“The Butter Smells Funny” by Daniel Bohnhorst

Daniel Bohnhorst



But you eat it anyway, needing
The fat for what comes after:
Out here alone on your skiff,
Just trying to catch a smallmouth
Or any unfancy piece of dinner,
When out of nowhere, lightning

Splits your oak mast kaboom
Right through its growth rings,
Then winds up again and hits
The motor for good measure.
But look, a little kernel of luck:
You’re wearing rubber boots

And standing on a rubber mat,
So that frayed power line in the sky
That shocks most hearts into silence
Drops you to the deck and leaves
Your fingers blackened at the tips
But still intact and functional.


Crawling from that sucker punch
Back toward your five senses,
Your memory reels to the drafty room
You were renting in ’67 when
Your girlfriend heard on the news
That Otis Redding and his band

Were settling down for hibernation
Among the crawdads and sunfish
At the bottom of this same lake
In Wisconsin, for Christ’s sake.
That fog was thick as your luck is today,
But their pilots tried to land anyway
And who knows why, probably
Because the money was good,
And probably not in some predestined
Sacrifice to the gods of soul music,
Not after the godfather James Brown
Himself had warned Otis not to fly.


In the first chapter of his great text,
Lao Tzu writes: the spiritual way
That can be spoken of is a load of shit.
An addendum might read: the silent one
Who knows what gave James Brown his growl
Or why Otis was taken back at 26

Could lift a double propeller plane
From the waters of Lake Monona
And set it down gently like a rocking chair
On the dock of some bright bay.
Lying in a pool of water on your back,
Wasting time while your lungs fill

With a heady mixture of downpour
And autumn wind, you start to imagine
That little plane rusting away below you,
And what one human voice might do
Given the chance, and thinking of home
You pick up a plank and row.

from Rattle #44, Summer 2014


Daniel Bohnhorst: “My attempts at poetry often involve taking disparate scraps from my notebook and trying to paste them together. These collage experiments don’t normally amount to much. But sometimes a few of these scraps decide to get along, as in the poem published here, where a story about the old fishermen on Isle Royale, a memory from Madison, a little ode to soul music, and a tongue-in-cheek translation of the Tao Te Ching all somehow found each other and made a story. Apologies to Taoist scholars everywhere. Thanks for reading.”

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