A Quick Tour of the Corn Palace, Mitchell, South Dakota: Late Summer, 1972
The name intrigued us:
a building constructed of corn?
So we detoured from I-80,
and on Mitchell’s main drag:
A real palace? Nope, a country
music-hall, its façade covered
with neat rows of ears of corn.
“Wanna check it out?” Dwayne up
for a down-home corn-syrup stroll.
“Absolutely not!” Natalie and Ananda
shrieked in their Oxbridge accents
sharp as slashing broadswords: country music
the domain of rednecks, idiots, racists,
and lynch mobs: in other words, every
American, including Dwayne and me.
“Oh yeah,” I muttered, “Peace and love-
halos sprout from angelic heads all over
‘England’s green and pleasant land.’”
So we drove east in a silence thick
as the wind-driven knee-high grass
that lashed the fading tombstones
of the Revolutionary War graveyard,
back in Brooklyn.
Driving Past Jerry Garcia’s House: Marin County,
Late Summer, 1972
A few days after I’d visited 710 Asbury St.—
standing outside the Dead’s first office, soaking
up the vibe from the long-gone band—Dwayne and I
drove past Garcia’s Marin County home: rock stars
getting back to the land, as the “Woodstock” song urged.
Neither of us able to play anything but kazoos,
we didn’t have the wick to knock. Enough to drive
past, then back again, then a last return trip,
hoping for a smiling wave from Saint Jerry,
noodling away on an old Gibson on his porch.
On the drive back to Berkely, I told Dwayne
that when I was a camp counselor in Upstate New York,
on their days off, guys who could play would hitch
to Pete Seeger’s nearby house. If he was home
and in the mood, he’d invite them in to jam;
if he was on tour, his wife might welcome them,
like a den mother, for milk and cookies.
Now, Dwayne and I thought, what could we have said?
“Dig your music, Mr. Garcia?” and stood there
like grinning idiots. Better to make up an encounter,
to impress friends, and of course, ourselves.
A Chatter of Bats
No need to fear us: we feed on
insects and fruit, not your throats.
True, we forage and dart at night,
our sonar keeping us from crashing
into trees, cars, fences, buildings.
But sometimes our claws catch
in your hair, even more disturbing for us,
so stay calm, and please don’t resort
to panicked shrieks and head slaps
meant to sweep us away, but too often
we lie gasping, chattering on the ground,
your terror turning to rage
at our momentary helplessness,
and you stamp out our little lives.
But when you invade our caves
to drink beer and smoke weed,
and see us hanging upside down,
you might think it great fun
to hold lit matches under us.
Even asleep, even half-blind,
we see and feel everything;
at the first sign of mischief
we’ll swarm past you, brushing
your sleeves, necks, and hair
in our great rush of wind:
amusing to hear you scream,
choke on your beers, and run
as if great Dracula were chasing you.
Robert Cooperman's latest collection is REEFER MADNESS (Kelsay Books). Forthcoming from Apprentice House is GO PLAY OUTSIDE.
On Driving Interstate-80: Late Summer, 1972
Cleveland Amory, the TV and social critic,
once half quipped you could drive Interstate 80
coast to coast, and see nothing but cars and trucks:
its 3,000 mile cutthroat-razor path sliced out
everything of interest: small farms, petroglyphs,
strange geological formations, and battlefields
along twisting, leisurely blacktop roads.
It was begun by Eisenhower—to funnel panicked
Americans out of cities when the Soviets launched
the big ones—so scenic views were not a top priority
when engineers drew their more or less straight lines
from cities choked with terrified traffic.
That late summer of 1972, we didn’t have two weeks
to reach the Coast, and leave I-80, to zig-zag and amble
westward, stopping at Lake Erie, to climb the giant dunes
and marvel at that inland sea, to take in the Badlands,
Glacier National Park when there still were glaciers there,
and sashay down to Arches, Bryce, Zion, the Grand Canyon,
the Snake River Gorge, over to the Tetons and Yellowstone,
and all the sights people on road trips take photos of:
the four of us in a hurry to see friends on the Coast,
to feel the Flower Child vibe, before it turned bitter
as rattler venom, which it was sure to do, and did.
On Line at Ellis Island: Rivka Breslau, 1902
I feared the voyage would never end,
forever at the rail, shuddering out all I’d eaten,
until my stomach finally settled,
so I can appear strong for the doctors inspecting
to see if we’re fit to enter the Golden Land.
I try to get the children not to run wild,
as they did on the ship. We must look serious,
I remind them, and under no circumstance
must they cough, which of course sets them
all to hack and wheeze. I slap their heads
to quiet them, and shoot my husband Simon
a look so dirty the evil eye would shrivel away
in terror, when I catch him chatting to a young slut.
I pinch the children’s cheeks, to bring out the roses
that will tell the doctors they’re healthy as wolf cubs.
An official checks and stamps our passports,
and points to the white coated doctor, his cigar threads
the air as foully as a swaggering officer of the Tsar.
Oh please don’t let Moshe do something terrible,
the official’s excuse to ship us all back to England;
worse, to the Tsar’s murderous Russia. Thank God,
Daniel’s an angel, and Esther’s so apple-cheeked
pretty the doctor just waves them through.
“Be good,” I whisper to Moshe, “please!”
For once, he obeys, and we’re on the ferry
to a place called Manhattan, then walking in America,
Simon’s brother, Lazar, waves, even if the streets
are cobblestoned, not the promised gold. Maybe,
where Lazar lives they glitter, though I doubt it:
his coat a little threadbare; he’s in need of a haircut.
Still, we’re here, and no one will force us back,
this I swear, on my poor parents’ graves.
A Rapacity of Wolves
During the Middle Ages and on,
we’ve put skin-freezing fear into you,
in your unwalled settlements, isolated farms,
or if you were stupid enough to travel
by night on easily panicked horses.
In one folktale, a wedding party returned
by troika from the ceremony; our ancestors
chased the horses; the driver shoved
the bride, then the groom into the snow,
so he could outrun our forebears.
What a feast they had! Revenge
for your turning us into rapacious,
in stories meant to frighten children.
When Napoleon retreated from Russia,
his troops were terrified of those werewolves,
when it was only our brothers and sisters
trailing the fleeing French army, picking off
the ones who couldn’t keep up, every creature
hungrier, weaker, slower in the cold and snow,
the Little Corporal’s army much easier
to find, bring down, and feast on than deer
or mice and rabbits, clever little creatures
darting into warrens, the ground too hard
with frost for our forebears to dig them out.
To assuage your fears, your scientists claim
no full grown human in America has been killed
by wolves since the introduction of guns.
Would you like to wager your throat on that?