The house was not home, the house was faraway still. Soon it would come home, would lose its foreign smells and visitors, its pink walls and diagonal chimneys. Until that time, no one in its beds would sleep.
Melodee had been awake a week when voices came to her. They came in the night when she dressed like a monkey and lay perfectly still, hoping someone might notice her, maybe say a few words she could understand. Melodee was certain no one in the house could speak her language, yet hope sprang eternal from her fine monkey breast, sprung nocturnal, a tent on a movie-set Sahara. Tents aren’t for sleeping, the first voice said, crescendo. Tents aren’t for monkeys said voice number two, a monotone baritone fresh from a gig downtown. Why would there be three voices? Because, said the third, because, because I have a few things to say. I’m listening already thought Mel-odee so plain, so monkey-like, and that was not the thing to think. Voice three eamed her right out of bed. Her head bashed a pink wall. Foreign voices were no longer heard. So you hear them too she said with her lips but not with her lungs, so you hear them too.
Victor was dressed as himself and therefore in costume. He listened through headphones to the sea, the sea in us all as he called it when he called it at all which was always. Victor was dull but his costume was not. He was a haircut, take it from the top, gold-plated necktie, no shirt, white cummerbund, satin shorts of a color unknown to man: Victor’s color, and he longed for the day when its name would be his. Kneepads, of course, bright pagan red, shoeless but smiling, no need to sleep, forgets to eat, in this corner weighing the same as a suitcase, though less than yesterday, the Victor.
Sammy the Troll shares a bed with Yolanda. This bed’s not for sleeping, none of them are, but they would if they could. Bored with each other what a fool would say—where’s the hill we speed down today, trying to find a secret Sammy may know. He has after all what all men want, and it’s rumored she’s not called Yolanda for nothing. Yo: a greeting. Land: from sea to shining. A: ahh…says Yolanda, taking Sammy by the hand, a bag on his head he’s a troll after all. But see, he’s got a secret or so they all think,Yolanda is most of they, she wants to know, knows if he falls asleep her chance won’t come again, but so far no dice. Just a troll who can’t get enough, but in her clear moments she knows all men are trolls, most are ugly, none can truly pronounce her name, and Sammy’s at least polite he says Please,Yolanda, he even says Thank You, the latter word with emphasis, but You’re Welcome does not escape her mouth it don’t ring true.
If Yolanda could sleep she’d sleep with Melodee, monkey or no. Victor would sleep with a trophy or two, mirror for a pillow. As for Sammy the Troll, Sammy would how can it be said, delicately would be nice but not too likely, no more beating around the Yolanda, sea to shining, waves swelling peaking crashing onto the bridge, the bridge collapsing on his (he wants to die) ugly head.
Wyn Cooper is the author of four collections of poetry: Chaos Is the New Calm (2010), Postcards from the Interior (2005), The Way Back (2000), and The Country of Here Below (1987). His poems appear in twenty-five anthologies of contemporary poetry. He has taught at Bennington and Marlboro Colleges, the University of Massachusetts/Amherst, the University of Utah, and the Frost Place. For ten years he was a principal organizer of the Brattleboro Literary Festival in Vermont. He has written songs with Sheryl Crow, David Broza, Jody Redhage, and David Baerwald. His second CD with Madison Smartt Bell, Postcards Out of the Blue, was released in 2008. Their songs can be heard on six television shows. He lives in Vermont and most recently worked for the Harriet Monroe Poetry Institute, a think tank run by the Poetry Foundation in Chicago. He works as a poetry manuscript editor for established and novice poets; more information is on the editing page of his website, www.wyncooper.com. (updated 8/2012)
Extra-credit trivia for fans of Wyn’s poetry: having come across The Country of Here Below in a used bookstore, Sheryl Crow used his poem “Fun” as the basis for her smash hit “All I Wanna Do.”