Home > Poetry > American Liver Mush
Published: Wed Jul 1 2009
Diego Isaias Hernández Méndez, Convertiendse en Characoteles / Sorcerers Changing into Their Animal Forms (detail), 2013, oil on canvas. Arte Maya Tz’utujil Collection.
American Liver Mush


3 cowboys from PRCA rodeos
2 narcotics officers in a LAPD squad car
3/4 hour’s worth of “Yellow Rose of Texas”
1 pierced skinhead, chopping
1 Jimmy the Greek
8 Lynyrd Skynyrd fans, packed into 1 minivan
1½ tins of Skoal’s Bandit Wintergreen
1 demographic pie chart from a meeting of Board of Trustees
½ gallon corn mash moonshine, homemade
4 channels NASCAR coverage (or 2 stuffed deer heads & 2 Yosemite Sam mudflaps)
3 hours of church per week, minimum

Add in:

An election year, hurricane season
1 Subaru Forrester
1 clothesline in front lawn containing:
_           _ 6 tube tops
_           _ 1 John Deere hat
_           _ 1 Gondola textured Jacquard polo shirt
_           _ ½ a bandana
_           _ 2 monogrammed cardigans, his and hers
_           _ 1 set of patched overalls
_           _ 2 pairs argyle wool socks

Set aside:

Last season’s Uggs & Birkenstocks
2 luxury box seats, fifty-yard line
1 jar whole pimentos, drained
1 bug zapper, gift-wrapped
5 hours of testimony by Alberto Gonzalez before the Senate Judiciary Committee
1 large bay window


Start with the cowboys in a pickup truck with mudflaps, roaring to the Deke Latham Memorial, Kaycee’s biggest annual event, sponsored by Dodge. Juxtapose with the police cruising Slauson Avenue, stopping each male walking alone or together to put a flashlight in his face. Years before, throwing dice in a dim room in Steubenville, Ohio, and perfecting his theories on breeding, Jimmy Snyder is being dreamt of by Brent Musberger, who won’t remember the dream. Add the bug zapper, now unwrapped and hanging on a porch, high-voltage electric current turning its wire-mesh into airborne insect particles that when breathed in are allergenic. After two hours, add the Skynyrd fans, including Kid Rock who, hammered on moonshine, hair tied in a rag of bandana, breaks the bay window playing street hockey with the chew tin. If the closet stays lined with shoes, it may well be time for a tag sale. Only the New Balance are timeless for those who will never run a marathon. All this should be made in sweltering summer heat.

Once they’ve browned, reserve in a ditch. Add the skinhead scouring himself with a sponge to rid himself of dirt splotches. Keep the “Sweet Home, Alabama” and the “Yellow Rose of Texas” blaring; the tube tops and the daisy dukes hula-hooping.  When the Board of Trustees vote without abstention to hold their next meeting in Palm Springs and applaud the lady who brought the scones, grind the minutes in a mortar mash. Sprinkle between “I can’t recall’s,” the attorney general’s smug reply to Arlen Spector that “there is no express grant of habeas in the Constitution.” Allow this to sink in like a golf ball in a water hazard or overalls in manure.

When the dialogue has been reduced by half, think WWJD. What would Jeff Gordon do. Or what would Jimmy Johnson do, depending on your view. Pull on the cardigan and argyle socks, pile into the Forrester, and sit in a church pew next to children who smell like cake frosting. Listen to the organ and choir singing Nova Vita, “Breathe on me, breath of God.” The marquee outside reads, “Choice, not chance, determines Destiny” or “Wal-Mart isn’t the only saving place!” or “If evolution were true, mothers would have three arms.” The song could fill the Louisiana Superdome.

Keep it cooking until the end of kali yuga. Garnish with sliced pimentos for adornment.

Serves well under three hundred million.

Ravi Shankar is the author, editor, or translator of over a dozen books, including most recently The Golden Shovel: New Poems Honoring Gwendolyn Brooks (University of Arkansas Press, 2017) and Andal: The Autobiography of a Goddess (Zubaan Books/University of Chicago Press, 2016). Winner of a Pushcart Prize and a Glenna Luschei Award from Prairie Schooner, he has appeared on NPR, PBS, and the BBC. He founded Drunken Boat, one of the world’s oldest electronic journals of the arts, and teaches and performs around the world, most recently for the New York Writers Workshop and as writer-in-residence at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China. He has published a book of poems, Instrumentality (Cherry Grove), a finalist for the 2005 Connecticut Book Awards; two chapbooks, Voluptuous Bristle (Finishing Line) and Seamless Matter (Rain Taxi), featuring the artwork of late American artist Sol LeWitt; and with Reb Livingston, the collaborative chapbook Wanton Textiles (No Tell Books, 2006). He is currently on the faculty of the Stonecoast Writing Conference and the first international MFA program at City University of Hong Kong. He serves on the Advisory Council of the Connecticut Center for the Book, and, along with Tina Chang and Nathalie Handal, edited Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from Asia, the Middle East & Beyond (W.W. Norton & Co.), called “a beautiful achievement for world literature,” by Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer. He does not play the sitar. (updated 10/2017)

Shankar’s AGNI poem “Barter” won a Pushcart Prize and is reprinted in the 2011 anthology.

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