Orval Lund


Swede, Too, Once Believed

the Tooth Fairy brought dimes, until
one Christmas eve, coming back from showing
an older cousin his Christmas haul from Santa Claus--
his new cowboy shirt and holstered cap pistols,
his Boy's Life, etcetera---crossing the school yard,
the northern sky above filled with stars.
Swede was just about to step onto
Grandpa and Grandma's porch, the warm
yellow light inside filled with kinfolk,
when Odie, spitting on the snow, asked,
"You don't still believe in Santa Claus, do you?"
and Swede knew he'd been duped.
As the whole pantheon of Santa, elves,
baby Jesus, shepherds, wise men, Pastor Gustafson,
Joseph and Mary, his Sunday School teacher, Caroline,
the Easter bunny came crashing down the cold, still night,
Swede answered, "Why no, of course not."
(No matter how many times after that Swede saw
the night sky or heard the clear music of spring thaw,
he could never again believe he believed
in what he could not see, smell, taste, touch, hear.)
Then they entered the house littered with gift wrap,
pine needles, parents and children and mother
and all the rest who would someday die.



Swede, Agape

After the corndogs on a stick, the free
milk, the butter sculpture, after the live
radio interview with Princess Kaye
of the Milky Way, after the prize-winning
jars of jam like crushed rubies, the pies
and giant vegetables, after Machinery Row
with its sleek green John Deeres and bright red Farmalls,
its complicated combines and balers,
after the clean pigs big as VW Beatles,
and the groomed and ribboned beeves of the barns,
the exotic chickens looking mad as generals,
after the stock car races ringing their ears
and the country singer's tinny mike,
after the baseball throw at those fat cats
with the slip-through sides, the delicate
touch of the draglines, and the basketball toss
at the narrow, bent rim, after having
their lean bodies' weights guessed, and the dizzying
Tilt-a-Whirl, they entered the last tent,
on the end, where, after the Two-headed Calf,
the Bearded Lady and the Tattooed Strongman,
after the Fat Lady, the Midget, and the Lady
with the Snakes, they were invited to pay e
xtra for the After Show, promised Nakedness.

So Swede and his buddy, nervously
looking about to make sure no one
in the tent knew them, paid their half-dollars
and sneaked back under the lifted tarp,
gathering about a wooden platform
with a quilt tossed over it, with men--
a farmer wore bib overalls and kept
his hands inside, a businessman kept his hat
tipped low--until   She came out
and lay on the platform--no more than
a big box--and they all stood round and stared
as she removed her frayed, dirty pink, terry-cloth robe
(Petey elbowing him and giggling),
and placed her hand upon her private place
shaved clean. Her breasts were small and slack,
a tattoo of a rose bloomed from a scar on her thigh,
her eyes stayed closed, as she rubbed herself
and squirmed. Swede had seen nakedness before
(they called them "nudes") in photography magazines
and he was old enough to have felt that flush
that turns man into hunting beast,
but never in the flesh before, that still rubbed,
harder now and faster, never opened her eyes.
Swede wondered what her name was,
noticed the men around the box gathering closer,
staring down on her, their mouths agape,
and he turned and left, getting lost
and stumbling under a tarp where a mustached man
in a hat, smoking, counted money,
hearing a female ooo-ooo-ooo
as he stumbled out, blinded, into harsh sun.


Swede Abducted by Aliens

All his life Swede had hoped
that, if they existed, he would see them.
He recognized that this was a displacement
of his childhood need to see God, yet
he was even willing to risk the humiliation
of being in the company of those bib-overalled droolers,
those unemployed Billy Bobs and Bubbas,
the usual Jonahs of Alien visits. For Swede still believed
in the evidence of his senses. If not that, what?
So, when, on that dark country road
that he often drove, he saw the light following
his car, he pulled over and got out.
Except for the humming crescendo/diminuendo
of the pulsing light above the road, silence.
Soon Swede felt himself become lighter
as the beam above lifted him through the shining door
of a huge hovering disk. It set him onto a table
where, surrounded by long-haired, long-limbed
naked creatures as delicious as pulp magazine cover babes,
Swede was mounted by one of them who stole his seed,
then, of course, was left, sleeping in his car
by the side of the road. Where was he?
Well, just where he had always been, wondering.
And how about you, dear friend, do you believe
your senses, or your dreams, or both?
And could you believe that, perhaps, maybe, who knows, what if . . .
Swede is scattered among the stars?



The Logician Formerly Known as Swede

        "Let the mystery be . . ."--Iris DeMent

Swede remembers how ideas fascinated him
when he was young , how he loved to argue,
how refuting Keith Beaver's belief in God
gave him deep pleasure--after all, if God existed
why hadn't he ever made himself manifest to Swede;
and, after all, look what the Lutherans had done to Swede.
Ergo, zip, zip, wham, wham! Swede's darts of truth would hit
target, make Keith wince, crucify him on a cross of logic.

And the biggest idea Swede ever had intrigued him for years:
What if we are just so many atoms or parts of atoms
floating around in one huge creature, and that creature
could be called God, the seeming vastness of our space
the (to God) minuscule spaces between atoms, elements,
and the like? Then could we not also be gods,
with our own tiny people on planets in solar systems
in galaxies in a cosmos floating around inside us? Etcetera?

Then Swede read Ecclesiastes, and Job, and Song of Myself,
and Moby Dick, and Yeats, and bumped into things and aged
considerably and ideas didn't seem so fresh, didn't matter much
anymore. So Swede went down inside himself, way down past the atoms
of mind into the atoms of body where, he felt, the deeper truths,
the deeper pleasures reside, and sniffed. Ah, how great
thou art, Cheese; how real art thou, Manure;
and how like a God Swede's Big Fat Nose.

 

Orval Lund is a retired English professor who lives in Winona, Minnesota. He has read his poems widely--from Japan to Alaska to Vermont--but mostly in his native Minnesota. He has also published widely--including two chapbooks from Dacotah Territory Press; the Minnesota Voices Competition winner, Casting Lines (New Rivers Press, 1999); and just recently (summer 2003) in From Blue Herons to White Cranes, a Japanese-English bilingual chapbook. The poems in this issue are from his current project, a manuscript of Swede poems featuring an alter-ego based on Lund's small town and Swedish heritage.

 

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