Oklahoma Tall Tales
or, Whatever happened to the Old America?
There’s still a hardware store in Louisville
with an aging poster in the window advertising an appearance
by the great NWA champion Danny Hodge
– Who wrestled 46 men at Oklahoma State without dropping a point!
– Was cheated of a Gold Medal by a Bulgarian Red!
– Won Golden Gloves in his eighth boxing bout!
and once there was Danny Hodge
in that hardware store in Louisville
with his poster in the window
with his pockets full of tickets to sell,
watching the owner dig out a box of pliers
and drop them on the counter with a clatter.
“So I hear yer tough.”
Danny Hodge never was taken down from the top position.
On that cold night outside Monroe,
when Hodge’s Volkswagen went off the bridge,
when it rung off every rock banister
like some damned skipping stone,
he was broken teeth, broken neck,
black creek sudden, then still.
Davy Crockett rippled in the night next to 16 dead Mexicans;
Danny Hodge held his spine together in his fist,
spat shattered teeth into the rising wet
and punched out the windshield.
The creek was no better than the waves who’d come to pin him
and went sobbing to their coaches’ arms,
as Hodge trudged cautious in the muck,
freighted with expectation
as a Chinese railroad man carrying nitroglycerine.
The crowd gathered on the shore
to watch him rise again.
“Do the trick with the pliers,” they demanded,
thrusting a pair into his wet hand.
So Danny Hodge sold tickets.
If you’ve never seen a man break a pair of pliers with his hands,
you’ve been spared, unknowingly, nightmares of gnarled fingers
finding purchase on your pelvis and cracking it open like a crabshell.
Danny Hodge broke 31 pairs of pliers in a sitting
without breaking eye contact with the proprietor of the hardware store,
who sat rapt, thinking nothing of the day’s losses.
He was Edward Payson Weston walking 550 miles in 142 hours,
Mike Fink shooting the tail off a pig at 90 paces,
perhaps Paris Hilton, downing a Balthazar of Moët in a sitting
(a reference that will likely yellow and peel away from this poem
like tabloid pulp glued to a flagpole).
Who were the iterant journalists documenting these oddly specific feats,
before the Apter mags and dirtsheets?
Who saw it? Who whispered to his fellow,
sat with child on knee and told the tale
of how Hodge crushed those 310 pliers?
Work worthy of folklore, this
inexorable flexing of muscle,
palpating a country’s heart by hand.
It was lucky you got into town early in those days.
The line in Louisville was out the door;
farmers with bushels of apples,
masons with wheelbarrows of would-be walls,
local arm wrestling champions, with their arms,
all carrying the things they most wanted and worried to see broken.
(A question never asked of Paul Bunyan,
inhaling his 50 pancakes:
on this, you rest your legacy?)
3100 busted pliers littered the floor.
I drank fresh-pressed apple juice,
“Shit, we should’ve charged admission for this!”
Hodge looked glum,
crumpled a black box recorder and handed it back to an astonished airman.
But where did that Old America go?
Danny Hodge dings each time
he passes through the full-body X-ray scan.
While he waits to fly over a country
he once tracked red dust across
on long strides of rumour,
legends wander under his skin like the stars in a breeze.
The machine reads his bones,
a glowing maze of railroad spikes
and ring ropes twinning the tendons of his turnbuckle fists.
Security lets him pass, of course,
in indifferent silence;
it’s the man next in line who delays takeoff,
trapped in customs for hours,
trying to explain why
his carry-on is stuffed to bursting
From my chapbook, A pack of lies (Dog Bites Cameron, 2013). If you’re interested in acquiring a copy, feel free to get in touch in the comments. Audio version available here.
JM’s Jam: Frightened Rabbit – The Wrestle