Saturday Poems by Dust Congress

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Gertrude Stein Questionnaire: Tim Smith

By David Berman

The waiter removed my plate of broiled duplex lambchops
and brought out the equipment for a dessert wine
as the sunset’s dominate embers cooled over the water
and I consoled myself with the thought
that at least I had not stabbed a man in Orlando,
sold phony deeds for acreage on the moon,
or had intercourse against a rotting
balustrade with Johnny Paycheck’s ex-wife
like some of the fellows I knew at the bar.

My mind built a brick wall in the air
as my dinner companion continued to list
the merits of the hometown that had banished him,
and two men in turtlenecks, who appeared
as if they’d misplaced their spacecraft,
leaned over the terrace and watched the seawater below
sizzle to a perfect stop.

* * *
When the federal investigation
into my commercial diet gained steam
I quickly took on the name Charlie,
put a fake beard over my real one
and with a little help from the book
How to Hide Your Assets and Disappear,
disembarked at this seaside town,
governed by the single caution light
that hangs over the beach road like a sleepy eye.

All kinds of fugitives have settled here,
taking advantage of the social instability
to be found near and around state lines.
One of my neighbors made a fortune
building executive moats before
the accompanying bacterial diseases
felled several sets of vain grandchildren.
Another was driven from civilization
simply for producing seahorse pornography.
From my table I could wave to any number
of tax cheats, inside traders, plagiarists,
racketeers and embezzlers,
each mauled by his or her own daydreams,
and, if lucky, deposited here with a good sum of money
and loose plans to follow summer all around the world.

What was my crime? Noticing that hot bodies
had become the new coins of the realm?
I had been anxious to help my countrymen
fit into phone booths. I named my plan
“The Diet that Amazed Europe” and sales
were unstoppable until the very newspapers
that had celebrated my ascendance
began calling me an “Rxual Predator.”

The prosecution put plenty of fat, sobbing
witnesses on the stand, apparently Instructed
to not shutup until my life was destroyed.

So maybe I said some words that were not
right on the dime, and maybe my customers’
biomass had not melted off as fast
as it had on the Abe Lincoln Diet
or with Jogging in a Jug.

but had I sold expired milk to the projects
or masterminded a wave of doghouse arson?
Had I crippled other men with powerful and arbitrary high-fives
or publicly noted that Third World butchers
make First World part animals?

I had done none of those things and yet
there I sat, trapped in some overweight plaintiff’s
version of Faraway, looking like a man,
who having walked out of a Father’s Day circular
cannot shake the terrible feeling
that he is being chased down the road
by a huge electronic buffalo.

* * *
Stars glittered in the sky like midnight publicity
and my dinner companion leaned into his explanation
of how tennis courts are graphs of Atheism.
The people at the bar were feling hilarious
and as I took my Scotch and made my way through
the long-haired men and short-haired women
I reminded myself that I had enough money
to live on for seven years. I would find a way.

Hadn’t I always?
I took the marble beach stairs and walked across the sand,
straight into the ocean, like a man in a teleplay,
coaxed by circumstance, to the very edge of the world.

I stood waistdeep in the cold seawater
breathing in the smell of jet exhaust and coconuts
wondering if I might have underestimated eternity
until a huge wave came out of nowhere
and knocked the drink out of my hand.

image Jim Franklin, Under Aires, 1972

* Contributor Andy Fox has worked as a private investigator and a bartender. He’s also edited a book of poetry and plays in the D.C. band Nice Breeze. He has published The Dust Congress since November 2002.

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