The Midwest |

The Cuckoo Is a Pretty Bird

by David Laskowski

The Cuckoo Is a Pretty Bird When asked by the Committee on Acknowledgment for A Purpose to Be Named Later to choose a favorite poet, or the poet who had most influenced my own work, I felt a sudden panic not nearly as sudden as I would have hoped, for I was afraid the wrong poet would end my masculine rhymes with a full stop forever and ever without end. Although my sycophantic synapses raced to name the most obvious choices– Youngblood, for example, or Pedant, or even Frisco – it was my heart, the ruby-roasted Rocinante, that came to the rescue, as it always does, since it, alone, thought of the one poet who truly did shape my work as does a clown his balloon. Hence, when I told the committee I would be choosing Cuckolded Wombat, author of such works as Totem in Tow, Muskrat for Sale, and Anchors Ahoy, among others, I told them with the fierceness of a mama lion for her flock, a papa goose for his brood, or a mercurial wombat for his or her marsupial trust. This, I now know, was a mistake. In other words, the Committee not only showed me the door, but also the elevator, the front lobby, the security staff, and, finally, the street onto which Larry, the head of security, threw me with the force of a dynamo that although not as human as some, was the most expressive. That I had effectively grounded my iambs with the alacrity of assonant alliteration did not descend upon me for I, at first, was not merely hurt, both psychically and physically, from his throw but Larry, as good of a fellow as he was, had bruised my ascending aortic ulna, or my Worcester, and I had grown overcome with great sadness for my hero, Cuckolded Wombat, whose extensive array of asphodelible arias to the aspirations of the average Harry would never be as subsumed as they so deservedly deserved to be. In other words, alas my Cuckold, no one knows thee very well. Yet, what is, perhaps, even more stunning than the way in which I was treated is the story of how Cuckolded Wombat came to be so reviled, so despised, so unequivocally equivocated into a diminutive hut down by the river, for that is truly the most heinous of barbed wire offenses. Poor Cuckold, who, despite his reams of perfunctory prosaic prosody, the chief executive officers of the Incorporated Amalgamation of Verse, not to be confused with the Institute for Verse Culture, a phantasmagoric entity that exists solely for the purposes of pigeons, had relegated to the outer banks of such institutions of lending as Pay as You Go and For a High Interest Rate for crimes, they said, against the “rhythmic calibrations of internal suffering,” or a sonnet. Why Wombat had been so influential for me was not because of his subject matter, which ranged from the inappropriate to the mundane, or his spry, although peg-legged meter, which, had it not been for my tone-deafness, may have assaulted my ears with shantytowns befitting a sailor’s song. Nay, or no, it was actually because of something much less poetic, much less literary. Among all other poets, I found Cuckolded, or Cantankerous, as his friends liked to call him, Wombat to be eminently influential because of his theory that all works written in the present are simply responses to works already written in the past. In other words, when I was adrift in a sea of white botanicals, Wombat threw me an anchor. Wombat, my dear reader, gave me a place to begin. Begin, indeed, I did, and by turning to that most original of plays, a play, in fact, based on another tale previous in history, Wampum Javelin’s Hamish, Prince of the Vain, a tragedy as tragic as it is tragic, or, in other words, twice as tragic as any other tragedy, which, in itself, is a tragedy. I began, first, by reading the play, an exercise, I must admit, I am not as familiar with as my doctor says I should be. It was, I must say, exciting! Who knew so many people could die in one play! That is except, of course, Hamish’s second, Thirdly Fourth, who, critics suggest, was happy Hamish died since Thirdly, according to palace therapist Sinks Ships, was “tired of playing second fiddle, in addition to always coming in second to Hamish in every contest, especially in orchestra.” Yet, as excited as I was, I could not simply rewrite Hamish for my own purposes. That would not be keeping in the spirit of Wombat’s theoretical structure, for Wombat specifically indicated that new works are “responses” to older works, not simply what many Hollywood producers call remakes, or the second time is the charm. For example, Wombat’s epic poem, The Meek Shall Inherit the Western Wind, is a response to Clarence’s Shelley’s defense of revolution in the schools, School Is Out. Although borrowing much of the same language, phrasing, and punctuation, Wombat’s Wind is a criticism of Shelley’s defense, or what one critic successfully called, “a joke bunking above a goof who is sleeping with an aberration bordering on Oklahoma.” Even though I do not think this critic liked Wombat’s poem as much as the quote may indicate, he does recognize the revelatory tone of Wombat’s work, especially in its revolution. I exhibit, if I may be so bold, this same tendency in my “response” to Hamish, The Fool on the Hill, an artful rendering, if I may be unnecessarily verbose, of Hamish as representative of the individual crushed under the weight not merely of historical forces, but of the industrial dynamics of pre-capitalist idealizations of a mechanistic universe insofar as Hamish is particular to the violence Marxist critic Violet Lily believes is inherent in “rationalized man.” In other words, Hamish is more than just a typical Scottish name. Perhaps the best way to illustrate the mendacity of my projectile is to offer an example, an aperitif, or as chefs say, an amuse-douche, or that which tantalizes the taste nodules in preparation for the entire, if I may venture, gourmet meal. The following passage, or poem, is a response to the situation in which Hamish finds himself, so to speak, up a kilt with a spanner in the play’s first act. Having just made his speech, the King’s brother, or Hamish’s uncle, Implausible, asks Hamish why he is so “forlorn and lost among the lilies that bare their savory petals.” Hamish, suspicious of his uncle and in no mood for gardening, tells his uncle he is a fan “only of the fiduciary that grow upon the mottled stocks wet with the blood of passerine birds.” Not knowing what he means, and, to be honest, thinking Hamish a bit cuckoo, Uncle Implausible tells Hamish he has a meeting with the accountant, adjourns to the Privy. Whereas in the original, the king’s excuse is just that, an excuse, in my version, the scene becomes illustrative of the tendency in all fathers to die, like, all of the sudden and, like, leave you with a mother who is an alcoholic and a boyfriend who says you have to call him dad, whatever. In the first of many soliloquies, my Hamish, or Ham-on-Rye, handsomely and maturely examines his feelings about his new situation: I took to an apocalypse with a will suicidal, As if so insistent in its thieving correlatives To kings by a predicate possessor of silence. O, & how repulsive to the frailties that sped To hours most carefully upon faces of death – A world a world of endings worn by a wind Whipping its tail, a whipped rage unfettered… Although illustrating many qualities similar to the original, including greatness, the two are quite different. For example, Javelin’s is in iambic pentameter and mine is not since iambic pentameter is stupid. In addition, I do not waste time with rhymes, sense, or a point, especially since those, like iambic pentameter, are stupid and are for what critic Mallory Content calls stupid heads, although I prefer the term bottom-feeders. Nevertheless, this passage is a fine, like wine is fine, example of Wombat’s theory in extremis ex Pontius Buttafuoco Deus magnesium tremor, or, in English for those of you not nearly as educated as I, what comes goes around since a round is a circle, or is it not Mike’s turn. In other words, although I would love to speak to Wombat’s theory by citing the rest of my inordinately amazing poem, it might be more productive to explain Wombat’s purpose in theorizing his theory. Wombat, who, according to Wombat’s biographer, Fielding Study, had always been enamored of stealing, wanted, Study writes in Chapter 9 of the biography, Absolutely Wombatty, “Stealing, Pilfering, or Making a Mint Off a Pillow,” “to find a way to argue that all writing grew not out of life experience, but out of reading. In other words, Wombat, disgusted with the notion that writing was somehow not teachable, wanted to show how writing was, like chemistry or biology, nothing more than a science of the unquantifiable.” According to Study, Wombat felt the world had misjudged writing, even though, Wombat said, the world had the right since writing was “kind of a tool.” The world, acting, indeed, as the world, treated writing, according to Wombat, as the “expression of some sort of inner demon, some sort of intangible intangibility predicated,” he argued, “on the notion that all writers were in some sense mediums, somehow tapping into a world beyond our world,” when the truth was, Wombat wrote, “writers were nothing more than administrators of the language they are given.” Although I find Wombat’s excursions excessively depressing, I must admit I find his argument regarding the pedestrian nature of writers to be pedestrian, especially since many writers, unable to make a living, do not own cars. In addition, what Wombat understands is that writers are pedestrian since they are using the language, in a sense, that those who are not poets (losers!) use everyday. For example, just the other day, I heard a completely nondescript octogenarian, I believe, use the words tipsy, old, and chiasmus, words I have seen in many different poems. However, what is essential about Wombat’s literary girth is not that he is right about everything, but that he is able to identify not simply what is poetic about poetry. In other words, Wombat’s fondness for grasses and roots is indicative of how poetry, although belonging to a specific genre called poetry, even though no one reads it, manages to alter the nature of language. According to Professor Pure Reason of the Philosophy Department at Coleman College in Chicago, poetry changes the world because “when one word is changed, the whole world changes with it.” Ironically, I talk about this very thing in Fool on the Hill, which is not, as many critics have claimed, an autobiography, if only because I live in Iowa, which has no hills. In my version of Hamish, Hamish, or Hammer Toe, is not a fishmonger, as the court-conciliate Tom Hagen claims, but, rather, a prince, which is weird since Hagen totally would have known that: Fish-flossed & tossed, embossed By oils a naked Rome in Elysian Peace as empiric peer to classify How in evil to flatterer spoke: O! Praise for a generation that broke A generation that broke the gen- Eration that broke, & so it goes -- As to the worm to a fish to a cat… What need, then, for this praise? Some idol’s idle idyllic idolatry? Or not? The pride of privilege… What’s taken for all in all if all’s All that there is? As if, as if, or... The world changes and we change. Even though several critics have criticized this poem, in particular, for its density, several scientists have noted its additive contributions for single atoms, or Greg. In addition, several of my neighbors, who, coincidentally, have never read or heard the poem, believe the poem, writes Mr. Fleischman from 12C in the Note Pinned to My Door, “revolves in its own constellation, now go to bed and leave me alone.” What critics, and Mr. Fleischman (the cretin) do not “get” is that the poem purposely mal-constructs its own rigmarole for the porpoises of swimming in a wine-dark sea. In other words, the poem is, in a sense, intentionally bad, bad being a pejorative term in the sense all things are pejorative, because it can be, or, in the words of my father, “I spent thirty thousand dollars for this?” Yes, father, you did, and worth every penny if I may say so myself, which I do, so there. However, I digress, if only because regression is not an option at this point. In other words, enough about me, or let us talk about me. More specifically, knowing the risks involved, why did I venture to sally forth Wombat’s precocious maledictions upon the oil-blackened shores of the committee’s agenda? To be honest, I do not know, although I have my suspicions that I may be a maker of trouble, what Javelin called a cutpurse of the empire and the rule, rules being twelve inches and rather rigid. Then again, perhaps I did it because I felt I owed a certain odious malingering to Wombat whose muscular quadruped has no equal in the mammalian kingdom, for despite the several successive qualms quietly eating away at my trochaic dactyl, I am, in so many words, loyal to a fault line. In other words, although the committee may take my dignity and publish it as a tell-all, I can say, with very small words, that I, Tendentious Wombat, having traveled in partial sight of Eternity and with a trucker named Bud, am confident victory will be mine, be it in this life or the next.