George T. Mormann

Category: Culture

Dull White Male Writer

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enthralls

My garage door has opened.
I unfold my chair and sit with my back
facing these tools.
I unscrew the gas cap of my John Deere
because unleaded ain’t a scented candle yet.
I wave to the occasional passing tractor.
Our brows reveal the sweat of our work,
validating our purposes:
immaculate squares of hay
and the chapter I finished yesterday.
I admire the height of the corn,
our collaboration with God
of nature and enhancement—
a marriage I liken to man and wife
instinctively, albeit noxiously.
A creation of which I am made foreign
by a simple, narrow road seemingly
fit for only mine and his rigs.
I’m assured that most anyone
can traverse it, except
perhaps after it snows.

I sit around and think
of laying words like bricks. Besides,
I’m accused of bearing a mason’s color.
My story is read off the back of my neck,
it’s turns deliberate, the twist spraining
and relieving at once.
Letters of my exploits are addressed to me,
because my readers have their own plots today.

In the safe-space women come and go.
No longer talking of Don Delillo.

I think Sherman Alexie would like me
as his mechanic. I’ll do oil changes
in the background then show him
the grease on my hands like Hoosiers
writing under Chinese pseudonyms.
We will commiserate over Kindles
and I will sneak whiskey in his tea,
losing another generation of ’em.
And I caught Zadie Smith smiling
next to Philip Roth in a photograph.
She might like me too, but quietly
I fear the inevitable awkwardness of her
sharing my Great-Grandfather’s surname.

I’m like a Hemingway, only
simpler, without the chevrons.
My Grandpas were pressed to shoot Nazis
and I could’ve chose to shoot Hajis,
but my machismo was projected onto screens
reliving checkpoint after checkpoint
in a pixelated Fallujah, as I fiddle
my joystick on a Summer vacation.
Yet it led to my first publication:

“We stuck armymens plastic bases
in the sandbox and burned them
into green and tan casualties
with your Daddy’s Bic lighter.”

I read the naked and I read the dead.
I didn’t want to write seven hundred pages about it too.
Alas, it leaves some of my accouterments,
like guilt for the positive correlation
between the repressed and their flesh,
as ripe as a cherry on a Marlboro Red.

Prime Day

I never took part in a Black Friday
well,
because I was your fetcher of flat-screen
television sets and
microwaves with that pull-out
drawer for frozen pizza and
all of those pineapple corers
of which they bought three
for, as a gift,
they feigned thoughtfulness for out-of-state
second cousins who visit once every other
Christmas. Great for cousin Beckys who ceased
posting Facebook pics of her handling beer bottles
after bearing her first kid — and now she only
posts photos handling him, whom she named Guinness.

I would arrive at midnight and work out of a
parked semi trailer, frantically lobbing appliances
to my coworkers like a preacher tossing turkeys to the poor.

The police barricaded the entrance,
politely shooing shoppers back until our
official 2AM opening, saving their clubs for
the Septembers of Capitalism. And they stayed to
barricade the exits when a customer was
stabbed in the gut, officers searching
for the shopper with the most blood on their handbag.

Management hid in their offices, but set cookies
under the time-clock to discourage us from taking a lunch.
Customers entered the stock room and helped themselves
when the four of us couldn’t fulfill the orders of a
hundred and forty of them.

At 5:33AM I asked myself, “Who buys a dishwasher
the day after Thanksgiving?”

When my shift ended at noon, I was relieved into
the plastic atmosphere, clothing department signs
swaying, wafting perfume samples in the heat
of a thousand bodies working off the pilgrim’s
plate under florescent lamps accentuating
the glaring whiteness of our pseudo-holiday.
I sighed, and drove to my second job, where I cleaned up
the mess left by their own pre-dawn stampede.

Today however,

I’m enamored with one-click orders on credit
coming to my doorstep the next day.
I don’t even have to wear pants, although
it’s wise to buy a few before the deal expires.
For thirty hours I celebrated, buying everything
cheap and useless that I couldn’t afford but promised
to pay off months from now.
— I bought a pineapple corer for Chrissakes
when I had already received one two Christmases ago —
But the deal was so alluring.
On the third day I got my final boxes,
tattooed with Amazon’s ubiquitous grinning arrow,
and they appeared on my porch like gifts from
a downloadable Santa who presents himself in the
likeness of my avatar, and delivers my presents
by way of a brown sleigh, 160 reindeer power,
operating by way of a strict timetable across the Earth.

Yet I do wonder what the air smells like
inside an Amazon Fulfillment Center.

Cancún

I woke up in a less familiar Mexico. The Mexico I knew was contained to storefronts like those on W. 18th; taquerias and cantinas with a neon cactus glowing through frostbitten windows. Midwestern brick is painted adobe tan and depicts street-side exhibitions of Azteca deco and bucolic murals of the Tex-Mex fringes, where cactus shadows are swallowed by the desert come dusk. It’s synonymous with the borderlands, but where we landed, it was just an afterthought. The sober American vista, as far reaching as it is, cannot be glanced at, cannot to size up like a thumb raised to the moon. Palm trees bend toward the sunrise along La Zona Hotelera. Our taxi delivers us to a Riviera with so many likenesses of suburban decadence — Outback Steakhouse, Margaritavilles, Señor Frog’s — las casas del Bud Light. Cancún, crown of the Yucatán, a foreigner’s comfortable respite from true Mexico.

Skip coffee, head to the pool bar for a tequila sunrise. I look into the windows of the resort, peek in on brunch crowd, and watch them — those families from Bakersfield and right-outside-Cleveland — eat chilaquiles and french toast. Behind me there are men moving stones, building a bigger patio. Their hammers clang in unison with forks tolling against mimosa flutes in the dining room. I see tourists’ lips flicker and gape all the while hearing the slang of my coworkers back in the states. This week, I’ve traded in my steel-toed boots for a pair of flip-flops, but still turn to join the workers as they pause to look to the beach as a lambently draped figure dips her foot in the sea.

By bus we travel inland to Chichen Itza. Cancun '12It rains on the way there, but our guide Arturo is compelled to assure everyone aboard that the dripping in the vents above us is from the air conditioning. He offers us Gatorade at two US dollars each, and asks us not to crap in the rear lavatory. Solamente numero uno.

I fell asleep and woke up to the same scenery — a freshly watered span of trees swaying up and down like they were fanning the bus across the freeway. The water, whether it was truly rain or just a/c condensation, cooled my scalp as it brought with it a stream of chilled air. Arturo was describing the earth of the Yucatán before I fell asleep. How thin yet rich the soil is, how the plant life flourishes because of it, how impassable the untouched jungle is. Now he’s telling us about the ancient city, Tulum. The Spaniards could only write about the city from their ships. That was some six-hundred years ago… from our resort it’s a two hour drive.

The skies cleared as we entered the gates of Chichen Itza. The path leading to the site is a winding flea market of native bric-a-brac and novelties; tables of sugar skulls and Mayan calendars fashioned into magnets and analog clocks and printed onto tie-dye tee shirts. The peddlers compete with Arturo for our attention. Regalos de Maya, Come take look, Cheapah than K-Mart! Sellers run up to us and offer real wooden masks, insisting that any tourist tap it to prove to us all how wooden it is. One Mayan dollar, they’ll say. That’s forty dollars to you, Arturo says. Even the descendants of the Mayans themselves, the Nativos, approach us with handfuls of embroidered hankies for twenty pesos each.

Arturo instructs our group to clap towards the steps of the Temple Kukulkan, and when we do, a moan begets from the peak of the temple. To breathe life into the temple is to revive it from centuries of silence, and there are fewer simple joys than to hear our own echo. Within this temple is a smaller temple, Arturo said. Here, the Mayans had defeated an enemy, and to honor their victory had built an even bigger temple over their enemy’s. Eventually, the Spanish arrived and you know how the story goes, but they kept the temple, adopting it in their language, El Castillo. Today, a fence surrounds the entire site. Property of the Mexican Government — ticket prices vary.

Conquerors are conquered. Subjugation invites revolution. Profiteers live forever, enshrining so many legacies onto the façades of coffee mugs, of which I bought two.

 

Originally published July 12, 2013.

So as to Mimic Their Natural Environment

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The Author’s 10 Gallon Betta Riverbed

I take solace in
decorating
aquariums
for my pet fish.
This is my sole
purview, no less
relentless than
destiny, or
one’s career.

I research their
native ponds, read
the curvature
of every
twig so I may
learn how to reach
beneath currents
and transfer my
solace unto
them,
my pet fish.

I google how
stones lay themselves
on the river
floor, seamlessly
bound to the next
like a necklace
carelessly, yet
thoughtfully
tossed away by
a whimsical,
but scorned woman.

If only I
could ask her how,
how to place each
rock so they might
spawn a blanket
of moss because
I will forget
to feed my fish
on some days.

Banal, Illinois

Beside a quiet road on a stifling August morning. Some arbitrarily named road that split the bane of my upbringing down the middle.

To my left, a cornfield, eaten up by quasi urban development perpetually for lease. A narrow plaza with a Southwestern façade meant to imitate adobe — a misrepresentation of the landscape but anything to make it feel like we-were-anywhere-else-just-not-here. And a self-storage facility, warehouse of dead relatives’ chinaware and unwanted lampshades, hidden because of the memories.

To my right, a cluster of indistinguishable houses. A cookie-cutter subdivision, the kind with names reminiscent of Minnesotan lakes and what New England must look like come October. Never been, but they were the sorts of places I’d always hear about.

I drove all the way back to tear an ear of corn off a fledgling stalk. I peeled the husk like a banana and took a bite out of it. Counting 24 chews before my eyes watered, I spat it out, got in my car, and left.

It tasted awful, but I was desperate to not forget where I really came from.