douglas cohen

vaccinations (2000)

The Vaccinations by Texas artist James Magee are a series of small metal cubes created from 1982 to 1987, each displaying a unique abstract scene made from materials as varied as pieces of metal hardware, wood scraps, broken glass and industrial fluids. The full title to the series fills two typewritten pages. The composer recorded Magee reading the title in various locations in Texas and created this text sound piece from those recordings. This composition was released on a CD published in the book Selected Titles to Specific Works by James R. Magee, 1985 - 2000.


( o f) three boys
Sunday winter walking,
roses blooming in their pockets, laughing low
no sneakers cooler than mine, asshole.
Better whiter than redder, goat head.
Better ever than never if ever whiter than blacker on the fifth of December
I ride the bus for my father trying to see King Street as he once did;
and for my mother, frail and aquiline, even before her illness,
I slowly pass the schoolyard where she had played in a child’s innocence of long ribbons.
Birds fall from the clouds.
My grandfather stands in the doorway,
his anger compressed into hand grenades
stolen from steel boxes rusting on the curb,
their pins still in,
poorer now than the crockery
he peddles in the marketplace on Saturdays.


Across the street the Hansons gather up their tablecloth
along with their child, Morley, barefooted and runny-nosed,
who from the first day, my mother would say,
was stronger and wiser than the room into which he was born
or the hands that held him.
A light unto the gentiles, she whispered.
Lead hot red corpuscles running in torrents across the blue frosted sky
seeping into the cracks of their mud walls
and into their veins, hotter, then colder, then hotter,
their night beds pressed up against the heater,
geese squawking,
Morley’s rooster crowing backwards from dusk to dawn,
the whole town snoring, waking, tossing, turning every fifteen minutes,
eyes half-open halfway through the cockadoodledoo.


Morley said not to fret,
for we are little more than membrane,
a thin tissue through which light passes for but a moment,
an eye gazing into an eye. Purpose?
No purpose, he said.
Just luck...a matter of throwing the dice.


Over fifty treadless tires are piled on top of my roof.
Morley hauls them up there to keep my tar paper from blowing away.
He says old tires make good stairways, too,
just fill them up with dry straw and mud, or better still, cement.
Tonight men are gathering near the wall in secret to decide the fate of Morley’s rooster.


It’s eight feet tall, one of them claims,
the biggest damn thing you ever did see,
rolls along on feathered wheels,
lightning bugs pasted to the side of its head,
a regular lickety-split of a Second Coming,
a real cockadoodledandy,
and it scares the living daylights out of my kids.
They can’t sleep at night.


Morley believes each of us is only a variation on the same theme,
a viral dilapidation of a vaccination stuck into an arm of a giant millions of years ago.
Go ahead, pray in church.
Count your fourteen stations, if you like,
or his T-Cells for that matter,
but it won’t bring back our boy,
I heard Morley tell his wife one night.
Just don’t tear up the carrots, love.
Peel them slowly,
and before you turn out the light
please spread some mayonnaise on my bread.


- From Selected Titles to Specific Works by James R. Magee, 1985 - 2000