Th e C r o s s i n g One day a bridge arose where there had never been one. Rafa was the first to cross it, nosing a beat-up Ford over the cloudy waters. Later, his wife hanged herself with a telephone cord. We wondered at her resourcefulness. But then, she always was an artist. She had never courted death, but when the challenge issued, she rose to meet it, hoisted into gray air like a sudden bridge.
Th e R i v er Knifepoint nude collecting blood in the horse lantern. Her devoured breast, a mermaid singing on a cheek of coin, Its face lustrous in the moonlight reflected off the river waves. There’s a rusty flavor to the love round here. All of it is lies. In the uninhabited middle-ages of the river, shops sell cowskin, Sell horns, sell wounded stairsteps and tickets to bathe in the pale sea. The shopgirl’s heart is set on a soldier whose battalion now Watches a bridge, pulverized by rockets, sink peacefully Into the river. He’s no metaphysician, but knows what herbs You can live on out here, and which will give you endless nights Of fever. There are no ships. The wind gently shirrs The water only past the suspended systems of the moon, past The diminished insects which circle like a multiparty mouth Above the river. They are lonely in these canals. The shopgirl Locks up. Her sorrow has a longitude: it’s 2 degrees, 20 minutes. Halfway round the world, that’s Paris. The tender reflectors Of passing cars play with the veins of her heart. Her passage Lies under the moon, past the rapacious tavern with its rampant bull. The key to the store is stuffed in her glove, or maybe her handkerchief. When she walks the river, a broken frieze of windowglass buttresses the sky.
Wo r k
While death is both necessary and loved The cello still needs tuning And these eyes will not stack themselves. Such lazy eyes You cannot simply hide under your beret. Ice-cream in the rain storm; the sleekSleeping dayâ€”all fine But you must turn out the lights And shut the door Yourself. Ask your heart, tin-chased; It sees just what is needed, though The clouds above Thicken pleasantly: a blue sweat. You must not delay Too long. The unlocked door, Morning, evening, day and night, Must be cut to size. The eyes must be ordered up, Building commence, By order of the Central Commissar For Eyes. He warns you gently: No windows will ever be allowed.
B u l f i n c h â€™s B-S i d e In this one, the Minotaur kills Medusa. His maze encumbers the florid notion of her hair. The branches suffer an explosion. A blooming In her breath blows across her silken form, Creates a subtle festival in her mind: a signal That encircles her shadow, stamping its hoof. In All the annals of recorded mystery, from the First time a turtle beat a hare, his carapace Chased with gold in some unnamed place, The rough dreams like radio signals have blanketed her, Drawn her, conducted her. An orchestra Suspended within her has waited to ply the horn, Waited to place this bow to her catgut flesh.
To o L at e N ow Overly flashy, that’s what a mermaid declaiming poetry is. She hangs out during morning’s cardamom hours, Snapping pods. She looks like a Berliner. She’s got a black heart and a good dress. In her eyes there’s something either ancient or too young, A yellow fleck or so. Her eyes are a visual form of Tourette’s; They keep speaking indecently to me. O, God of my wishes, God of all power, Can’t you listen to this one wish of mine And get rid of this mermaid? That’s all I want: Not to listen to her dress, see her words, Or stop to talk to her when I should be working. That little black dress is a torment, Those eyes trip me up like a burnt-out light Crowned with rays of color. Even at home, there she is, waiting for me. I can’t escape her white skin. I can’t believe you’d let me marry a mermaid! Now every day, all I do is drown.
Th e R ayg u n The raygun is short-barreled, blond. It has no soul: is hatless. Odorless. Tasteless. Colorless. Weâ€™ve done the tests.
The highest bid is placed By nobody in particular. He feels the pathos Of the raygunâ€™s blouse, so freshly
The fashionistas decry its earrings, its Habit of wearing white. Too bad. The lost sky Sees the beer and lemonade,
Painted on. Oh, what will the raygun say? It nods its blond head, once! Now nobody And his raygun are together forever,
The gin fizz in pitchers laid out below. Thirty seaplanes arrive with investors. They look like oranges; fat,
Signed with a silver X.
Sweating in late sun. They hope to hit The casinos and consulates later on, Gold-black kings of a country Where no one eats or sleeps. The raygun Awaits inspection. Its celestial shoes Hearken back to the days Of tall ships. Goodbye to the place of my birth, The raygun cries, while flags whip blackly In the wind. Goodbye!
D o m es t i c i t y She broke my fingers Not even giving me a chance to explain where I’d been that I ended up with kissprints tattooed to my tongue. There’s no use talking about it . . . Her talons do the talking, well-painted. She takes the time to have them professionally sharpened And when they struck me, ripped, Grasped me, and finally twisted, It was like a shot of iced vodka and asphalt Injected right where the blood queues up from my heart. Now I’m in my place and she’s in hers. We sleep on opposite sides of the room. She really sleeps. I’ve been chloroforming her As a sort of nightly insurance Against any more of her brilliant violence. I’m justified. It’s her sort conquered continents, While my sort were being constantly slaughtered, Executed, impaled, stabbed, torn apart by mobs, etc. I really don’t feel like risking it. While she’s down for the count, I can sit before her mirror, admiring The full lips printed on my tongue. The Dr. says: My splints come off tomorrow.
Th e C o n c e a l m en t s Manning the night, with branches, with bravery, in absolute silence.
live on a drop of water in flea-bites of darkness; only affidavits from the fashionable
From artery to nose-tip we are bundled in silver and the scent of acquisition.
keep questioning our little nothing. They’ll have all of us! They’ll have it all!
No one warns us, detains us, rips into us. We evade those worries
Though we are leftovers, though we are tableland, humid and low— we are as we are
with smooth fists, insist on brandishing absences, the deep recesses
with trunks and branches dragged under our bodies. We are a species of growth,
tied to our sandals, our hammers, our shakers. We ring out, forgotten,
manhandled skins we have herded all over the planet. And the door that leads inside it is ours.
from the voice of loyalty declaring, as girls do, “this shadow binds our knuckles.” We
P er m a n en t ly 1975 His home was devoted to ABBA. He lived in the restive staccato Of memorabilia. 1975 was just on pause. The fire and force of ABBA, The infinite skirts of their music Rustled onward in this dollhouse theater. At first light, he woke to the piquant airs Of holy Swedish dance-rock. The doves of dawn Backed up by the wide throb of Jan Schaffer On electric guitar. Synthic animal yowling Now transformed: sacred, superior to The profane domesticities of the merely unbodied. He thought: no witchcraft like Gunnarsson On bass! Meanwhile, Agnetha, Bjorn, Benny, and Anni-Frid Grinned down from the walls, the tolerant saints Of the blond shag hair-dos, of the miracle cheekbones That sliced night into dawn after dawn.
Ocean My early years were cold. There were heavy snows, and light ones. Water froze in our glasses. And that was summer. As soon as God and decency allowed, I set out from home, southbound. I sought the ocean. Not the stiffened kind We had at home but one that moved, Had waves, perhaps monsters, Presumably fish. My hands Longed to touch the jellied Smoothness of their bodies. I wanted to watch a seagull dive After them and hear it laugh For hunger, and not because Its cold blood had crystallized.
Th e L ow The night things on the horizontal Speak of bone, speak of kisses, speak of skirts. Their sleepy breathing corresponds To the equal wish of the lunar branches To leave the garden, and go where the weeds Grow, in the darkness, burning in shadow. It is an open place, a body slowly stretching. The horizontal responds: it wanted more claws, Less prudence. Like a woman scratching A dry stick along the grate of the fireplace, It retracts into the winter night; like an Equatorial vegetable, it swells in your absence. The branches wave in answer; they dance. They seek the permission of the horizontal. Having seen all that is high, they covet the low.
A r ca d i a
The winner of the year, best month, best day, And with such sugar! I give you 11th of May: A fine odor of cherry blossoms and epidermis On the rotting body of a defense attorney. Where is With our With the Laughing
she? Thatâ€™s a secret coterminous blood that wheels, turns, and turns, journey of sperm, ambling little guys amongst themselves. Such riffraff know
This day is scarless. The echo of its voice transmits (on the same nostalgic frequency as a Lone Ranger rebroadcast) The allure of an inherited forgetfulness, Art injected in the artery, so we might think of other things. While a robin snaps a worm and digests it, slowly, Tonto frowns, smelling the deep sweetness of the wind.
Th e H o u s e
C r a f t D o es n ’ t G i v e
All pears and angels, your mother’s house. No, I would not like potpourri. No, not country pine. I find I am naturally quite scented. The chimney is wreathed in plastic stems. The front porch in macramé. No, neither do I now collect, Nor would I like to start. You’re sleeping! Your words are dull, Those of a man whose years Have been all misspent Among soft, corrupting tchotchkes. Is there nothing can wake you? I could have been your friend for war, The woman who would deliver you With her unbending heart From all that’s bought and sold In love’s now totally discredited name.
Da m n
B e tt er Th a n T V My breakfast cereal is shaped like moons and branches. It’s called “Moonlight Garden X-Tra Bran: The Cereal That Makes You Forget It’s Day.” It comes with a free pair of black-out specs. The garden on the box is full of Mexican jasmine. In one corner, a young lady on a pillowed divan Enjoys a bowl of moonlit cereal. Her skin is olive, Her hair black, her dress dark-red in the shadow. I put on my black glasses and slowly crunch moons. The sun’s gone down on my mind. I’m dreaming: Full skirts and scofflaws. I sit among the jasmine, Daintily eating cereal. Suddenly Zorro approaches, Strumming an acoustic guitar. “O lady of Spain . . .” With my one free hand, I hold the glasses on tight.
Th e D o o da d S u pr em e O, august and sere thingy— All of creation in its colors and lies, All my efforts and imagination, Will they be enough to slaughter you? Thingamabob, serene and eternal— I traveled to Constantinople, I traveled to Rome, I told them to help me to destroy you! Whatsit, of sober dress— You must be charmed by witches, Or have a government grant, Or maybe a deal with the prosecution . . . O, watchamacallit, regal, corrosive— Otherwise you would not keep escaping! O supreme doodad— You’ve got me in such a panic that I think I want your autograph!
N at i o n a l B i r d That bird is flapping slow Taking his sweet time Entering the grease Of clouds with thick black wings. He only comes round at evening When the clouds are low As though he needed cover Some airborne camouflage. The multicolored sunset And the fast-sliding winds Don’t favor him: he’s ugly And he knows it thoroughly. He screeches like a semi Breaking up on 95. If he were sixteen and human He’d be on Wellbutrin Something else for rage. As it is, he rides A tag of ragged air Finger-feathers stretched Above our darkening cage.
C o n s u m pt i v e There was an overload of identity In our family. The washing machine Was clearly branded, “Whirlpool.” Reading the Odyssey in school, I wondered If Charybdis could remove stains. The house Was filled with objects that would not Let go their makers, become fully ours. Our door frame was endorsed by astronauts. Even gramps’ false teeth were trademarked. I think the brand was “Hold-Em-Fast.” It really was the perfection of marketing. I wouldn’t need false teeth for at least fifty years, But already knew whose smile would replace My own, could ask for my master by name.
L es s o n Sometimes speaking touches Nobody; there are then some Instances wherein low persons Fool out the streets; they clown Through the hours, learning The wind, subjugating The branches of the trees. We Find asylum from their movement Only in becoming the door The open manner of speaking In the dream I recounted . . . The remedy for hours of song Through which the dry leaves pass.
V i n o g r a d B lu es In Vinograd’s pockets, Prudently turned in From the frost and wind, Knives jangle and scrape. And in your friend Bill’s car Three magical dice Swing from a broken mirror. Let’s drive it down to the lake, Bill, over the nuclear plain, and Away from the black city. I never lie twice. I never drink beer or eat beef. I peel radishes by the dozen. And Vinograd knows me as its own. Though I try to escape It always remembers its broken bird.
B edt i m e
Mom told me spooky stories in her native language. The wind was cold outside. The wind was doing judo On my cat-ripped window screens. The thick-lidded moon Operated on automatic pilot. It was ten o’clock. The sound Of planes, droning overhead, and the smothered shouts of the Television, a story below, furnished her punctuation. That was how our nights went. She brought out a story— I’d like to say they were part of her native witchcraft, but I’m Inclined to think they were all lifted from her daytime Soaps: her ghosts were always jealous lovers and most Had evil twins. But what did I care what her sources were? I listened, patiently, tucked all under the covers except For my eyes. My breath rasped against the coverlet, And my mother’s perfume pierced the cold with the Scent of worry. It was winter. The snow began to fall. The dead tuned in to listen. It was only ten o’clock.
N ov elt y A ct © M a u r e e n Th o r s o n 20 04, 2010
This book was originally designed, printed and bound in an edition of 250 at the Ugly Duckling Presse workshop in Red Hook, Brooklyn, NY, in December 2004. The first fifty copies are signed and numbered by the author. Text is set in Phaedrus, titles in Helvetica Neue. The covers were letterpressed using donated lead type in fonts which shall remain nameless. Paper supplied by Shulman papers and Limited papers. Thanks to Materials for the Arts for supporting this project. “Too Late Now” first appeared in LIT magazine.
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