All This and More
–Mary KarrThe Devil’s tour of hell did not includea factory line where molten leadspilled into mouths held wide,no electric drill spiraling screwsinto hands and feet, nor giant pliersto lower you into simmering vats.Instead, a circle of lightopened on your stuffed armchair,whose chintz orchids did not boil and change,and the Devil adjustedyour new spiked antennaealmost delicately, with claws curledand lacquered black, before he spreadhis leather wings to leapinto the acid-green sky.So your head became a tv hull,a gargoyle mirror. Your doppelgangersloppy at the mouthand swollen at the jointsenacted your days in sinuousslow motion, your lines deliveredwith a mocking sneer. Sometimesthe frame froze, reversed, beganagain: the red eyes of a friendyou cursed, your girl child coweredbehind the drapes, parents alive againand puzzled by this new form. That’s whyyou clawed your way back to this life.
At the Sound of the Gunshot, Leave a Message
That’s what my friend spoke
into his grim machine the winter he first went mad
as we both did in our thirties with still
no hope of revenue, gravely inking
our poems on pages held fast by gyres
the color of lead.
Godless, our minds
did monster us, left us bobbing as in a swamp
until we sank. His eyes were burn holes
in a swollen face. His breath was a venom
he drank deep of. He called his own tongue
a scar, this poet
who can crowbar open
the most sealed heart, make ash flower,
and the cocked shotgun’s double-zero mouths
(whose pellets had exploded star holes into plaster and porcelain
and not a few locked doors) never touched
my friend’s throat. Praise
Him, whose earth is green.
I opened up my shirt to show this man
the flaming heart he lit in me, and I was scooped up
like a lamb and carried to the dim warm.
I who should have been kneeling
was knelt to by one whose face
should be emblazoned on every coin and diadem:
no bare-chested boy, but Ulysses
with arms thick from the hard-hauled ropes.
He’d sailed past the clay gods
and the singing girls who might have made of him
a swine. That the world could arrive at me
with him in it, after so much longing—
impossible. He enters me and joy
sprouts from us as from a split seed.
When it became impossible to speak to you
due to your having died and been incinerated,
I sometimes held the uncradled phone
with its neat digits and arcane symbols (crosshatch,
black star) as if embedded in it
were some code I could punch in
to reach you. You bequeathed me
this morbid bent, Mother.
Who gives her sixth-grade daughter
Sartre’s Nausea to read? All my life,
I watched you face the void,
leaning into it as a child with a black balloon
will bury her countenance
either to hide from
or to merge with that darkness.
Small wonder that still
in the invisible scrim of air
that delineates our separate worlds,
your features sometimes press toward me
all silvery from the afterlife, woven in wind,
to whisper a caution. Or your hand on my back
shoves me into my life.
…to learn is the someday you’ll someday
stagger to, blinking in cold light, all tears
shed, ready to poke your bovine head
in the yoke they’ve shaped.
Everyone learns this. Born, everyone
breathes, pays tax, plants dead
and hurts galore. There’s grief enough
for each. My mother
learned by moving man to man,
outlived them all. The parched earth’s
bare (once she leaves it) of any who watched
the instants I trod it.
Other than myself, of course.
I’ve made a study of bearing
and forbearance. Everyone does,
it turns out, and note
those faces passing by: Not one’s a god.
Orders from the Invisible
Insert coins. Mind the gap. Do not disturb
hung from the doorknob of a hotel room,
where a man begged to die entwined in my arms.
He once wrote
he’d take the third rail in his teeth, which is how
loving him turned out.
The airport’s glass world
glided me gone from him, and the sky I flew into
grew a pearly cataract through which God
lost sight of us. The moving walk
is nearing its end.
The diner jukebox says, Choose
again, and the waitress hollers over,
“All them soul songs got broke.”
She speaks from the cook’s window, steam
smearing her face of all feature.
The tongue is a form of fire, the Bible says,
and in the computer’s unstarred blue
the man’s brutal missives drag me along by my throat.
Press yes to erase.