“A Million Distant Glittering Catastrophes”

How easily we forget. Gathered on a porch on Wheeler Hill in western New York, we introduced ourselves as FootHills poets from near and far, with Danny Kerwick from New Orleans having come the farthest. After I mentioned my two FootHills books, Danny wasn’t satisfied, for he’d heard of me somewhere else. What else had I published? Well, years ago, I’d won a chapbook contest from Pavement Saw Press for The Fish Are Laughing. “That’s it!” Danny said. “I bought it for $1.” The group chuckled over the lowly fate of books, but Danny meant his comment as a compliment. In country music, he said, having your music sold on cheap cassettes in truck stops was a sign of success. To reach the $1 shelf wasn’t chicken feed.

Long ago I answered my phone at my log cabin in the Catskills on the eve of a month long trip to Nicaragua and Costa Rica to hear from David Baratier that I was a finalist for his 2000-01 Pavement Saw Press Chapbook Award. Little did I appreciate at that time how rare it was to win such a contest. (And little did I anticipate that I might never take such a long vacation again.) I returned to the good news that The Fish Are Laughing would be published. Carol Zaloom did a linocut of a fire-breathing snapping turtle for the cover. And after a decade this slender book has found its way to New Orleans and who knows where else.

The latest winner is A Million Distant Glittering Catastrophes by Martin Arnold who teaches at Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina. A clunkier title might be The Male Ego Crack-Up, a subject he handles with wit and wickedly imaginative metaphors. Several poems I particularly like are “So Long Mr. Nice Guy” and “Skeletons Copulating on a Tin Roof.” But here’s one I couldn’t resist:

Smiles Like Apologies

When I saw you again my heart spilled into my lap
like a bag of buttered popcorn.
It was a large day for the people in Midgetville.
It was a night so windy the weathervane passed out.
Our Hellos shouted “Fire!” as the curtain rose.
The roses were nice, but the wine was like Californian?
Together opened before us like an empty wallet.
What lifts Happiness’ leg toward your lawn?
You raged like a thunderhead and I shuddered like a kite.
You popped the filaments in my bulbs.
Then my armies set your villages afire.
Then you walked beside me like a phantom limb.
But to call my guilt affection after all this time
is like cutting out my tongue to make room for yours in my mouth.

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