Oct 4, 2010

religious beneath the winter tree

Harpur Palate was lucky to (barely) snag Weston Cutter's "Who Shall Be Captain?" for issue 10.1. It's a whale of a poem–unsettling, charged with restless energy–that navigates its own recent, distant, and unconscious past.

What do you say, Weston?

"The title of '
Who Shall Be Captain?' is from this Disney-ish, fakely-old (as in: printed on vinegar-ed paper, made to seem like parchment) poster that hung above a urinal at a bar called Abbey's, which I frequented for a time. The poster was a map of Florida, and there were three illustrations up both sides of the thing, and beneath each there were these great captions, and Who Shall Be Captain was one of them. I had, I think, some fleeting cool idea to make a poem for each, but this is the only one that ever worked."

Unfortunately, Blogger isn't letting me reproduce the original poem's regular indentations. Pick up a copy of 10.1 to see it in all its staggered glory!




WHO SHALL BE CAPTAIN?
Weston Cutter

When we were younger we caught
snakes, held them
by their tails while they writhed and flailed,
kept them in buckets till our sisters
got incensed+dumped them,
gave us our first lessons in false liberation

but then we quit catching live wildness
like that. Caught instead
colds and itches for girls or smoke, caught
each other cheating on each other with
each other's girl(s), so when
I was talking with J three nights back and saw

the mouse on the orange couch I thought
just for a second
I should get a cage but instead bought traps,
two old wood ones and one black plastic
square thing that has
a circular pit to put the peanut butter in it

and three days I watched, waited, heard
the fucker rustling
in the papers I'll never bother making real
places for, and when I woke this morning
the trap snapped
not two minutes after I'd woken from a dream

I'd been having about that time we spent
a whole summer day
throwing rocks at our street's streetsign,
never throwing hard or big enough rocks
to dent the thing, and of course
the trap didn't kill the mouse, just caught his

(I just assume it was a him) back legs
and by the time I got out
from under the sheets, the mouse had squirmed
almost half a foot, had–with the trap locked
onto his ass and back legs–
moved to bury himself under some papers–

an empty candy box, a newspaper I read
only one story in. Had
buried himself like to save me the trouble.
They didn't always get to the snakes: once,
we figured we'd beat our sisters
to the punch, caught a snake, toyed with it,

dropped it into a bucket and for awhile dropped
lit matches on it till
we got bored and tipped it over, grabbed
one of our dad's axes, chopped the thing into
pieces no bigger than the half-
size candybars we got on Halloween. When

I saw the mouse the first time I thought
rabies and cute simultaneously,
and I know I knew, as I undid the trap
outside, a block away, underneath a dying tree,
the frost glittering in the sunlight,
that he was already basically dead–couldn't

(or didn't) move once I set him facing east–
that maybe the good thing
would've been a quick stomp from a big boot.
Maybe not. I left him there, facing sunrise,
convinced myself
I only killed him because I had to, him or me,

my health vs. his. Told myself there was
some honor or decency
in leaving him out like that, religious beneath
the winter tree, all in sunlight. and when
I came back in
I made breakfast and set the trap again.