Monday Jan 22

ChallenderCraig Craig Challender teaches American literature, myth and creative writing at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia, where he also directs The Longwood Author Series.  He has poems recently published or forthcoming in Great River Review, Eclipse and Connecticut Review. His full-length collections are Familiar Things (Linwood Publishers), Dancing On Water (Pecan Grove Press), and As Details Become Available, which has just been released by Pecan Grove.
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Noir.  Mitchum.
 
Light thickens, and the crow makes wing to the rooky wood.
—Macbeth
 


Memory-flash to film noir and Robert Mitchum:
The Night of the Hunter, dark baritone—“Chill-dren?
I feel myself gettin’ awful mad”—eclipsing
cellar steps syllable by syllable.  Out of the Past:
smoke of his breath into Jane Greer’s hair
when she tells him she doesn’t
want to die:  “Neither do I baby, but if I have to
I’m gonna die last.”
 
Noir.  French for black.  The crushed egg
in Cape Fear, Mitchum sliding the knife
from Polly Bergen’s reach then dipping
into a dishful of eggs, thrusting her through
a houseboat kitchen door:  “You’re a lawyer’s wife,
don’t you understand”—breaks egg, smears it
on her chest—“that with consent there are
no charges against me?”
 
That unscripted smear.  Bergen’s wide eyes,
they say, were real; her back
hurt for days.  Even in sunlight
Mitchum’s Panama and striped tee (no Fedora,
no trenchcoat here) seem clotted, crepuscular
as he squints down from the dock at Lori Martin’s
pubescent behind while drinking a beer:
nightmare, especially now.
 
And especially now when Clinton’s “But I
didn’t inhale” is an echo on YouTube, Mitchum’s take
on his jail time for weed—“Like Palm Springs
without the riff-raff”—still reads the same: 
an astringent fuck you.  “Insouciance” doesn’t quite
nail it, not layered enough.  But these days
we don’t layer well.  In Scorsese’s remake of Cape Fear
De Niro tries too hard:
 
an accent you need a machete for, tattooed
cartoon pathology.  Method gone Manichean.  But it’s a fit
for Bush’s “Axis of Evil,” “Evildoers” worming their way
into the psyche nuance-free.
Noir is nuance, and nuance
is not free.  But Mitchum made it seamless as breathing,
pale face blooming in night-river leaves, droop-lidded gaze
rippling out to the houseboat:  a clean well-lighted place
drifting on darkness.

 
 
Yard Sale

 
It’s darker than memory, this sepia acorn
handling a silver half-hemisphere dust-scummed in midsummer sun
in a town none of them knows, Oklahoma hole-in-the-wall
 
pit stop with its sprinkling of Feed & Seeds, bars, Baptist churches and,
just down from the Phillips 66 they’ve tanked up at,
tables of crockery cats, silverware, brittling Looks and Lifes.

His wife and girls have leg-stretched their way to pink puffs of mimosa
shading boxes of books, Barbies, but he stays, stares
at this aluminum cake pan dredged from the Forties
 
out of somebody’s basement.  Devils food gloves his tongue
once more, the handle curving his hand is
spotless again.  He fingers its grooves, a whorled base
 
of desire; the smooth barrel beyond.  He’s four.  The acorn’s a penis.
He wonders—not so much what
Dad’s thing, his thing, is doing on top of a cake cover
 
but the thing itself:  kernel and cup, glans
sprouting from foreskin.  The kitchen’s empty, only Vaughn Monroe—
“The Voice with Hair on its Chest”—on the radio.  He touches
 
himself lightly there once, twice, then “Ghost Riders in the Sky”
fades first to tractor noise sieved through windbreak and window,
then to chair scraping linoleum as he squints over the sink
 
at a scrim of elms:  the two-pistoned poop poop
as John Deere hits headland, shares lift and plow
turns, again biting down, Dad’s strong back
 
rolling earth black behind him.  Seed, chaff, Dad’s
miraculous plant fold into the furrow like tears,
a denim-dark wave rises, falls
 
when he turns the pan over:  nothing but “Harriet” on a smudged
strip of adhesive, “$10” inked on a tag and his ghost-flash of face as he flips pan
upright again; fingers the frieze of oak leaves, acorns chain-linking lid’s upper edge.
 
The handle once more—thick thumb pulsing his palm
through summer lawns’ sough burring to Daddy, look
what I got: a field.  A grove of oaks.