Tiny Fugue for Tomorrowland

by Howie Good


The queen swallows poison from the silver thimble around her neck, but the king trusts that the stroke of the executioner's ax will be clean and true. Reports of miracles reach the capital from throughout the kingdom: love suicides returned to life, God's voice turned to baby's babble. Exhausted celebrants, stinking of drink, sleep in the streets. Now the secret police know who the insomniacs are, and the insomniacs themselves just how interminable the night is.


At birth we're given a name we wouldn't choose. Later our parents die to make room for the future. There are regular trains into the city, but few trains out, and the clocks on public buildings are often missing or else wrong. The weather never improves. Some days a hesitant crowd of mothers in black collects outside the former opera house on the basis of a rumor. Oh, how strange to wait to be examined and not know to what extent the testimony will change in the course of transcription.


Although he seems to already know the answer, the investigator asks how the object up there can be the moon when it's spinning like a Ferris wheel. I shrug. He has short, fat fingers like the stumps of melted candles. He asks again would I lend a pyromaniac a light. I concentrate on ignoring the screams coming through the wall. Somewhere I learned the heart is the size of a fist.


Last name first middle initial date of birth permanent address mailing address same as above single married education ever convicted if yes explain. . . . It seems I've been applying my whole life for things I don't get. Today I finish quickly, but can't leave, not until the warning sirens stop blaring. The woman at the back counter who takes my application looks like the bitter widow of a paid snitch—something about the doggy wetness of her eyes. I turn away before I realize, or she suspects, that that's what I'm thinking.


It's a rare sunny day, but the streets are strangely empty, as if arrests are about to be made, or already have been. Head down, heart revving, I start across the square. The fountain is dry, stained with dead leaves. An old man, with the drab, diligent face of a lifelong student of numbers, scatters bread crumbs for the pigeons. I pretend not to notice—it's safer—and in seconds, reach the far side, where bodies in the early stages of decay hang like gray rags from the trees. I glance back at the old man. He's watching me, and I wonder why and whether tomorrow is supposed to be just as nice as today.


The general sits before an open ledger, rubbing his forehead as he studies with mounting perplexity the emerging marks and stains. Although not at fault, the clerks whisper nervously in the background. No matter how many names they erase, or how thoroughly, the ledgers always fill up again by morning. Outside the windows the public hurries past on other errands. These days only dignitaries get to visit the basement museum, where most discover an interest in battle flags, officers' dress swords, and, of course, the shoe full of bones.


Better stay on your meds. Or get some. Otherwise how will you ignore the pile of hacked-off limbs on the hospital lawn, the amputees limping or crawling away, as disability permits, their sacrifice worse than forgotten—misremembered? You'll end up scribbling on napkins and the last remaining walls, and the scribbles, presuming they're discovered, will sound when pieced together like a suicide note left to mislead investigators. Christ, you'll end up like me, driving slowly over a bridge of bones, your face gray with exhaustion, while along the slatternly, post-industrial river, morning birds sing in the cadaverous trees.


The man at the ticket window asks for some identification. My dark laughter? The socket of my missing tooth? I pass through the ancient turnstile. The war is here and it's not, like a book on the nightstand that you'll never open. I'm inconspicuous at the ballpark in my threadbare mourning clothes. The crowd is huge but sullen, as if they know something the players down on the field don't—that the starting pitcher will be betrayed in the late innings by the bullpen, that grass crumbles, that everything that isn't dying is already dead.


Listen for directions from authorized personnel: which hopeless thoughts to avoid, how long to wait for the destroying angels to tire and the broken buildings to stop burning. Remain inside the train if possible, but if not, open the side door and go out, and love the truculent witnesses to ambiguous events, love witches' gloves, dead men's bells, bloody fingers, love the street dogs that bark dismally and the sunsets that can be beautiful if the light catches the brick dust and swirling ash just so.


Tomorrow is even farther away than we thought, the mottled greenish purple of an old bruise. It doesn't help to shut my eyes. I can still hear gas hissing from shower heads, still feel the sun like a scabrous hand on my back. I promised myself a day-off today, but the ceiling cameras will remember whether I just remained standing here or moved. And what if it's true that the old songs of vanished birds are released when wood from the trees in which they sang is burned? Friends, gather all the fallen branches for a fire.

BIO: Howie Good, a journalism professor at SUNY New Paltz, is the author of five poetry collections, most recently Dreaming in Red from Right Hand Pointing and Cryptic Endearments from Knives Forks & Spoons Press. He has four chapbooks forthcoming: Elephant Gun from Dog on a Chain Press, The Death of Me from Pig Ear Press, Living Is the Spin Cycle from Red Bird Chapbooks, and Strange Roads from Puddle of Sky Press.