|Poet Vincent Basso|
The sky shot carbon and the dead countless in their number. A wheel many years like this. Drugs were plentiful, but ill advised. The newbies cooked in their foxholes afresh each morning. He hated the smell. He hated the commander too. He woke alone in his trench. It was a strange day. No moans. No pleas for rescue echoing from off the desecrated loam. No gunpowder. No soot. He had lost hope after a bad drunk long ago. He had dosed and forgotten his orders. A chill ran along his spine. Some said the war was over money. Some said ideas. In the end neighbor murdered neighbor and among the ruins of the cities it was not uncommon to find certain quarters still littered with candles and the photographs of the disappeared. He sat in the pike and fidgeted with his rifle. He waited for the day’s bugle and charge. A lone rat scurried along the parapet. A blackbird took to the sky. This is how it ends he thought. He made some coffee. Lit a joint. Wrote a note in his journal. He was the filth stuck in the maw of the Leviathan. It seemed a lifetime had passed since last he saw her face.
I drink my coffee and say nothing, while the new birds
and morning light pervade.
Dead-eyed and grinning—the girl from the beauty parade—
won’t you please? The Furies all fever and lust and chthonic wing.
White packed inebriation. I’m a sacrifice—say it loud!
In my garden I am cultivating sunflowers and magpies to eat
the seed. So often my own undoing. The lone highway cracks
along its centerline—the angel flashes her tits.
I know that it is irrational—the way they loom like black totems
in my mind. Alecto, who twice gutted herself
with a kitchen knife, fired from a job that barely covered the rent
anyway. Megaera, her kid in foster care, regularly taking
the handouts of potted meat and infested wheat from the pantries
of shelters. While poor Tisiphone, whittled down
by the ecstasy, dreams nightly of a child sprouting horn
and hoof inside her.
Dear reader, I tell you that these three sisters share a small cabin
tucked secretly, as in a fable, along a seldom-traveled mountain road.
That ritually they descend upon the town disguised
as panhandlers and pace the gas station parking lot locked
in argument as if choked by flies because the cash is dead.
In the family room washing dishes,
in the bedroom beneath the sands—the wordless blue constriction
in their throats as one by one women cut the wheel
too sharp against the curve, leap from bridges, replace need
with scripture, scripture with hysterics
rolled out in the punch lines of housing evictions. The razor’s rail
of silver light! The shitty vodka and pills!
In another life I am a painter. In another life red is where the angel
splits herself in three,
and the girl floats angelic above the gawkers—mascara all asunder.
Desire, and the impossibility of the object, inescapable and ubiquitous
as an ant. The rote automata of ant. The angel flashes her tits.
Obsessed with the Grecian Urn, the Archaic Torso of Apollo, I choose
the blue of unmolested sky. Green for the season of cattle
near bursting. The Furies murmur from the sage leaves,
the quartz gravel—writhe from the chrysalis, the spider’s eggs.
My dog has worms. Names. The dead girl.
The girl claiming herself the raped stigmata blind and thinking to fly
into gridlocked Main Street—hive and glassed eye. It’s a leveling.
It’s not her tits. The mountain in the distance and the small house near—
I can see them in the doorway where the light is bad.
All that I have hoped for is all that I have asked. The angel wiggles
her hips. “Burn the pink dresses and dolls!” She screams.
“Tear the petals out like hair! Show us that the house of worship
was more than sex! Come, kiss us! Come kiss our mouths!”
The Burden of Sin in the Early 21st Century
When I was a boy my father allowed me the companionship of three pet mice. Each was given a name corresponding to its demeanor. Andromeda, ever cunning. Indefatigable Perseus. Pegasus—brave and swift. I often set each in small plastic balls within which they would careen about the house to my amusement and my mother’s dismay. These affairs usually concluded with my setting the mice at odds with one another in a race, which I called my Olympiad. Precocious as I was, my father humored my interests in Grecian myth and the fetishization of species by one week taking it upon himself to assist me in the construction of a maze. We fashioned the walls such that they remained just beyond the possibility of scaling and certain dead ends were ornamented with mirrors to trick the mice into thinking themselves doubled. Lastly, a circular oasis wherein I would place water and a square of cheese was erected in the center of the table. I frequently enjoyed the sport of timing which of the three—the white, the black, or the gray—could reach this goal the quickest.
It is the following for which I cannot account. One day prior to running my usual experiment I found that the two mice I loved most, the white and the black, were inexplicably darting about the walls as if possessed. It was with no little panic that I found the little gray, my Pegasus, impaled with a kitchen knife—its vitals spread in a pool beside the cheese and upturned bowl. I pondered who could have been responsible, but it soon became apparent that I had been the perpetrator of this most horrendous deed. I, of course, took measures to conceal the evidence of my guilt and reported to my parents that the gray had simply run off while I was attempting to transfer him from the maze to the ball. I don’t remember when I killed the others, but I found them curled near to each other one morning and mutilated in a not dissimilar way. I can still feel the iron in my teeth. I had a serious girlfriend, then a wife. We kept a small dog. We named it something ugly. Tinkerbelle, I think. It was never a game. I pinned him to the ground and it excited me. For I am the living. But these are not the crimes to which I stand accused.
I clip the iris and the iris is gone.
I make promises that I cannot keep and fall—Daedalus
made claims. There are many ways to punish
the mouse. It takes the cheese on the right
and gets an electric shock. It takes the cheese on the left
and is not destroyed. The mouse thinks, Hooray!
I am a good worker. I am a smart mouse.
And, so, the Lord of Sorrow binds it by the neck
and casts it into day and follows. I plucked the mouse
from its nest of marled cotton
between the old boxes on the shelf in the garage.
Its pulse quickened in the leathered lock
of my hands. Bless me Winter Moon. Bless my child
asleep in his bed.
I dropped it into a foot of snow and that night
I dreamed that my son was taken.
The Corpse Speaks Fertility in the Season of Drought
I want to know if the sepia dust that I am passing through and sweeping with my cupped hand has anything to do with the headlights and diesel throttle that exists, now, outside of the dark country road and ancient granulated earth suspended in the air as if dancing, and, so, fully alive? When the photographer came he said something clever before he understood that he too was susceptible to the jagged night and its scent, which caused him to vomit at the feet of the sheriff, who refused to speak, or was unable to, as he slipped into what could be described as a mouth in which his was the pale human glow abandoned to a primordial black where there existed neither mercy nor deliverance from his many failures. Something in the grainy photograph of the newspaper, as if backlit by amber. Her leg oiled and levitating from the pitch. The one bronze river—its confluence and fount—from which the corpse speaks fertility in the season of drought.
Walking with Jesus in America
I walk the tree-lined streets memoria burdened by my trail of complaint—
it’s a condition. I get up everyday and I go to work.
I try to remind myself that the bills mean nothing. That love will not fail.
Failure waits for me in the living room, the park—somewhere
in the unremarkable space above my right shoulder where the good angel swoons,
“Don’t look to your left.” Under the mountain I go—
late to work, late to rest. “Buddy, you’re going to be late for your own funeral.”
That’s a joke. That’s the trace of nausea. It’s in the ways we line up
to be counted among the fascists. In the ways we are fascists. Jesus opens
his palms like a thunderbird—I have never claimed to love him.
I can’t tell if it’s a dream of the future or a dream of the past—figurations
of the Christ Flower. Jesus sifts the desert in his hands.
He has a kind laugh. “This is the body,” he says, and, “We will overcome.”
Angel at my ear. Devil at my ear. “The trouble’s all in your head,” says Christ.
I carry a deep and abiding love for children and dogs. I kiss my boys asleep
in their beds, my wife I promise—before I slip into the still dark
where the moon hangs thin as a wafer and from the mountain I think I hear—Mercy,
talk me down from the edge of the many dialogues intertwined
in the simple pattern of human warmth between us. Oh, my lily dove,
my scarlet canary, how you circle round my head! You, the one fat pigeon,
and you, the other scrawnier one, who keep watch exchanging jokes
in the shade of a date palm at the Gates of Addiction.
I try to put away the old anger, but it does no good. Jesus takes a pebble in his hand.
“I am in the decansos,” he says. “In the green limbs and meadowlarks
that ignore you.” I stop making promises and toss my habit to the highways of America.
Drive to the end of it—to the sea—where our two footpaths merge into one.
“Do not be so strange,” he tells me. “I am the love that you are.
Besides, it was you who carried me.”