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Poetry

David Allan Cates

CatesDavid Allan Cates is the author of five novels, and a chapbook of poetry. His novels are Hunger In America, a New York Times Notable Book, X Out Of Wonderland and Freeman Walker, both Montana Book Award Honor Books, and Ben Armstrong’s Strange Trip Home and Tom Connor’s Gift, both of which won Gold Medals for Best Fiction in the independent Book Publishers Book awards. Cates is the winner of the 2010 Montana Arts Council’s Innovative Artist Award and his short story, “Rubber Boy,” (Glimmer Train 70) is a distinguished story in the 2010 Best American Short Stories. His stories and poems have appeared in numerous literary magazines, and his travel articles in Outside Magazine and the New York Times Sophisticated Traveler. www.davidallancates.com

People Are Saying

Dogs are love, and goats are
aliens, and some say their grandmothers visit
as ponies, and if you’ve never
heard that before, well
now you have, you’ve heard it, too.
We’ve all heard
a ghost in the basement, and people are saying
maybe or maybe not
and the movie’s sadder, and the Mongols are coming
and all Africans are liars and the technology’s better
every day and sometimes
it’s true.

That’s what I’ve heard.

A lot of people are saying
money is worth something, we all agree
but not as much as we thought
and this painting costs more than all the homes
on your block, and that man with gold teeth
emptied the lake and built a casino
for his dead daughter
so he could buy the painting and
build a track for his wife’s ponies
and I’ve heard it’s going to get worse
before it gets better.

You’ve heard it, too. It’s gone viral.

People are saying they believe in spheres
or crystals, and you gotta want it.
People are saying you didn’t want it bad enough
or he wanted it too much
and she should have known better
and he should have known more
and kept his mouth shut and she should have
not kept her mouth shut or posted the picture
if it bothered her so much and
when the warm weather melts the glaciers
it’s all God’s fault, people are saying
maybe or maybe not, or it’s all your fault
for being born where you were born
and for driving your car to work and to get
groceries and for staying warm in your house
and flying to see your grandma the pony.

I’m just saying, people are asking.

Who are we to say anything
given who people say we are
since mom died owing money and dad ditched
to the north, in fact we better
pay up, they say
even if we didn’t buy the house or the drugs or the polo
ponies grandma loved so well. People are saying
it’s all her fault for having seventeen children
which is why they say
we need a purge
we need to suffer for the sins of our fathers—you see
people are starting to believe
in purity.

That’s what they say, have you heard that?

And purity is power and
no-power is everybody wondering
if you’re pure enough, and I’ve heard
people say we’re not—or you aren’t
not even close—
in fact a lot of people are saying
maybe you should just say you’re sorry
you’re sorry, so everybody can hear
you’re sorry.

That’s what I’ve heard. You’ve heard it now, too.

Nothing and absolutely are a couple of words
a lot of people are saying—
as in nothing
is certain, absolutely, but what we believe
and people are saying women can be men
and men can be women, and anybody
can make love to anybody as long as they do it
between this line here
and that line there, and only after
certain words I’ve heard, and you have, too
are spoken
sounds made with our mouths
sounds our mothers taught us
mean certain things that everybody agrees
except those who had different mothers
or who stubbornly say maybe or maybe not
or say they don’t or can’t understand the sounds
or don’t mean those things when they say
those words
or just have trouble hearing.

People are saying.

They’re asking, what about god
and love and peace
and what happens when others
with different hats
ride over the hill on horses, or on metaphoric horses
and start crossing the line, people are saying
everybody says, everybody believes
is there
between this wooden stake
and that one, between yours absolutely
and mine. Some people say
people who say maybe or maybe not
will need to be shot
and others say nobody knows
but Nobody might be anybody.

I’ve heard that story, we all have.

People are saying the border
used to be there
but now is here even though some people
refuse to believe it and others are saying—
and you’ve heard this too, or now you have—
we need to follow
that guy with the boots, absolutely, or give
our children to that one with the drum
on the corner
because a lot of people are saying
the world is full of horror—they keep filling
baskets with chopped-off heads
both real and metaphoric—
also the everyday suffering of the old
or the cold
wet and sick, the grieving and alone, who tiptoe past
rain puddles or blood puddles
trying to remember
or to pronounce the new name
of their new street.

Just saying.

A lot of people are saying
they were happier when they lived
on the mountain, metaphorically speaking
they had better rain gear
and everybody had a great car and cooked over a fire
that never went out, and now they’re saying
we’re all going to die, absolutely
but other people are saying maybe
or maybe not, because wouldn’t it
be something if everybody started believing
we’ll all come back
as ponies?

I’m just saying, people are saying.

It’s a long way to Tipperary, and from what I’ve heard
we’ll never get there
so we better get busy and invent
our virtue
regardless of the evidence.
It could be just like money
or the value of money
how we could we make it true
our goodness by fiat
if we all believed
and tortured anybody who didn’t, just in case
like people say, and you’ve heard too
we already do.

Valentine’s Day in the Mummy Museum

All the pretty girls
are dead
but the ones walking by.
I look at them
arrogant with life
and frightened in the dark.
The dead
who might have used dying
to build character
are silent.
What was it—
this one asked as she died—
that so darkened our world?
Skin shriveled to paper, still with hair
Eyeless behind glass.
Or she may have whispered
past disappearing lips
Life is hard!
You have to drink
so much water every day.
Or life is beautiful
and this is not how I used to look.

For now
let’s stand in the corner
and touch cheeks.
(I’ll imagine yours.)
Care for me
I’ll ask
in all the small, absurd ways.
Show me empty shoes
and dirty socks and yesterday’s pants
under the bed
and no monster
waiting to drink my blood.
Feed me
ice cream from your spoon.
The walls are brittle, the floor cracked.
It’s afternoon and past the last chamber
out the door
the sun we love
is dying too.
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