Sunday, July 1, 2012

Sheep Head Dog Meat

At Sam's Club, I scour the aisles for the plastic elbow

to stop the leak under the sink. It's got a thread

that winds in and out of the universal joint and fits just

right into the space it needs. Form

fulfilling function. Nothing more, nothing less.


People push or pull flatbed carts jammed

full with a month's worth of supplies. Pet rocks,

flatscreen TVs, choppers and grinders

fill the shelves to the ceiling.

The guts of an electromechanical paradise

complete with digital anonymity and an order

that defies death, slay, dismember, and organize

chaos into beauteous wax floors.

"Calvin Klein, Wal-mart, Kathie Lee: They all

want the same thing. Chinese labor, the cheaper

the better," she smiles, pouring the tea.


What demonic mind might conceive such gargantuan,

phantasy needs, these odds and ends parsed from reality,

these bits and pieces of a machine that could crash

and burn at a moment's blink, the engines

of hours in perpetual motion, always in gear,

going nowhere but somewhere anyway,

while Time, the convenient notion that it is, pulls me

inescapably to biological demise and Hallmark tears.


    Near Cloudcroft, just before White Sands,
    in Billy the Kid country, Alamogordo, where they shoot missiles
    from the sky with lasers and sand turned to glass,
    I walked the factory floor in my cheap suit, poseur wannabe
    efficiency expert walking in the shadow of a real
    engineer. The factory manager led us thru the darkly lit,
    cavernous shop built from metal. Barrels
    of chemicals and inventory reached the ceiling.

Here's a gadget from Planet Zoid. It fixes that

thing I thought I should avoid. Here's one

from Planet Surd, can you think what word

they said to design it so well, so precisely?

Here's the gewgaw that prettifies,

adorns bare walls to stop them pressing in,

a tennis ball to smash across the court of my boredom.


    The smelter where the metal pots and pans were poured

    and then machined cooled from the previous day.

    Suspicion of us floated in the air like a carrion bird.

    One wiry limbed, dark-haired woman eyed

    me blankly with densely hot coals piercing

    the murky dankness rising from the dirt floors.

    Later, she drove a forklift so close to me,

    I thought she would hit me. Who knows what

    resentment and despair pushed her to that edge

    of murder, teetering at the brink, let the chips fall.


If only I'd find the piece that puts the mechanisms

of my life right, like The Wizard of Oz handing out trinkets.

The thingamajig made to fulfill each moment's need

or unknown desire, fitting together that puzzle

that tastes like the distilled light of a million stars,

whose light illuminates a universe without end,

without this coming and going, this rushing roar

of infinity in ears tone deaf to unjust labor

after just a few days of routine and ennui.


    The owner lived on the East Coast, and her Manolos

    touched the dusty steps when profits dipped. The only job

    in town, they clawed thru tequila nights, bad romances, and small town

    gossip to assemble those cheap pots and fryer pans

    we buy, use a year or two and throw away instead of fixing,

    or donate to Goodwill to be fixed and sold to the poor.


If cliche is the armature of the universal, as pere Ubu says,

then you my Walmart are heaven on earth, kingdom come,

and I'm thankful for the infinite things that I can buy,

made in realities beyond my knowing, on Planet Alpha

to Planet Omega, alien worlds of work and time whose pith

I know are real but would rather not imagine.


    He improved conditions, said the shop manager.

    The first thing he did was dismantle the spy tower

    in the middle built in the 30s. Their motion precisely

    timed by clock and binocular...


"They all want to project a smiling face,

to appear to be caring and compassionate,

because that makes people feel better about

buying the products that have their names."


It's in my head, this motion that won't stop,

I think, until the meat machine shuts down,

torn into its elemental nonentity

that sustains me and the universe that I

make to stand up on its own two feet.


"Thank you for caring so much about

our poor Chinese factory workers,"

she tells us. "But really, it's all about profit.

If I paid my workers more money, I'd have

to raise the price to my buyers, the people

who are sending you here to inspect

my factory. Do you think they would accept that?"


The Kabbalah writes that each letter of Hebrew

has a number. Placed on dirt, the tetragrammaton

stirs it to rise and walk. Each bit and piece of luxury bears

a serial number. Added together and pronounced,

who knows what god that meaningless number might summon.


"Gua yang tou, mai gou rou," she replies,

quoting an old Chinese proverb.

Translated: "Hang a sheep head but serve dog meat."


Sheep Head Dog Meat [wip] Audio tweet:

(c) copyright 2012 Charles David Miller. All rights reserved.

* Story about sweatshops clipped from, "Confessions Of A Sweatshop Inspector" by Joshua Samuel Brown



  1. who might dream up the fantasy of walmart or sams club...well a scary labor, cheap goods...keep us coming back with cheap prices...could not hear all of it...i am in a community room with no headphones so i tried to keep it low...i will come back and listen again later...

    pet rocks...ha

    1. glad to get the written version this time around as well...i capture more of it...the sweat shops...ugh...the exploitation of translates well beyond production....but nice write man...

  2. this poem demands a new paradigm for living--- we went to the kutztown folk festival last saturday --- folk is now $8 a birch beer and $12 an ox roast sandwich --- it's all about profit --- sat next to a young man and his wife on a bench from allentown, i was getting ready to leave waiting for my wife to buy $6 funnel cake to take home to our son who would be disappointed we had bought his sister a $20 t-shirt with the logo KFF and him nothing...after i asked himm what time it was, he opened up and asked me where i was from and how i liked the festival, i said it was expensive, he said he liked the atmosphere...i was confused and wondered how the two were connected...after listening to your poem, i think i understand

  3. What a magnificent effort! Love it, especially like 'If cliche is the armature of the universal, as pere Ubu says, then you my Walmart are heaven on earth...' Astonishingly good.

  4. My, what a very depressing take on modern life, but great write!

  5. Funny how I can see myself pushing a cart in a parking lot, worrying about time, plumbing,groceries..the little things that have come to be life. Well done.

  6. You have created a literary tour de force, and I think I'm now in need of a little fantasy restorative - so much real life is exhausting.

  7. Is it cynicism or reality? We each have our own way of viewing. Maybe somewhere between the two, and your own, unique, way of expressing it - fab

  8. This is incredible, Charles. You can't choose anything more modern than Walmart to take off from and you've woven in so many societal realities...and the gematria?! So clever.

  9. Ooops. I mean Sam's Club. Same difference, I guess. Actually, same company, isn't it?

  10. "Suspicion of us floated in the air like a carrion bird.

    One wiry limbed, dark-haired woman eyed

    me blankly with densely hot coals piercing"

    I love your descriptions, Chaz!! Excellent poem!

  11. I guess everything is all about the money these days. We don't seem to care where it comes from, who gets hurt making it, getting it to us, as long as we get good value for our money. Where there's money to be made there's always exploitation of people and we consumers are as guilty because we keep on buying their products. This is so intricate a story, woven around ordinary, everyday things we in the west take so for granted and yet, not so in the sweat shops where they may be produced. What a fabulous write.

  12. This is a cornucopia of modern woes woven into the reality of what so often feels unreal (ask any recent immigrant about their experience of a giant box store). Stanza 7 blew me away. The juxtapositions throughout are fantastic.

    1. Forgot to say I enjoyed the recording!

  13. I love the stanza with the Wizard of Oz.. an antidote of sorts to the modern condition of capitalism isn't it?

    Hoping to write to your prompt..

    1. Bring it on! :) I thought that linebwas a bit ironic, no? The reality of the fals dreams disintegrates Oz' fantasy.

  14. A great write, and right on the money. It's all a numbers game. More people, more product; too many people lowers the wage scale. it is all simply out of control. Maybe it can be fixed, but I seriously doubt it.

  15. A wonderful poem that could really be about three different ones - each standing on their own. They work together! but I mean that they are all meaty enough to stand on their own. I love the idea of the opening of the universal elbow; which has almost a custom quality to it compared to the rest. k.

  16. "while Time, the convenient notion that it is, pulls me

    inescapably to biological demise and Hallmark tears."

    Instead you take me to the factories from worker and consumer view, separating the critic in you from the one who could just blend in without thinking. So I laughed out loud at the beginning which opened the windows of my eyes for real rain, for real tears and international, inter-planetarial complexity that they say we cannot unravel--that we will always hang the sheep heads and sell dog meat--a delicacy in Vietnam, BTW. Charles, this is an epic worthy of worldwide reading. Thank you! (I will listen to you read it when once again home instead of on a family vacation where everyone else is enjoying Sherlock Holmes.)

  17. an order/that defies death

    That's what it's all about--control control control-mixed with greed, also to the third power, and the belief that having things protects us from our mortality, as you say much more subtly and eloquently above.

    this motion that won't stop,/
    I think, until the meat machine shuts down

    we can't let it, in our culture, ever stop till we're dead meat, because then we might do something injurious to ourselves, like think. This is an excruciating mix of dislocated introspection, stream of consciousness and the social dynamic pinning us like Eliot's butterflies to a material reality that is all skull beneath the botoxed skin. Just a superb poem, Charles, and the proverb at the end is the coup de gras.

  18. this is an awesome piece paint the atmosphere, you give us dialogues, you give us food for thoughts and that closure is damn powerful as well

  19. I like the format of the verses, like two perspectives melting into one at the end ~ Sadly its business and more business ~ The Chinese have been our willing partner and lover in this game ~ Thanks for the interesting post and prompt Charles ~ Enjoyed writing to it ~

  20. A metaphorical big-box store of a poem, very enjoyable read, well done.

  21. These are my favorite sections:

    "Here's the gewgaw that prettifies,
    adorns bare walls to stop them pressing in,
    a tennis ball to smash across the court of my boredom"

    "Suspicion of us floated in the air like a carrion bird.
    One wiry limbed, dark-haired woman eyed
    me blankly with densely hot coals piercing
    the murky dankness rising from the dirt floors"

  22. Wow. This is very cool Charles. Love the shift from day to day sensibility, which you made sound so poetic in the first few stanzas, then the shift away from the reality as is, into more of a reflective state, a trend that persists until you're thinking/discussing language itself. Fantastic piece

  23. Brilliant way to show life as we know it

  24. there is so much to admire here. rather than slice of life, this is more like the whole pie and the different curves within it. big stores house little gadgets as big lives hold little details. beautifully rendered!

  25. Your recording of this interesting piece only adds to the chilling diatribe against man's greed, Walmart's and Sam's Club only two examples of the manufacturers and distributors of bigger and better mouse traps that end up in man's largest Brilliant piece, Chaz, per usual!

  26. Bravo! I definitely care where my products come from and prefer non-cheap items. That is not to say I don't buy any of that kind of stuff, but I also scavenge thrift stores quite a bit. People get rid of lots of great stuff in CA. :)