August 5, 2008 The Arsenal, Central Park, New York City From the Academy Audio Archive
Sentimental Atom Smasher
So this guy walks into a bar and asks for a beer. Sorry, the bartender says, I only sell atom smashers And the guy says well isn't that America for you— every happy-hour Nelson's a homemade physicist and no thank you, just an ice cold one, but it's too late—suddenly, he's on his butt in a ballfield where handsome men are chasing a ball over grass sad grass, yellow like the hair of his once-young mother! and again he says, no thank you—I've seen this movie before And the bartender says it's a joke and you're inside its machine... Hey, the guy wants to say—I'm not the guy—I'm me I'm just a guy who walked into a bar. I'm just a guy who retreats to his car for a private cry. Instead he sniffs and cries out— The sky smells like the bologna from when I was a boy! Ahh, says the bartender, ahh yes. Someone has left the refrigerator door of the cosmos open a crack And the view! cries the guy. The beauty of an atom smasher, says the bartender, even from the cheap seats you see clear into 1952. And the guy, squinting into the distance, starts to bawl. Maybe it's the vendors hawking commemorative popcorn, or the programs promoting emotion ("the matter of the universe!") printed on material whose pulp was milked from the trunk of a winesap apple tree, but— What's the matter? says the bartender. And the guy says, I'm confused. Am I allowed to be homesick in a joke? Yes, the bartender says. It's elemental, the bartender says— How streets are downtrodden atoms and falling leaves are aflutter atoms and beer is over-the-moon atoms. The moon's an atomizer of all matter's perfumes: And the guy starts to parse it out— Wait, I'm not smart, but if emotion's a material substance then when a leaf falls in my lap and I hold it, like an about-to-be-abandoned baby, I'm touching "aflutter" in 3-D? Dear fluttering leaf! Streets—I'm sorry for stepping on you! Apples—for coring you, and beer— * * * A guy walks into a bar, —actually just the beer-drinking bleachers of a ballfield—and says is this some kind of joke? Well, says the bartender who has observed the little lamb and the tyger burning bright and tickled their particulates, because your life has lately been stagnant, we have yoked you to a joke and we await the gasp that will gas up the cosmos... Just then, there's a hit at the plate—and it's going, it's going—gone to smash the guy in the skull And since baseballs are made of nostalgia atoms, the guy, with concussion, says I want to buy a coke for a nickel I want to install apple pie perfumemakers in the crotch of every tree Bartender, bring me dried nosegays! Start the stalwart pageants! And the moon's spritzing its perfumes and the phlegm is thick and fast And the bartender says time to wallow in byproducts: Where we planted peanut shells, we got shaky, palsied trees Where we planted nickel cokes, we got nicked cans Where we planted baseballs we grew large, sad eyeballs as we watched for something to grow. Still, still we atom-probe: In a dark building a child is about to be born. The smell of bread is about to break. And our guy is going, O spring evenings! How I used to stand yelping in the alley by the bakery... Who are these boys throwing baseballs? Who is this baby? O bartender, tell me, what is the message in this light rain? But the bartender's dark eyes are flying over centerfield, over the rooftops and watertowers of the joke's universe, over alleys and cold valleys of refrigerator light toward an aptest eve where these street kids are hurling a ball into the moonlight and the moonlight is curdling into freon...
From Corinna A-Maying the Apocolypse, published by Fordham University Press. Copyright © 2008 by Fordham University Press. Used with permission.