In John Gallaher’s series of “Guidebook” poems, Big Brother (or some other faux Reality Show) is on tape loop in the Cartesian theater. Shards of jaded narrative are locked in a house together, and they hate each other! The poems are full of paratactic leaps, each a desperate attempt at escape, except, we find out, escape is just another schtick, e.g., “Adam turned aside to indulge a passion for turning aside.” But Gallaher gives us to understand that all the digression, all the zigzagging in the world won’t really get us outside the “penopticon.” Our moves are written into the script. This is disturbing, of course, but “Rosie was mostly happy though and knew that all would one day be another day.” These poems may be the boxes we’re always trying to “think outside of.” ‘Lots of luck!’ they tell us. “Now there is relentless war between us, says the senator, as he goes off to dine with Buffy.” With their cast of recurring characters, the poems in Gallaher’s series are as bitter and skeptical —and funny!—as (old) Bob Dylan songs. We may not know the way out, but we’d better not get too comfortable here in the endless preview. Are we being warned? Near the end, “Chicken Little and the Boys have some words.”

—Rae Armantrout, Judge


A Guidebook to Birds of a Feather

Among the unsatisfactory commissions of this period, they never tried hard to get to know each other. Rain, then clearing. Then rain. It’ll disappear before we understand it, they said. Now it’s just a matter of playing out events and turning on the lights. But we heard Adam turned aside to indulge a passion for turning aside (& red plush upholstery, which drove Rosie flighty & hysterical). What are we to have instead? he asked. Have the tubular steel framing and glass table tops any promise? But we’re better than that, as we’re finally reconciled with the drapes and throw rug. And we no longer confuse taste and whim. Except with certain shades of brown. Gold or Venetian red accomplishes much the same effect, but requires skill. Amused ourselves. Some sun. And you can’t bring it back once it’s gone, we told them, to no avail, as we heard that chartreuse is a natural outcome of feeling, and reveals a fondness for space. Perhaps then one can buy oneself a pleasant life? The logical sequence is first the walls, then the floors, then the contents of the room, where we noticed a light rain was falling, a mist really. But people read too much into such things, like bedroom communities and growing up Catholic. So much for the tour, then, or trading underwear. Thunderstorms in the evening, and drizzle. And you can only do what you can do. This one consideration will often make or mar the whole thing, Buffy agrees, relaxing into Adam’s red leather couch. It’s just another of those places you find yourself in, like a size 12. Or the occasional use of mulberry, as Rosie writes. Then it’s off to the Zuider Zee, where we’re still very close to a compelling sense of order. Hans does well by her long tan legs. Hot and sunny. Lawn chairs in high demand.


A Guidebook to the Ordeal

Afterward, they tied my feet together and held my hands over my head. Jenny was not a witness then, and we did not stay in the same part of the room. We had poor water conditions, and afterward we went shopping, which was fun. We did that last year too, with Hurricane Bonnie, so these were relationships we already had. We did not know where our folks were. Seemed like hours to cross. And afterward, she had me to be very still and for us to just sit there. A year and a day afterward, a man lit his pipe. And surely, afterward, I did be gone into a haze, and there to remain, only to answer a question I know will be asked. Yes, we did make it to finally be reporters, whose job it is to report on what is really going on, and we did not always do this. We did our cooking on an oil stove, and we lived well, as this catalogue of our experiences shows. Thanks again for sending for me afterward, but Aunt Carol would not hear of my going. We won’t tell her then, about the getting up, walking, eating, working, and reading, even if that is what we did most of the days of the last year. Nevertheless, we did that, whether we knew it or not. We made the real world brilliant that night, and as surely as the year spun its abstract web, we did have tea with them afterward. They were formal. They were respectful, professional, but they were very tough, very smart. How much harm we did I do not know, but we made things lively for a time. I didn’t see Peter there, but I learned later that he was among those who did a Q & A afterward, and I asked him for advice. We had a lot of room for our suitcases and our clothes. We did need extra hangers, but no matter what we did, Jenny made it all work. We did so well for the first year that I renewed the contract for not long afterward. The senator, as well, had a long, low shanty built on his place for Peter to hum along with, and then we sped the vocals up afterward. They seemed to make more sound with less effort—it’s subtle, but noticeable. Afterward, refreshments would include Jesus Juice. In Etcetera, everything we did basically involved sex or sexual connotations, because unless we learn quickly to back off, we’re finished here. So we all went out to dinner afterward and stood around drinking wine and one of the first things Smith did was turn to Hoyden, saying, “I love this 2005 team. How special we were, and the things we did.”


A Guidebook to the Penopticon

You never know what you’ll see when you come upon them, but it never hurts to be a little sentimental. The next year was hell for all concerned. Sensing a shot at redemption, the senator surveyed the yard. Now there’s a relentless war between us, he says, and goes off to dine with Buffy. They loved it, Mom too, arriving as it did, ready to hang and admire. Attaboy, Red, they all said. We all dreamed of higher honors, but within a month he began to fear his body. Get there early, as conceptual implications are limited, we’re told. And should be well thought-out and planned, hovering there somewhere in the distance. But we’re only seeing traces these days. So maybe desire isn’t enough, as Jhané convinces Rosie that the two should move in together into a larger apartment that soon floods. The Silvas and the Browns move away. Still, we liked the three perfect Spanish maids, delivered at their most expressive moment, though mostly all we saw was the backs of our heads in the photos. Her husband told her they’re from the heart. And that the world is mostly beauty. He does well in his new life, but he really just hates himself as well as his coworkers. Each has its own function, which can be multiple in nature. So the racial make-up is brought into the public buildings and bazaars (though all we’re calculating here is conditional probabilities). And a major motion picture’s playing at the Cartesian Theater this weekend. It’s pretty plain, I admit. But it’s solid. Look, hit it. Hit it as hard as you can.


A Guidebook to Patch-of-Ground People

Here in Hopperville, it’s all about somewhere else really, stretching back to bards and shamans, and closing with a sequence that features us waving there behind the county bake-off. So, who’ll vouch for this among the kickshaws? the candidates wonder, two-stepping out onto the Indian burial mound. It’s where I mainly grew up, they add, tracing out the contours of local space with a bit of it on their fronts. So we’ve been looking, good hygiene permitting, for some time now. Rosie was mostly happy though, and knew that all would one day be another day. If I say “multifarious” will you think “goings on”? If I say “hooves” will you think “horses”? Among the vast dissemination of secondary objects, the idea of a town enters the town. It’s locally called the bladed-dirt road. At first, we were interested in the bricks and wrought iron, bursting with deeper colors and more intricate patterns. And the old-fashioned look of barbershop accessories. Not to mention our Utopian thoughts. But I’m tired of things that are popular, she says. The Joshua trees and desert brush, for instance. And the gnomes in mining gear. The gnomes playing instruments in the courthouse and asking for change. There was quite a community here in the early days. No blame need be involved. Nix on the glow-worm, as the saying went. But that was last election. And now this’s what living really is, or mostly is, or something she heard once over the public address system. As well these souvenirs and novelty items from gilded afternoons with circled wagons at the end to give it some bounce. And then what does one say in leaving? So see ya? Maybe, or OK sweethearts, that’s all? 23 skidoo?


A Guidebook

One is always given a place one suffers the loss of. Where everything’s tastefully designed in a Mother Goose motif, say, thickening in the distance. She was a respectable woman, and very musical. Such places always feel like real places, however they might at first appear. At Custer there’s a road junction, where you have to take a turn. All such moments are marked in places where a turn is required. And also always the sky. And also always my waiting. Around here, small animals roam undisturbed, except for the occasional child who wishes to display affection. We have rides for them, and shops for their parents, as well as barking dogs and fresh baked pies, on the north side of Patton, at MacArthur. Later, Wayne Newton will play. You’ll find it on almost all maps of the area. At first, we’ve a large inviting series of billboards. The sneak attack here on the right is another option. Change for the machines can be secured at nearby business establishments. So maybe we’ll come over then with some secret pain, to see them bring the statue down. But what constitutes such moments leaves many full of questions. Like Is beauty possible in the shelter of knowing? or How often can one begin again, until beginning no longer matters? Guesses appear on either side of the road. One way reaches back to Eisenhower Park, water and toilets available. Please make sure to confirm this. Please make sure to confirm that your old lover’s still standing where you last remember, in the middle of the street, crying. The way old lovers tend to do. Even this simple discovery, then, as the heyday’s become less voguish in recent times. No traveler, that I know of, mentions this, or the boot on the left and its organizational camps and little misunderstanding. Night descends: emissaries go to knock on doors, announcing that the city is doomed. Chicken Little and the boys have some words. All of us. At one go.