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Cal Freeman

Cal Freeman is the music editor of The Museum of Americana: A Literary Review and author of the books Fight Songs (Eyewear 2017) and Poolside at the Dearborn Inn (R&R Press 2022). His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in many journals including Image, The Poetry Review, Verse Daily, Under a Warm Green Linden, North American Review, The Moth, Oxford American, River Styx, and Hippocampus. His poems have been anthologized in The Poet’s Quest for God (Eyewear 2016), RESPECT: The Poetry of Detroit Music (Michigan State University Press 2020), I Wanna Be Loved By You: Poems On Marilyn Monroe (Milk & Cake Press 2021), What Things Cost: An Anthology for the People (University Press Kentucky 2022), and Beyond the Frame (Diode Editions 2023). He is a recipient of the Devine Poetry Fellowship (judged by Terrance Hayes), winner of Passages North’s Neutrino Prize, and a finalist for the River Styx International Poetry Prize. Born and raised in Detroit, he teaches at Oakland University and serves as Writer-In-Residence with InsideOut Literary Arts Detroit.

Disambiguation With Finger Lakes and Riesling

This Riesling carries the terroir
of the Lake Seneca coast,
the wine label says. Somebody has to
review these products. I hope you don’t
wonder who I am
when I talk like this,
that you can trust this guano
ethos attuned to mineral and stone.
The birds are mostly gone.
I don’t question owls and bats
nor do I worry
about clean talon marks along
the thoraxes of voles, but I wonder
where the birds have gone.
The carrion birds are gone;
we could use them.
There is an ethic of indifference
you may’ve noticed morphing
into a dogged brand of putrefaction
in recent years; nobody says
“feline” as an adjective
for endurance, but a grey
and white cat with a mewl
like an infant has crossed
our yard a dozen times today.
I was recently wondering
if the gerund use of mewling
could embody a genitive case
but then couldn’t figure out
what I meant by “embody”
in the commission of Cartesian
grammars. It’s easy to be
a cat and castigate the present
while ignoring the role your habits
play in the degradation of
an ecosystem.
People are different, conscious
as they are of finitude
and posterity, and there’s no question
of resources. I thought maybe
you needed me to tell you that.
People are different. There’s
no question of resources.
A cat will rarely lap wine.
A yard is three feet, but I’m using
a metaphor of municipal proportions
rather than a strict unit of measurement.
Great plural nouns like “gymnasia”
don’t beg to be used;
their sense of utility is shot
through with several frozen epochs
that see glaciations advance, retreat,
and give birth to new geologies
before they are uttered again.
Yards, however, beget
yards once the indexical
mania takes chain link and unwinds it.
Too small to accumulate
a history or significance
that we might’ve assigned Erie in its
bellwether mid-eutrophic period
(James Joyce postulated
that Atlantis lay in Erie’s algal depths,
in that great layck of oxygen),
the Finger Lakes eschew
sublimity for elegance.
The Finger Lakes lie south
of Lake Ontario on the northern
edge of the Allegheny Plateau
in an over-deepened glacial valley
below any continuous surveyor’s
line. You told me I was giving
the finger to the Finger Lakes
when I said I’d never heard
of the region’s Riesling.
We had Oneida pickerel
(such perdurant creatures) with
the wine. “That cat needs
Latin lessons,” I told you as it traipsed
through our yard again. But
what it was saying in that mewl
like an infant’s cry was clear
to me as a declension
among the redolent perfume of vines.
For language, geological and consumerist,
acutely adjectival, mycelial
in the hyphae of the neurons
it lights up, can militate
the dreadful need
to teach or geyser aqueous volcanos
in the blue ice near the shore
or soothe like the cold white wine
of winter.

A Ski Hill

Offseason at Mount Brighton, smooth jazz
Stylings of the Rod Piper Quartet. Chairs stalled
cruciform along the funicular on the hill
that mulls over seasons with silence
followed by contrapuntal clangs
and roars and clamors coming to life
in the dead season of snow makers and
swift downhill plummets.
The ride cymbal plashes through the measure
with a scrutable aptitude that leaves us
sad and listless; there’s a listlessness
to skiing when one has a love for it
as there is to this jazz; listless rigor and
unfounded belief in art’s transcendence;
balance, quad strength, I can’t explain
it but I believe it when it’s enacted
on a blistering high-gradient run.
A guy in chinos, an Izod windbreaker,
and a Titleist hat is saying “Montana
is the place to live for longevity.
There’s not much traffic there.”
Sheriffs and private security patrol
the hill, place of stacked bulldozed earth,
manufactured snow, indelible fertilizer
scent, the skull. The genre gorges on vapor
cooled to white morsels, packs it down.
Little figures hew to the ridge, and I wonder
what they’re listening to up there.

Yelping Bar 342

If you leave a message that means anything,
I promise I’ll call you. Here’s proof:
It was imperative that I return Ren’s purse
that she left looped to the chairback at the bar last night
when she got blackout drunk.
I texted her three times before realizing
the phone that I was texting was in the purse I held.
So I began the inverse of the long walk
I’d taken home to retrieve my car
to leave the purse with the day bartender
since I had no way of contacting Ren
and I imagined her first move would be
to call up to the bar to see if anyone
had found a purse the night before.
Jimmy, the owner, had bought me that last shot
of Canadian Club, raised his glass, and said,
“One for the ditch,” but if I made
one good decision last night without endorsing
some lax notion of free will, it was because
I didn’t know I’d hear the Edsel Ford
marching band’s bass drum, snares, and brass
over the din of traffic on Outer Drive this morning
with the west wind at my back.
If this is pep—banal, monosyllabic, metaphysical—
I’ll un-stopper it and put it in my step
before kicking fallen sugar maple leaves.
That school’s namesake takes a belt
of Cutty Sark for how woefully he’s been
forgotten and composes a letter to James Couzens
with fountain pen by lamplight.
If, like Ford and Couzens, I had a freeway
named after me, if it were a ’38 Lincoln Zephyr
I was retrieving, my car with its silly domed roof
and balding tires and my friend Ren
wouldn’t be in the Bar 342 parking lot
when I walked up, and there would be more
to do than wait for the door
of that windowless cinderblock building to open.