VP OF BANKING HEARS
THE GREEN NOISE OF THE WORLD
"There's no moment between human beings
I imagined old man Duncan could snap
the thumb of his good hand across the head
on a double sawbuck and tell who had held it—
grease monkey, reverend, beautician—as if
the paper had been inked with their souls.
When he was dying, he pulled Junior’s
ear to his lips, Only you under the stars
and under the sun can keep the thing going.
(Junior had to stoop to catch the words.
More tears in the old man’s eyes than his.)
The IRS is on to you-know-what:
their auditors have bugged our damned comptroller—
they’re grabbing for our balls. You have it all.
To keep it, little man, you’ll have to dance.
Junior found people worth knowing—a man
who showed him how to squirrel away his cash
into a nut so hard no auditor
could crack it; another, who could hide
a transmitter in the olive in a martini.
After a fifth of Junior’s shine, his tongue
grew eloquent: When the mark speaks,
the whole room resonates. All you have to do
is capture and amplify. When you’ve played
hours of scratchy tapes—through the white noise
of transistor hiss, then the softer static
of white filtered to pink in flickering circuits—
you’ll know the goddamn joy of catching
the little words needed to goddamn ruin a man.
Junior picked me out for something bigger.
We go back a ways, I knew your daddy,
you worked for mine. Are you ready
to quit dicking with your career? Junior
gave me his Italian shotgun, an over
and under engraved with two gold pheasants.
He gave me a Plymouth. Don’t sweat the expense,
you’ll need some elbow room to maneuver,
and cash is a cold-cock tool that spreads
the world as broad as a man’s needs.
Into my jacket pocket he slipped some money.
His right arm went across my shoulders,
he held my right hand in his left and whispered
in my ear drops of poison as thick as honey.
I lent money to Landreths, Clonches, Woodards,
their skin white as talcum, to black men liable
to come in, named the same, and make their answers
yes, sir, no, sir, like it says in the Bible:
When cash was in their pocket, the dark world
shone wet and lucent, a glassine envelope;
when money was in both pockets, the men swaggered
and whistled down 10th Street, inflated with hope,
the payback lurking where they couldn’t see it.
It was fine to be vice president of this,
to see the money spread out, steaming manure
on poor land, to see it catch on fire and heat
the county, like Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace.
In it I stood, stoking it bluer, bluer.
Yellow ears were bursting from the shuck,
the morning fog was glowing in the sun,
when Junior found me, See these two transmitters?
He held his left hand out. I have just one
little job for you, then we’ll be partners,
stepping shoulder to shoulder, cheek to cheek.
I’ll keep you closer than my finger bone.
I drove through the roaring boom of traffic
to buy the batteries where no one knew me
by face or name. In a ceiling tile
of the office reserved for outside auditors
I used my pocketknife to cut a pinhole,
then climbed on the sink next door to shimmy
into the crawl space to plant the little bastard.
Later I drove to the river, played the last tape,
and listened: the shuffling of papers as the agents
traced and vouched cash. The clicking ten-keys.
A cassette tinkling country, Can’t sleep a wink,
that is true, then an old movie tune, Let’s
face the music. I pondered the muteness
of the stars, the silent spinning of the earth—
the vast listening of God who cannot stop
his ears against our racket. As I woke
the sky was whitening east to west and flushing
pink at the margin. I wondered (why hadn’t
I thought of it before?) what’s Junior’s done
with the second bug? I reached under the dash,
under the seat and mat. Then I reached in my pocket.
This morning, I heard a buzzing, like flies
around a carcass, whispers like corduroy on
corduroy, sifted meal sliding down itself.
Then a voice came from the dirt, Get up, John,
the birds wait. Even the children go
unafraid. I rose to the commotion
in the trees, the house full of strange
perfumes invited me to open the white
doors, to look at sleepers helpless in night
clothes, while their cold paws tunneled the stale
air of dreams.. The voice commanded, Go, dig
with the moles, find the wiring by which
a man can tap the green noise of the world.
Now my head crackles like a radio.
fiction poetry "fact" photography