“Identity Theft” by Mark Williams

Mark Williams



It’s June and I can’t WAIT for our new crepe myrtle to bloom!
I’ve forgotten the variety of our new crepe myrtle.
I could ask my wife.
But by not knowing the name of our new crepe myrtle,
I don’t know the color of its blooms—
which only ADDS to my excitement! Not only that,
my wife said I can have another gazing ball—
to complement our new crepe myrtle!
Plus, we have a CONSPICUOUS gap in our hydrangeas!

I once climbed the Grand Teton.


One day a man is walking his dog through a leafy park
when he sees a girl with a snake around her neck.
The snake’s name is Noah. Noah the boa.
Only the man doesn’t know Noah the boa’s name
when he finds himself forming some pret-ty definite opinions
about the girl with purple-black hair and skin
the color of no color whatsoever, excluding
the surfeit of tattoos, the gold and silver rings
and pins on her pale canvas.
But the thing about this man, opinions or not,
he can’t help but talk. In addition to Noah’s name,
he learns Noah’s body temperature approximates surrounding air,
so, no, Noah doesn’t cool the girl on hot days. Surprisingly,
the girl works at the psychiatric hospital through the leafy trees
where she takes Noah on her days off to cheer the cheerless.
Also, Noah the 23-year-old, affectionate boa
came from a Rosy Boa rescue,
which makes him feel not so rosy—the man—
since, now, all of his pret-ty definite opinions
are pret-ty definitely wrong.
Soon the man is expressing his displeasure
with the Frisbee golf course that violates the leafy trees,
when, despite their disparity in age, pets, skin tone, etc.,
the girl suddenly says,
                              I feel ya,
to which the clueless man replies,
                                                  Uh, no thanks.

Some days the man feels like a nameless crepe myrtle
that has forgotten the color of its blooms.


My Grandma Mabel had an aunt named Myrtle.


It’s 1969 and I’m at a Nashville honky-tonk with my friend Norman.
Norman and I are eighteen. In four years,
Norman will become a Nashville cop. One night
he’ll pull me over in my Pinto and ask to see my license.
Hey, Norman. It’s me, I’ll say. But tonight
Norman already has a license and a social security card
for one William B. Robinson, age 21 plus.
Why, you bo-oys have the say-m nay-m!
our waitress says after careful study.
Norman will matriculate to Vanderbilt Law.
He’ll become a prominent defense attorney.
We’re fraternal twins, Norman tells the waitress.
I’m William Butler Robinson,
and he’s my brother, William Blake.

Ye-ah, and I’m Tammy WY-nette, the waitress says.


My mother’s maiden name was Angel. Martha Jeanne Angel.
I was an angel before I met your dad, my mother liked to say.


One day the man is stopped at a stoplight near the leafy park
(where he seems to spend a lot of time),
when he notices a girl in a giant red pick-up
with a young man’s hands around her neck.
The young man’s name is Tim, Tim as in
Get your hands OFF me, Tim! Tim. Once again,
the man finds himself forming some pret-ty definite opinions
when the girl jumps from the giant red pick-up
and starts running down the leafy street
and Tim jumps from the giant red pick-up
and starts running down the leafy street, too.
Naturally, the man can’t help but talk.

But this time his talking must wait until the light turns green
and he drives around the block listening to someone say,
You just can’t drive away, you miserable coward!
bearing in mind there is no one with him in his car.
Later that night he tells his wife what he did say
after he rounds the block and follows the re-occupied, giant red pick-up
to Emergency Parking at a nearby hospital—
which doesn’t make the miserable coward feel any less miserable
or cowardly.


Man: (knocking on passenger-side window of a giant red pick-up)

Are you OK?

Girl: (rolling down window)

Yes. Thanks.

Tim: (jumping from driver’s side of the giant red pick-up,
siren blaring in the background

Who the hell are you!

Man: I just want to make sure she’s OK.

Tim: (balling his fists)

You might want to leave us alone, m_____ f_____!

Man: I just want to make sure you’re both OK.


Wife: (watering blue hydrangeas)

He never would have hit someone your age.


Some days it seems impossible to the man
that he is 23 in Rosy Boa years.
That no one will ever hit him hard right between the eyes.


If you don’t know me by now,
You will never never never know me, ooh, ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh.


If the last 23 years were an illusion,
Simply Red would be singing If You Don’t Know Me By Now,
Noah the boa would be about seven inches long,
and I would be showing this poem to my gentle friend and mentor,
the exquisite formalist poet, Mike Carson,
who would undoubtedly return it to me with the word DECORUM!
written in the right-hand margin of Part 7—
since I would have undoubtedly filled the blanks in.
Never mind Tim the angry, giant red pick-up driver,
or rather angry Tim, the giant—Oh, you know what I mean—
filled the blanks in, too. Never mind Tim is not alive
and pick-ups aren’t so giant.

If the last 23 years were not an illusion,
Tim would be alive, pick-ups would be giant
and I’d be asking when you last heard the word decorum?
If you find it kind of nice to hear the word decorum
and wish there were precious more of it going around,
chances are you had a grandmother and great-great aunt
with names like Mabel and Myrtle. Chances are
you sometimes forget the color of your blooms.


Some days I can’t believe I’ve become someone
who longs for the days when more decorum was going around,
someone who uses long as a verb and precious at all.

Some days I can’t believe my knees have wrinkles.
That I count lawn mowing as exercise.
That my mower’s self-propelled.

Some days I can’t believe I still say honky-tonk.
That I plant blue hydrangeas.
That both my mother and my dad are angels now.


It’s 2012 and I’m at a funeral home telling my friend Norman
that I’m sorry about his mother, Pearl.
It’s been many years since I’ve seen Norman. Of course
we’ll talk about the time he pulled me over in my Pinto.
The time we hiked The Appalachian Trail.
(I once hiked The Appalachian Trail.)
This is my friend, William Blake Robinson,
smiling Norman tells his granddaughter.
It’s nice to meet you Mr. Robinson,
smiling Norman’s smiling granddaughter says.


One day in 1704, a man appeared in England.
He claimed to be Prince George Psalmanazar, reformed cannibal
from the island of Formosa—where men ate adulterous wives,
18,000 baby boys were sacrificed each year to an elephant god,
and everyone wore snakes around their necks TO KEEP THEM COOL!
Little wonder A Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa,
An Island Subject to the Emperor of Japan
was a bestseller.
When a Jesuit missionary from Formosa asked about his fair skin,
Psalmanazar claimed he’d always lived beneath the ground.
Sunlight would shine directly down an equatorial chimney,
the astronomer Edmond Halley reasoned.
Formosan chimneys are almost always built at crooked angles
and containing bends
, Psalmanazar rebutted.
Ye-ah, and I’m Tammy WY-nette,
Sir Edmond might as well have said.


Well, I hit him hard right between the eyes
And he went down, but to my surprise,
He come up with a knife and cut off a piece a my ear.


If the last 43 years were an illusion,
Johnny Cash would be singing A Boy Named Sue
on the jukebox in the Nashville honky-tonk
where I’m drinking beer with my friend Norman,
thanks to the likes of Tammy Wynette.
In four years I’ll get a job in a psychiatric hospital
and acquire a life-long soft spot for those who cheer the cheerless.
After that, I’ll climb the Grand Teton, hike The Appalachian Trail
and develop an interest in ornamental shrubbery—
which will lead to a delight in gazing balls.
One day I’ll gaze into my favorite,
the deep blue ball with light green swirls.
I’ll find it hard to believe I’ve become someone
who gazes into a deep blue ball with light green swirls,
especially with the likes of William Blake
drinking Old Milwaukee Beer in a Nashville honky-tonk,
signaling to Tammy Wynette but gazing out at me
and saying,
          Who the hell are you?

from Rattle #40, Summer 2013

[download audio]


Mark Williams: “It is a tall order—for someone who wrote a poem called ‘Identity Theft’ to identify himself. I did climb the Grand Teton. I do find my deep blue gazing ball beautiful, along with crepe myrtle, hydrangeas, and boa constrictors—especially rescued ones. After a stint as a psychiatric orderly, I spent much of my life selling houses. Now I read, write, walk dogs, and spend wonderful evenings with my wife. In short, my life, like everyone’s, is hard to identify. Writing poetry is my way of trying. Pink. Our crepe myrtle blooms are pink.”

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