Posts Tagged ‘Karl Elder’

The Loaves and the Fishes

November 17, 2010 1 comment

by Karl Elder

The real mystery is that with an order like that you’d have to phone-in ahead. You’d have to say something like, “Yes, for a party of five thousand,” and the voice would have to be convincing. Well, you know how that goes. With cynicism running rampant in the world, your story better be good.

For one thing, there are requirements. The loaves must be of a certain size so that your disciple hunkered down in that hollow rock upon which a false-bottomed basket rests has room to maneuver. Perhaps it isn’t so preposterous when you consider a gross of a gross of loaves would cut it. Why, there would even be enough for seconds all around and maybe leftovers!

The tricky thing is the fish. In that blazing sun it’s got to be a fresh catch. Then there’s the problem of distribution, especially with the fish. Do the people form a line? Or do you allow them to circle the mountain, given the distinct possibility that before lunch is over there are those who, fishtails in hand, will be slapping one another as if with rubber chickens.

Logistics. Better to go with canned sardines.

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Karl Elder’s long poem The Houdini Monologues, with accompanying CD, is available from Word of Mouth Books, the imprint of his magazine Seems. Commentary from Elder on his poem “Ode in the Key of O” in Beloit Poetry Journal’s 60th anniversary chapbook, comprising new work from Chad Walsh Award recipients, appears in the journal’s blog, Poet’s Forum.

Categories: The Crowd Tags:

The World Is Ugly and the People Are Sad

September 27, 2010 1 comment

by Karl Elder

The people have done wrong. They have impeached the president. Each night on airwaves he enters their homes, pounding a kind of gavel, his fist, from which partially extends a finger. They sit there and they take it. It is the finger the president uses. It is the finger he uses to push their button.

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Karl Elder’s long poem The Houdini Monologues, with accompanying CD, is available from Word of Mouth Books, the imprint of his magazine Seems. Commentary from Elder on his poem “Ode in the Key of O” in Beloit Poetry Journal’s 60th anniversary chapbook, comprising new work from Chad Walsh Award recipients, appears in the journal’s blog, Poet’s Forum.

Categories: The Crowd Tags:

Dream in Five Acts

June 11, 2010 4 comments

by Karl Elder

In a bar the bartender claims is frequented by Clint Eastwood I am in the army on a weekend pass in my civies. It’s dark in here, really dark, it’s 2 p.m., and I have been walking for hours in the California sun without something like the sunglasses I now have on and, as I sip straight gin, no matter where I swivel nor how I turn I can’t see behind.
“This is one dark bar room,” I say, pointing at the mirror. I say, “Where does he sit?
The bartender says, “What?”
“Eastwood,” I say, “where does he sit?”
“He sits where you’re sitting, only he’s taller.”
The way the bartender says taller I know it is the end of act one.

Act two is the same scene only the bartender is a woman, and taller. Because I am in the army I’ve never seen a woman in my life and I am taller. It is a good thing I have sunglasses on. I cannot believe I am married and I am not here with her, my wife, that is, not the bartender. When we were on vacation in San Francisco a year ago I was with her, my wife, that is, not the bartender. Here I am in the army in Monterey where a glance is a stare. It must be the atmosphere, spare, cavernous, in fact, where you are served gin over diamonds you can crunch and they disappear.

“I hear Clint Eastwood frequents here,” I tell her.
I’m in the army and it’s act three, California, a cave in the city of Monterey.
“You could be him,” she says, “for all I know. The guy wears a disguise.”
In comes another customer looking like Abraham Lincoln, who orders an Olympia and walks it up the far end of the bar and thus toward my chair. I’m in the army and I’m not surprised he knows, though lately in different mirrors I never look the same way twice.

I tell him so in the fourth act. It is my affliction, I say. Abe is so honest, so innocent, I think he believes me as my fists fence each other with little plastic swords that held plump, stuffed olives, reminding me of eyes that never blink.
“No, really,” I wink, “I’m in Monterey in a cave because I shaved off my mustache in the army up the road at Ord because my C.O. made me. I’m married so don’t try to hit on me and that goes for you too, Missy.”
Abe orders me an Olympia.

By act five, arms draped over each other’s shoulders, Abe is calling me Clint. I’ve got a make up artist so good I wear a Karl Elder suit. Abe’s ears and beard are both on the bar, and absent the get-up he looks a lot like the guy in the mirror. It is February, 1972, and I’m writing a Valentine to my wife in Illinois on a cocktail napkin in a cave the bartender on a earlier shift claims is frequented by me, Clint Eastwood, who is in the army on a weekend pass. It’s dark in here and Abe Lincoln who looks more like me every minute is my understudy in a dream about Monterey and wants to know the secret of life.
“Kid,” I say, “you’re barking up the wrong tree.”

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Karl Elder is Lakeland College’s Fessler Professor of Creative Writing and Poet in Residence. Among his honors are a Pushcart Prize; the Chad Walsh, Lorine Niedecker, and Lucien Stryk Awards; and two appearances in The Best American Poetry. His most recent collection is Gilgamesh at the Bellagio from The National Poetry Review Award Book Series.

Categories: New Classics Tags:

Angels’ End

December 9, 2008 8 comments

Can it be the wings are first to rot?
Why now this surprise when for twenty springs
you turn a familiar corner, never finding
in the shadow of the stop sign a fallen angel,
its soft but gritty carcass?

Though it’s been a hard winter,
it must have been a massacre up top.
The dead in such great numbers
you’ve witnessed out windows of planes,
yet they were all lined up, ghosts reclining
in vague coffins, feather-white and buoyant
on a backdrop of purgatorial blue—
unlike the heap in the gravel lot across the street
that suggests forms never human,

though there’s no comfort
even in the torsos of demon creatures,
let alone a mound like an albino sea lion
you earlier stumbled upon at home, tucked
along the foundation, out of the sun, out of sight.

by Karl Elder

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January 19, 2007 5 comments

Zzazzip. Old Gladhappy here. Another
year. A window on the Thanatopsis
Express and you the engineer with a
whistle, a party favor, its zzazzip.
“Vamoos,” you spit at the photographer
until photographer gets the picture:
the cowcatcher’s on the caboose, the train’s
stopped, this shot of you with the look of a
Ray Carver under the weather, on the
q.t. about where you’re coming from (the
pane of a phone booth?). What’s there but to dial
O, though slow to do so, to disclose woe
no noble plotter ought to opt to pose;
moreover, was it not John Gardner who
laments, Sure death for the poet is to
keep the wound closed
? Chivas in one hand, Georg
Jensen briar in the other, there you are
incarnate, austere, Sir Carver Gardner.
Holy steak and cake! Holy omnivore!
Great green gobs of greasy, grimy gopher!
For what? For the gusto? Or for “it,” what-
ever it is sits in the gut so low,
drives you to chug and smoke, and causes the
camera to capture by missing it—point
being the point of being’s not to quit,
addict of the rush in hissing, “Screw it.”

by Karl Elder

Categories: Come Outside Tags:

Professor Lucifer in the Arena of Angels

September 26, 2006 10 comments

“. . . Zooplasty on a grand scale, Uncle’s
yen to adorn the soul with sense beyond
Xs sewn for eyes on sock dolls (Jacko’s
watch, a parallax in that lax, cross-eyed
vision: sight sans insight, its dazzled look
under scrutiny), hence, mind, rather, how
the mind, being an appendage to the
soul, is in the scheme of things meat met with
raison d’être for a treat, then the barbe-
cue where for dessert there shall be apple
pie flown back from Eden, a rare entrée
of undetermined fare preceded by
none other than a gangrene salad, a
much-maligned primordial soup, and, at
last, appetizers beneath a spell of
knelling, metaphysical handbells—no
jumbo tolls, no subliminal signal
invoking a horde of winged dogs to the
hunt. O, my incalculable lovelies,
gods of the loft that in such myriad
forms are but air, stacked vapor, and old light
everywhere but where you are, which of you—
deaf ears, hollow eyes, numb tongues, and no thumbs—
can tell me whereabouts besides the foul
bowels I shall make the incision, what
angle take to free from flesh the angel?”

by Karl Elder

For online definitions of “zooplasty,” see here. -Eds.

Categories: Education Tags:


December 19, 2005 7 comments

rhymes with rupture
and that’s exactly what the sky does,
some would have you believe.
You know those paint chips in abandoned rooms
that lie on windowsills like bits of eggshell.
This time I saw the source, a hole the size of a quarter,
struck as I was by an older, darker blue beneath,
that corollary of another soul
escaped to her maker
where surely it was warmer
this Christmas day,
heat on here only high enough
to preserve the pipes
the years she’d wintered elsewhere,
driven herself there, the county home,
to check herself in.

You see, my sister in search of a bigger house,
we were in her husband’s late,
ninety-two-year-old-grandmother’s place, eerily
empty despite their family, my brother’s, mine
and my mother, rummaging around, the furniture
intact, junk neatly stacked
on the dinning room table for the taking,
down to an address book, blank in spots
though not where my thumb stopped
the pages that sputtered under it:

Slowly we dispersed but first just stood,
thinking, maybe, like me, how a house
without bread is not a home
(I’d come upon my mother before a bare cupboard).

Then, with my nephew of four, I took the tour.

“Right here is where she died,” he said
at a worn spot on the carpet.
His cousins, of course, had lied.
But I made my eyes go wide, saw
on a wall a picture of her church,
and caught on the floor still another pile,
her Bible on top.
Here were the real remains, I thought
and thought how odd the body is decked
with her best jewelry
instead of a good book.

I suppose we left as hopeful as not.

After the holidays, halted at a toll booth
half way home,
I read a red bumper sticker ahead:


I thought of the nerve,
the fear.
I thought then of the house,
the line on everyone’s mind:
“The place has possibilities.”

We drove off.

And looking back, I saw the earth.

Written by Karl Elder

Categories: Finding Home Tags:
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