UNDERGROUND VOICES: POETRY
DENNIS MAHAGIN

What the surgeon general meant to say

Although I never hunted
the gutter banks of sun-baked
sewer culverts in old Rose City
hoping to find sliver-burned
Salem Light 100

butts kissed off
with lipstick prints on
filter tips, as if some
lady of the night
had lit up only to
take a tentative stutter-
puff right before
changing
her mind,
there was this one time in a
crowded Amtrak club car when
I grandiosely bummed a Viceroy
from a one-lunged Walter
Brennan-looking
bingo barker with tracheotomy voice wand
that spat static-laced lottery lullabies through
nasty-robotic Stephen Hawking kitchen sink
Dispose All cough, until I looked askance and
begged off, thankfully
thumb-tapping the
coffin nail, and tucking it
away behind my ear,
to enjoy later at my leisure.

***

My first hit,
if you must know,
came on the morning Mount Saint
Helens began to blow its horizon-size
upturned-ashtray cloud all over eight
western states—naked and cross-
legged as I was on the post-sex
canopy bed in girlfriend’s
dormitory room; I took

one quarter of her Kool in a single
drag and promptly began to retch steamy
clumps of rainbow sushi puke all over this
sophomore doll’s beautiful peach pit nipples,
while she flipped and flapped her wrists
in a sort of fire dousing fit:

“What are you doing?” she kept
shrieking at me, “what are you DOING?”

***

My elder brother was a stellar
magician who could make a smoldering
Camel Straight leap-frog and limbo
like a combustible lug nut across
the weltish breadth of his
drumming knuckles,

before popping the thing
into his mouth, cherry-end first so that
ice-blue slipstreams like lactation milk mist
appeared to shoot from his wiggling ears
and eyelid slits as he spoke the
punch line with a tight-lipped
ventriloquist twitch:

“If you think this is a gas baby
brother I can smother a field issue
flame thrower with my tight rawhide ass
and come up grinning like every giddy
goddamned moment is surely
gonna be our last.”

For our Dad’s
foreseeable fifty-ish
funeral, my brother
blew stiff-lipped
smoke rings at the shuddering coffin crane
that bowed low and slow with its load like
mechanical impresario,
and I remember he even

whipped out a paisley
stage hankie later, from which I
imagined a string of polka dot
Easter eggs might appear--

popping forth in an eye-blink bit of
generous parlor room levity relief--
but all he did was dab at his ghostly
pale brow, and fist-ball the colored cloth
using the same ritual gesture I favored later
to crumple the hundreds of half-smoked Doral packs,
telling myself each time I’d kick at any
cost if it fucking killed me.

***

The thing is, if you
really must know,

I’m sitting here now in this very instant
at a picture window video
poker machine in a Las
Vegas Nevada 7-11,

chewing a cud
of mint-flavored
nicotine gum fat
and caustic enough
to burn myself a
spanking fresh
rectum,

there’s a spectral rounder in red hooded
sweatshirt sitting next to me and losing
heavily--with a slow-burning Gauloise
locked in a stroke-choked lower left
lip corner, in fact it’s
really starting to creep me
out if you must know I would move
to another machine but they’re all
taken and everybody in here is
smoking up a storm anyway

it's just entirely too
quiet is the thing besides
the fact I can barely

get a breath,
and the only reason
I hang around at all

is that somebody is seriously due
to take down a huge jackpot any
second now,
I can pretty much
feel it in the air.


Dennis Mahagin's debut poetry collection,
entitled "Grand Mal", is forthcoming from
Suspect Thoughts Press. His work has appeared
in 3 A.M. Magazine, 42opus, Deep Cleveland,
FRiGG, Stirring, and Absinthe Literary
Review, among other publications. He lives
and works in Washington State.







© 2006 Underground Voices