Peter V. Dugan
From the Shadows of Suburbia
This is a montage of snapshots,
two dimensional images lacking depth,
pop stars and politicians, athletes
and entertainers, false gods and goddesses
framed in the chalk silhouette of a fifty-inch
television set held in place by weight and gravity.
It is a stream of consciousness that blurs
the line between art and entertainment, echoing
the etchings and scribbled graffiti scrawled
on the building’s walls. “We’re playing God.”
is painted in black and white, red and blue,
sometimes colored green or covered with an aura
without substance. Reality complete with choreography
and script. This is about a wide-eyed blank stare
planted on the American Dream, weaned
and preened, bigger, better, faster, stronger,
with its wrinkle-free, smooth skin injected
and perfected by Botox, stream-lined and fat free.
It is a poem that ends in an ellipsis, a self perpetuating
pantoum of circular logic and lifestyle lacking
any punctuation, but packed with a collection
of love and memories, an enduring struggle, clinging
to life, with its roots twisted around a slab of granite.
This a comedy, tragedy and drama rolled into one,
a patch-work of shade, shadow and sun, angst
and ambiguity, raw, flawed and unpolished.
The game that cannot be named is being played,
eking out existence one day at a time. It is the story
of a mutant middle-class, black, white, yellow
and brown, blue-collar workers mixed with
the white-collar crowd. A culture spawned
in a Petri-dish, the descendantsof the first urban
refugees to homestead the Promised Land
and subsequently programmed with chronic
attention deficit disorder to forget the squalor
and suffering. It's all a reflexive response, a ritual
of existence, pestilence and death, the stripped shells,
carcasses of Lincolns and Caddies at the corner
of 5th Ave. and 51 St.This is a pebble making
a splash in the puddle of mankind, the ripples
become waves crashing on a beach. Human overflow
in mass exodus from eddies, pools, alcoves,
niches and side streets past factories and apartments,
buildings and junkyards, flooding front lawns
and backyards, spilling over picket fences and rows
of hedges, reaching the heights of spires and steeples
of churches and synagogues. The towering tombstones,
giant mausoleums cast shadows under the glow
of the night light, a big, juicy slice of orange, swirling,
twirling, spiraling around and anchored in the clouds
hanging over the skyline. It is the eternal moment
of paradise, cut short by the haunting wails of a saxophone
down in the dark, as paw-prints dance across the carpet
and a cloud of pigeons begins to flap and flutter.
While soccer moms and little league dads drive home
in s.u.v.s and min-vans. They cling to the belief of their own
invincibility and immortality. This is the stain
of original sin on their souls, condemned to dangle
between heaven and earth, blinded by the reflection
and refraction of halogen streetlights on a cul-de-sac
off of Main Street. It is no longer about pointing
fingers or throwing stones. It’s about seeing things
the way they are . . .
and writing poems.
I see they surrounded you
with bouquets of flowers.
They tamed your bushy black hair,
set, brushed, prim and proper.
Was this your mother's request?
The pretty blue dress with the floral
pattern covers your shapely body
like a formless shroud.
From your shoulders to your knees,
your beauty lies hidden,
they even have you wearing
stockings and shoes.
Was this to please the your family?
Remember the afterhours
pool party at the Academy?
Skinny dipping at three in the morning
did not please the police.
We ran bare foot and naked
in our effort to escape.
Your jet black wild child hair, a lion's mane
that framed your face, bounced
as we dashed across the grassy field.
You and I dove behind the row of low
cut hedges that circled the school.
Our clothes became our mattress,
thin comfort over the bush roots
and dusty grassless ground.
You climbed on top of me.
You said you didn't want to get dirty.
We held our breath and each other
in an awkward embrace; motionless
and silent, as the police passed in pursuit
of the rest of the undressed law breakers.
After they moved on, you sat up
and peeked over the hedge line.
Your pretty face glowed and eyes sparkled
in the shadows. I focused on your breasts,
nipples erect, you looked down at me and smiled.
You noticed I was hard.
Shhh! You put your finger to my lips,
reached down to guide me as I slid into you.
We kissed and made love, until you collapsed,
grasping my hands, spread to the side
we both were crucified.
As I walked you home in silence we both knew
I would go back to Carrie and you back to Johnny;
so when we kissed good night, you said,
"It's our secret. No one needs to know."
The years have passed and here you are,
the star of the show.
I don't think you like the attention.
You're overdone, too much eye shadow,
too much rouge.
This isn't the real you.
Boxed in, a fashion doll on display.
Eyes closed, hands across your waist
grasping Rosary beads and a crucifix.
Are you dreaming?
Or, are you praying?
I'll always remember you.
"It's our secret. No one needs to know."
Catholic School Dance
In 8th grade,
Sister Regina proclaimed:
“’MAD’ magazine is Communist propaganda;
reading it could damn your soul!”
She also said:
“All babies that die unbaptized go to limbo;
they have the stain of original sin on their souls.
But, all aborted babies are innocent martyrs
and go directly to heaven.”
I asked if we would be better off,
if we all had been aborted.
I failed religion that year.
Sister Regina told my parents
I was reading ‘MAD’ magazine.
Later, in high school,
Brother Larry joked,
“The church only recognizes limbo
as a dance, everyone is innocent
until they reach knowledge and awareness
of their actions.”
But, who sets the bar?
Are we still unaware or are we all stuck
in limbo, doing a dance, seeing
just how low we can go?
Central Park Ramble
I enter the park at 72nd Street,
where Imagine is written in stone,
and wander down the drive, across
the old bridge, over the mist
that veils the other shore.
I follow the blacktop path,
to the fork in the road,
marked by a gnarled oak tree
clinging to life, its roots twisted
around a slab of granite.
Going to my left,
I see the gray walls of the castle
on the hill rise above the trees,
access to it cut off, isolated
by a cross-traffic canyon.
You can’t get there from here.
At the comfort station,
a guy in drag and a cowboy
pose outside the men’s room.
“Gotta extra smoke?”
“Yeah.” I oblige
“Need a boy-friend?”
They wait for somebody,
any body to cruise on by.
I wander past the out-cropping
of bedrock to the clearing,
a patch-work of shade, shadow,
and sun, spread over the carpet lawn.
Couples on blankets, picnicking,
snuggling, men and women, men
and men, women and women, someone
for everyone to move on and out
of the darkness, into the light.
I stroll by the boathouse,
across the drive, say good-bye
to Alice, Hans, and Humpty,
watch the sailboats slide
and glide over the reflecting
pool, and I fade on to Fifth Ave.
held down only by the pull of gravity.
The Wake of the Flood
Boats from marinas miles away
washed across highways, carried
down Reynolds Channel, swept up
Mill River and Swift Creek
beached on fairways and bunkers
of Bay Park Golf Course.
Further up river at East Rockaway High School,
the newly renovated auditorium
lies in ruins, all seats submerged
except those in the balcony.
The gymnasium floor, its wood
warped, resembles ocean waves,
complete with fish and crabs.
Cars and trucks are immobile,
askew in parking lots and on lawns.
Sink holes erode streets;
branches and uprooted trees block roads,
crush cars and lean on homes.
Television, telephone, internet cable
and power lines torn down,
communication and information cut off
or extremely limited.
Up river and up the road
a woman finds her undamaged hot tub,
still filled with water, standing alone
in the center of Lister Ball Field.
At night total darkness envelopes
the neighborhood, save for the flash lights
and lanterns inside occupied houses.
The smell of low tide, sewerage,
and burnt gas and oil permeates the air.
The sound of autumn crickets drowned out
by the drone of generators.
The next day, piles of carpet, furniture,
and other remnants and wreckage
form mounds in driveways and on front lawns.
Someone plants the American Flag atop one.
Curbside I find a child's index card
from school, labeled #10 and it reads:
"Fearing death for himself and the rest of the men,
they decide to build boats and float them down
the Mississippi in hope of finding a Spanish settlement."
Just Before Dusk
white billow clouds
in the breeze
autumn marsh glows
Hey Bobby, you’re overdressed.
Suit, tie, jacket, and a carnation;
I almost didn’t recognize you
without your leather.
Do you feel out of place?
I see you’re packed and ready to go;
leather jacket, ratty cut-off, and your cap,
all folded neatly on the side.
Beer, Jack Daniel’s and cigarettes
right next to you, pictures of your wife,
your kids and your bike,
all the things you liked, loved and lived for
crammed inside a box.
Are you going to miss them?
Hey, Bobby, it’s a going away party.
The guys are giving you a toast,
wishing you a safe ride . . .
while, the girls sit crying with your family.
They miss you already; but you remain silent.
I thought you liked parties.
How does it feel to be the guest of honor?
Well I have to say good-bye now;
I wish you could stay longer.
It won’t be the same without you;
but you chose to live hard and die fast.
I’ll miss you Bobby B.
Do you think there are bikes wherever you’re going?