29 November 2023

Four Poems by Adam Deutsch

Soft Watershed
Where every door today opens 
to some farm, horses’ teeth grass in a season 
of no blankets strapped to bodies in mourning. 

A pig scratching rib-chub on a hayloft ladder, 
and there, between toes, a nugget of garlic
to sooth an itch. Your knees are on 

a cracking shower mat you thought we threw away,
rolled out at the crawl space mouth
where earth is dark and rain moves it to mud.

A pipe leaks irrigant, a root 
giving its younger brother a noogie, 
a valve acting like it’s a dam, 

a city fleet en route on some planting day. 
For the area of intentional garden, 
our mothers go to succulent vendors, 

landscape tenders, haul surplus
amended earth to cover ground. You hide hands
under the house, where palms get enflamed 

from some force task. A sprinkler goes 
off in an hour near noon, 
and everything it touches singed by sun.

Around the Nice Mall

once driving, we’re all brutal together—a conga line mosh pit. red lights hitting heads. if one hand comes off the wheel and those two fingers rise, it’s the sign for peace or taunting victory. you’re all, thank you, or, take that, buddy! the cut off. winning in a road, and an arrival home some few moments later, without having missed those commercials that run before the previews before the movie. these clearances from these clearance racks.

where people get off and on free ramp ways, and everyone needs to blinker over lanes you think all the vehicles must be friends. the Liberties, Infinities, Sols, Civics, Tundras, Explorers, Avalons, Centuries, Crowns, Beetles, Quests, Leaves love each other, and we raise our arms out their windows, to make the mergings with consent. 

it’s possible, in gratitude, you’ve looted time. but then nobody follows you off the southbound. there’s no counter strike coming through the juncture, so a battle you didn’t even mean to declare, friend, gets decided for you. 

When This City Isn't Made Loud
You wake again to the feral parrots whistles, 
each of their little hearts that beats, then beats, 

and starts over again. The marine layer this early
swaddling our region the way a yawn makes a song

of abundant wind: mostly silence. It’s in that space
you invent, and reinvent the hot shower 

in a light that’s never dissolved, claim it clearly 
like ice water in tall glasses, and your toes

in the narrow nails of grass that barricade a park’s sprinkler
head with soaked shanks. You can hear you think 

about your rituals that rumble, that peace of repetition,
dependable as a stone in the middle of sweet drupe.

Count on it, and the clicking of its bounce on concrete
down the steps, along the gutter. You can hear it long.

Neighborhood to Neighborhood
A walk from the mesa to the down
town is a rock’s little dance atop a toilet paper roll 

a freeway shelters, arterial ramps, and faded line paint.
Fingers that make sounds also stretch 

their knuckle collection, or’re tough meat mounds 
of hand that rest half closed in what feels like

the safest space between palm and fist. 
And gravity holds you, so reluctantly you know

you could go flying at any moment. You’re fragile
as a homemade microphone, a piezo held 

to a beer can’s bottom with gum, an uncomplex system 
that draws a mouth from a body, it’s soft chitter 

that translates to a city that reaches up to clean mess off of us. 
A deep shadow, a walking sweat, is thrown

from a car: an egg you can catch
in a sling of bandana gently torn of blanket

17 November 2023

Grandpaland, or the Isle of Jean by Lard Alec

Whenever I ask my mother-in-law, Jean, a question that requires only a brief, factual response, she answers with a story. I’ve even tried to ask her yes-or-no questions, hoping to nip the inevitable onslaught of flashbacks, flash-forwards, and breakneck pronoun shifts right in the bud. But to no avail.  

Fortunately, I’ve never had to ask her a high-stakes question during a time of crisis, though I can imagine it clearly.

(Lard Alec arrives home to a burning house and meets Jean in the driveway. They cough mightily and dodge flaming debris as the scene unfolds.)

Lard Alec: Jean, where are the kids?

Jean: Well, Colton wanted to make a house out of matchsticks and Jenna Marie said, “That’s not fair, I want to make a house out of matchsticks, too!” And I said, “You’re too young to make a matchstick house” and, anyway, what’s his name, Steve? The guy with the wheelbarrow store on Logjam Road? Well, I knew he kept a bunch of matchsticks in some old buckets out in his shed. And she, his daughter, I forget her name—you know, she traded in the car? It’s like a Subaru but it only has one door? Well, I got an email from her—or I thought it was her, but I guess it was someone else sending a, whatdoyacallit, a SPOOF-mail, and now my phone has a virus and whenever I press the on button it takes a picture and makes a sound like an airhorn?

Lard Alec: Jean! Are the kids in the house? What room are they in?

Jean: Well, Steve only had the one kid—the daughter I was telling you about—but she had a son, Torrance, I remember his name, I don’t know why (laughing). Well, he wanted to be a tattoo artist, but he went into the soup business instead…

My other great fantasy is that she bears witness to a crime of historical dimensions—perhaps she takes a bus tour to New York and finds herself at the Museum of Modern Art where a pair of David Niven lookalikes, clad in black, creep in, create a diversion, and then steal Van Gogh’s Starry Night off the wall while everyone’s looking the other way. Everyone except Jean.

Afterward, investigators from a dozen agencies and journalists from around the world swarm her house and ask her to just describe what she saw.

Jean: Well, my daughter thought I should take one of these bus trips to New York since I’ve wanted to go for…forever, basically, and I’m always talking about seeing a show, like that one time we saw The New Jersey Boys off Broadway. In Albany. And it was SO. GREAT. And she said, “Don’t drive, you’ll just get lost.” So, I said, fine, I’ll take the bus, but when I went down to the bus station to buy a ticket, they told me they don’t schedule bus tours—that’s someone else. You have to go through like a trip provider or something (shaking her head)? “Go ask someone at your senior home if they know anything about bus trips to New York.” And I talk to Jan sometimes at lunch—she’s kind of (moving her hands around in an ambiguous but emphatic gesture), I don’t know, LOOPY. But she knows Mike, the CEO, and Mike tells her everything, like when they’re gonna start renovating the East Wing apartments—that’s where I live, so I want to know. But Jan knows other stuff, too, because Mike and her are like this. “So, Jan,” I say one day at lunch. “What’s this I’m hearing about bus trips?”

One by one, the cameras lose power; microphones wilt; cops shuffle off with sad notebooks full of goop.


One of Jean’s signature phrases is load down, as in, “I’m going to load down some pictures from my camera onto your computer.” If you hear this and say something reflexively pedantic like, “Oh, you mean download?” She’ll just reply, “Yeah, I LOADED DOWN some pictures onto your COMPUTER. Look, here’s one of Colton making a sandcastle out of seaweed. A seaweed castle, I guess. But then Jenna Marie comes over in this next picture and says, ‘Why does he get all the seaweed!? That’s not fair!’”

            My friend’s mother likes to say download in place of down low, as in, “I’m keeping it on the download,” by which she means the Q.T. Another friend’s father refers to texts as phone emails. And my grandfather calls ESPN ESP, arthritis Arthur Itis, and HBO Home Box. Both he and my mother-in-law refer to the regional grocery store chain Wegman’s as Weymann’s (pronounced WHYmans). All of which is to say that Jean, despite her peculiar facility for coughing up unsolicited rapids of blather and brain breaking neology, is not alone.

            Now, granted, people like my mother make it well into their seventies without acquiring Jean’s or my grandfather’s funhouse vocabularies and narrative pratfalls, so these hallucinatory linguistic traits are not, solely, attributable to age. Jean has lived a long life full of whirligig, context free hyper-narration, and my grandfather, despite spending decades as an English teacher, has always been entirely too impatient and habitually expulsive to speak in anything but his peculiar back-alley peyote language of malapropisms and homespun solecisms. He just doesn’t slow down enough to properly listen to anyone or think things through.

            Nonetheless, it is clear that, at some point, a merely eccentric idiom can mature, or decline, in shocking ways, and there seems to be a point somewhere in late middle-age where linguistic idiosyncrasies morph into new looking-glass tongues all their own. I figure I have about 10 to 15 years before this happens to me.

            For my part, I mumble, curse, and take long pauses between words where the world turns into a gently swaying ship, and I’m in the crow’s nest, looking for word-land, seeing nothing but sea. While once my voice was fairly deep, it’s since grown faint, crackly, and a little dry. I repeat myself more than I used to, and my memory is fuzzy, worn down by fatherhood and old dodgeball injuries. By my early 60s, I might speak exclusively in staticky bursts of forgetful profanity whenever I’m not absolutely forced by circumstances, if even then, to act otherwise.

            Should I get to this point (call it Grandpaland, or the Isle of Jean), I will exist in a deepening privacy of expression. I will grow increasingly adamant in my cryptic notions and turns of phrase, wondering why everyone is looking at me that way but never bothering to ask. I will be impenetrable and unassuageable, driving my speech before me like a plow through miles of undifferentiated snow. It is something to watch out for, though, of course, no one in Grandpaland knows quite where they are.

            I am not talking about Alzheimer’s. My father has that, and his speech is a broken promise, a stuttering machine missing half its parts. It is too ghostly and whispery to revel in, even when it is funny. Like my grandfather and Jean, he is incorrigible, but he lacks the consistency to say the same wrong thing over and over and over again.

            The great moral of my 40s is that the dream of education, of edification, is over. Try as I might, I cannot add any volumes to the library of my mind. Or, rather, as soon as I add one, two others are eaten by shadows and dust. I can change, little by little, but I will never improve. Nonetheless, I can still see myself as others see me, if only just. But once you make landfall on the Isle of Jean, or your own version thereof, the era of assimilation is over. You and your language become an island filled with toppling coconuts, sun-dazed lizards, and wobbly, flightless birds. You are a sovereign there, though you are also marooned.  

            Lardland will not be as lush and colorful as the Isle of Jean, nor will it be as tetchy and gruff as Grandpaland, a smog-choked little city of pickle barrels, butcher shops, and mines. Instead, it will be an island with a little schoolhouse where I’m neither the teacher nor the student, and I’m trying to figure out what to call it, the thing I do there, and making up a new word when the old one won’t come.