One quick back flip and you could do the Berryman trick,
throw yourself off the Washington Avenue Bridge
and entirely miss the Mississippi’s mighty gutkick.
But everyone would ask “Where’s Carla?” Damnit, there’s
nobody by that name in your databank, and if there were,
she was long ago erased by a magnetic storm, the same one
that blasted details of that summer job at the pool.
That first lesson in uselessness where you made hot dogs
and popcorn your calling, melted cheese over fries to harden
like so much Silly Putty. Somehow get that in your veins
and the party’s over. They lay you down in a box in
the back room and everybody stops making promises.
Then, shazam, you’re on display and somebody named
Carla is bringing flowers. Damnit there were strict instructions
for azaleas, but hell, nobody listens to poets these days.
They wander in and out of poorly lit buildings where
somebody named Carla has finally put their hands
to some good use — hauling or fixing or fastening or
making some typical gesture that signals the end of
the earth is coming. It’s your reward for your good
grades in pessimism. The end is coming and it has got
that look on its face of a brand new acquaintance.
Are you somebody important? Do I have to be nice to you?
Of course, nobody named Carla ever gave a damn
about making you feel special. Nor did she
care about how you’d be buried or cremated.
Or swept beneath a bridge abutment on your
journey through Davenport, Iowa. And there
you’d stay, finding purpose as catfish attraction.
They flutter their stubby little fins to show you
they’re grateful. They honor the dead in their own
style of perky grimness. A swish of the tail,
a belly rub on a rock, a whisker flick
that says Goddamnit, you’re a poet now.
Tim Kahl [www.timkahl.com] is the author of Possessing Yourself (CW Books 2009), The Century of Travel (CW Books, 2012) and The String of Islands (Dink, 2015). His work has been published in Prairie Schooner, Indiana Review, Ninth Letter, Notre Dame Review, The Journal, Parthenon West Review, and many other journals in the U.S. He is the vice president and events coordinator of The Sacramento Poetry Center.