The Late Mr. Middleman

“Punctuality is a disease of the mind which habituates the tendency to prioritize all the wrong things.”

When we refer to people who have passed away, we often prepend to their names, “the late”, which is a custom I find charming and a little strange. One of the chief benefits of being dead has to be the fact that you don’t have to show up for things anymore, which, for me, is one of the great joys of being alive, that is, when you can manage to pull it off.

Sometimes you have to show up though, and when you do, it is fashionable to be late. I have been told this before, and have tried in earnest to believe it. Being late, they say, establishes your reputation within the upper ranks of the hierarchy, provided you are properly dressed. This is the sort of conventional wisdom that may well work for others. I myself have found it necessary to take a different tack.

My own reputation is that of a man who always shows up on time and then lolls about not doing much, to the relief of everyone in the organization, who all have vivid recollections of what happens when I roll up my sleeves and attempt to accomplish things. It wasn’t long before upper management saw the advantage of giving me my own office and getting me out of the way.

My advice to anyone who would mimic my rise in the world of business is to first of all be on time. I have shouldered the burden of punctuality my entire life, making me the bore at parties and the least admired among coworkers and the most likely to be tapped for that position in middle management where one abides for the remainder of his days, or until they downsize, which ever comes first.

In the mean time, you get to abide in that sweet spot between the pressures of fiduciary responsibility and the grind of actually producing things that consumers are willing to pay for. Then when you finally die, let them go ahead and refer to you as The Late Mr. Middleman. It is a badge of honor, my friend, and one that you and your little alarm clock have earned. It is the secret reward crowning your lifelong campaign of punctuality. Because the day you don’t show up, they’ll know what you’ve trained them to know your entire life: you’re not late, that’s never ever happened, you must be dead.

And then finally, having shed all worries of tardiness, you will get to sleep in.

Little Done

in physics, material arises
from an energetic potential and
not the other way around

but me, I just lie here
beguiled by the fluttering
portents of hope, my mind

affixed like a wax seal
to the docket of these sly days
where much is doing, little done

the rest, unsettled, like an
almost melody when the tones
leak out of all the fickle things

Flattering

Always check that the cause of the puncture
be it a nail, a thorn, a shard of glass

An inconsiderate remark, a petty theft
a selfish motive, a hankering for revenge

Has been removed from the treads
before changing the tube. If not, the air

Of all your effort will burst and flee
with a pish and a slew, ardently pressed

To get even with your atmosphere, and
there you’ll be, a lump on the shoulder

In a cloud of gnats, that proud upper hand
grips the frame, this bicycle built for none

Your former comrade in the righteous cause
of flight and mobility, now a fanged partisan

For the higher truth of gravity, you let a
recalled sense of decency bid you be humble

Well, it’s a tough row to hoe, to walk
it all back, in the heat of disguised blessings


Image by Etienne Marais from Pixabay

I, Madness

I host little parties for
the ants and the flowers and we
talk and we talk, for hours and hours
the madness can’t vex us in the way
it does some, it follows and listens
to the songs that we hum.

And we forget everything that we
hear and we say, the minute we hear it
all giggled away, and that’s how
we roll, we won’t let a madness
become such a thing or take
hold, like a sadness.

Red Admiral

I watched, through the kitchen window, a butterfly dive again and again into the up-blast from the A/C condenser unit on the deck. It would zoom straight in, just above the spinning fan, twirl and flip up like litter caught in a dust devil, and then circle above for a moment where the flow had dispersed. A few seconds later it flutters back down and dives in again.

It did this enough times to establish that it was deliberate, it was clearly having fun, like a youngster going back for another spin on the roller-coaster. After five or six times the A/C unit cycled off. The butterfly landed on the nearby table and rested, like a kid exhausted from play.

I still don’t know where to file this bit. It’s a whole new category for me.


A Red Admiral behaving like an adult.

Delta

I was barely in the door when she spoke, without looking up. “The devil’s layin’ for those who walk the path of righteousness,” she said, apropos of nothing.

She put on an old delta blues record and started a little striptease to it. The bottleneck slide put a sadness in the air, becoming of her dim little bedroom. Sun dapples of late afternoon played on the shear curtains through the crepe myrtles by the window, and the walls glowed the yellow of candle-lit paper. I sank into the springy seat of a musty old wingback as she moved in fluid half steps, her petite form swaying. The record popped and hissed and a gravely old voice tried to warn us about some beautiful true thing. Some unavoidable thing.

I thought about God’s righteousness. It’s a suit of clothes. We play dress-up and save virtue for a rainy day. Always a goal, no more livable than a memory. There’s your devil, right there. The good in me is almost close enough to touch, but church people rub me the wrong way. I caught her eye and she gave me a wink. We go way back. You’d need a passport to get there, and better go soon. The memories have already lost a shoe.

There was always something of the healer in her, and she knew things. Myself, I never got away with anything. She could out-think the natural, make ailments shy away—or become severe if you had crossed her in some way. The rain would stop, even, if it sensed she’d had enough of it. That’s how people saw her, anyway. They would seek her counsel in matters of personal doubt, like you would a preacher. She had that reputation, and a kind of congregation had formed around her. She tolerated the hangers-on with a resignment that troubled her not so much. I was one of them, come to think of it. Closer than most, but not apart from them, or above them, as I sometimes wished to be.

She paused a moment and fixed me with a look. “Who are you again?” A good question. I supposed I was following the natural order of things. You lead yourself around by your own nose, and then wonder why you end up where you do. I told her I didn’t really know. I used to think I did, but not any more. She nodded thoughtfully and continued swaying to the music, working the sweater draped across her shoulders in a provocative way. I always felt forgetful around her. Like memory is just a treading water. The song ended and the phonograph lifted its little arm and clicked off. I felt pressed to get out of there.

“We’ve got to get going, mom,” I said. “Where do you want to eat? Let’s try to keep our clothes on, okay?”


Image by Johannes Plenio from Pixabay

Slam

A slammed door
means to be heard

It is not exactly
protected speech under
the first amendment, but
ask it if it cares

It is not assembled
peaceably, this petition
for the redress of grievances

Its fury is as brief
as an infatuation, and lingers
in the silence that after
follows you around

It is a microphone
dropped at the conclusion
of something better
left unsaid

And I think
you know what I’m
talking about

Passage

It was a routine run over the Pacific, en route to the antipodes with a resupply for the colony. Weather clear, trade winds driving our massive hydrogen balloon on coarse and in good time. Then, on the third night, our dirigible was overtaken and boarded by pirates of a most aggressive demeanor. Our security team had scrambled to the alert siren but fell in check to the intruders before a counterattack could be mounted. Their leader, a surly brute with cancerous skin and a hook for a hand, had us corralled on the quarterdeck and an unhappy end seemed at hand.

It was the dragon attack (they’d flown in out of nowhere it seemed) that was our saving grace. Differences aside, we were now all fighting for our lives, gangster and citizen alike, against a common peril. The pirate’s vessel was dispatched in a horrific fireball almost immediately, as this type of aircraft is quite vulnerable to sparks and heat. We drove the great beasts away again and again with our water cannons, as they are averse to moisture, and we resorted at last to praying for rain. A sound drenching from a thunderstorm would surely drive the dragons away.

That’s when the alien craft uncloaked itself off our starboard bow. The ship was birdlike in form and its sudden menace provoked the flying reptiles to leave us and attack it at once. Then, as men encounter that divide where waking crosses into dream, and unsure which side was which, we report to you that the captain of the alien force beamed in before us on a shaft of light, the sight of which none of us would be eager to testify to, and even the heretics among us were moved to cross themselves.

The being spoke to us as plain as a man ordering a meal, and bid us good day and asked if he could borrow some tea. With great relief, we all understood this as the blossoming of peaceful relations for we sky-men are all dedicated tea drinkers, pirate and merchant alike. Our captain had us fetch four full parcels of our best Darjeeling and everyone started to relax. On port side we watched with amazement as the alien ship protruded teat-like spouts which the dragons, now tame-like, hovered before and fed upon, like hummingbirds. Our captain hailed down to the galley and bid the ship’s cook to prepare a feast.

Soon we were all bending elbows as brothers and the fiddles started and the party roared in the clouds and starlight until morning’s glow arced over the brim of the ocean, though we kept a sharp eye, the whole time, on those pirate fellows, and they upon us. In our hearts we’d have loved to reform those thieving rascals and welcome them to the mercantile way of life, but those low ways get into a man’s blood. We bid the alien captain, having pulled him aside, to remove these characters down to the surface, as their ship had been reduced to ash. He agreed, and to our astonishment they all dissolved into a sparkling orb of light right before our eyes and were gone.

Sated, the dragons had disappeared as abruptly as they’d arrived, and all seemed well under the sky. We asked the alien captain how they go about taming dragons. We found his answer a bit strange, that they like to have the dragons on their side when they visit, so they’d developed a drug-like meal formula that the beasts find irresistible. Reluctant to elaborate, he thanked us again for the tea and departed on that crazy beam they use to get around and their ship then, likewise, vanished.

Measurements

So central to every kind
of understanding, but of

myself, and a measureless world
this membrane, this foggy glass

clouded with the breath of a
face against it—mouthing

‘not apart’—this is such that
the bullet cannot touch.