a chain-link fence.

Who let the dogs out? Sleet fell
through holes in the roof, heads
resting on dirty pillows with their

faded Made in USA labels. It
also rhymes with bacon, with
Operation Rolling Thunder,

because language goes on without
me, but not without you. Hands
rummage through a bucket of

popcorn wedged beneath a spinning
steering wheel. Cartoon bodies
are always backlit, floating less

forcefully through carbon soups
and feasts of shredded muscle.
A shiny city full of glasshouse-

dwelling stone-throwers tumbles
down a hill, while in the countryside
termites slowly dismantle Cotton

Mather’s barn and homemade
roller coaster. A mixture of salt
and sugar might remove the blood-

stain where it colored outside the
lines. Technology inevitably betrays
the lip-syncers. Entertainment

Tonight broadcast the tape-delayed
exclusive stuffed in a large planter
after barbed wire was unspooled

around the red carpet and stables.
We’ll be there in some configuration
or other, pulling on a knotted

string to turn off the lights on
the way out. It’s raining behind
my eyes. It’s feeling cramped

in this box called tomorrow with
its four sharp edges and rounded
letters. I ate a turkey sandwich

for lunch, then worked on my
screenplay about driving a fire
truck to the nearest Ice Age.

Soldiers returning from war
surprise adjectives, like flags
made from lasagna after austerity

measures left needle and thread
in short supply and guns were
smuggled in male corsets. Bacteria

thrives in the intestines. Is this
part of the performance? The
ushers are easy to spot with their

greasy slide rules and Lycra top
hats. Fuck ’em. Every image seeks
its caption. What industry supports

the town? We make dolls without
addresses, and invent new uses
for landfills. The celebrity’s driver

became a celebrity, but not the
driver’s mechanic or the travel
plaza gas pump attendant with

binoculars sweeping the desert
for UFOs and Cadillacs. No one
took down the Christmas lights

and their dimly twinkling metaphors.
It’s difficult to burn bridges when
there aren’t any to begin with.

Like feeding on asphalt. Like
Nixon and hippies, or leaving stiff
Civil War dead behind on the

battlefield next to cans of Sprite
produced in honor of their memory.
From now on, amusement-park

goers will have to fend for
themselves after the pirate ship
and medical tent were overtaken

by underage ghosts. A rumbling
sound started in the stomach. A
nearby chemical plant got a fresh

coat of paint. Highways empty
into the sea. The sea empties into
lungs. Lungs empty into dust—

a fly trapped between panes of
glass. The day quickly reverts to
default mode. The candidate’s

pitch was very convincing, although
I said hi before I realized it was
a recording putting the lid down

on toilet bowls and seen eclipses.
Then I hobbled back to my day
job of fits and starts, of waiting

in Payless for the other shoe to
drop. I don’t know if it’s mine or
not. I’m not even following this,

except in aprons and wetsuits.
It was a cold night along the
marathon route and its booths

set up for screen tests. Tanks
splinter palm trees into mess hall
toothpicks gathered by refugees,

as descending helicopters churn a
fish pond and hand-dug well near
one small pair of socks for every

child killed in the bombing. All
the colors were changed on the
digital foliage. Why are there

so few hairy pro wrestlers? When
did the Death Star become a
vacation destination, with blinds

drawn after the desert stopped
breathing? Showgirls balance a
beer, a senator, and a dustpan on

each tassel. There are no unmediated
accounts, and who’s to know that
the worst isn’t being encouraged?

Boys race to a swimming pool
behind McDonald’s, while stores
stay open during the holiday,

selling stuffed blouses for the
next top model search. A solitary
teenager collects shopping carts

in a parking lot, because buying in
bulk is usually cheaper, whether
chewed cuticles or distressed jeans.

Everything is in relation. Borders
mean next to. Stowaways hug
a plane’s landing gear lowered

over the suburbs. Satellites take
pictures of license plates and
clear vinyl covers on slippery

living room couches, where the
dye stays but fades, like Cary
Grant riding a crumpled Vespa,

or the way you tilt the sky behind