James Haug’s most recent poetry collection is Legend of the Recent Past, as well as the chapbooks Scratch and Why I Like Chapbooks. He is a Visiting Lecturer in the MFA Program for Poets and Writers at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and serves as an editor for UMass Press’ Juniper Poetry Prize. He lives in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Like Right Now
But the voice is not like one I’ve
Heard before. I don’t know this
Customer. I wear the jacket I wear
For most events. Sitting at a funeral
I finger a new hole in the pocket.
The preacher tells us turn and shake.
When I walk down the road I think
Something will hit me on the head.
Then a voice, like a gong going off—
Cartoon gong vibing in the air,
A villain going through my pockets,
Fake French accent, but not a voice
I recognize. I’ve got critters back
At home, who sleep on the furniture
When no one’s there. I’m there now
By the magic of daily life, munching
On cashews and pacing like I really
Should do something, like right now,
I’m in a bright race, and every day
It takes half a day to get started,
Like I must learn it all over again,
Like Columbus Day, & Hi! it’s Phil,
And the house is tipping to one side.
I was at the hardware store early.
Basements were flooding all over town.
A handyman I knew had a new little
White beard. I heard a flute playing
Elsewhere in the store, or someone
Blowing on a pipe. Men had gathered
In plumbing. We all knew levels were
Rising. There was not a minute to lose,
Except the one set aside for civilities.
People are kindest in hardware stores.
Something’s always broken at home.
A Little Background
We had a president living here once,
After he was president.
A famous animator lived here too.
We’d see him feeding the ducks.
This used to be a big duck town.
Ducks had a real voice.
Then one night they left for New Haven.
This is still a big crow town,
Crows and sparrows.
They scuffle over fries on the strip.
How chunky they’ve become.
A flightless crow or sparrow is now
An evolutionary possibility.
We used to have Swedes.
This used to be a big Swede town.
They were a mixed blessing.
It was like fluoride in the water.
Swedish films infiltrated the library.
Kids got blonder, and temperate.
In their eyes surfaced an icy resolve.
No one resisted the music of the Swedes,
Arctic strumming all summer long.
Then the Swedes left for New Haven.
They pursued ethnomusicology.
The mbira had been their undoing.