Snapshots from a Camping Trip

Attaboy!

Iggy is a salt n’ pepper Australian Cattle Dog with a cool, attentive temperament, and big black eyes whose innocence could rot out the abyss in the toughest of ironhearts. The runt of the litter. So damn loyal he’d go for the throat of a grizzly if it meant giving the rest of us a ten second head start. He trots along, weaving in and out of the brush, emerging at last with a stain of deer scat on his backside. On the puddling trail, he takes us as far as the first creek, but stops short and begins to whinny like a horse spooked by the cliff’s edge.

All of us cross the concrete steps, everyone except me and little Iggy—c’mon little Iggy! You can do it, bud! He hops the first concrete step, the second, the third. But the fourth is lopsided, and has a considerable gap before it. The creekwater is high and quick, and it raises the white claws of its rapids. Iggy looks back to me on the near shore. The others call to him from afar. C’mon Ig! Iggy, buddy, you got this! Iggy! Iggy!

He leaps, but the lopsided slab throws him off balance and he spreads into the water. Frantic, he dashes to the other side, letting out a squeal after his paws rake and muddy the creekbed. He circles for a minute, favoring his one leg. When he looks at me for assurance, I nod. His stoicism overcomes it, and he leads the pack on.

 

Officer Law

The kindling worked up a knee-high flame, and the chill breeze fanned it, and the fire felt good against our backs. We had just finished our bottle of champagne. Now the hard shit hit the table—Irish whiskey, roasted porters, vanilla moonshine. I’d just popped open my first bottle with a Bic lighter when Jessica said under her breath, “Park Patrol.”

I’d scrubbed garbage barrels and picked up litter for the forest preserve for an entire summer. I’d been around a ranger or two. I knew how these cats liked to ravel you in their balls of yarn, pussyfoot around with you and hiss in your ear a little. Give a man a crowbar’s worth of leverage over the next man and he’ll milk it for all it’s worth. It’s like sex without the attachment, murder without the conviction; it’s power in its stablest form.

“Park Patrol,” she said so everyone could hear it this time. Flasks slipped behind belt buckles, bottles were tucked under tires, the coolers rattled and clinked. Then we all sat like a bunch of racoons around a ravaged dumpster, guilty but refusing to own it. He pulled up in a white truck. The drive belt was shot under the hood, and it squealed like a pig.

He rolled down the window and his steely spectacles sat on his thin wiry face like an extension of what lied beneath. He had high cheek bones and a chin like a miner’s pick. His nose came to a point, and worked like a dog’s. His eyes were little pebbles hammered deep into his skull. When he spit, the the saliva burst, and little white beads clung to his stubble. He wiped his lips with the back of his hand.

“Ya’ll got a parmit?” he said.

His accent was over-saturated, affected. His mannerisms were a farce. He looked like John Wayne coming down from an amphetamine high. He’d watched one too many Westerns, I supposed, and this was the closest to his fantasy he’d ever get.

“Sure do,” I said. “See here.”

I showed him my permit.

“Ryan Who?”

“Dowling.”

“Gotcher I.D. on ya?”

I pulled out my wallet and handed it to him.

“’Laska,” he said. “Don’t see too many yer kind in these parts.”

“No,” I said. “I guess not.”

“Lookin’ roun’ here… I see three cars.”

He pointed to each one.

“One. Two. Three.”

“We’re not staying the night,” Helen shouted from the picnic table.

He raised a flat hand above his head, and brought it down slowly and deliberately.

“Whoa thar missy, ya’ll just ‘lax a little, a’right? Parmit’s only good for two cars. Ya’ll want a little company, thas fine by me, but ain’t no company pas’ 9 ‘clock. Unnerstood?”

“Won’t be a problem,” I said.

“Ya’ll ain’t got no glass now do ya?”

“Glass?”

“Bottles, jugs, flasks, pints, stems, anything o’ the sort?”

“Nothin’ but the windows in our cars,” I said.

He snorted, and the back of his throat gurgled on the phlegm.

“And no boozin’ neither. No hollerin’ after dark. No pissin’ in your neighbors’ neck of the woods. Unnerstood?”

Under-stood,” I said.

He rolled up his window and pulled away real slow. It became harder to tell if the pig squeal was coming from under the hood or from inside of the cab. Larry pulled the flask from his belt and took a pull.

“You hear officer law?” he said. “Ya’ll just ‘lax a little a’right.”

“We’ll relax more than a little,” Dave said.

I grabbed my beer from behind the tire and took a swig. Then I unzipped my pants and pissed into the woods.

 

 

Wolfsbane (Aconitum)

Wolfsbane (Aconitum)

On our stroll back from the estuary,
we rested beside a riverbank
and tugged these hooded flowers
from the edge of the foam.
I told you that they were violets,
but—what did I know?—
I couldn’t tell a lily from a lilac.

I wove them into your curls
until your hair was as heavy with purple
as dusk upon the rollicking waters,
slow-motion in the quickening breeze.

When I leaned my lips into yours,
yours had begun to quiver and sweat.
You grew rigid
and heavy
as petrified wood.
At first I was embarrassed
I’d overstepped
the boundaries that boys often risk
when faced with beautiful girls.
But later, after the paramedics gave up,
I learned that the stems
of those flowers
had leaked into your scalp—
and though it was hardly anything,
it was enough
to take your heart.

by Ryan Dowling

Salutation by Ezra Pound

Salutation

O generation of the thoroughly smug
and thoroughly uncomfortable,
I have seen fishermen picnicking in the sun,
I have seen them with untidy families,
I have seen their smiles full of teeth
and heard ungainly laughter.
And I am happier than you are,
And they were happier than I am;
And the fish swim in the lake
and do not even own clothing.

by Ezra Pound (1885-1972)

In an age of instant gratification

In an age of instant gratification

there are days when you
kick back like the farmers
in a three-week drought
and wonder
if the ancient rain dances
had any merit,
if you should slit your palm
with a dagger
and bleed over a fire
or if
a Hail Mary, an Our Father
just might reach
its intended audience.

It’s better to understand
that the gods don’t care
if you holler damnations
into the dark
or if you twist your baseball cap
from back
to front
and then cock it
to the left.

They won’t even notice
if you sing in church
or you shit
in the woods
or you fleck
holy water over your pillow
or you carve
with a stick
an ankh or a cross
or a pentagram
or a corporate logo
or whatever that’s
supposed to be
in the dust
and then you kneel down
and kiss it.

The rain will fall
when it falls.
The poems will come
when they come.

The hardest thing for
us to do
is to be patient,
especially when there’s a
15 minute wait
at the McDonald’s
drive-thru.

by Ryan Dowling

99%

99%

99% of poetry is bad,
and just as soon as the addict can admit
she’s an addict,
you and I can admit we’re bad poets.
And everyone
can piss fart die a little more peacefully.

How do I tell you this?
(The same way a woman tells me,
“I don’t love you.”)
Nobody cares about your soul.
—And beware
of those who say they do.

We haven’t died enough.
Our egos stink like only the living do.
Or we haven’t lived
a single day, though we’ve been here forever.
And nobody cares
if Heaven’s Saturday night and Hell’s

Sunday morning. The junkie bangs
into a black vein,
then tells friends and family she’s clean.
99% of poetry is bad.
I’m telling you 99.00000001% is bad
now that this one’s over.

by Ryan Dowling

Nostalgia in the Rain

Nostalgia in the Rain

Once more the day drops
in a paradiddle of raindrops,
knocking at my amygdala.
Standing with an armful of eggs

between the porch lilies,
a shadow drops the trench coat
from its man-shape
and collapses into a mist

of formaldehyde. I step out
upon the eggshells.
Nostalgia rises with the force
of the worms rising up,

and nostalgia itself
is a worm-eaten bore in the brain—
so straight it’s a peephole
from ear to ear. When the rain

falls hardest, it drums
a death-rattle from the earth,
and the stink of it suffuses the sky.
I can’t smell a thing,

but somehow I know the odor,
like an old rainjacket,
like an old drunk passed out
in the pissing dawn.

by Ryan Dowling