The End of Civilization as We Know It


I want to apologize for walking in
When the dog was licking
Your bald head as you lay
On the couch drinking rum
Straight from the bottle because
Your girlfriend called you something
You won’t say out loud because
It’s too disgusting you said without
A hint of self-pity just a whimsical
Smile that made me think of Einstein
Flunking math when he was younger
Than you with your strange sense
Of dignity considering the dog
Licking your bald head with big
Sloppy licks reminded me
Of a mop on a kitchen floor which
Also needs attention.


He says he’s sorry for looking
In your window when the two of
You were tongue kissing and
Being shocked because you claimed
You were mother and daughter when
Really you were lovers and then
Suing you for painting your house
Top to bottom with the rainbow
Flag which was your coming out
To the neighborhood which started
A melee where a dog was shot and
No one wanted poor Rex to die
But this is what happens when
You live in a place where pickups
Come with gun racks and coyotes
Run down the street chasing cats.


When the coyotes surrounded you
They wanted to eat your dog not
You who called your boyfriend to drive
His pickup right into the middle of
The pack and scatter the coyotes
And you knew the coyotes were
In the abandoned country club because
Wolves and cougars were hunted out
A hundred years ago and the coyotes
Keep out the cats so the songbirds
Are everywhere spreading the seeds
Of wildflowers which carpet the old
Fairways and the ruined clubhouse
Where the owls live and maybe
We’re okay with the end of civilization
As we know it.

Snow Camel

On highway 80 near Sellersville
A camel was spotted in
The snow no one
Knows where it came from
But the locals have named her
Snow Camel and the radio
Said if you’re missing
A camel please call the
Station to put in a claim
And somehow I don’t think
This is odd because I know
What it is to be in the wrong
Life in the south I’m a northerner
In the north I’m a southerner
In the summer I long for snow
In the winter I long for sun
Somehow always looking
For a way out while also
Feeling right at home
Just about anywhere.


You were being funny about your
Time in Vietnam telling about the time
You were riding in a truck and two
Women lifted their shirts and the driver
Slammed the brakes and the soldiers
Got out and took the women into
The field and fucked them and paid
Two dollars a fuck and then got back
In the truck and then you started
Crying and laughing at the same
Time crying and laughing and laughing
And crying and you couldn’t stop and
Someone got you a glass of water
Which you spilled on your shirt and
Started hiccupping and we thought
Smoking a joint would help but
It didn’t and later you said don’t say
Thank you for your service instead say
We’re so sorry we did this to you.


When you showed up in court
In a three piece suit you’d worn
Only to weddings and stood in front
Of the judge he thought you were
A lawyer not the defendant and the
Other defendants showed up wearing
Orange suits and leg chains and
The judge asked where is your client
And you said I’m the defendant
Your Honor and he invented your
Defense and let you go to rehab
Instead of jail and when you got out
You bought a big bag of smack and
Stole money from your mother’s
Purse and beat up your dealer
And made him pay your lawyer
And you were running a scam
On yourself only yourself yourself.


Let’s do something with the bananas
You said because they sit and sit
And turn black and no one wants
A black banana and it seems like
This is the way it is around here no
One wants to do what needs to be
Done only let things fail the lightbulbs
Burn out the roaches run around as
They please there’s a rat that
Lives in the walls and we
Hear it at night dragging its tail
And the landlord wants the rent
And the light company wants and
The gas company and the water
Feels like it’s coming up to my chin
I’m drowning in my own thoughts.


You didn’t choose drugs
Drugs chose you no matter
Where you hid them
They called your name
Whippersnatch Lossingput
 you were always
At a loss to know who you were
Or why things fell apart when
You touched them but never
You mind there’s always
More confusion to fill
The hole inside you and
Now you’ve been clean and
Sober a few months and you
Want us to believe Attila the Hun
Has become Mr. Rogers well
I don’t think so.


Now that we’re middle class
I can’t help but remember
The old collapses and how
My life was like an unplugged
Appliance taking up a lot of
Room with its expensive
Reminders of how things
Could be if only we knew how to
Turn it on but somehow it never
Happened instead we just thought
We were cool not to care but
We were just too incompetent
To be in charge of ourselves.


Getting old is like coming to the end
Of a novel you didn’t like that much
But it’s the only book you own
And you have nothing else to do
And the main character started out
As kind of an asshole and now he’s
Less so most days but today he’s an
Asshole again and you really don’t like
Him but his wife is pretty cool except
For those few years in her early 50’s
When she was in meanopause and
In this last chapter the snow is
Falling slowly covering the trees
And houses and everything is
Beautiful as you feel yourself
Floating over the city and you wish
The story didn’t have to end.

Author’s note: This sequence of ten poems was created out of a challenge I gave myself to write a series of quick improvisations. Here were the rules: each poem tells a story in one sentence; each story recounts an odd or embarrassing incident that someone told me about recently or which I myself witnessed; and each story explores the theme ‘The End of Civilization as We Know It.’ A total of nine poems were written in less than an hour on November 29, 2019. Another poem, Snow Camel, was written in a few minutes three days later and inserted into the sequence. I’ve decided to publish these poems in their first spontaneous form and not to revise them.

AcknowledgmentThe last two lines of “Road” are borrowed from John Samuel Tieman’s wonderful essay “Thank You For Your Service” about being a Vietnam war veteran — first published in Vox Populi. Tieman writes “Instead of ‘Thank you for your service,’ perhaps folks should say, ‘I’m so sorry we did this to you.’ ”

Photo by Brando Makes Branding on Unsplash


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