COBRAS & BUTTERFLIES
by JOHN BENNETT
(Winner of Poetry Idol 2007)
A book of poetic "shards" coming January 2008.
127 signed/limited edtions. 26 lettered. 101 numbered.
UNTIL DEATH DO US PART by John Bennett
The ties that bind. The invisible links. Art Linkletter, forty or more years ago, spieling the American Dream on his radio show while his daughter takes the plunge into suicide. Or was it his son? Some hunk of genetic hand-me-down flesh and bone. A lateral to the tight end of the future, running wide around savage opposition.
There's a scene in Oliver Stone's film Nixon, a scene that doesn't jibe well with the American Dream, where Nixon has his Cuban manservant drive him to the Lincoln Memorial in the middle of the night on the eve of the Pentagon March. Nixon makes his way up the marble steps through sleeping bags stuffed with America's disenchanted youth to make eye contact with another war president, maybe the only person besides his Quaker mother that he feels any connection to. As he moves up the steps, he pulls a ragtag contingent of drowsy protesters along behind him--they can't believe their eyes, they feel like they're in an Oliver Stone movie. They gather around the nation's leader and ask ingenuous questions, until a young girl sees it, sees that Nixon's not in charge, that the System is running on its own steam.
"Well," says Nixon, "that's not entirely true, I can control aspects of it, I can influence where it goes, but it's big alright, it's powerful, it's--"
"You talk like it's alive," says the girl. "You talk like it's a wild animal."
"Fuck," says Nixon back in the White House, to Erlichman or Halderman or Eichman. "It took a young girl sleeping on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to put into words what I've been feeling since I was a kid."
His manservant hands him a glass of warm milk laced with brandy, and off he goes to bed.
Sitting in the Tav over a dinner special last night, I felt it too, I sensed the connections in the crowded after-work bar, sensed the ties and the links, more than that, sensed the vessels pumping the life blood of subliminal collusion, three TV sets with the sound off tuned to three different channels, football and baseball and tennis, a bombardment of commercials, pitchers of beer, glasses of wine, smoke swirling in the air, the juke box at full volume, Bruce Springsteen singing the anthem, Born in the USA, nearly drowned out by loud talk and laughter, all of it pumping through invisible connecting veins, the life blood of a nation. It's a wild animal, a beast, more than the sum of its parts, beyond control or comprehension, and by seeing it, I am not a part of it.
I felt the seclusion, the isolation, and it hit me like a bolt of lightning that I was just like Richard Nixon, walking down a different lonely road.
Today I got an e-mail from my second wife, a response to an e-mail I'd sent her months ago. "Don't bother sending your latest book," she said. "Save the postage, spare yourself the trip to my door." I saw clearly what had gone wrong, with that marriage and the one before it, with my high-school sweetheart and all the women in my life, how I am a virus, and when I attempt to penetrate even a single cell of the Beast, its immune system kicks in with a vengeance and I'm rejected.
So I go elsewhere for sustenance, I suck life out of thin air, out of sunlight and wind, and as much as the Beast builds immunity to me, I build immunity to it. My own father rejected me, as has my only son, and the children of that son are leaning in the same direction, blindly, without realizing it, involuntary organs of something bigger. And still I survive.
I am a stranger in a strange land, more akin to cobras and butterflies than to mankind. The clarity that comes from such a realization wipes clean the mind's slate, and the entire universe bobs in that embryonic emptiness.
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