What Are You On?

If you asked an Elizabethan
What are you on?
he or she would have answered
The earth, this terrestrial globe
whereas today it means
What medication
are you taking?
(Are you taking has less energy
than What medication it is an anticlimax
without a climax)
And today What are you on about?
would have sounded like
What are you of thereabouts in?
and will
So what medications are
you on?
I am taking italics it pokes
a hole in whatever is going to be
so I can slip through
and not have arms and legs all the time
You've lost me and I'm not even an Elizabethan
That's O.K. neither am I though both
of us bestride this terrestrial globe
and fain would lie down
for the earth is a medication a giant pill
we ride on
like the aspirin in the poem I wrote in 1966
and didn't understand until last night or was it this morning
A.M. and P.M. are medications
I take one in the morning and one in the evening

Some day people will look back
at the twentieth century and think
How backward they were
the way some look back now
at tribal societies and say
But primitive life was so dirty how
could you keep things clean?
not knowing that tribal people
lived in the Garden of Eden
comparatively speaking
That is they had more humanity
than later people
who traded theirs for technology
so that those people who look back at Earth
some day from a distant galaxy
will not be people at all
comparatively speaking
they will be cue balls

But this morning I am not in a billiard situation the sun
is shining onto my house and the trees
are feeling like their tops because they are still in the Garden of Eden
that is the gentle endless hush
of an endless mother to her endless newborn child
Things are there
covered with sparkles
that have nothing to do with sunlight
the way one night I got out of bed and found
that I was covered with sparkles very small ones
I wondered if I would be covered with sparkles the rest of my life
and if other people had them
But these are not the same sparkles that things have on them
except the ocean sometimes at night

By day the ocean moves away from where it was
but a mountain does not
Somewhere in between lies Hidden Valley
where Grandpa comes out of his cabin
and staggers around the dooryard
then goes back inside
where Grandma is holding a baking tin
of fresh hot biscuits
but she will give him none
Give me some biscuits he cries
but she smiles and shakes her head
They are all for me she exults
and then laughs she is only joking
Grandpa sits down at the table
and pretends to be dead
revived only by die muffled thud of the biscuit tin
Where's mah coffee he roars
even though he sees it in the cup before him
and Grandma says We're plumb out
That's how the day begins in Hidden Valley

But where are the grandchildren
They are scattered about the world in jagged pieces
that move like birds in spring
with colors and speedometers on them
Someday they will return to Hidden Valley
and form another mountain
to make Hidden Valley even more hidden
when the waterfall closes over it

You think I don't know where it is

or is that just a ploy to get me to tell you?
You are like the guy who looked all over
for his hat and later learned it was on his head
but it didn't mean anything until he realized he had a head
and that the hat was both on and inside it
and when he did
it was not a rabbit that he pulled out
but a rectangle in which the rabbit was imprisoned
You don't want to be that guy, do you?
You would rather be the rabbit
when all along you could have been the waterfall

We move ahead in our story to five years later
then we move five years back
because there is no story
only a collection of events with no beginning,
no end, and therefore no middle, it is all
one big beginning, middle, and end every second
and though you are in it you are also to the side
like an actor waiting in the wings for the cue
that will cause the stage to light up and expand
though it is also the cue for the audience to rise
and head for the exits, because they are the real players
and you, it turns out, are part of the scenery
propped up against a wall, gathering dust along your top ridge,
for soon you will be transported to Hidden Valley
and placed among the other mountains

One of these mountains is the Earl of Essex
covered with the crud
of having galloped all the way across Wales and England nonstop
Essex who dashed up the palace stairs and barged
into Elizabeth's private chamber unannounced
—where no man had ever set foot—
midst the gasps and cries of her ladies-in-waiting
and there it is
his face
on the front of his head
and her face coming off her head
and starting toward him
because she knew right then his head
would be severed from his body
but what she did not know
is that he too would end up in Hidden Valley
raining down his sparkles upon the house of Grandma and Grandpa

Are you enjoying your vacation
Yes I am
in fact so much that I don't even think of it as a vacation or as
anything else
and come to think of it I don't even think of it
it's just the way things are
How about you
Yes I too am enjoying my vacation
Well good

Silence

What you just said about your vacation I'm not sure I understand
what you mean
I didn't mean much of anything I guess
The mountains around here have a way of making me not think very
much
maybe because they aren't thinking at all who knows
and I tend to become like whatever I'm around

But you're always around air do you turn into air
Yes I'm always air
What about Grandma and Grandpa are you turning into them
No I can't turn into them I already am them

Well that is very interesting
but I have to scoot along now

And a fine day to you as well

Ireland rose up on the horizon
backlit by history
but Hidden Valley was too powerful it made Ireland sink back down
though the voices of Ireland could be heard in the distance
some singing others laughing and some wailing and scolding
and then they too faded when Grandpa brandished his lips at them

for he wished to sing himself
and all alone on the veranda of his own personality
the one built partly by him and partly by the celestial carpenters
who found his scratchy gurgling caterwauling arias to be as
astonishing
as he found them to be beautiful and moving—
arias that caused tears to gush forth from the sky
you could see when you looked up into his eyes
not long after you were born
the sky at night

and professional wrestling was on TV
Antonino Rocca bounded around the ring
evading horrible huge guys who fought dirty
the kind you would find only in New York City
when it was in black and white
little Antonino who looked like a short-order cook in a diner
but who dodged and slid and leaped so fast
the horrible big guys couldn't catch him
but when they did, Ow! Get away, Antonino!
and he came back to life and slithered free
and hurled the big guys down and one-two-three boom
they were pinned
and once more he smiled
at people like us out in the middle of nowhere
prompting Grandpa to clear his throat and say
It's time for bed it's way past time
and it was
but we were hidden outside of time
and no one would know
because they were visible inside of time
I was happy in Hidden Valley happy enough
and I'm happy I once lived there
Maybe I'll find myself there again someday
even though the mountains will be gone
and the rest changed beyond all recognition

by Rod Padgett

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