Charles Freeland

A Zeitgeist Grown Dormant

The normal order of things looks similar 
to what orangutans get up to 
when you put them in cages and just expect them to stay there 
because the meals are regular and the temperature 
never fluctuates by more than a few degrees. 

Our disappointment breeds something close to despair 
when we let it sit and fester, when we refuse to discuss it with 
our first cousins and seek out more distant relatives 
in places like Spokane and that amusement park 
where, according to reports, the lady was strapped in safely 
with a harness for a moment but still managed to worm her way out. 

The soft drinks come with so much ice 
you begin to suspect someone is playing a practical joke on you, 
someone is trying to see just how far they can push you 
before you bristle and toss expletives about like bocce balls. 
Try the coconut cream pie next time you’re there, 
you won’t regret it, but it probably won’t change your life either. 
It won’t bring your hidden or stolen memories 

cascading back so that you are able finally to write that very long novel 
or, at the very least, amaze your friends with your power of recall, 
with your ability to tell them exactly where you were when 
you realized they couldn’t be less interested in you, really, 
than if you were some sort of cuttlefish washed up and motionless 
on the beach’s moon-blemished stones.

The Root Word is “Quench” 

Turns out the Holy Spirit 
is more difficult to lure in 
than we first anticipated. 
One mostly reliable approach  
involves serpents, 
smallish brown vipers 
draped from our palms 
and larger, emerald and white constrictors 
daydreaming at our feet. 

They are rendered 
too timid to bite, forced
I suppose 
into a state of hibernation 
without the requisite temperature drop. 

Afterward, we argue 
for positions we don’t believe in 
or understand
and then act perplexed 
when they are adopted, 
destroying in the process 
any chance of our being recognized 
as geniuses, 
as enfants terribles. 

There can be little doubt 
we’ll go to ordinary graves, 
plaques and medals
accumulated before then 
all grown passé 
and even your standard 
ovation gone the way 
of the unicycle or the suit of armor.

Not Merely Possible but, on Occasion, Obscene

We assume the nefarious 
as default – hex-hurling sisters 
and pilots dressed in velvet,  

tingly alternatives to 
the mails, say, or lavender soap, 
to rigid engineering 

and a disgust with the outdoors 
common among those  
who suffered bronchial issues 

when they were young 
and were therefore more likely 
to have finished Moby Dick 

before getting a driver’s license. 
Say what you want about January,
it still serves a purpose 

even if hampered by 
that distant, all-encompassing 
hum and organic throb 

that arises around twilight 
and barely wavers until 
breakfast when it lessens 

in intensity and then dissolves 
altogether, to nothing, 
like the galaxy come sunrise, 

come advent of light 
and the cackling, the bickering 
of children on their way 

to school where they 
learn about the Gunpowder Plot 
and the lifecycle of 

mushrooms, how 
those who hunt them
luxuriate in spores.  

Oligocene Dreams

Light toward evening slips through a window of its own making
and returns, a cycle that continues until there is little left. 
You can catch the entirety up in the palm of your hand 
and place it in a jar on the shelf, if you like. You can wait 
until it morphs into something else, a diamond, a distant voice 
like the one we hear when we are talking to ourselves. 

We have slipped into a habit formed decades before 
when we felt a crab-like vulnerability and no one was listening, 
no one was even in the room. The curtains billowed occasionally 
and the print on them ran riot, vegetive and alien, 

very like what you’d expect on the slopes of a volcanic island 
where, it turns out, the jailhouse is the only safe place 
in the event of an eruption. The birds have evolved long, 

useless tail feathers and they engage in intricate mating dances 
lasting up to five days that have been described 
so frequently by the visiting ornithologists, they don’t even seem 
that interesting anymore. They have grown ordinary  
as dollar bills or the lint you find in the pockets of your coat.

The Original Visit of Spirit to its Host Medium

Variations resemble their originals 
the way we resemble flightless birds, 
the poorly coordinated limb movements, 
the looking over our shoulders 
as if guilty of a crime that might land us 
in the county jail 
where the inmates are all sleeping soundly 
now that the holiday is over. 

I admire the way light refuses 
to travel any farther than it has to, 
the way the sky becomes a permeable barrier, 
but a barrier nonetheless, keeping us 
locked in like ants in those plastic ant farms
we used to buy at the dime store. 

Thankfully, the penchant 
for organizing ourselves 
into ever more complicated hierarchies 
has gone the way of the red wolf, 
with instead our instinct for joy 
showing through finally in the songs 
we sing spontaneously, songs 
about wheelbarrows and knife fights, 
songs that resemble in their simplicity 
those Beethoven composed 
when he was interested in the music 
of grocers, of farmers in grottos 

rather than the other stuff,
the enormous, important 
Vienna-soaked concoctions 
designed to make him immortal
but which strike us now
as throwbacks to a time when people felt 
as if they were being watched 
at every moment of every day 
by something enormous but
something they could not see, 
something so far removed 
from current circumstances, 
it might as well have been stumbling about, 
hopeless and alone, 
on Jupiter.     

Fantastical Settings Enriched with Contemporary Incident 

Determine age with radioactive half-lives, 
surveys and old photos of the Dave Clark Five. 
It won’t make any difference. We realize 
soon enough numbers of this sort are meaningless as 
a handful of goose feathers stuck to the sidewalk 
on a day with no rain. 

Not even the looming threat of nihilism 
will change anyone’s mind. 
Most likely we’ll have hands raised here and there 
to ask after the definition 
as people don’t read the Russians much anymore, 
except maybe in Alberta where, well, …
what else are you going to do? 

We look to the future as if it were some grand Yosemite 
hanging in the air and doing summersaults, 
a kiddie-land paradise 
that just happens to be overrun with bears 
difficult to spot,
what with the deep shadows, the heat rising in undulating waves 
off the mostly full parking lots. 

Maybe we have one too many hours 
given to us in a day 
from the generous activity of the sun itself 
and we should just go ahead and behave 
as if we don’t know some day the sun is going to wink out, 
is going to extinguish itself because 
to go on forever would be immodest.

At Ninety Minutes Over its Allotted Running Time

Panic might seem the most logical reaction 
given the sudden, drain-like movement of the stars, 
the rumors circulating in a mirrored pattern 
here in the towns and townships far below. 

Their momentum is starting to fail, though,
the most innocuous inertia has set in, 
and even the black cat in the window 
across the street no longer bothers to track 
your every movement with its head. 
The grocery store is suddenly lousy with cantaloupe. 

We could chalk these miracles up 
to others taking us seriously for a change, 
listening to our endless complaints and heartache 
without breaking into so much as a smirk. 
But we would be mistaken. 

                          We would be victims 
of our own strict upbringing and lax study skills, 
of our newfound love for Japanese whiskey 
and checkers instead of backgammon, 
for at least four of the old commandments, 

especially that one warning us away 
from expensive things and attractive people.
Presumably, therein lies the path 
to dissatisfaction, to a constant low-grade humiliation 
caused by asking questions like 
where are you going and what is that heavenly scent?          

Charles Freeland lives in Dayton, Ohio. His website is The Fossil Record.
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