140.1: Mike Dockins:: Texas: A Screenplay & Miranda & The Secretary 140

In an age where the “Make it New” credo dictates the aesthetic motivations of American poetry, Mike Dockins may strike someone as a fairly classical, even traditional poet. No, he does not write in blank verse and end-rhyme like Christopher Marlowe. His hefty and robust prose-poems will attest to the fact that he is very much alive and present with all of us here in the twenty-first century. Dockins' poems, however, feel very traditional, not in a tired, unsurprising, or expected sense. To better articulate what I mean, take three lines from the second stanza of Sylvia Plath’s “The Colossus”:

          Thirty years now I have labored
          To dredge the silt from your throat.
          I am none the wiser.

Plath mastered this art of coupling the traditional (In subject matter, in theme, in formal technique) with the colloquial. Being “none the wiser” is an idiomatically perfect way to offset her treatment of her “classical” subject matter—her own private Ozymandias, that is. Now look at Dockins’ poem “Miranda,” where we go from a Kafka-esque scenario akin to Joseph K.’s interrogation, and where our speaker gives us "the right to go kicking and screaming. You have the right to contemplate sweeping the cell floor as you sweep the cell floor."

Dockins disrupts accosting us like poor Herr K. with his own radical idiomatic expressions: “No more Mr. Nice Guy,” and “You have the right to reject the cliché.” Like Plath, Dockins can flirt with classical tradition in matters of both form and content, and like her, he is incapable of stifling the hilarious and witty bravado that reminds its reader of the mind behind the lines. Cody Todd

Texas: A Screenplay


We all knew this day would come: killer bees have crossed the Rio Grande. Their first target is a school bus on the outskirts of El Paso. Every tike on board is allergic to bees. Their feeble arms push up the feeble windows. The swarm shakes the bus back & forth. The bus topples. The bees sting the tires flat. The children are suffocating. For God’s sake, somebody do something. The bus driver has radioed the authorities. Scientists arrive on the scene. Their stethoscopes look official. A helicopter twitters overhead, wanting to help…. There are tumbleweeds & coyote tracks & dust devils. The fracas is quieted by a child asking, “What happened to the bees?” The whole gang hikes to the local saloon with wild stories of hook-handed maniacs, of chewing gum sticking hopelessly to ribs….

**********

But behind them, a meteorite has plowed into the scrub brush. Mutant tarantulas from beyond the Moon ooze from the hole in the earth. Somebody do something. The saloon is ambushed: tarantulas in the gin, tarantulas in the jukebox, tarantulas in the arcade coin slots. The scientists call a team of special top scientists, who begin developing a serum. Their lab coats and Pyrex tubes fill everybody with hope. The hope is shaped like a panhandle. But the tarantulas are vicious. One by one the barfolk drop, faces smashing into pretzel bowls. The helicopter still twitters, somewhere…. The special top scientists arrive with their serum. The fallen are revived. The tarantulas fizzle to a spidery ash. The children must get back to school, or God help them….

**********

The children are airlifted back to school, just in time for History. In town, a dog is barking at a dark, buzzing cloud. When the cloud of bees passes over the dog, it sounds like an electric shaver, & the dog is picked clean. The townsfolk are dust-choked and helpless. Soon the streets are filled with skeletons. The wind plays through the bones like chimes. The entire planet will be covered in bones if somebody doesn’t do something. The local blind man has an idea. The idea is shaped like a telephone. But no one answers: the authorities are stumbling around in a saloon at the edge of town, shooting tequila from Pyrex tubes, muttering God help us, God help us….




Miranda


You have the right to an autistic attorney. You’ll get nine phone calls, including your disappointed dad. Why is your glove box filled with mothballs? Don’t give me lip. Do you know how fast you were going? I didn’t even see you—I stopped you because the reflection of your bumper sticker was momentarily stamped upon the Moon: a fish with legs wriggling across the Moon. I was horrified. I’m calling for back-up. There’s an APB for an SUV full of PCP on the LIE. Your expired registration has little to do with Godzilla. You have the right to fail to locate Tokyo on a map. Hint: it’s south of Hokkaido. Hint: east of west of east. I have the right to ambiguous haiku. Your driver’s license baffles me: where is West Dakota? You have six phone calls left, including your red-faced dad. You have the right to lose patience with New England directions. That’s how I ended up here: I wanted only to find a campsite with my baby. She disappeared one evening into this red-and-blue flash. You have the right to a fair and speedy monkey trial. You have the right to feel dismal when California cleaves into the Pacific. If you’d step out of the vehicle, I’ll check your glove box for fire ants. Nothing but mothballs. As it happens, a guy with your name is wanted in Colombia for trafficking Coca-Cola, and has similar rights. If I have encouraged you to speak, then I am to blame. I asked for a campsite and got lost. I wanted a night’s sleep with my baby under these billions of suns, but here I am sweeping billions of suns under Fenway Park’s unlucky rug. I have the right to metaphor. Ahem. You have the right to fumble the quadratic equation. Hint: the b is negative. Could what you’re giving me be considered lip? The stars are a many-necked necklace. You have the right to speed off. You have the right to slam into the sun. You have the right to define silence. You have four phone calls left, including your exhausted dad. Your vehicle lacking valid plates has nothing to do with the theory of Earth Crust Displacement. Should it be necessary to drag you downtown, you have the right to go kicking and screaming. You have the right to contemplate sweeping the cell floor as you sweep the cell floor. No more Mr. Nice Guy. You have the right to reject cliché. You have two phone calls left, including your whale-hunting dad. Your tailpipe dragging along the interstate has little to do with Croatian unrest, though nice try. It ought to make you tremble that the boys downtown were reared in leech country. You have the right to fall in love with a Flemish girl named Anna in a college tavern on wing night. Anna has the right to be aloof. Your vehicle popping a killer wheelie for seven miles has nothing to do with feng shui. We both have the right to mispronounce feng shui. You’re down to one phone call, but it’s getting late, and your rickets-stricken dad has long since been to bed.




The Secretary [with Daniel DiVita]


When the pilot grazed a skyscraper at the end of the runway, I knew that somebody would be fired. All the capitalists leaping from the skyscraper made the skyscraper appear to collapse. To mollify the turbulence ping- ponging my viscera, I noted to my companions that skyscraper is a metaphor. We were all seated in the cockpit, which looked more like a waiting room. The pilot looked like a secretary, & in fact she was both, but she was dressed like a ’60s stewardess with exactly seven times as much red lipstick. With one hand she controlled the jet, as though the jet were a pixel-y Atari® jet. With her other hand she took calls, & I wondered if I could call her. But I knew how busy she was, & I didn’t want anyone to get fired. The memos at her desk were folded into paper airplanes. I wondered if my companions noted the irony. I certainly didn’t. The secretary’s eyes were psychedelic swirlies, and I knew that so was her brain. I say were when I mean must have been, & I say brain when I mean breasts. I guess we’re all distracted. The secretary was visibly agitated because her superiors had threatened to fire her if one more flight arrived late. Fired: I imagined her not being terminated of employment, of which she may or may not have been deserving, but shot from a cannon. Her superiors—in top hats & monocles & handlebar mustaches—would light a wick, & the secretary would hurtle head-first toward a skyscraper at the end of a runway. The skyscraper would be shaped like a circus tent. My companions’ eyes were swimming across the glossy magazines—ads for swanky steakhouses, labyrinthine maps of LaGuardia, pouty lips of insipid pop stars. I kept watching the secretary answer calls & toggle the altimeter. I’d never toggled any altimeter. I wondered why some people always get what they want. Near our destination—where? where?—the jet stopped in mid-air & hovered. A cumulus cloud shaped like a composite of Newton, Einstein, & Heisenberg dissolved in a puff of impossibility. The secretary moaned about being fired, which made me smirk—I don’t know if it was the ludicrous cannon or her moaning. My thoughts took the sad shape of things collapsing. The sky filled with explosions, O World History. I knew that on the ground, awaiting our miraculous landing, the secretary’s superiors were heaving tons of TNT to a prescribed location, lighting matches, cackling villainous cackles. The pink suits they must have been wearing reminded me of pinkslips, & I feared for the fate of my beloved. My companions ordered Bloody Mary after Bloody Mary. When they started kissing the magazine lips, I knew that somebody would be fired. The telephone kept ringing & ringing, & I’d never been more thrilled….