The Chain Gang's Unopened Condoms
by Tim Scannell

Escape: A Bootleg Fragment
by Michael Gause

Ground Hog (Mating) Day
by Bertha Rogers
[And worth rereading: Ground Hog as Grendel (B. Rogers, Feb'01) Eds.]

Speculations on the Poetic
by Alison Croggon
The poetic is the embarrassment of contemporary thinking because, no matter what cultural hygienists do, it stinks of a metaphysics.From The Drunken Boat (Ed. Rebecca Seiferle)

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The Chain Gang's Unopened Condoms
by Tim Scannell

There is a chain gang in Port Angeles, my Pacific Ocean, Strait of Juan de Fuca coastal town of fewer than 18,000. On July 5th, it cleaned up the three-mile length of Ediz Hook, after Independence Day evening revelers. One could spread 30,000 blankets along Ediz Hook, so it's a pretty crowded place from which to view: 1) passing freighters, 2) ocean swells, 3) the town a mile south across the harbor, and 4) fireworks. Just visualize the town as a horizontal 'J', the hook itself half round the arc to its barby end (where Lincoln established a Coast Guard base in 1862). If I ruled the world, people walking, cycling or getting out of vehicles anywhere, would have a visibly displayed, carmine red plastic garbage bag attached to belt loop or purse strap, 24/7, worldwide!

The harvest of the Clallam County Sheriff's Chain Gang is reported in the local newspaper every week. Oh, the fellows are not 'chained,' but saunter about highway rights-of-way in pocketless orange coveralls and work boots (toting pincer-sticks and white plastic trashbags). I trust they are not a 'gang' too, but if so, the deputy holsters a .357 and tags along about ten yards after the final sixth or seventh fellow. Group-control pointer: Never 'lead' a chain gang; always 'follow' it!

They do a worthy public service: fresh air, good exercise, productive work. Prisoners may also join literacy classes, and take the GED at our Community College (fees waived). For me, personally, life on earth is so startlingly, upsettingly short that I daren't break any societal law. (Even one imagined night-over in jail is so wasteful of my precious sojourn it's nauseating.) But if I did somehow land in jail by breaking a law (only nuances of the Seven Deadly Sins—all so simplemindedly easy to avoid), I would certainly volunteer lickety-split for Chain Gang busyness!

Let us observe some harvest highlights: April…"82 cubic feet of litter from 18.90 miles of local roadways," including a croquet ball, a Zippo™ lighter and 5 cents. Between May 7-10, it was "135 cubic feet of litter from 36.04 miles," including a Hide-a-Bed™, a plastic Halloween pumpkin, and 45 pounds of aluminum "to be recycled." Between June 11-14, our Northwestern rains finally stopped, and so the gleaners had sunny days to remove 75 cubic feet of litter/36.5 miles, the haul including "mail—returned to owner," barbecue tongs, ten Tylenol™ pills, Rooster Chew™, and two full bottles each of Sprite™ and beer.

There is always drug paraphernalia, always many pounds of aluminum and, on June 28, "two unopened condoms" (from which many projective narratives bubble and swirl): an aborted tryst—the married man chickened out; or maybe she just said, "No"; or perhaps Jane and John Doe, overcome by mingling pheromones, lustily had at The Real Thing™—babies Janie or Johnny bouncing about near our next Ides of March!

I dunno…Hope springs eternal. But I do genuinely admire and respect the sweat of Chain Gang members. Thank you for your good work! They weed round "power poles, phone boxes, hydrants, signs and culverts"; they remove tons of sandbags from "shoulder slopes"; and once this June removed "ninety-seven cedar posts and barbed wire along 1,100 feet of Cameron Road." That is true effort! If you don't care for these kinds of chores, however, remember The Seven Deadly Sins: Pride, Wrath, Envy, Lust, Gluttony, Avarice, Sloth; and their opposites: Meekness, Calm, Satisfaction, Self-Control, Simplicity, Satiation, and Zesty Pep, respectively. And keep in mind the total—eternal—waste of your time on earth in a mercilessly enervating jail cell!

(A prolific, independent reviewer, Tim Scannell is at large in Washington State.)

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Escape: A Bootleg Fragment
by Michael Gause

I awoke again to the certain knowledge of prison. Another stirring inmate, another northern winter. If I filed into the lemming routine today, something bad would happen. I would enter my cubicle and expire, else I would injure myself in order to escape. Even they cannot deny the presence of blood. Their numbing incarceration has weakened my spirit, but not to the point of surrender. So, I decided to absent myself from that detention, choosing instead to hole up in my apartment, scratch words into the walls, and seek solace in the neck of a bottle. I defied my caste. I flexed my free will in trading their cage for my own.…

A distance grows inside me like a child. Morning sickness is a two-week-old heartbreak—loneliness no longer postponed by hope and nervous laughing. A verse had followed me from the dreams:

That morning light
turns a tired eye
just beyond the city

I wait
as there is no hint
of the moon to guide me

So quickly from freedom to stagnation! All average things awoke with me, to take up residence until I found the means to expel them. To do it, I had to embrace what I flee; I had to become the Scylla of my own stagnant eddies. I forced myself through the center of it all, daydreaming of paths that lie just off the highway, walking atop broken glass and a more honest sense of the universe.

Alcohol, smokes, and three windows will so attest.

I contemplated, in the course of a single imbibed afternoon, the spectrum of my beliefs and even entertained a list of reveried notions, which had been waiting patiently just outside me for months.

I affixed the leeches of expression around my fingers and mouth. I watched smoke tether me to the streets. Music painted the walls. The trees called to me erotic names, and countless eyes fixed upon me with every drink. Nerval stared from a book cover, Rimbaud chided from a nearby bar. Then, in unison, questions:

Why? What are you waiting for? Why have you done nothing yet?

Tearful, I found that this Freedom was virulent with Guilt, diseased with a personal and shameful negligence. I had reached the edge of my goal, only to find it impure. Suddenly, more words:

To reclaim a love
only to discover she no longer remembers
the love you became

Found, yet never discovered
The greatest tragic success

So I moved my body as though fully alive, made dance with me this sad and failing invalid. Through tears, I waltzed the memory of hope.

Today that would be enough.
Today that would be freedom.

I awoke again to the certain knowledge of prison, but the laughing world sang me back to sleep.

(Michael Gause is co-founder of "The Day on Fire," a televised reading series in the Twin Cities, and host of the Bean Counter Coffee Reading Series, a monthly poetry showcase in St. Paul. He writes often for the magazine.)

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Ground Hog (Mating) Day
by Bertha Rogers

The first time I saw a groundhog (read "woodchuck"; that's what we call them in these parts), up close, was on a late afternoon several Mays ago, not too long after I'd moved to the Catskills from Manhattan. Hearing the dogs barking, I slammed outside, prepared to tell Luke, for the hundredth time that day, to shut up. Instead, I saw, up against the stone retaining wall, framed by the rising digitalis, a standing, scolding woodchuck. Both dogs, still barking, were completely mystified: Here was this small beast, less than half their size, completely unintimidated.

The sun shone, the red pine stirred in the wind, and the woodchuck held his own, buck teeth glinting against the sun, dark eyes flashing. I watched awhile, then, taking pity on him—there was absolutely no way out—I dragged the dogs inside and watched through the window. The ground hog was in no hurry; he wanted to be absolutely sure. When he finally left, he sauntered; he did not run; he did not sneak out; he sauntered.

I've seen many woodchucks since I've lived on this old mountain farm, and I wish I could see, right through the earth, their many towns honeycombing the fields. The farmer who tills the adjacent fields, who allows me to walk his lands, has much ill will toward the little brown people—those intricate towns, with their many entrances and exits, snag his John Deere's wheels, his plows and other implements, costing him time and money.

In fact, while he doesn't have time to hunt them down and shoot them, he allows weekenders with a yen for violence to kill as many as they can. (One eager adventurer even uses a laptop and a homing device to kill from long distances.) That farmer (who, by the way, I admire for his conservation policies and land savvy), could very well be saying about me, "She's just another city person, hugging trees and critters." He's a man of Scots Irish descent, though, and not given to saying his mind; he's polite, reserved.

But I grew up on a farm, in Iowa, and I have no illusions about the bucolic nature of farming. I don't have any illusions, either, about the violence of critters—I know that woodchucks fight for power and territory as viciously as any humans, and I know that dogs, with a little less "civilizing," will take on woodchucks with great and deadly enthusiasm. Witness a few springs after that first near glimpse of the woodchuck—I was gardening, and my dog, Luke, and our newest dog, Lily, were sniffing around. Lily had just come into our lives after a rough time in the wilds of southeastern Delaware County, having escaped a vicious man-owner.

Suddenly there was a wild squealing beyond the fence and I ran over to find Lily pummeling what was clearly a very pregnant woodchuck to death—it took her no more than a minute. I did what William Stafford did with the deer he found on the road—I made a decision for all of us, taking the body to the pasture, knowing the unborn babies would die. The entrepreneurial woodchuck had discovered the garden and tunneled from the field to help herself to all the fresh veggies; who could blame her?

I struggle, respecting for the land and its four-legged people, knowing that they revert as easily to mayhem as we humans. Yet those woodchucks the farmer dislikes so much are aerating this difficult soil, this Delaware County land that, as the saying goes, "has two stones for every dirt." They're moving that dirt on a rather constant basis, making his own tilling an easier proposition.

Woodchucks don't make a conscious decision to venture forth on February 2; rather, they're drawn by a desperate need, fueled by hormones and pheromones, to find a mate. So, if conditions are right, they tunnel upward, not to see the sun, not to determine when winter will be over, but to find the loves of their lives. Not a bad deal—to live by instinct, those primal shackles we humans think we have broken but in whose iron grip we truly remain. Bring them on, let them forecast yet another spring!

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