MISFIT DOC: Processing the Sheriff’s Advice

Perhaps one should not write poems on vacation—one should merely vacate. Yes, go to the carnival eat the cotton candy learn to fish catch up on movies hang on a hammock go spelunking get fat on breakfasts you’d normally not eat like a stack of pancakes with bacon … Okay, I did eat pancakes with bacon but I also had to write a poem because its inspiration was strong: a bulldog cheerfully masturbating some scant inches from the ottoman where I’d propped up my vacationing feet.

After noticing the dog—let’s call him “Pickle”—I did a proverbial double-take; the motion was so violent my chin nearly got dislocated in a non-vacation-like manner. My friend and dog’s owner—let’s call him “Fitz”—noticed. Fitz took his eyes of television football to notify me, “Pickle does like to jerk his gherkin!”

Bug-eyed as a bulldog at this (it seemed to me) quite improbable sentence, I replied, “What…?!”

Fitz: “You know—Argue with Longfella…?”

This time, I replied, “What the hell…?!”

Fitz:  “Flick the Bic? You don’t know these masturbating terms? How can you call yourself a wordsmith, let alone ‘Poet’?!”

Fitz reached for his Ipad, Google-searched “male masturbation terms,” and proceeded to address my limited poetic education by reciting the euphemisms and slang for what I, in my wordsmith-challenged mind, historically had summed up as “jerking off.”

After Fitz laughed—and cried—his way through the list, he magnanimously copied the list into an email for me.

“Thanks for educating me as a poet,” I said as his email landed on my Iphone whose camera I was using on Pickle.

Fitz: “You should know these terms. Isn’t the act what poets do?”

I looked at Fitz, then let my eyes slowly travel downward to his gherkin. Fitz correctly interpreted the threat in my gaze and swiftly added, “Not all poets, of course …!”

I snorted, chose to forgive Fitz his remark—after all, I was vacating—and snapped another photo of Pickle.

Later, while scrolling through my emails as my bedside reading, I paused to consider Fitz’s emails. I looked at his list. I read them more closely. I laughed.

Because I laughed, I decided to write a poem incorporating that list.

But I was constrained—I was in the middle of writing poems only for my series, “The Ashbery Riff-Offs” through which each poem began with 1-2 lines from John Ashbery’s poem, “Self-Portrait In A Convex Mirror.” (Some examples are at Otoliths, The Brooklyn Rail, Indolent Books, Unlikely Stories Mark V, Local Nomad and X-Peri, among others—I suspect I write this parenthetical as name-dropping poetry journals might offset this silly focus on male masturbation: really, Eileen?) I estimate “The Ashbery Riff-Offs” will total 300 poems and, at that moment, I was up to Poem #115. Until I completed the series, I was determined only to riff off Ashbery for new poems. But looking at the phrases emailed by Fitz, I couldn’t imagine how I’d pull off such a poem … until I remembered that I admired John Ashbery partly for how he pulls off his leaps.

I looked up “Self-Portrait In A Convex Mirror” and scanned the lines for something promising.  I paused at the lines

Why it should all boil down to one

Uniform substance, a magma of interiors

That might work, I thought—might because I didn’t know with these poems (or most of my poems) whether any would be effective until they were actually written. Most of them relied on unanticipated leaping until they chose to end. So I began the poem as I’d done with the others—writing them down and then just continuing to write from there with faith in free-association (well, I could actually explicate here on my desired poetics of the interconnections of all beings but I’m on vacation also from such seriousness). I suspect I chose the two lines because the word “magma” hearkened a viscosity that might also be attributed to cum. Magma, in turn, brought up Iceland … and the poem went on from there, leaping away as cheerfully as Pickle had buffed his banana.  Here’s the result, Poem #116 in “The Ashbery Riff-Offs”:


Witnessed in the Convex Mirror: The Sheriff’s Advice

Why it should all boil down to one

uniform substance, a magma of interiors

During the Iceland Deep Drilling Project

several 5,000-meter holes were drilled

to harness heat in the volcanic bedrock

below earth’s surface. Drillers struck

a magma pocket in 2009, only the third

time in recorded history that magma

was reached. The steam’s high temp-

eratures and pressure came to generate

36 megawatts of power, creating

the world’s first magma-enhanced geo-

thermal system—such instances show

the logic of turning “improbable” into

a synonym for “possible.” This fine

result of an energy alternative to dirtier

oil or coal should not, however, encourage

drilling into the psyche for the gifts that

are gifts precisely because they are

outside of one’s self. A common habit

among male humans, for example

led the dictionary and encyclopedia

to expand diction with Spanking Hank

Jerking the Gherkin, Strumming the Banjo

Choking the Chicken, Applying the Hand

Brake, Adjusting the Antenna, Arm Wrestle

With One-Eyed Vessel, Buff the Banana

Butter the Coke, Clean the Rifle, Cuddle

the Kielbasa, Arguing with Henry Longfellow

Audition the Hand Puppet, Badgering the

Witness, Basting the Ham, Beat the Bishop

Bop the Bonzo, Burp the Baby, Charm the

Snake, Choke Kojak, Choke the Sheriff and

Wait for the Posse to Come, Clear the Snork

-el, Corral the Tadpole, Crown the King

Crank the Shank, Blow Your Own Horn

Cuff the Carrot, Debugging the Hard Drive

Fiddle the Flesh Flute, Flick Your Bic

Varnishing the Pole, Grease the Pipe

Holding the Sausage Hostage, Hone the

Cone, Hug the Hog, Love the Muppet

Mangle the Midget, Paddle the Pickle

Ram the Ham, Rope the Pony, Slap

Pappy, Yank the Crank—but aren’t these

words just words? If there was no gas

in the car before you Choked the Sheriff

and Waited for the Posse to Come (my

favorite; what’s yours?), there still would

be zero gas after the red-faced Sheriff fell

flat on his back upon the freshly-mowed

grass. With zero gas, you still would have

gone nowhere and now you must wash

your hands with soap. Let’s hope water

won’t have gone dry as a magma of

interiors ran out of steam, imagination

desire, ideals, hope, kindness, steam…


Eileen R. Tabios loves books and has released about 50 collections of poetry, fiction, essays, and experimental biographies from publishers in nine countries and cyberspace. Her 2017 books include LOVE IN A TIME OF BELLIGERENCE (Editions du Cygne, France), THE OPPOSITE OF CLAUSTROPHOBIA (Knives, Forks and Spoons Press, United Kingdom) and MANHATTAN: An Archaeology (Paloma Press, U.S.). Inventor of the poetry form “hay(na)ku,” she has been translated into eight languages. She also has edited, co-edited or conceptualized 12 anthologies of poetry, fiction and essays. More information is available here.

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