Tuesday, April 21, 2020


I was beginning my sixth grade year at Parkview Elementary. I lived on Rural Route 3, in the outer ring of Chicago Suburbs, where the cornfields start. My gravel street, and the knife scratched mailboxes and biker clubs was the county line, and the barrier between Steger , a place where they used to make Pianos and Crete, a place where there were a lot of trucking companies. . An anarchic wonderland of junk cars, and overgrown grass, of dilapidated houses that the fire dept would practice burning down in the spring. What this meant to sixth grade me, was that all the kids in my neighborhood went to Crete Monee school district. Our ramshackle house, our junk cars, our overgrown grass stood alone on the Steger side of the line. I would walk the mile to school, cutting through the woods in the fall, passing old abandoned orchards, and a swamp with a plough that had been abandoned so long a tree had grown through it, passing concrete marys in electric phonebooth shrines and sheep in a fenced in yard, a million murderous dogs.


I would pass through enemy territory once I passed a place called “the coffee cup” a dirtbike jumping hill renowned for it’s almost 90 degree angle ( hence the name), and a tangle of storm sewer drains, undeveloped lots and loose piles of fill dirt and gravel. This particular wildnerness was the turf of a gang of Steger-ites that I attended school with. I don’t know that in these days of social promotion, and extracurricular tutoring and special education classes that any of you have any idea the kind of gangling, pre-adolescent sizes a group of particularly dim and failed-several-times-over sixth graders could grow to in the late eighties. Suffice to say, to my newly sixth grade eyes they were like a pack of ravenous mutants, the inbred cannibbalistic tribes of my own private “the hills have eyes” or “deliverance” They called themselves the “Steger Snakes” ( a gang name only dumb lower-middle class white kids could come up with)and had decided that, due to my height, my awkwardness, my poverty and my ability to answer questions in class that I was to be the recipient of their special attention. I was a gangly, goofy, dirty sensitive kid who cried to much. I was, in the parlance of the day, a smart ass and a pussy.Every day, I would walk past the Coffee Cup and it’s wilderness with a stomach churning trepidation, and every day, out of the tall and wheat-like grass grown all the way to seed would come one of the Snakes, to push me, to demand tribute, to play keep away with whatever library book I was trying to walk and read at the same time.




If this was a story in a movie, this would be about how I gained the courage and self respect and finally stood up for myself. It would be about how the head bully was really a crying on the inside kind of clown, and how we found our common humanity and overcame our war, or how I redeemed myself with one pure act of 100 percent american red blooded violence and cinematically kicked his ass up and down the graveled and parentless road to his chagrin, and the snakes would dissolve in contempt for his weakness, as I , magnanimously offer a hand to my wounded opponent and help hjim to his feet and encourage him to live a life of righteousness and honor from now on. This is not that kind of story.
I was cowed enough from the very real traumas in my life to believe the snakes were capable of truly horrible things, and broken and hopeless enough to believe, somehow, I deserved it.
I walked with terror past the coffee cup every day it did not snow, and got shoved around most of the time.


On a saturday, a friend of mine from across the street were attempting to convince ourselves we were courageous BMX riders, and took our bikes to the dreaded coffee cup. Jason was a weird sensitive kid from our neighborhood, his dad a loud drunk who used to rip the phones out of the wall and, who was forever working on a chopped harley trike made out of an old volswagen. Jason grew up to be a chicago cop.
Jason and I arrived at the coffee cup and the old familiar gnawing pain in the stomache arrived, but there are no snakes. We walk through the storm drains smelling of fossilized tadpoles and dead frog-water, push the bikes up the hill and come into the track. We jumped some rickety plywood ramps, rode the cup a few times, kicking off and coming out of the ravines. A guy came and tried the same things on motorcycle and promptly laid it on top of himself, the wheels still spinning crazily in the air. He was lucky not to die. We just watched.
When it was time to go, we took a path I had never noticed, and found a clearing, a few stolen lawn chairs, an old igloo cooler. On the top of the cooler was a brand new trapper keeper.with golden retrievers on it.
I opened it, and saw written in green ballpoint, in a shaky hand, the (swear-to-god) minutes of a snake meeting! THEY HAD A TREASURER, and a president, and some fucked-up hoodlum version of roberts rules of order. The main order of business seemed to be the construction of a clubhouse, including sketches, but the end result had seemed to be this circle of lawn chairs and garbage in a vacant lot, in the high and doubtless tick-filled grass.
The rest of the book was clean empty paper.



I took it by the handful and threw it up in the air, all those clean white sheets raining down on the grass and the lawn chairs, they split out in sheaves and I threw them again, endless flocks of college-ruled, three hole punched doves exploding from a magicians hat.
Paper carpeted the floor pristine and white, cicadas and crickets sawing in the tall grass.

We left, and of course the snakes found us, and I stood paralyzed while they blacked jason’s eye, an act of cowardice I could never forgive myself for. Maybe that’s why he became a cop. Years later, as a hoodlum in my early teens I would party with some of the affiliate snakes, never the general or treasurer, but footsoldiers, gone on to gangs with real names, like disciples, or counts, or kings or became petty criminals like myself, setting dumpsters on fire, drinking beer in the cornfields, dealing in stolen pills. There was never a day of reckoning for the years of terror, and I eventually grew into myself, became the kind of person that could and would black someones eye, learned how to be unafraid when walking alone. Learned how to move through the world more like a predator than prey, but I never was avenged, or saved, or redeemed from these particular monsters. The arc of the story does not work like that. We learn to be courageous because it is necessary, to protect our friends because we must, but there is no satisfying day when the old terror is put away forever. I grew, and the snakes grew and we found other ways to frighten each other. There is no magic moment of victory, but those clean white pages, falling so silently to earth, those defiant doves and the kicked over empty chairs of my enemies, the sun through the late summer grass and the sound of cicadeas, those things will be with me when I die, still a smart-ass, still a pussy.





When the cunning engineer built the gilded cow
your mother crawled inside,
to fool the god's white  bull,
and let her have her pleasure
did he foresee you, your awkward crown
and the palace he would build
to hide you in?
When you squatted
at the center of the maze
like a dull spider,
among the bones
and greaves, inevitable

did you see your death
come strolling, unwinding thread behind?
And when he had taken
your life from you,
and left you in the center of that story
and began to ravel back the thread

did he see, tugging
on theother ends
the woman avenged, and the
children thrown, bloody and dead in a heap,
the dragons teeth that sown
sprouted armored men?


Did he see the them carving, even then
his seat in hell?

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Monstrum: An Abecediary

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Featured snippet from the we


Jacob Rakovan 




Amphisbaena
"as though it were not enough 
For poison to be poured out of one mouth" says Pliny
how they loved to picture you,
Your twin heads facing each other a heraldic seal,
A sad and venomous pushme-pullyou. 
It is clear you are born of confusion, 
From the writhing of sex seen glancingly,
Like the two found fucking by the old blind prophet
That let him cast off his tits, if not the dark,
That qualified him to judge between the gods,
Like the staff of the god
Of thieves and florists
Like the huddled shapes of parents seen through a door
How you travel,
First one way, then another
"in a circular motion", built for a better version
Of the hoop that binds the ocean,
The tail that is never swallowed, but instead
An endless poison kiss, a double helix
You are too necessary to not exist,
The neverending doubleheaded union
A looping clip of porn, a snapshot 
Frozen, before the heads begin to pull away, apart
Like the notion of forever, like a wedding ring
For you there is no solitude, born from your gorgon mother’s blood
That the hero held aloft, severed, to populate a desert
The endless Charlie Mccarthy act
They call you "mother of ants", and say you devour
Those called your children, 
Say you fed on the dead 
Left in the wake of an army
I adopt one of your poisonous heads,
Give my lover the other,
How we endlessly recombine,
Joined in the labyrinth of guts
Heads that face each other and pull away



Bernake

We imagined a world more mutable,
The trees  growing birds, that fell on water to float
And live as geese, the eel’s spontaneous generation
From the long grass, dropping into the moving streams
Where everything was various and multiform. 
Cheese breeding maggots
The way the angels woke to push the spheres
Imagined men could take up skins
Of bears and hedgehogs and wolves

It is it’s own small miracle,
The way the egg devours, the child
Membranous and pink as a newborn mouse
Riding in the ocean of the body,
The strange fish of the blood to buoy it

This is the world outside the gates, 
The serpent’s teeth in our heels breed no armies
And the broken earth gives only grass or thorns,
No throng of squalling birds growing out from their beaks,
No roast birds flying head downward
Above the peasant’s paradise 
of a crystal mountain of rock candy,

It is you, and I, and a host of nameless beasts
A paradise remembered and told to children
John of Mandeville, the old liar
of all the wonders of his travels,
(The men who used their single foot as an umbrella,
The headless men with mouths in their bellies
That feasted on other men, the mysteries of Jerusalem
The milk of the virgin marbled in red stone,
 the birth of roses,)
Of all fantastic variety he kept this tale for his homeland
A fantastic tale to tell the denizens of 
That archipelago of horrors,

and they did not believe

Cockatrice

Born first from the clotted venom and blood
That rained on Libya from her severed head
A storm  that birthed two headed serpents,
till this origin seemed too outlandish
Then born from a black ibis
fed on poisionous snakes,
Then the rooster’s leather eggs,
left to warm on a dunghill
Brooded over by the toad with the jewel in his head
The corrupt quintessence of putrefying matter
You are the architect of the desert,
A wake of withered ruin in your footsteps
Crowned with a rooster’s comb, a Midas-king of destruction
Poisoning water with your lips, your breath
The exhalation of corruption
The land before you swarms with serpents fleeing your gaze
You are hideousness and horror, a Godzilla monster on chicken legs
A jackalope that pisses death
So absurdly deadly that a man on horseback
Could spear you, and the venom traveling up
Kill both him, and the horse. We are alike in this

Pilgrims carried roosters and weasels and rue
As charms against your breath
When they crossed the no-man’s lands you dwelt in
Told tales of the unimaginable color of your petrifying eyes
In the parlour game of the transmutation of metals
Where nothing is as it seems
You are a type of fire, your egg is the vessel
Where the elixir is cooked that heals all wounds
The water that dissolves all metals
The stone of transformation

Your corpse, hung in temples served to terrify swallows
And you were found, unharmed, in the vault of Saint Lucia
Your black breath spreading contagion through Rome
Spirit of fire, of plague and of ruin
I thought first to conjure you, 
Name you heraldic emblem of my house


My hands carry sufficient power to destroy all they touch





Dog
He was a good and dumb and named by a child
So his name was Duke, because children are
Conservatives, They like square cars and shoe-shaped shoes
And house-shaped houses and dogs named Duke
Or Fido (though they have no latin)
grasping a certain comforting coherence to pattern
But our house was a house-shaped something else,
An unfun-funhouse with slanting floors
And openings in the ceilings and walls
Strange colonies in the walls
Like those miracle shacks
Where water flows uphill 
And tiny men become giants
And a broom stands in the corner untouched
Except it also was devoid of miracles, and most mercies

Duke dug himself an egg shaped nest 
In the brown industrial carpeting
down to the water-warped plywood
He had a fondness for grapefruit husks
Rescued from the maggoty trash

He slipped his rope and wandered the wooded lots
Drawing me out of the house
To call his dumb-dog name
Through acres of convergent lots and hedgerows
And scrub brush. He mounted the ugly green chair
With amorous intent

He did not seem concerned with
The tricks I half heartedly tried to teach him
But like all smiling dogs he was a wolf
Had to be restrained when the zoning man
Came poking among the rusting cars and washing machines
The gasoline filled ringer washer
his loyalty uncomplicated
And he signed his death warrant
When the fat lady stood up on her bicycle
To peep through the grease smeared windows
And finally see just what was  going on in there
And he chased her down and smilingly  bit out
A softball-sized chunk of her ass






Elefant
In the gold rush,
"Going to see the elephant", meant to go west
Into the strange lands past some invisible Rubicon,
The last circle of light from the settled places
To head into the old American dark
With everything you could drag into the wild 
Looking for some old story, a place where the rivers
Ran with gold, the whiskey
came trickling out of the rocks.
It meant to hang on to the bitter-fucking-end
And those that turned back, broke, with half a story
Said they had seen the elephant’s tail, or his ears
And that was enough for them

I told you once, a hoary old joke my father told me
On how to catch an elephant

We wake the kids, nursing grudges
And set out, into the tangled  knot of subway
You are beautiful, and painted with sorrow
And we are headed uptown to central park
To see the elephant


You see, first you  go out into the woods
Where the elephants are

It’s a weekend, and the half the trains do not run
Sleeping serpents underground,
Or awake, headed the wrong way, their bellies filled with men
And the baby cries, and we miss a stop
And you  say "to hell with it"

And you cut down a circle of trees
Then you dig a hole,

And I want nothing more than to walk behind you
But it’s a weekend,
my tongue  knotted in my mouth 
Unreadable as a map
we storm and you head up the stairs, angry, silent

Throw all the trees in
Light a match and throw it in

And it is worse, for a second
Than shouting, then bluster
Because you  are silent
And Hannibal is coming down out of the mountains
With the children cowering in the courtyards of Rome

When they are all burned down to grey ash,
You line the rim of the hole with frozen peas

I am carrying the baby in her howdah up the steps,
My old knees unbending, in pursuit of your
Backside, and I am silent and remembering
Every imagined slight

Then you hide in the bushes

And suddenly the right train comes and the kids
Make you laugh and you are beautiful in your mercy
You are a child laughing, throwing peanuts
And I am strong, a man who carries tree trunks
And makes roads, not a crazy bull
driven off alone,

The elephants will come into the clearing
They will be curious about the peas

They are dusty, in the dark
The family that never got where it was going,
The mother’s trunk silently
Trumpeting, the babes at her feet
And I photograph you against them
Like the water that they never reached,
Are reaching for, forever
In the hall of African mammals

And when the elephant comes to take a pea
You kick him in the ash-hole

We stay only for a moment,
In the conservatory, the butterflies crowd around you
And the baby, and everything is green 




Formi

"I could conquer the whole of them with 50 men, and govern them as I pleased."

Christopher Columbus
 
The Arimaspi, a race of one eyed men,
Lived in the wastes outside the cities, in Scythia
And warred with griffins that guarded gold
As the pygmaioi warred with the cranes,
And ate their eggs and built houses
From mud and eggshells
 
Phrixus killed the winged ram
And hung ithe bloody hide on an oak tree
At the end of the world,
Like peanut butter on a Victory mousetrap
 
The lord of El Dorado dove into mountain water
Naked and coated in gold dust,
A glittering fish for a spanish hook
 
Always somewhere over the border
From where we are, there is gold
Lying on the ground and waiting to be taken
There are walls of lapus lazuli
False gods of gold and ornaments
In the hair of women who speak no human language
 
The Formi dig it from the ground
And pile the gold in heaps
They are ants the size of foxes, or dogs
Or leopards and they live in either
India, sri lanka or Africa
They live in the wild places
 
They are not men, only insects
Their cities are mudheaps of gold
sweet hives awaiting plunder
And though they fight to keep it
They know not what they have
 
They are not men
 
They are horrible and quick, eaters of men
Fooled by simple tricks,
The nearby men send
mares with empty boxes
strapped to their backs
and the black beasts fill their boxes with money
 



Goat (for Rachel)

Amalthea took the baby godling in her cave
And gave suck to thunder, the metalsmith priests
Covering the cries with dancing.
The carnival-king father ravened in his heaven
A piƱata filled with stones, a big bad wolf daddy
Hungry to swallow babies, a bloody sickle in his hand
Her broken horn is a drinking cup filled with flowers
Her hot blood dissolves diamonds
Set in a sea of stars, she took a mermaid’s tail
And crowned herself queen of melancholy
she gives milk to exiles, she is mercy in the dark,
she is the soft dark  where the stars are set



Hydrus

Doubtless, some misheard tale
Of  birds picking daintily through
The crocodile’s teeth, growing with the telling
Till it dives, mudslick
into the deadly jaws and eats out through the belly
Devouring heart and liver, head emerging through the side
Like the pygmy elephant hunters
Crawling through the viscera, joyful
  
we prefer our Jonahs in a tidy belly
 Gepetto’s home away from home
taken as a fable of the resurrection,
Christ gnawing his way through hell
Teeth gnashing through wailing sinners
The hellmouth snapping up the damned like fish
In the morning my son runs up the steps
Into a brick building, named after a man hitless
In 9 games in 1952
I dive into a bus
The fallen angels adjust their wristwatches
And wait for the train, jostling to stand
They will call to say he has pushed a larger boy into the dust
That the little fish devour each other in the beast’s belly
They do not see his head, bursting through a side door
His broken-toothed grin, his hard little belly
Filled with what a man must swallow
To be allowed his allotment of light



Ichneuman
The wonders of Nature and Providence, displayed
Tells us that the beast was a god to the Egyptians
A devourer of the crocodile's egg
Armored in mud, protected from venom by rue
In truth, it is a favorite theme of taxidermists,
A bedraggled mongoose, leaking sawdust
A glass eyed cobra forever fixed
In its jaws, they gather dust, sunbleach
In antique store windows, 
ghosts of the American dime museum
The fox heads bite on the tail of the next , 
Chase each other over the shoulder of a dressmaker's dummy,
A hat with plumes, the archangel Michael, pigeon wings
Sprouting from his shoulers like an sideshow gaffe,
a Jenny Haniver, heaven's Feejee mermaid
The patron saint of paratroopers forever
 Dark-skinned Satan, the patron saint
Of the Mosin-Nagant carbine,
The Enfield rifle and the RPG-7
a snake and a mongoose,
Sunday-school saccharine in a crazed frame
Apple-cheeked Dick and Jane pray
To a guardian angel gaudy as a parrot
Crossing over the abyss, forever,
Two frightened Hummel babes that don't look down

teeth bared, hair on end in terror
bellies filled with rue
Ask the purple hearts in the glass case,
The captain's bars on the moth-eaten wool coat
the battlefield midden's heap of nameless parts
Ask them how it ends.





Jaculus



In 1691 Edward Lhwyd wrote on the origin of dragons
That the eggs of birds could be fertilized by snakes
"Fermentational Putrefaction", that chimeras were born
From the mingling of sperm in rivers and rain,
Libavius writes that the egg serves as a food source only
That the seed-snake eats it whole, still writhing
Like a garter-snake run over by a lawn mower
In the rain, in the rivers, the whole world cumslick
Crawling with monstrous life, 
Winged snakes coiled in the trees, waiting
To drop, dripping venom

Avoiding the obvious means of commingling tjem , 
He keeps the eggs, white.
virginal and soulless in the nest
The tadpoles crawling into the dirt, 
Birthing headless animals of stone, 
Lions with human faces
The world as imagined by men

In the garden, after the only male birth
The snake still moved upright,
With peacock-feathered wings it raised
Its head from the dust, the font of poisons
And said something low

The beasts unnamed, watched curiously
Wide eyed, fantastic, the menageries
We would forget, like the language
Of the tower, like our house before i burned it down

Now, through a locked gate, the garden is dangerous
Unnatural, the way the lamb lies in the lion's mouth
the remembered image of ourselves with no navels
the snakes flitting between the trees we are forbidden

the way you kissed me once,

your wings outstretched
my scales almost pretty
in your reflected light





Karkadann


In conversations my grandfather and father 
 allowed for various cryptozoological marvels,
 Lake monsters, Sasquatch, hollow earth dwellers,
 a hermetic library 
of metal plates hidden below the sphinx,
 sparkplugs in stone , electroplating amphoras,
 my families catechism of our true religion, 
of Cayce and Von Daniken, 
Hopis and Elizabeth Clare Prophet,
lowbrow voodoo Dianetics
Extraterrestrial revisionist Mormonism
prophecy and doom

There was one miracle not admitted,
My hopeful lure cast out into the ocean of belief
Greeted with a disdainful smile,
The province of children's stories
My earnest hope  ignored the rainbows
The gaudy flea market tapestries
Hung over dirty walls seemed to me
A  door. I knew the stone house on the hill, the garden
The woman's lap the beast lay its head in
I practiced the lines linked to circles
In a second hand book on drawing horses, 
Studied the fibbonacci whorls of goat and narwhal horn
In out-of-date yard sale encyclopedias
Recursive stairways to nowhere
Collected chintzy idols of the world better than this
Envied the lying girl at school her story
And doubtless assured my parents I was a faggot
And now you are here, more miraculous than a single horned goat
In a sideshow, no velvet color true
You herd our spindly legged colts 
into the city to see me at midday
and no one sees what I see
the sigil of a world that trumps this cement block day
An apparition, rampant,.



Leucrota

A devourer of the dead, you speak with a human voice
Your mouth hinged back to your ears, laughing and crying
You listen outside the door of the house for a name 
To repeat, to lure  the man out of the house and swallow him whole
Change sex, your teeth a solid ridge of bone, continuous
You are the clown of my childhood nightmares,
The beast built of the pink aftertrail of staring at a bare bulb,
Spun like candy into a rubber-limbed mute
The tickled and tickled the children
Till their stomachs fell out of their bodies
And twitched, still laughing on the bare wood floor
You are the pool of water in a leaf,
The moon refracting into a thousand eyes, 
the thump of something outside the circle of the fire's light
You are my fathers hands when unwatched
And the rats in the wall
You are the bare toothed grin of dead things
You are the crawl of worms beneath the skin,
Corpse eater, heart swallower
You are cloven hooved as the devil, cannot turn your head
Your father's eyes are stones that give the gift of sight
You are all friends gone to dust,
Old grinning death himself, waiting past the last house
On the street, on the rim of the streetlight's disk
The shutter-click of black in the eye
The empty lung's pause







Manticore
Sweet faced fraud, three rows of needle-teeth
In your smile, your trumpet voice,
honey tongueed dropping philistine psalms
Like water, like praise of fools.
Borges chases the tiger through the labyrinth of words
Finding only paper and library dust,
I summon you, Geryon
 find the broken toothed tiger of my menagerie
Grinning back, threadbare behind a plaster mask,
A speaking oracular head, and behind it, truth
We are false.
 Chimeras pieced together from bits of night terror, 
from misheard tales, you are man-eater, martya xwar. 
You are tiger, grown in the telling
Given poison spines, a serpent's tale., a pretty face.
I am simple fraud, your emblem is mine, sinister, passant
There is , in the end, nothing fantastic about monsters.
No magic, no secrets, no riddles from a human head
A bear will strip a man's leg to bone
Tigers eat the children of the poor
What need have we of further bogey-men then ourselves?
Our kings drape themselves in tiger skins, the nagual jaguars
Sleep in crypts and men are as murderous as they wish
I renounce my fraud but still my mouth is poison
Slaves shape mountains into lions with human heads

To ask us who we are, to sweeten impossible lips with lies
And tell us it is they, not we, who are terrible



Nightingale

Your sister's husband, a king 
A son of war himself
took you to Thrace
and took you on the way, a casual rape
of the sort that occupies men's minds
when a pretty woman makes the error
of going outside her house
and it is hot
and you told him, said "if
there is a god in heaven he will hear me'
and so Tereus, that eminently practical man
cut out your tongue and locked you in prison
and you, the dumb stump in your mouth
stitched till your fingers bled
in that dark house, and gave the terrible gift
of truth to your sister Procne
a practical woman herself
who took her son Itys into the kitchen
and cut his throat 
like a suckling pig
and drained the blood from it
and hewed his joints apart
and tossed them in a soup pot
( such terrible goings on, the neighbors said after)
and brought the brimming bowl to his father.
And while he gnawed the knuckle bone
Of his sweetly slaughtered boy

You and your sister ran
And the man, with his boy in his belly
Must have known and come after

And in the sudden terrible change
That is common as salt in stories
You all grew feathers and flew


Orphanim

Because they were first delivered
Mutilated, stuffed for decoration
Europeans believed they never landed
Endlessly aloft
 
The bird of paradise,
Popular among hatmakers

as the peacock, as, no doubt
the angels would be
could we but find one
on the earth, to rip the pinions from 
and set them , rakish, in a hatband
Birds are peculiar beasts. 
Half clockwork snake
half emblem of heaven
Consider the grace of vultures and gulls
With what dumb envy we
Staple wings to saints 
And dream of flight, of falling.
Imagine the impossible, the phoenix
Aflame in a nest of cinnamon sticks,
Born clean of memory
the bird of paradise,
the human headed ka of the Egyptians,
 the feathered soul, the pelican
feeding babies from its bloody breast
and the orphanim
The orphan bird lives in only one source,
The peacock plumed, eagle headed swan
That lies its eggs on the water
And the good bob on the surface
And the bad go down in the dark
And feathery Jesus  intends
That we take this as an emblem of salvation
Like the seeds that are cast in rocky places
And bear no fruit, and the eggs that wake
On the sea bottom, are we damned
As though the angels and paradise birds never tired
Of their endless circling flight
As though we chose this waste for our cradle



Peridexion ( for Portsmouth, Ohio)


the branches full of feathered fire
doves hang by beaks like barnacle geese,
like crows in a gallows tree, as seraphim
sing in a multifoliate rose, 
a confusion of wings and eyes, purring music


they are here in shadow to avoid the devil
the noonday dragon of the sun
that stalks the other side of the tree
here is the sweet fruit of ignorance,
served thrice daily, all you can eat
the bogeyman devil standing
in the unrelenting light, the pigeons
coo and tuck their heads under their wings
and pretend to sleep, cluck nervous as chickens


there is a town, like a tree filled with birdhouses
discarded snail shells cling to the insides,
empty doors hanging open
 birds in the shadow,a ruin or a folly
hear the walls shake as
his scaly feet tread the track through the day
set the bridge swaying, 
the dogs howling after the fire engines


the tongues of leering faces reach out for rain
for trains in a dry place, in stone
on the cracked outer wall of an empty church
that daydreamed of a host of wings to shadow
its walls, the saccharine angels stay inside alone, 
plaster pious 


my ruined homeland, nestled in the dark
between the hills, the nervous chickens
clucking at the light outside, the imaginary fox
the chicken-coop smell of confinement
and feathers for wings never used
litter the ground, no bed for sleepin
pills to quiet the restless wings


the branches gnarl and clutch,
bone finger cage of withered leaf





Quail
Pliny tells us that these birds throng the rigging of ships
and sink them, when the sailor is near home,
coming in to harbor, the lazy things
toppling the masts, snapping guy-lines
Weary with flight, mournful and exhausted,
Crying with the effort of flight
Tells us they have bellies
Filled with ballast stones, 
throats filled with sand
heavy and ponderous
they fly into headwinds
that they eat poison seeds
to poison their own meat,
that they flop with the god-curse
of epilepsy, and to spit against them serves as a charm

Isidore of Seville calls them ortygas,
After the island they were found,
Said they cross the sea at a fixed time
The refugee horde led by the 
Ortygometra, the quail mother
The first bird, the head of the borderless state
That they war with the hawks,
Attempt statecraft

That they recruit the tongue-bird and eared owl
As escorts, as shepherds, as offerings to the hawk
Who takes the first of the crowd,
Like the devil took the hindmost
In the sorceror's school in the hollow mountain,

In the book of Numbers,
The israealites cry out
"who will give us flesh to eat"
And god, in anger says
"You will eat flesh till it comes
Out of your nostrils and it be loathsome to you"

And then blows in this other nation of birds
On a sea wind, to drop dead around the camp of
The wandering Israelites, a winged diaspora
And all the day and night and the next day
They gather the quail

The hungry nation devours the smaller kingdom of birds
And it says in Numbers " while the flesh was yet between
Their teeth ere it was chewed"
they are sticken with plague, and die
Here is every refugee boat built of taxis and washtubs 
Every coyote truck filled with sun stroked lettuce pickers
Every immigrant lost in the babel-blare of our cities

They are weary, gathered in the rigging, bellies filled with stones
Their hollow bones sticking in our throats

Remora


A shark in the wave of your sleep
You go down, I latched to your belly
Like a rubber tipped arrow, 
Like a piece of glass to catch the light
Sailors said I presaged storms,
Holding to a rock
With my hungry mouth
Said I could hold a ship
Steady in a wind
I swim in your open mouth,
Cling to you through the cold
Eat your leavings,
Your cast-off skin
You are all tooth and hunger
All silence in the dark places 
You are a ship, a belly full of ballast
And a good tail wind
And I hold you steady as a stone


Sirena

It is cold, in the downbelow
Where the myriad mouths open,
To sing the little fish into their jaws,
Where the manthings rust
The strange tailed fish of sailors

How they bloom, so red , call the..
Grandfathers in with
Their hot meatsmell blood
The steelfish manthing houses burst and drifting down

to  the bottom, and where they rest
how the meatflowers  open, the 
silver storms of foodfish
in and out through the blast holes
in the belly of the steelfish
where the pretty bones lie
with useless tales

come come pretty come come
come come pretty come come

down in the oozy dark,
where the singers drift in herds
where we sing from throats like yours
down

in the hot vents, the bloodworms cluster
sucking sulphur, things with legs crawl
we will kiss the bright sky from your mouth
in the downdark, in the belowdark
there is dim light from the eyeless
mouths of anglers

comedown pretty down

down 

to pearls and garlands and rich change
to bloodflower blossom in the cold current
to coldteeth of the grandfathers
drifting downbelow dark





Tophet


the tar of the smoke of your sacrifices gums the bellies 
of the saints, the resinous stink of it in plaster nostrils, 
eyes cloudy as milk, dusty, dead skin
and crumbling paper, oiled wood and glass
 
say there are elves that drink the fresh milk, 
helpful brownies to calm the horses 
children chanting bloody mary 
bloody mary bloody mary bloody mary 
in front of a hand mirror in the dark 
 
pour out your 40 for the dead 
or a salver of wine to gladden the dust 
recite the paternoster 
or the charm from the tract handed to you 
on a train, or the names of god 
 
say the blood offering has been given, 
doves and sheep and men 
offered without number on the blackened altar 
rum, snuff and cigars 
at a mountaintop cross 
 
oranges and florida water 
dusty plastic flowers 
and tea lights 
 
that hellmouth grins like a  stone toad 
swallows sacrifice and prayer and devotee alike 

U



Vulture



on the pig farm when I was very small 
the road seemed like an afterthought 
a pathway made only to connect the house to the world 
a white gravel pathway that met a sidewalk  
that met the door 
 
one tractor under the power lines, a circuit from the field to the barn 
 
later, the great crumbling house we lived in 
with its hideous peeling paint 
and sagging walls 
sat on a road of tar and gravel 
trucks came off king's road 
looking for a way through 
the tangled, numberless, unincorporated 
collection of wooded lots 
 
dead things caught under their wheels, 
crawled with flies in the long grass of the ditches 
the white stones sank in the hot tar in summer 
 
we would walk the power lines
till we came to a highway overpass 
where we’d wave at the trucks cutting through 
to the empty heart of the country


my grandfather told me every concrete slab
was  feeding station for the buzzards
who circled above the highway
like a storm
 
my house is a brick house
six floors above the street 
and the neighbors hang their washing on wires 
ocean ave comes to a rest outside the false marble foyer of my building 
like a dead thing, like a snake become a leather belt in the sun 

Whalfisch



I was eleven, the December ocean
rising to my chest, hands and lips numb. 
I stood shaking on the grey 
of Mission Beach unobserved, 
a coward after.


In slick pages, plasticene women
parted cunts symmetrical as fruit.
Plastic vodka bottles emptied
the lie of water into me, filled my head 
with stones long enough to keep it under.


My dreams are reefs, the writhing of soft life, 
something rich and strange.
You are not the rising water or birds, 
or the dark where the horizon is not 
or the tanker’s light. You are no land 
to lay a claim to, the islands of glass that drift,
the great slow creature, a living country
tree roots carving into your back,
scalded once by fire,
fantastical, in the corner of maps
stained continents 
on yellow bedsheets.