Mick and Jack
On the plane from Anchorage to Nome
I sat next to Mick, a gold miner, who was having
a good time with his drink.
He operated cranes that broke the icy ground, he said
he rose at four and put on four layers of clothes to work
in forty-below weather. He added that
digging gave him $14,000 a month.
The plane soared above Mount McKinley
as Mick continued with stories of taverns in Nome, of
the hard guys who drank piss at night and
when I asked about that
part of it, about the piss, he said it meant beer.
About Nome, he said everyone goes to bars after work
and recently he was in one where a drunk Eskimo
sold him a box of artifacts for only forty dollars.
Mick was all smiles about the box but to me
he seemed more pleased about taking the man over
then he was with his priceless treasure
like it was real luck
to get all that history with a mere flip of two twenties
from the dark pocket of his jeans.
Mastodon tusks thousands of years old. Tooth of the walrus …
Mick was into his second Jack by then, his mouth fiery
while I turned to watch cold McKinley from the window
that high high mountain with its white white peaks.
I turned to Mick shortly after
only to find him small, sitting there,
not as large as he thought.
He was not big because he laughed about having things he shouldn't.
And he was not big because he didn't stop the man from selling
his medicine objects for the alcohol
his body wanted but was not made for,
wasn't supposed to need.
Thinking of it, Mick should have helped
he could have walked the man outside, they could have stood together
both holding the box in honor of his ancestors, they could have
brought back through their lungs the true Eskimo air.
He could have brought that Eskimo
back to himself, I imagine.
Mick opened his mouth and there was a shine to it.
His teeth were gold nuggets, gleaming.
Now he was telling other passengers
where they could stay in Nome, which taverns,
how they should not take room number nine
above the juke box in the joint open all night
around the corner from where he lived.
We landed and a musher's wife rushed to retrieve
her husband's dog crates and blankets.
Then a crate came off with the frozen head of a musk ox
and people quickly gathered as the hunter lifted the lid.
Mick's bag came too, down a ramp it slid
and he leaned over to snatch it,
flung it over his shoulder before
he looked back at me and winked good-bye.
My baggage was not there
it was left behind somehow, somewhere back in Anchorage.
I was to catch a bush plane to stay with a tribe
for awhile, to be where they lived
on the sober earth.
I had heard stories like Mick's
of white man introducing alcohol
to these Eskimo villages, in one account a tribe got so bombed
they forgot to hunt during the walrus season
just stayed in their sod homes boozing
that summer, that come winter
they nearly starved.
The call came for the bush plane and as I had no luggage
I just climbed in carrying my very own body.
I could do nothing but lean in
the small plane that tilted its wings toward
the white barren hills.
It was miles of nothingness
which may be the distance you have to go
to cultivate a certain innocence
where a man lives so pure he does not know
he's being taken, he has no notion
of being deceived.
I was heading for it; even without clothes
I was going into the honest cold,
My Conversation With American Gothic
How does it feel to be so iconic?
Have you seen the parodies,
everything from Mad Magazine,
Rocky Horror, to the White Stripes?
And you, stoic farmer,
do you ever get the urge
to grab that pitchfork
and jam it in the face
of every tourist ambling
through the gallery?
Or, knowing what you know now,
would Grant Wood have been
your victim number one?
And are you aware
how time's moved on?
That house behind you
was blown down years ago,
The family farm, you proclaim so doggedly,
with your mid-western stare,
is as extinct as a passenger pigeon.
you stand for nothing
but the easy artistic joke,
the tawdry slanders that have you as buffoons.
Of course, the irony is,
you, drab-faced man,
in blue overalls and dark, black jacket,
you're no farmer, but a dentist.
And you, Iowa woman,
with your narrow, unseasoned lips,
and hair pressed tight against your head,
you're no farmer's wife
but the artist's sister.
For all your imitators,
you're the original imitation.
You're the joke on us.
You're the past putting one over on the future.
So hold the pose.
We have it coming.
LUKE M. ARMSTRONG
If you choose to follow me through the hallows of my bank account where cobwebs fornicate with the exoskeletons of spider dreams, who like the daddy long legs is always a leg or two shy; you will have to pay the pirate toll of parental appeasement, promise them grandchildren like a politician wetting his tongue with the disappearing ink of scripture's deleted scenes, like the one with Moses and Jesus riding dinosaurs and doing commentary over the bloopers of the last supper when Peter, three wine casts deep, taunted Paul, reminding him that a land flowing with milk and honey was also a land filled with cow shit and bees.
My biggest disinclination towards working in an office is spending all day with people who work in an office.
Do you believe there are people who make good money collecting semen from bullfrogs?
I'd hesitate to shake that guy's hand, but you'd bet I'd rather fist bump him than another anonymous suit sleepwalking up a faceless corporate ladder that leads to the corporate waterslide which dumps almost everyone into the same drowning pool where you'll choke down gulps of over chlorinated bum steers.
By the time you drag your drenching self out of that pool, your balls will be old and arthritically tainted limbs will have no choice but to climb again.
Remember when you sight a young unblemished body nearing the top to push him like you were pushed into that chemical pool of old, forgotten balls where everyone eventually asks: Why does the bullfrog have it so good and where can I apply?