Wednesday 30 January 2008

Milk Cartons

A considerable quantity of hair went missing
from the head of a man known as Head
Head's hair was called Ralph
and Ralph snuck away in the night so stealthily
or was stealthily kidnapped
or wandered away
no one quite rightly knows
but it was done quietly, no cries were heard, no pleadings,
no arguments, no fights, no police were called
Ralph went without even a whimper

the only trace of anything having happened at all was a quiet panic that ascended from the belly of Head, one morning
weeks after the last follicle of Ralph had been stroked, or fondled, or even noticed
and lifted off right through
and away, away, never to be seen again

Truth be told, Head knew was only a matter of time before Ralph walked out of his life
How could he hope to keep such a good looking hair like Ralph interested in sticking around
his humdrum day to day
He could tell that Ralph had ambition he could never satisfy
so yes, there was a story. Yes, he knew.
Though he had never been able to face it.
So by the time Ralph had gone, gone fully
and regret had climbed all over him to claim the place where Ralph once laid
Head was wracked with doubt over whether it would ever
be possible to make amends
to welcome Ralph home
to a new life for them
a mutually loving life, together?

Head walked through the streets of Brooklyn calling out to his lost hair, his belatedly cherished hair
Ralph, Ralph, he called
Come home, you will be loved, Ralph
He went calling
through the streets in January

He put posters up around the neighbourhood
with a picture of Ralph on holiday in France
looking shiny and contented
people agreed he looked very well
looked like he and Head were very happy together
People stopped in the street to commiserate with him
tears were shared
and stories
Pated men began to knock on Head's door
to share their loss, their grief, their woes

But there were hints, clues
telltales and tip offs
eye witnesses
rat finks and their hopeful misconceptions
the skinny, the low-down, a smoking gun or two
there were sightings, there were notions
leads, marks, the occasional follicular doppleganger
those desperate cul de sac wanderings that ended in disappointment and suspicion

So Head had slight inklings that Ralph was afoot
most of it rumours, whisperings and idle gossip
By the time this fever was through
the search for Ralph had borne fruit in Head
the fruit of a feverish and passionate life
a life that had woken up to its pate, its fate, a moment right now
to do something with
to dream and execute

It was around this time that I met Head
And one day I called to Head with two plastic cups of takeaway corner coffee
hot filth: one for him and one for me,
and when Head answered the door
there was some new gentleness around his eyes
some quality of surrender
some peace
What is it? I asked. What have you done?
There is word, he replied.
Someone had seen Ralph.
There were reported sightings of Ralph in bathtub drains across the borough
none of them in houses where Head had visited
on his occasional nocturnal prowls, those moments of serendipity when a pate-loving woman invited him into her bed, and her shower, the next day
No, it was other stranger drains
that contained the hair that would surely prove to be Ralph, Ralph truly
The actual Ralph

Did you get a private eye to find him? I asked
No, I got a plumber, he replied
and sent him after
but even an expert plumber
couldn't find any real trace of the actual Ralph
and so Head took his plight above ground.
He made pleas across the borough, citywide, and ultimately across the nation
Ralph appeared on milk cartons for a week
ousting the missing children that usually dwelled there
everyone had enjoyed the pictures of the missing children
they usually looked so cheerful and pretty over morning coffee
the misslings, they called them

Seemed like they had always been around
a real part of the family those misslings
Lightening our coffee, moistening our cereal
Something to put our cocoa into
on those sleepless nights
We kind of liked having those misslings around
We want them back! they announced at once, of a piece, in a chorus
a chorus of families demanding the return of their misslings to the cartons on their breakfast tables

and so when the misslings went missing, there was a fandango, a quargo, quite a to-do
and people actually began to ask, for the first time,
and seeing as they asked, they got answered, and
the children were found in the milk carton factory
pumping udders
in udder slavery
though they said they were quite content to stay there
and not go home to their families
so much time had passed and they had become quite adapted to their new circumstances
had quite a rapport with the various cows that came through the factory
had developed skills
were valued and appreciated
and you know, they heard they had become famous in their absence from The Real World, that other place
that they were household faces, in fact
that they graced the tables
of all the dysfunctional families
they could ever hope or expect
to be a part of.

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