Conjunctions:35 American Poetry: States of the Art

Three Movie Poems
The following appears with two additional Yau poems in Conjunctions:35.
Film Adaptations of Five of America’s Most Beloved Poems
It burns and winds. For as long as I can remember, my Sunday task has been to polish the antique wooden perambulator until it gleams like an aluminum breadbox. Do you mind being the landlady’s favorite pet? No, Little Igor, raunchy ruminator and muralist to mid-sized manufacturers, these are not the horoscope dials you should be consulting. Look at the fuzzy ones over there, on the pink control panel mounted behind the custom aquarium populated with poisonous snakes, addled alligators and small but hearty fish. Have you ever seen such a diverse array of live entertainment clouding the waters before?

On misty days the sun hangs pale blue over a black diamond sea. Academic painters of every persuasion rise from their imported beach chairs and press their ointment-covered noses against the unnecessarily spotted glass, unaware that cross-eyed snakes are staring back at them. Intrepid mountaineers follow the whistle of the marmot up to the highest crags, and over playgrounds and puddles alike rises the cry of a wounded sea otter, fondling the most delectable portion of his imported fish dinner. Meanwhile, a caravan of carrion has been dragged across the sand.

It turns and whines. All motels are penetrated by two sounds—a scream and a complaint. Today, as long ago, these are the two sacred messengers of the Western Nile Plumber’s Union and their far-flung subsidiary units. Trying to overcome the image of being nothing more than a bunch of loud-talking, gum-chewing cronies, the union leaders decided to dispense with opening ceremonies and closing sermons. Later, concerned with the rank-and-file’s growing resentment of enforced civil duty, some of the leaders voted to reenact well-known gaffes at previous company picnics, while others elected to learn the intricacies of miniature collie and poodle grooming as an alternative to hosting the Sunday car wash. Their favorite costumes included a red satin tuxedo, a cowboy mustache, and nicotine stained talons. Last month, the duly elected Vice-Secretary issued the following decree: No velvet cones with tassels are allowed to cross the threshold.

High above the Wabash River, its riverbanks lined with quaint cobblestone streets and newly renovated factories, complete with working fire hydrants and helmeted dwarfs scattered discretely among the hordes of wayward children, a foreign possibly alien power has managed to thrust the city’s entire work force into a state of suspended animation. The mayor fears the immense stone bridge that was to become a major tourist attraction in the tri-county area will remain unfinished. The pianist is trying to imitate the sound of an oncoming train. No one dreams that the images are stolen from a semi-retired sorcerer while he is dreaming of a miniaturized sorcerer who is assassinated and buried in a jelly jar by a quartet of indignant barbers. A hexagonal shield gleams in the ruby-colored gloom descending from the sky. Great ospreys nest in the crows of the unfinished arches. Four goats wander across the ice. The head goat, William of Upper Broadway, keeps reminding Thutmoss of the likelihood that strange plants are migrating rapidly across the ocean floor.

A man pleads with the creature locked inside the hair dryer to reconsider the wording of their oath. The less said about the source of this rumor the better. After taking refuge in a deserted gas station containing seven slim coffins, one for each gambling centipede, the high brow hero—he has a forehead the size of Rhode Island—decides to return from hell to find out why his latest girlfriend didn’t follow him to the very ends of the earth. Meanwhile, in a drugstore in Angela, Ohio, an attractive young woman by the name of Akron decides to buy two lottery tickets, one for each side of the coin. 

John Yau has published many books of poetry, including Borrowed Love Poems (Penguin), and several works of prose, as well as monographs on the work of Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, and A. R. Penck. His most recent book is a selection of essays, Foreign Sounds or Sounds Foreign (MadHat, 2020). He has a book of poems, Genghis Chan on Drums, forthcoming from Omnidawn in 2021.