Poetry: Anne Babson

 BUNKER CUISINE

 

When I started looking for basements in
A city below sea-level, I found
Full-spectrum lamps where a pot dealer farmed.
 
I found mildew cops left behind after
They handcuffed him. Lamps never turned
State’s evidence against their former boss.
 
They just lay in the muck, but they cast light
When I said, “Let there be light” down here.
I grow parsley and watercress, basil
 
And green onions. The meat is all freeze-dried.
Sometimes, I put down the book. The pit bull
Follows me as I harvest bunker crops.
 
We eat well down here. I have k-rations
But won’t get scurvy. The dog catches rats.
I pilfered all this wine from Galatoire’s.
 
Their cave is so big, nobody knows
Half of it went missing. I dug tunnels
That way, got the best bottles. Then I plugged
 
Up the burrow, just in case. For water –
Do you remember when everyone’s bill
From the SWB was too high that month --
 
Every customer complained and sued?
I was piping cisterns to sustain me.
I don’t intend to die here.  I will leave,
 
But I can stay longer than bodies do
In the town’s above-ground mausolea
Without running out of baths and dinners.
 
Cher lecteur, mon semblable, mon frère,
Chere lectrice, mon semblable, ma soeur,
Bon appetit, et à votre santé!

***



JUNE BUNKER

 

People save top tiers of wedding cakes in freezers.

Miss Havisham petrifies hers. Jane Austen leads

Her readers to the altar, then strands them all there.

Rick’s last free train leaves without his Ilsa.

 

My so-called friends all knew he was cheating on me.

They didn’t say boo. When I demanded of him,

“Come on! We have to resist these motherfuckers!

They are burning books in the school yards!” And he made

 

Sardonic remarks about a functionally

Illiterate America, they knew he would

Never join me in my curfew-breaking sorties.

They knew when I said “words mean something,” he wouldn’t

 

Even drive UHauls to the grain elevator

That descended the abandoned missile silo.

They knew he wouldn’t unload boxes I labeled

“BIOHAZARD” filled with libraries and supplies.

 

They knew. Only my rescue pit-bull called shotgun.

Miss Havisham sits in the drawing room, clock-stopped

By her author, stuck in her bitterness. Not I.

I just wait it out. He never asked that last night

 

Where I was going. He knew. There is a timer

On the pressure lock. I have enough to survive

The decade if I need to. My dog and I hope

For parole. The books down here could last an epoch.

 

I will take myself out of the freezer and share myself once more.

I am coming soon with alpha through omega, Beowulf through Angela’s Ashes.

I will share these living words, the priest bearing a eucharist

To be taken by the faithful, or at least by those who repent.

***



MY FACE AS A DAMAGED MANUSCRIPT

 

The skin – rubbery and bouncing back rocks.

The nose – grime-greased and swine-like.

The skin – again, yes – wilted, long-unkissed.

The gaze – gray from the bottom of a lake.

 

This reflection, caught in terracotta

Pans catching river runoff from unseen

Leaks, shows me now crumbled, once a pearl,

Now petroglyph in this cement Lascaux.

 

Will I ever be dug up, examined?

A French woman giving me a facial

A decade ago told me Earth preserves.

I would be dead by now above ground, yes.

 

But isolated here, sediments form.

Time makes my face hold pietra dura

Evidence of layers of trauma carving

Me into an odd illumination.

 

It’s not just some fine lines. It’s the worry.

I have hidden from everyone but me.

I am its witness. This bunker may be

My shelter, but I have hidden decay

 

Buried from the chaos, sequestered like

Silverware stashed from Yankee soldiers,

Only I am the one thrown down the well.

The assets sit ripe for plucking above.

 

My face is hidden. I can remember

A jazz club mirror. Through a glass darkly.

I saw red lips, eyeliner sweated off.

The mouth flashed a confident woman’s smile.

 

She seduced whom she pleased, whispered curses

In hot ears, stuck her tongue in some of them.

This face is a remnant with lacunae,

The Anglo-Saxon poem “The Ruin,”

 

In flesh, at least its watery shadow,

A submerged ancient Grendel that yet lurks

Where Beowulf shouted “Hwaet” and fought it,

My face undefeated, horded treasure.

***


 

OCTOBER BUNKER

 

I am writing all this down, every last bit of it.

I Type? I pound! Is the keyboard on fire? I may pop the letters off!

The dog is barking into a dark corner – at what?

Here I yowl into the night calling for a pack I have lost running away.

Who is my audience? Who on Earth dares to sign for this parcel?

Who would John Hancock this declaration in a time like this?

***


MUSICAL NEWSREELS

 

I think I am the brunette with

Big earrings tearily singing

La Marseillaise in the face of the

Nazis at Rick’s (everybody

Goes there). But what if I am shocked,

Shocked to discover gambling in

My precarious hour in this

Smoky room? Do I smile instead,

A prim Nazi conductor of

An Oompa-pa brass orchestra

Who taps his baton on the stand

And grins into their government

Camera, promoting pop art

Allowed by oppressors, airy

As the music plods -- no more swing

Allowed, and we can’t dance because

It’s not our revolution – or

Am I revolutionary?

Do I accompany the band

Of Gestapo thugs who grab babes

From arms because I write music

Or sing it, wave a baton, not

A machete to lop off heads?

Aux armes, Citoyens! Or am I

Just the end-of-the-world lounge act?

 

One-two-three:

This polka,

This is dance,

Isn’t it?

People clap,

So I think,

Because they

Like music,

But are they

Signaling

Gun muzzles

In their backs?

An artist

Such as I

Think I am

Makes them smile,

Or do I?

Is that fear?

A grimace?

We don’t swing.

No improv!

Oom-pa-pa

Prosody,

Serving the

Fatherland,

After all,

Don’t we just

Love the beat

Even when

Beat is down,

Downbeat down,

The beatdown?

They beat down

Enemies

Of the State

While I stretch

Baton out

And I wave

It midair.

Trumpets play

While I smile –

While I smile.

***

Anne Babson's poems have appeared in literary journals on five continents. She is the author of three published collections of poetry. Her fourth collection, The Bunker Book, discusses the pandemic and the rise internationally of fascism, and it will be published by Unsolicited Press this winter.


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