Four Poems

Assassin Song

What if, in his naked body pulled to its teeth
on a rack in the fairgrounds, is not a glut of gods —
returning to his muscles like vanished antibodies —
but something more migrant
that is racing toward, arriving at, that impossible
staple of faith, gaining urgency
as each boulder is placed upon his gut
and the horses titter majestically; pull, pull, pull —
his navel aquiver,
muscles losing the count of themselves in pain
and what is being done, O what is being done —
what is coming —


a woman, like the prayer that forgets itself
and evolves same to same, its melody the bruised
luck of an angel, harmony its forbidden face,
or hands dressing wounds the dead no longer feel —


— like this naked man, whose father, having had
a father, was a father to this boy,
who became this man who once
was a living man: but what man? What idea?
She washes him
and almost preserves it: the splendor of that face
that lately wished it could be more
than unresolved, more than the brilliant


it came to be;
could rise in one great city one morning and fall
in another


the next. Now a shroud, stained and threadbare,
will obscure that terrifying singularity: the days
before: on a coastal gangway without a god:
the clutched-at hours: the mouthfuls of sand
eaten on the beach where water bloused
over a low barricade, and he was found at last,
obsolescent and mumbling at the sun —

still unimagined, all the dear, dead days.

House of Corrections

What the men want is today on offer —


a word with me in the anonymous light
whose skeleton is Tuesday and Sunday
and nothing in between.
What they will ask me is


whether a young boy who ended legs up
in a culvert is dead or alive, if oil is really
as dear as all that,
if it’s true what everyone has been saying —
that my hand recently touched a car
door. I will ask them if they remember
how it was to be a seed in the furnace


of the working class. I won’t, of course,
say that. It leads us to a dark cave
of heroism in which the young
hold sway: children who miscarried
and spent their pennies a day too soon,
nights spent in the quake
of the washing machine, the thrill
of too much violence in the living room.


And where does that go? They will plead
to stroke my clever chin, to bauble
with my legalese, to exchange anecdotes
in the depths of my svelte young throat —
to ask for jury, to ask for nothing, fuck.
O kiss my wrists they say, deliver my eyes
in this plastic to ______ on the outside,
let me suck one free breath


from the dry wag of your ears. I tell them
the sun is out (I say, it’s dark already).
I came to tell you, to tell you, I tell them:
(Forgive, I say). But all they want to know
is what it’s like to live squarely,
to wear a blameless seven-fold tie,
to lay your head down on the floorboards
and be in a home, in a home, in a home.


When the angelus bell was struck he came
down into himself again. Beneath the wars
of birds, lines were hauled
and men climbed toward the sky like spiders.
A week on the smoldering earth trailed him;
the waters waxed and waned
philosophically: church, politics. Love, self.
Somewhere notes were playing
that in time would be his heartbeat. But


not yet. The lines that held the world fast
were still the latitude and longitude of an Age.
His belief he was climbing
 was still the longest tether.

The State Goes First and Last

About the safest place to stand in a courtroom
is with the babies in the gallery,
where justice is getting a good
Christian burial. The nine year-old was raped
on Powerpuff sheets. The gentleman accused
used to be the family gardener, i.e. the one before
the Thai one; turns out he’s also a distant
cousin. He walked in with a limp from an old hoe
injury and some members of the jury swooned
to think how many times he was going to get
raped in prison, his bad leg banging
against a crossbar. I used to make arguments
to people in courtrooms, but they’d always think
I was arguing for the opposite of what I really
wanted. I’d say, give this man some human clothes
and before long I found a heart in my underwear.
I mean a real human heart. During one cross
the arrow of my logic began to swelter like
bat shit in a barn (a courtroom just like a country
barn, where the kids are being herded down
from the rafters except now, now, they’ve all had
sex, so it’s not the same anymore). I used to wear
my hat on my sleeve until a juror said it was
sickening to see me think. Okay, he said, the meat
rolls over, there’s vertigo, the fire is quickly
doused, but how many can fit in?
More than four hundred, I said, if more than one
sits in the judge’s chair. So. She was raped on her
Powerpuff sheets. I mean, a real human heart.

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