Brandon Som's Lonely Hotdog
I don't want to be misunderstood. I like art.
All glittering things. In deed. In fact. One night in New Orleans
Brandon tapped out the moments of a jazz bar
where a young woman had caught his eye, as she, he tells me,
had been caught by his: less piercing than a fishhook;
the trombone takes a solo; he ties the gold & green
fly to the line; he buys another Abita;
stands in that slouch he thinks the chicks dig.
Brandon O Brandon, it was over before the story began,
or was the story over before the event? How you helped
a crumpled drunk to a cab & when you returned
the fair-haired beauty, the damsel desiring (distress, that dress)
another scotch on the rocks, she'd gone. Where was I
when I first realized that the story of my life was not
the story of my life, that the waterfall
was a commercial for low interest loans?
Of the words, he only remembered kaleidoscope,
cataract, some passive voice & the knowledge
of something small inside him that he loved,
some parasitic infestation he deemed incurable.
Because how can one tap the stem of a cantaloupe
under the glazed fluorescents of the grocery store
when out on the blacktop a welter of clouds
bank pink to cushion the setting sun
& pheromones wheeze as fish jump from foamed
rippling vertiginous like the blood-flow to fingertips?
The hooks tangle in my pocket. We know this part,
when the artist thinks he's the sole soul aware of life,
that the wrinkled biker in the Big Peckers tank top
is somehow oblivious to the fine salt haloed
around his calves after wading in the Gulf of Mexico,
the rings in the just-cut stump, resin-scented, wet & sticky.
Where would I be without faith in whiskey at Café Ipanema,
cold beer at Hole in the Wall, penne at Edo's? How long will I err
in this St. Vitus' Dance: that my life is more than a red plastic keg cup
topped off with PBR, three pink carnations wilting
over the curled white lip of the vase? It's a thrill, it is,
to write it all down, to feel at last in control.
I scrub the plastic cups. I put recyclables
into proper receptacles. I write what I know. I avoid clichés
like the plague. I love the moment of blankness
on the TV screen between commercials,
the bombs that incinerate the Afghan train.
This is not my life I am leading. It is
a broken tooth. Indeed, picture Brandon (his tiny frame,
brown eyes grown watery with beer)
first buying the hotdog on the corner,
his face fading into burlap.
Then the crowd jostling as he adds the mustard,
adds the onions, his body riverbanked around the dog.
Then he turns the corner & sits on a wrought iron staircase.
Art no longer works this way. A single concrete thing
on a liquid street on a liquid night when the crowd foams
over the cobblestones like a small waterfall
& a man throws a bottle through a window. No ideas
but in things, but all my things, though glittering, are boring.
My overflown emotions rejected in tranquility. My mother
advised me to read until my eyes shriveled
& to think worse of myself than anybody else could.
But like O'Hara said, "even when you're scared
art is no dictionary." And I must name
of Brandon's lips wrapped in Freudian exaltation
around the moist bun of that salty meat.
And yet there are so many end rhymes & blank verses,
I love the conventions: the fixed forms of hotdogs & chips,
the alcoholic poets with pockets full of pens,
the better to have loved & losts—& each fault
a squirming fish among the jagged rocks.
But then, hours later, the memory of that cube of cantaloupe,
sweetly musty like a melody from Mendelssohn
& Brandon seated on the iron steps, hating each bite
of his perfect, lonely hotdog & wanting it
to last forever, the crowds & lights grown
from the tiny universe of meat & condiments in his hands.
That cantaloupe is a bend in the path
that will lead to a small waterfall
because I can already hear the glassy melody,
the small waterfall's treble pitch,
can almost see the moss growing
on the wet stones of the small waterfall,
the minnows darting in the sunlit pool below
the small waterfall. And Brandon
holds the last bite of hotdog up like a jewel,
turns it slowly in the streetlight: mustard, relish.
And I see it now, a simple thing: a small waterfall.
return to top