Oliver Rice

Or Not


    Every man, said Camus,

                  is the first man,

                     nobody is.


Here in this backcountry American hamlet

is Buddy, a boy of about seven.

Because of certain kinks in his double helix

and perhaps because he is so much alone,

his nature may be evolving toward reflection,

day by day the order of things

suggesting more of itself.

Or not.


There is a quality of secret pleasure,

or not,

about his uninstructed observations of dew,

of leaves flying on the wind sooner than twigs,

of a damaged finger nail growing back,

a severed finger lost forever.

Of beans growing in the garden

only if his father plants the seeds,

weeds thriving everywhere on their own.

Although such ideas become mundane

among the welter of usable phenomena.

Or not.

Although he may duly acquire arts and sciences.

Intellection, skepticism, heresies.

Empathies for homo erectus, Lucretius, Proust. 

Or not.



The Constructionist

Minds His Daughter's Infant

In His Workshop


Aha. You wake.

I'm a noisy fellow, I know.

How about a smile?


     swinging the crib closer to his work


Well then, look what I'm doing here.

This is a fine piece of mahogany.

Five and a half inches by three by a half.


     turning it about



I have made all six planes

as smooth as your belly.

Today it is my treasure.

It seems to me an exactly right thing,

Don't ask why.

We can never quite fathom the psyche.

How it knows what it knows.

How it discovers its delusions.


     cradling it in his hands


But even as this artful object was telling me

how it wished to be shaped,

I understood that it had yearnings,

fantasies of membership in an ensemble.


     propping it against a chisel


So now is the pondering time.

To what community of symmetries

might we both consent,

my mahogany beauty come alive

and my choosing faculties,

the eyes behind my eyes?


The morning waits

for an electrochemical commotion,

a fragment of soliloquy,

a leaping irony.


Listen to the silence behind my clattering.

Anything can happen there.


     sitting on his stool


There are strange things in the world.

You'll find out.

A little dog dyed pink.

A seesaw.


Shattering glass.



The sun.

The mores.


Your professor may someday lecture

on the despair of pure possibility.

But for birds like me that is exhilarating.


You see, it's a branch of metaphysics.

Seems a real place when I'm there.

With a past and a future,

and something like my pulse, my fever.




Aha. I see that is all you can tolerate.

The eyelids droop.


     rolling the crib away


Dream of sweets and kind voices.



The Letters Between The Brothers


Andrew, until the age of thirteen,

and Raymond from five to eighteen,

were at home together in Cedar Rapids

with their parents and neighborhood.




Thereafter, for years—


Raymond escaping adolescence in the army,

then by happenstance and a strain of practicality

in Cape Girardeau and Louisville

becoming a salesman, then a building contractor—


Andrew, too small for college basketball,

his disposition uncongenial,

drifting through Peoria and New Orleans

as a golf course hand, waiter, telemarketer,

settling at last in suburban Phoenix

as the owner of a bicycle shop—


for years they met rarely, on family occasions,

and without candors,


for years, each learning to be married,


to parent,


to compromise with the cultures they encountered.




Raymond's mail one day in his late forties

contains a note, unique in their history, from Andrew.

He is worried about their parents, it says—

perhaps disingenuously, one considers.

Does Ray have recent news of them?


Ray replies with reassurance

and big-brotherly inquiries about Andy's situation.


After a conspicuous delay

arrives a sober, impetuous, cautious letter from Andy,

the gist of which is that he now sees—

so late, maybe too late to matter—


how unaware he has always been

of what was probably happening back then

to all four of them.


Ray is anxious, one senses, protective,

embarrassed by Andy's confessional tone,

tries to maintain a complacent attitude.


Even before his response can have arrived

he receives another letter from Andy.

It strikes one as sorely earnest

but fevered and fragmented,

as if written in spurts of disclosure:


memory keeps secrets,


he had learned about winter with Ray,

about throwing a curve ball,


it was not a necessary place he had sought,

not to be anonymous or free,

but a place worth taking responsibility for,


he has snapshots of their parents,

of Ray and himself, alone and together,

and of them all—after church, it looks like,


it is true that we can be two people, or more,


he had thought life would be more normal,


he has noticed that he has his father's chuckle,         

his way of holding his mouth,

but he does not remember being alone with him,


now he knows what irony means,


he remembers the knot of anger in his throat,


what was was,

what is is,

what we are we are.




After a week or so, still pondering an answer,

still deliberating with his wife,

Ray has a last note from Andy.


Sorry, it says.


We're going to the mountains for a bit.


See you on Christmas, maybe.

Oliver Rice's poems appear widely in journals and anthologies in the United States and abroad. Creekwalker released an interview with him in January 2010. His book of poems, On Consenting to Be a Man, is published by Cyberwit and is available on Amazon. His online chapbook, Afterthoughts Siestas, and his recording of his Institute for Higher Study appeared in Mudlark in December 2010.



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