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A Woman’s Name Is In the Second Verse:

ISSUE:  Autumn 1988

In the dream before I noticed the predawn thunder
was actually an earth tremor, Lillian Nicotine
of Pinelodge Lake, resplendent in her purple
silk blouse and skirt, came up to me
and whispered unfamiliar pedagogical terms
in a Canadian dialect. (I knew it was half
in reference to a question made 16 years
previous at the “54th Parallel” conference
on Algonquin linguistics.) Overtaken by memory
of her beauty, it took a few moments before
I fully understood what she was saying.
“Did you hear that?” she asked in alarm
as lightning began to flash through low clouds.
“The static in His PA system is merely thunder—
a signal that a song more powerful than the hymn
of angels is forthcoming.”

When the thunder stopped, a song in supernatural
wattage began. It came down in falsetto,
reciting words of beauty, of totality,
of purpose. “Ne ka da ka ba na,
ne ka da ka ba na maní nakamoon. Wa ba du shi
ma tu sa na ne wa a na ha ka wani!

We will throw it out, we will throw out
this song. Show the people your dancing ability!”
Although I believed the source was sacred,
I recognized the voice of the Maker belonged
to Alfred Potato, a mortal. (It almost occurred
to me then that the last time I saw Lillian,
a Middle Eastern lover had been too liberal
with his fists on her body, that I had even paid
her a visit: a fool with new flowers in hand,
lamenting her bruised body at the PHS Hospital
on Cerrillos Road. But the thought dissipated.)

The Maker’s voice is like any human voice,
I said to myself. Like Alfred’s. Twice my eyes
clouded. Hector and Sam Reveres Nothing—
victims of Indochina after the fact.
They were the only ones who could dance
for Earth.

Lillian placed her cool palm over my mouth
and said I should not inquire, offer explanations
or formulate a theory about the clear, wavering
voice that travelled over the landscape. I looked
at her beautifully slanted eyes in the lightning.
The infant-like skin on her nose was almost
transparent. She held on to my arm
and intentionally brushed her soft breasts
against my elbow. Her faint perfume intensified
my brain-induced paralysis.

After we walked in the opposite direction
of the cloudburst, we entered a green valley
lit by the summer sun. Squinting, we looked
at each other to reaffirm our pact, but we
had to turn around, pause, and marvel
at the point where the wall of dark rain
divided the region in two like a security light
defining ownership in a quiet rural evening.

To the north, a stone hill with terraces
delivered spring water into a small pond
filled with young walleye and pike fish
whose shiny gills pulsated in contentment
over the volcanic sand. To the south,
a row of apple trees stood under the fervent
attention of yellow jacket bees. When the first
minor tremor loosened and sent clumps of creosote
down the stovepipe, I saw Cody, the coyote-dog,
alive again, chasing grasshoppers and kicking
rocks over a dirt road. Next, thinking
I was in the path of mortar shell-fire,
I had to cringe under a star blanket
when the second landwave banged the stovepipe
inside the brick chimney. The third quake
shattered glass in the frames of doors
and windows. But the fourth—the fourth
broke the earth open.

The dormitory building I slept in named Smiley
toppled over the white Porshe that would have taken
me to LAX. Plum blossom witchcraft, I thought
the moment I heard listening devices coming down
through the twisted water pipes and tennis court
concrete. I woke up and realized the “Throw Out Song”
was the Maker’s own summation of life that should
have been. Through the dark, inverted mass
a voice spoke out: “Is anybody down there?
If you are, call out and we will try to locate you.
Any sound you are able to make will help us.”
There was a click and then silence.
I wanted to respond terribly, but the thick
bloodclot in my nose and mouth, along with intense
chest pain prevented it.

From somewhere below where I was suspended
a cry came out. “Oh God, please help me!”
It was the Caucasian who lived across the hall;
I recognized his slightly effeminate voice
from the rappeling practice he did with club
members from floor to floor in Smiley.
Although part of the cast iron railing,
which once held the mountainclimbers’ ropes
and clamps, was now embedded in my chest,
my heart continued to work. As the weight
of the earth shifted above me, I could feel
the stairway railings grind into the plaster
behind me. I saw myself as a spear-impaled fish
unable to move as the wooden pole and barbed tines
pushed me deeper into the silt and mud
for good measure.


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