Mirrors Killed the Barber
By JeFF Stumpo
Morning: Charlemagne prepares
for the coming day. He puts on
the Roman tunic Leo likes so much,
but refuses to shave the odd mustache
these Mediterraneans find so barbaric,
that his ally al-Rashid in Baghdad
would find incomplete. I am tempted
to picture him in contemplation
like a father, checking his own eyes
for weakness or hubris as he dips
the razor into water, brings it to his face,
one hand pulling the loose skin of the neck
while the other chips away at evidence
of age: this, the future Hand of God
on Earth carving his own visage.
Instead, Pope Leo will place the crown
on his head, and no king would shave
himself. It is centuries later
before technology allows for reflection
in every bathroom, before a man
prepares for the day in solitude, before
the razor at our throat is removed
from someone else’s hand.
By JeFF Stumpo
Headache / Heartache / Heatwave
The porch and the sunlight and an occasional breeze.
I am baking an illness out of myself.
That story begins with October, which it is, but October’s story
begins with September, and September with August,
and August back to the Romans and so on back
until there is no back, verso but no recto, a broadside
stuck to the universe’s colorless edge. The dogs remember
the water bowl inside, scratch at the door. Their panting
is a spell that cools them; form, meet function.
If I describe myself to you, do I become? That question
begins with, oh, some philosopher I can’t recall,
and that philosopher with another, back to the Greeks,
most likely, and so on back, back until the only philosophy
is to look forward, but such cannot be a Southern poem.
So I look back. The field behind the house yellows, crisps
in the sun and waits to be threshed, so mechanical,
so not. So I. Look back, but not to villas and plantations,
not here. Cast off Monticello, which is far from here,
and when-far, to this morning, when, looking forward,
I could see nothing but an ache as big as a house
in my head, but now. Now I am full of sunlight
and an occasional breeze. And an ache. Always
the ache. Again, this is not my Southern poem. The ache
is my Southern poem. There is something with which
to begin. The ache is my Southern poem. Begin:
Prayer / Fair
That looking back comment might not have been fair.
My great-grandfather always said to never judge a book
by its jacket — sometimes they go missing. Actually,
I have no idea what he said, just that he hid
bootleg booze in his livery stalls for the Chicago police
to pick up and deliver to speakeasies. This is a dry county,
or something near it. Nearby, across the border:
lower taxes and liquor stores. Look, say the kids,
a hell of a universe next door. Actually,
I have no idea what they say, just that Jesus
is unironically anything he need to be
at that moment, for the faithful to pick up and deliver
on Sundays, Mondays, days that end
in Y. This county is wet. You can feel the rain
twenty miles off, still in God’s great sky.
There are no Christians here, so put away your lions
I don’t necessarily deny the divinity of Jesus.
Picture a principal, especially of a private school,
who has magic powers. This principal
puts up a bunch of rules, and if any children break
them, the punishments are harsh:
Hold dictionaries in your outstretched arms.
Get wedgied for the rest of the year.
Burn. Burn, burn, burn. The children break
the rules. The principal has two options:
He can give them a free pass, understand
that children are children and not, oh, gods.
Or he can use his magic powers, telepathically
address each individual student or
make the swing set speak to a crowd or
open the sky and have the very sun reveal
the heart of every one to the others.
He takes a third option.
He fathers a son with one of the children
for the sole purpose of his son one day
being strapped to the monkey bars
and tortured to death. The principal
will later use his magic to bring his son back
to life, guide him to the main office.
His son’s friends will see this, but
no one else will. The principal
will decree that any student who believes
in his son will be forgiven for being alive,
never mind that the grades are separated,
and a good half the school won’t know
about the son for a good, long while.
Or maybe the principal will decree that the rules
have been offset, that now he’s had his child
mauled and mocked he realizes that he could
just have come over the PA, but he wanted
to know — what is it like, to crush ants
for years and then discover you can turn them
on each other, to watch them close their mandibles
about the throat of your favorite, to say nothing,
to be thanked for it?
Born in what would become Tennessee,
where he would later serve as a Congressman,
David Crockett lost that job defending
American Indians from Andrew Jackson’s slaughter
and his life inadvertently defending
illegal immigration and slavery at the Alamo.
Multiple choice: which part were you taught?
A) Killed him a bar when he was only three
B) Born on purple mountains’ majesty
C) It’s Davy, Davy Crockett
D) All of the above
Bonus question, True or False:
The existence of a handful of Black soldiers
fighting for the Confederacy proves that,
contrary to Yankee exaggerations,
slavery could not have been all that bad.
My mechanic says he was tortured by the Viet Cong, but
the scars around his fingers are from parrots biting them off.
They peeled his buddy’s face like an orange, the VC,
Not the parrots. They were being trained for television,
The parrots, not the VC. My mechanic says he was awarded
The Distinguished Flying Cross for pulling five men
From a burning helicopter, and when he got home,
Someone ran up and spit on him. He later became
A war protestor, himself, he says, after seeing homeless vets
Under a bridge in California while being paraded
Around as a war hero one brand-new bridge over.
My mechanic believes that Barack Obama used to be
A Muslim. He is mostly a democrat anyway,
My mechanic, not Barack Obama. He mostly complains
About Nancy Pelosi and unnecessary regulations
On vehicles, but sometimes he skewers George Bush.
My mechanic asks me what Eve’s punishments were
After eating the fruit of knowledge. Everybody knows pain
In childbirth, but there’s one the preachers never
Bring up, he says, because most men get drug to church
By their wives. The wife is supposed to serve her husband,
He says, my mechanic. It’s all good stuff in there, he says,
In the Bible. He didn’t used to be able to talk about it,
The time as a POW, not the Bible. He says people
Should be able to earn a living, live their lives, he says.
He says all right, you’re ready now, see you in
He says all right, you’re ready now, see you in 3,000 miles.
JeFF Stumpo plays a lot of roles. For more on his publications, performances, teaching, and community art projects, check out his website at www.jeffstumpo.com. He and Jason Henry Simon-Bierenbaum are putting together a tour for the Fall of 2013. If your university, slam, high school, open mic, or festival is looking for one hell of an act, check out www.theshabbaticaltour.com for videos, a press kit, and more.