Robert Bohm

        Chico's Diner & Outside

          The one on the 4th stool down from the glassed-in pie-slices
          has just come in from drinking.
          Over coffee, he slurs the same story
          he always
          comes back to tell:
          how 3 years ago his young daughter was electrocuted
          while trying to plug in an electric fan.
          The other stoolsitters listen, figuring
          why not let the poor fucker babble on?
          When he's done, they smooth him in a different direction,
          talking now about football,
          a certain fullback, lunging off-tackle
          across the goal line.

          The only road out of town
          winds this way then that, walled in
          on both sides by bales of hay.
          In barns, old horses stir, their knees windows
          that slide open when you stroke them.
          Somewhere there's a pear tree, which
          although a traveler can imagine it
          can't be found.
          No matter where the road winds, it ends up
          back in the same town where it began.

        Three Memories of the Factual

          1. At Ai’s House

          Like her eyebrows’ ashes: the hushed evening.
          The pond disappears while a boy leads water buffalo
          along a paddy path at the village’s edge.
          I’ll need another cup of coffee soon, I think
          then refocus:
          this was the cheekbone, this the thumb’s knuckle, this
          a speck of dirt from near the well up the hill and this the smell
          of coriander.
          Stately and still, how happily the body misleads us
          by being so much more than it is.
          Did the younger daughter arrive on time? The son-in-law?
          Whatever the answers, in the end the familiar shrivels:
          the skin hisses, the cremation fire crackles.
          Like eucalyptus trees at dusk, her thighs grew dark.
          Sheep and goats didn’t notice. No stones cried out.
          The flames snapped. We watched.

          2. The Simplicity of Things

          Switchgrass in bunches by the creek
          and higher up, peaks and snow.
          A stag, alert at a woods’ edge
          further west than you, senses in the meadow
          something there but unseen.
          Coming from the coast, I bring a soot
          more lush than the pollen weighing down the bee’s legs as it stumbles
          across the black mustard’s petal.
          When I ring the bell, you answer smiling
          but don’t want what I have.
          I hate how the peaks gaze at you,
          undressing you with their eyes.
          Later, still naked, you touch yourself to give them pleasure,
          sighing toward the mists in which they live.
          It is now, because of you, the bluestem grows.
          Noticing me again, you say
          “It’s time for you to go.”

          3. The Lure of the Substantive

          A cardinal flitting from the tulip poplar to the azalea,
          mind moves from one spot to the next.
          Does the cardinal remember where it came from,
          the feel of another branch beneath its feet?

          I was scheduled to interview a woman -- Naxalbari, 1967.
          Leaning against a noon boulder, I waited.
          The tea plantation workers had revolted, starting
          a guerrilla war that would last for years.

          Nilima, black hair thick as banyan vines,
          guided me to the cave infirmary where she changed
          people’s dressings while telling funny stories, none of which
          made sense.

          Like dancers motionless on a stage
          as they wait to perform sudden movements,
          her fingers perched on a belly wound’s lip;
          blood bubbled in the young boy’s mouth

          like how, in the cave’s opening, sunlight boiled.
          Fate wasn’t on her side that time. She whispered
          rāma rāma, vidā kē samaya kā salāma to him then in a language
          as remote from me as the Teesta River’s noise, years before, in his ears.

          What did she see when she saw me near the boulder?
          And what about those tribal stories, who told them to her?
          Does she remember, even now, the dead boy’s name?
          She touched so many bodies. Mine wasn't one of them.

        My Father Died Six Years Ago

          The light, as quiet as the unhappened, happens.
          A child, I awaken and then
          the years rush by.
          I remember walking from stove to sink
          in the trailer at 54.
          He was in bed, asleep.

          In the TV documentary last night, a man
          looked this way, then that.
          A violin stood in the corner. Outside, mountains towered.
          It was early morning. And cold.

          In another time, another place
          the bee will disappear into the iris
          when my grandson smiles at me.
          “Have you heard the story about my arrest
          back in 1966?” I’ll ask a stranger
          on my daughter’s lawn.

          In the end, every day at sunrise, I changed
          his diaper, as light, a subtlety, slid through
          the mobile home’s north window.
          Cleaning my father’s ass and penis
          taught me this:
          scrub old flesh enough and soon nothing’s left.
          Years later, in the field off Big Pond Trail, in
          the summer heat, the Queen Anne’s Lace, indolent
          in the breeze, speaks for me.

          Imagining I’m him in the story
          he used to tell, I open up the coal chute
          and listen as the coal rumbles down.
          The Krumlauf girl, his mother, calls
          from the top of the stairs,
          “You’re next in line, you know; it’s
          up to you now.”
          Focusing on my job, I soon hear
          the dead bulldog bark as the disappeared ice man
          rides by on Palisade Ave. in his horse-drawn cart.

        Seeing and Not Seeing

          In travel book photos, you see them,
          either singly, or massed together, a dusky gelatin,
          staring out at you, as if their eyes
          were what they aren’t: seductive enough
          to make you take these villagers seriously.
          Little’s known about them,
          except their millet supply’s always low
          and because of this they die by the millions.
          Also, like your grandma Pearl
          in the nursing home, your eyesight’s bad now,
          which means the faces you see
          blur into the air you breathe.
          All this makes traveling difficult.
          Nonetheless, local life continues.
          A bird eats a red fig in the banyan tree.
          The mullah in the mosque teaches how the Sufi
          spins in circles in order to learn straight’s limitations.
          The villagers at whom the stranger gawks
          snap teak boards in half with bare hands
          and are surlier than the brochures advertised.
          The unknown is what you get here
          if you’re simple enough to view it
          but often it’s so familiar it goes unrecognized.
          Here is a pomegranate, here a well.
          The dying woman doesn’t smile.
          Her father, seeking a rhythm he barely understands,
          mutely combs her hair with a broken comb.
          This is the home beyond the home we grew up in.
          On a kerosene stove, curried potatoes cook.
          People come and go.
          At dusk, along the ridge by the cotton mill,
          water buffalo wander
          at the heart’s edge, sensing how the path winds
          beyond what was expected, toward what is.

        A Phenomenology of the Simple
          for Ai, 1916-1986

          You walked toward me into the sunlight through the factory’s barnlike doors.
          Lathe grease on your hands, the hem of your faded blue sari faintly scraping the dust, you stared straight past me at

          — I didn’t know what.

          It didn’t matter.
          Piled with parts to be machined, a lorry rumbled through the gate
          like the end of an old beginning.
          In the house adjacent to the factory, someone yelled
          while outside mali climbed down the cassia tree
          as a dog with a dead chicken in its mouth wandered into a neighbor’s yard.
          It was late morning by then but in the house Anand was still upset about the woman in white dress in his dream the night before.
          Even though he’d tried to pull free of her because her dress was splattered with blood, she wouldn’t let go of his hand and laughed at him when he pleaded to be released.
          But now

          — well, you weren’t staring past me anymore but instead talked with the lorry driver who smoked a beedie while sweat dripped like boiling raindrops from his cheeks and forehead into the dust.

          And then there were, later that day and the day after too, the stories.
          “I was the youngest . . .”
          “The region was known for groundnuts. I loved the taste of the boiled ones when my uncle . . .”

          Because your mother died when you were born,
          your baba daily lugged you through the village, searching
          for any breast that held sufficient milk for you to gulp.
          Further north that same year, Annie Besant, a relocated white woman, tried to become
          what you already were, an Indian, as she trudged
          along goat- and pig-crowded paths near burning funeral pyres
          in Varanasi by the river
          while vultures tore strips of flesh
          from minds deluded into thinking they knew what knowing was.
          You grew up assuming
          that around every corner
          a new mother waited, breasts leaking milk that formed puddles
          just for you on all of Jamkhendi’s roads, which crisscrossed
          here and there and led
          regardless of where they seemed to go
          back to the beginning:

          cities rioting
          the bulbul singing in the tree
          cries for freedom
          slobber dripping from the bull’s wondrous mouth
          a way of seeing that
                                             (beyond even politics)
          sought a triumph over the morose


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