Mudlark Poster No. 98 (2012)

Four Examples of What I’m Talking About
Poems by Philip Brooks

Old News | For August
Even Abe Lincoln | Shutterbugs

Old News

It rains and we rummage  
a dead man’s pockets 
for cigars, for matches 
dry enough to strike 
against farmhouse walls. 
We always kiss the window 
when the ladies march by. 
This is Monkeytown! we cry. 
All hail the Talking Dog! 
Here’s a painting, your face 
in a killer’s mirror. 
Next, you’re a chimp 
grinning and humping 
a chimp-faced wife. 
The handbook says 
a dog walks into a bar 
and orders a beer. 
Wordless, the bartender 
folds his newspaper 
and smashes a buzzing fly-god 
then pours the dog his draft. 
Blessed is the knife 
in a philanderer’s heart. 
So say the ladies of Monkeytown.
But we say: blessed is 
the cuckold
whose only crime is dying easy
at the start of a war.

For August

My west-leaning house 
told a greyhound 
to send its shadow 
into the rabbit field. 
There, my firing squad 
lounged in clover. 
Five boys breathing 
the thick air, talking 
about home, the sun bent 
on roasting us alive. 
A bumblebee hovered 
so near my eye I felt 
a tiny breeze. I kept it 
a secret. The soldiers 
yawned, stretched, 
and put their boots on. 
Call my lawyer, 
I told the greyhound. 
But it was late summer now. 
The dog was drowsy, 
the offices closed for August, 
phones stored in a refrigerator 
so the earpieces would be cool 
when the lawyers came back 
and got ready to talk 
about justice. 
I stood and looked at my shadow. 
It was close to noon and 
it would stay that way 
for the rest of the summer. 

Even Abe Lincoln Wants Coffee

When the black train
leaves the station
townsfolk want coffee.

What they get is
a handshake, 
a new day,
more work.
A landscape painter
sits at a boxcar door
watching hills fade.
He wants coffee
along with a dream
of windowsill pie
staining his teeth
the perfect blue.
He tells the moon
what he wants.
He sleeps 
on a haystack,
counting yellow 
stars painted 
in his head.
In the perfect blue 
distance, a dog whistle.
A faithful retriever hears 
and starts the truck 
her master taught her 
how to steer.

When she stops for me, 
I jump in back, watching 
her sad eyes in the mirror.
I tell her how I finally 
read the bible. How
I loved Jesus but cried
because I wasn’t convinced.
Coffee and pie
can save us 
but it’s late.
So bury me tonight.
Use the root cellar
if the moon is bright.
And if a traveler
taps your door
with a true cross
made of twigs
pour him what
would’ve been
my cup.

Dead men will 
tell their lies 
to any dog
bound for the promised land.


The National Photographers’ Union 
flocked downtown to the Wild-Eyes Motel. 
They got drunk and built a giant pinhole camera
in the parking lot. Now, they’re driving it 
around in a jeep, cursing our quality of light. 

Meanwhile, my son’s teaching me to close 
my eyes and say everything I see in Spanish 
so perfect a blind Mexican could see it.  
We talk about moving to Chihuahua. 
For the better light, not the dogs. 

He says a Latin superhero hovers the block 
while I count the day away at my Treasury table. 
“Snap a picture,” I beg.
“Es imposible,” he says. 
So there’s just his translation to rely on. 
The woman in the yellow house 
won’t say yes, won’t say no. 
We talk and smile 
through her screen door. 
She knows I’m a government man. 
And she has a daughter to protect. 
This girl never blinks, makes us believe 
she can’t see. Or sees everything. 
Who knows what’s true? 
What I’m failing to describe doesn’t 
do any of it poetic justice. 

Look, my boy once woke from dreams 
and told me if only all the money could be 
gathered up and burned, then remade 
with a picture of the girl in the yellow house 
our gross national product would be 
Truth and Beauty.  
People would, he said, 
be made happy by this surplus 
even if they claimed they weren’t. 
It’s far-fetched and it sounded better 
in Spanish but all the same, I offer this prayer: 

Hide your eyes, little girl. 
For the photographers seek 
to unmask you and all the other 
superheroes hovering our blocks. 
They want to tell you what it means 
to be blind or to see everything. 
Pity them. They wish they could 
shut up and see in perfect Spanish. 
I pray for the morning I find 
your face on my dollar bill.

Philip Brooks grew up in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park “as an aspiring melancholiac. To that end,” he attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop as a fiction writer. Several of his stories appeared in Gordon Lish’s “defunct but really swell” The Quarterly, others in Willow Springs and The Kenyon Review. Some of his poems have appeared in recent postings at and He lives in Ohio with his wife and son.

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