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John Turner
John Turner

Date of Birth: 8/7/52
Location: Davenport, IA
Published in: Kaliedescope, Astronomy, Lyrical Iowa, Squashblossom, Quad City Times, Black&White, North American Mentor, the Poet, River City Reader, Northern Iowan, etc.
Awards: James Hearst Poetry Award, 1976; Honorable Mention, Lyrica Iowa, 1986, winner of First and Second Quad City poetry Slams; Winner of Anima Poetry Slam on line four times; Winner of first St Ambrose University Poetry Slam, Professional Division.
Other: Written/Starred in 17 plays in last 12 years in Quad City area


Sometime before man-made scenes,
about the Fourth of Mythology,
8:57 Eastern Dream Time, to exact it,
Pin Ball Lizard crawled out of the sea;
he haggled a quarter
found a machine
scanned a cop & copped his stance
pressed the button and WON.

The Lizard didn't lose;
ding-a-ring bells
soon plated his scales
with prefigured shekels.
Exothermic, he had a plug-in appendage,
that kept him moving post-sundown;

day & night winning
left only one game to play. Tales told
of Jurassic Triassic's Discoid Den,
the machine in the basement
unbeatable as ice
bolted to the rock of the world.

Faded & jaded
Pin Ball Lizard entered J.T.'s Discoid Den.
Music punched him like a press
HIM ajabba HUM ajabba HIM a da HUM ajabba
the Lizard didn't like Disco for nothin'
but he dented the din
light lancing off
his many shekeled hide
to get to the basement
and play
that no one left, alive.

Grimm's Reaper they called it,
left as a gigaton joke
or to aid evolution
nobody knew.
Those that cared & dared
never came back.
Loser skulls acted as digits
bone ash background
to lava-emitting diodes
over a light-lit expanse
ten times the size
of a Sequoia National Park;
three thousand gauss-awful magnets
linearly accelerated
a house-high asteroidial nickle-iron sphere
to point five lights.

Lost in the dancing expanse
under that vacuum-packed glass
stood platinum-iridium targets
glittering nine feet thick;
domed stadiums
stood for bumpers;
as flippers
Liberian tankers
long gone dry
swung by megawatt servos;
early rejects
of the Panama Canal
guttered every side.

Losers met
with instant machine dispatch
and winning
took a score
of one
followed by more zeros
than fill every all-night café
at 3:05 on a Thursday morning.

Lizard cashed in his shekels
stripped himself bare
shoved it all in the change machine;
after a short grunt
out came a radioactive coin,
embossed with glowing letters, which read:
HIM ajabba HUM ajabba went the upstairs din,
and Lizard looked at the coin.
A little mist cleared off the far side of Grimm's Reaper,
and Lizard looked at the coin.
"I get one life to spend," said Pin Ball,
looking at that lead-heavy coin.

Clasping six opposable claws
with an air equal to but not exceeding
total indifference, he popped his Life
down the machine's wound-raw maw,
and, foot thrust forward, embraced the Reaper.

With a body and soul-shaking slam
the house-high sphere checked into the starting gate;
reaching for the plunger,
made from processed compressed femurs,
Lizard noticed Death spreading from his hand
where he'd held that goddamn dayglow coin.
"Lose or lose, I lose," he mused,
and shot the house-high sphere.

Screaming through vacuum at point five lights,
checked by neutronium stops in its path
stray chunks of matter condensed from the cloud
of absolute energy; mesons and muons
bouncing at random throughout the device
racked up a do-decatillion or two
as the lava-lit diodes vaporized sweat
off the Lizard's thirty-inch neck.

But on went the ball, slowing to ten
times the speed that is needed to orbit the earth;
a ricochet shot off a rare earth target, then,
hardly abused, the ball left the scene,
roaring away down a Gaillard Cut gutter,
down to the depths of a sunless coolant
chilling the sphere back to zip degrees K.,
then shoving it home, once again, once again,
for the player to make his next try.
"You fukkin' hose-o-matic,"
muttered Lizard, and fired again.

The sphere raced away
roaring in absolute pure vacuum silence
only a tremble of Richter proportions
telling the news
of a house-high asteroidal nickle-iron sphere
stuck between the Real and the Relative.
Some bumpers came on line
Lizard leaned into the machine
as those wrought-iron-ringed stadiums
lit with carbon arc fury
each adding a number
long as an arm
to his score, when
said a megaphoned loser skull.
Lizard looked up
to see ten dozen crania form themselves
into a universal TILT sign.

Billion by billion
the score clicked away.
Lizard stood lonely, fish spine stubble
peeking through once-shekled scales.
"So close, and yet, so what,' he said.
Feeling his arm, he found Death well established
putting up condos all along his spine-lined skyline.
Chilled as the vats for the house-high sphere,
ready now, steaming at zip degrees K.,
Lizard again let the plunger let fly
and the gauss-awful magnets
released his third and final ball.

a bad ball:
time and again
it made for the drain
glitched a flipper
spun in one-winged dragonfly wobble, curved,
made for the drain again.
But a still-point nudge
brought the sphere down
for a sweet shot
far from the fulcrum
of that osmium-weighted Liberian tanker flipper
in inertial agony
the house-high sphere
hurtled back to the backstops.
"Get serious, ball," whispered Lizard.
Too serious;
over the rollovers, right past the targets
by the bumpers, then,
using the lip of a bonus hole
as an improvised incline
the house-high sphere
hit the vacuum-packed glass
Hairline cracks
let some pneuma suck through;
organic agents, built into the glass,
fixed the crack--but the air remained.
Pinball played that sphere
from border to border
like a prototypical ping-pong diplomat;
temperatures rose
as air and action
disputed dominion
in fricative phonemes.
The white-hot sphere
outshone the bone ash backdrop
as auroras
filtered neon spectrums

throughout the mile-on-mile
that made the game.
Distant forests
lining a gutter, caught fire,
swirled in wind, coagulated, codified,
told Lizard a mystery:

One target remained,
all between Pin Ball and palladium death
was a single, platinum-iridium slab--
but there was no way.
A thump of a bumper
shot the house-high sphere
roaring for real now
meteor bright
toward the two tanker flippers
at point nine nine lights.
At that speed
a shoelace
would drill through the moon.
With tacyon reflex
Lizard rammed the flippers
felt the megawatt swing and

twixt tanker and sphere;
such collisions
crumple galaxies
but Pin Ball Lizard
just lost his eyelids
seared in the black light
of an X-ray explosion.

The burst made the disco record skip
dancers collided
crashed to the trembling floor,
When his vision returned
Lizard scanned
the sight of a spinning light geyser, slowly, so slowly
crawling near apogee close to the target,
Lizard egging it on with every gut-muscle . . .
without much momentum
but plenty of mass
it kissed the target
hard enough
to send it
ing back to its place
with all other targets now lit.

The Lizard had a chance.
Glancing down
he felt the death ice chill in his body
shake hands with his heart.
Seared red-hot wrecks remained
of the tanker flippers,
no longer smoking in the regained vacuum
glowing an absolute impotent gleam
unable to catch
even a house-high sphere
as it passed to a zip-degree bath.
Any way, anyway
his hams were had.
Slathered in rads
from the X-ray burst,
going numb as Socrates
from the death-heavy coin,
he knew he couldn't light a cigarette
or go for a beer
or stare at his score . . .

he had no flippers
& one ball to play.
The veins on his arms cast shadows,
he flexed all he had
left pulling the plunger;
compressed processed femurs
moved slowly, like something
one would pay five bucks
to see in a slime-molded theater
as Lizard felt for the tension
best for the house-high sphere.
A jabba HIM JABBA JABBA JABBA HIM a da HUM went the Discoid Den.
"Hey, 'LIZ!' Push it, we close in ten minutes!" said a voice better left unidentified.
Lizard turned to demonstrate kinetic energy with one bone-crushing blow,
shot his free, final, ball . . .
hot off the backstop
into a bonus hole, soaking up points
for a second or two.
"Stop looking for the Buddha and he knocks on your door,"
said Lizard, smiling, a plan in his lead-heavy hands.
Out came the sphere from Bonusville--
but I'm not about to make a long description of this game,
it's simple, really;
two stadium bumpers
two miles apart
made it easy.
Nudging with a force just this side of tilt
guiding the sphere with neutrons from his dying brain
the Lizard arranged a perfect mutual rebound

went the back-and-forth ball
clicking off miles at relative velocities
each crash sending leptons and hadrons
through the vacuum-packed glass.
Everything shuddered
the Lizard shaking like hell
keeping the sphere's bounce back-and-forth perfect
watching the boneash backdrop scream
reflesh, revive, jump off and run
as the score exceeded transfinite limitations
"A jabba HIM a da HUM, a. jabha HIM a da HUM, a Jabba HIM a da HUM
"LIZ," yer mukkin' the record again!' cried
that nameless voice . . .
but who was dancing;
the floor fell away
revealing Lizard in a seizure
doing a deathstep with the Reaper
keeping that screaming sphere
from flipperless defeat.

It couldn't go on, you now;
Everything was perfect
except for one San Andreas Fault
that, doing its own step,
slipped sixty miles in a second
catapulting Lizard, Reaper and Discoid Den
Beyond the blue horizontal hold
the turning world had on them.
This didn't phase the Lizard
went the back-and-forth sphere
halfway to heaven, ten billion eventual Bodhisattvas
stopped chanting OM MANI PADMI HUM
long enough to shout
But the Lizard paid them no mind.

The game goes on--
check out the sky
on a clear winter night:
a four-pointed figure
with a three-star belt;
that's the Lizard--
others call him. 'Orion'--
now you know better.
The Pleiades are part of his backdrop score
and the Milky Way's made
of the shekels from his hide
scattered after the change machine
blew up.

Check him out,
he's still egging that sphere,
not even checking his score
as it nears the number of those café zeros.

If he wins, we're in the next game, free!
Think of that.
But if he fails
those stars,
this world,
your breath,
as well as his game