The Country of Here Below
As Madison Smartt Bell states in his introduction, “The potential and actual malevolence of the world is basic to most of these poems.” Yet Wyn Cooper captures this malevolence in a playfully honest fashion, free from the sensationalism of the six o’clock news. In “American Violence” we experience those electrically charged moments before a fight. But in a move that is both fresh and unexpected, Cooper turns the violence into something more than machismo and high-flying emotions. “There are people in the room and we can’t let them down. What would they think if I shrugged and walked away?” In this way, Cooper points the finger back at himself and, through association, at each of us who cares to watch.
“All I want is to have a little fun
Before I die,” says the man next to me
Out of nowhere, apropos of nothing. He says
His name’s William but I’m sure he’s Bill
Or Billy, Mac or Buddy; he’s plain ugly to me,
And I wonder if he’s ever had fun in his life.
We are drinking beer at noon on Tuesday,
In a bar that faces a giant car wash.
The good people of the world are washing their cars
On their lunch hours, hosing and scrubbing
As best they can in skirts and suits.
They drive their shiny Datsuns and Buicks
Back to the phone company, the record store,
The genetic engineering lab, but not a single one
Appears to be having fun like Billy and me.
I like a good beer buzz early in the day,
And Billy likes to peel the labels
From his bottles of Bud and shred them on the bar.
Then he lights every match in an oversized pack,
Letting each one burn down to his thick fingers
Before blowing and cursing them out.
A happy couple enters the bar, dangerously close
To one another, like this is a motel,
But they clean up their act when we give them
A look. One quick beer and they’re out,
Down the road and in the next state
For all I care, smiling like idiots.
We cover sports and politics and once,
When Billy burns his thumb and lets out a yelp,
The bartender looks up from his want-ads.
Otherwise the bar is ours, and the day and the night
And the car wash too, the matches and Buds
And the clean and dirty cars, the sun and the moon
And every motel on this highway. It’s ours you hear?
And we’ve got plans, so relax and let us in—
All we want is to have a little fun.
Copyright © 1987 by Wyn Cooper
Wyn Cooper’s fourth book of poems, Chaos is the New Calm, was published by BOA Editions in 2010. His poems appear in 25 anthologies of contemporary poetry, as well as in Poetry, Slate, Orion, AGNI, Ploughshares, and more than a hundred other journals. He has taught at Bennington and Marlboro Colleges, the University of Massachusetts/Amherst, The Frost Place, and at the University of Utah. He has written songs with Sheryl Crow, David Broza, Jody Redhage, and David Baerwald. Songs from his two CDs with Madison Smartt Bell can be heard on six television shows. From 2009 to 2011, he worked for the Harriet Monroe Poetry Institute, a think tank run by the Poetry Foundation in Chicago. He is a former editor of Quarterly West, and the recipient of a fellowship from the Ucross Foundation. He currently works as a freelance editor of poetry, fiction, and non-ficition. www.wyncooper.com