The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Mark Halliday

Eleven Pennies


It is happening somewhere else;  I’m in the wrong place.

My transit is a chain of wrong places.  I should say “trajectory” --
that’s what they say where the big festfandango is happening.

I cross a humid road outside Murphy’s Muffler Shop.

I see where I could buy a donut.  Two donuts?


In 1969 my friends thought it was odd when I showed up
with a dozen butternut donuts;  I thought it was evidence
of my boldly original character.  I have too many coins in my pocket --
how many?  Seventeen – including eleven pennies.  This is absurd --
pointedly so.  My pocket is a chinking bulge.  Why am I

this type of person?  The answer has to do with my frequent blinking
and this bubbling that goes on in my chest which registers
the peripherality of where I always am like outside Murphy’s Muffler.

At this time I don’t doubt that the central wingding is occurring
in Munich or Toronto or five blocks west of here

but you have to know where to turn up a certain alley.

At the festfandango they play duckbucket blues
which I have no idea what is and they drink microbrews
with flavors like Raspberry Wheat causing them to dance
with an athletic irony which does not preclude a confident expectation of

coitus which they call jazzing the jellyfish or pumping the go-juice
or stuffing the wild enchilada or some richer phrase which I’ve never heard
while I’m here saying “butternut” to the Korean man who works in the donut shop.

Paying him for my donuts I want to use up all eleven of my pennies
but only manage to use six and doing that takes a long time.


In that time they the dancers full of Raspberry Wheat keep dancing
and the women are all shanks and twin abundances
pushing forward toward a fulfillment without misgivings.

If you heard a story about a boy named Karl traveling obscurely
with an Irish person and a French person who voraciously consume

an entire Veronese salami without giving Karl a single bite,

I’d be Karl.  The Korean man has told me to have a nice evening
and I sink down upon the curb --
but just before misery condenses all over my skin
I remember what will semi-save me:  the medicine of depiction.


That’s it for me.  It’s not the wild enchilada trajectory
but it keeps me out of the gutter.  I shall depict and depict.



Mark Halliday



            On the first page, a raven steals baloney from a delicatessen and flies to a New York cemetery and gives the baloney to “a small man in slippers” who lives in the cemetery to welcome the ghosts of the newly dead.  The novel goes on for 250 pages pondering relations between the dead and the living;  ghosts appreciate life more than the living do, perhaps.  I bought this novel in the early Seventies, when I was unwilling to accept the idea that someone might publish a serious imaginative novel that I would never read.  Working as a bookstore clerk, I saw new paperback novels every week.  The proof that I would never read them all was abundant but I rejected that conclusion.  I bought as many (paperback) novels as I could afford.  Years passed – years that were only days and weeks . . .  Every time I moved to a new apartment, more than two hundred novels published in the Seventies came with me.  In heavy boxes.  But now forty years have passed.  One by one, I’m giving away the novels I acquired in the Seventies.
            Is it a sad divestment?  In a way, of course, but mostly it is a great relief.  As such it is a glimpse of what a good dying would be like.  The relief of letting go.  Someone else can worry about the fictions of the Seventies, if anyone wants to.  A raven steals baloney for a man in slippers, so that he can go on welcoming ghosts.  The author worked hard.  The author tried.  The author’s friends said encouraging things.  The novel came out in hardcover and later in paperback and it felt like a success, for a while, to the author and the author’s friends, and it was bought by a bookstore clerk in Providence and today, forty years later, I read some pages of the novel and I place it on the giveaway table in the English Department hallway.
            We make our little efforts.  For a while.  Then we die.  Then maybe we look back and appreciate life more than we did when we were alive?  I want to appreciate life as much as – as much as – but the days pass – I want to do what I can really do.  When a friend of mine writes a novel I will read it carefully!  This will probably happen two or three times a year.  (Not to mention all the books of poetry by friends of mine.)  And I will express my appreciation with intelligence, not mere flattery, and this will be a good thing for me to be doing with my mind – with my life.  I admit that if a friend of mine made up the bit about the raven stealing baloney for the cemetery man, I would try harder to feel that this was interesting whimsy than I tried today.
            We make our little efforts, finitely.  After four decades I am able to admit that the two-hundred-and-some novels from the Seventies won’t be, indeed shouldn’t be part of my remaining life.  I feel lighter.  I feel a little like a bird – let’s say a Canada goose – flying high above delicatessens and cemeteries, unburdened by any luncheon meat!  Or rather, I feel like a wise man sitting in a porch swing, waiting for friends to visit, reading a few poems, and looking out over the dusky trees and noticing some belated geese flying earnestly together, and murmuring On a fait son possible.




MARK HALLIDAY teaches at Ohio University.  His sixth book of poems Thresherphobe appeared in 2013 from the University of Chicago Press.



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