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Bridging the Disconnected: Five Poems

“Till the bridge you will need be form'd, till the ductile anchor hold”
— Whitman

“Then I would reach the ancient bridge and climb
The staircase of a dirty, crowded house
And reach a room no better than a cage
That perched beneath the roof.”

— Akhmatova

1. Between This and That

The bridge, arcing from here to there, disappears
into the industrial bog where none of us should go
or so Frankie told me before his meds kicked in
and his eyes became gulleys in a distance
where the dead possum, dissected by a drifter,
leaked into the ground which was littered with broken glass,
across which I had to slither, belly bleeding
as I inched toward the asylum's incinerator tower
in Central Islip in 1965, or was it ‘66?
I don't want to go there again,
don't want to wear high-heels and do the samba
with Mr. America in an auditorium disguised
as a cruise ship's ballroom off the Puerto Rican coast.
“Please,” I beg anyone who'll listen,
“don't loathe what's real about me:
my ear hairs and receding gums
and Christ's blood dripping from my rectum.”
Nobody listens and soon
I'm someplace else, the seagull's brother.
God, the wind's cold here. And brutal. At the bridge's
highest point, the walkway sways so much
I look up at the sky and by mistake see the river.
I shut my eyes,
afraid to move forward and terrified of turning back.
Years ago fat Fontana the cop punched me in the gut;
I ended up one night in jail and a week in the asylum.
The bridge cables creak in the wind, the only music.
It's late October and somewhere to the north
trees die on the banks of the river above which I shake.
Down there is where the duck farmer's son
gives Miss Helen a double mastectomy with a chisel.
Next he splits open my skull:
the sound of metal ringing inside bone
is the noise that leads me home.
“Yesiree, yesiree, that's
the note we all wanna hear!” an angel whinnies. The bridge is very high
but don't judge me,
I'm not a dreamer, I don't want to fly.
I'll learn to be a good citizen, sure will:
I won't take up too much space or inhale too much air.
I'll sit very quietly. On the bridge. Right here.
Far below, gray river foam
evaporates from the pilings.
In the evaporation's silence, I hear the doctor's footsteps
as he arrives in Kosovo, his medical bag
filled with the smoke and ashes of burnt barns
and the sound of a bird shrieking
in a dying Albanian's mind as he remembers the Ionian Sea.
When the time comes, I'll sit in a bare room staring out a tiny window.
I won't rebel when the nurse yells, “No, you can't drink my breast milk!”
Sitting quietly, I'll do what I'm told
and if I don't I'll beat myself to a pulp until I'm more obedient.

2. Like This
for Che Prasad

The pond leech's dumb elation as it suckles at the grunt's thigh
north of Nha Trang.
The trail, winding through elephant grass, clings
to itself. The grunt clings to it.

Tar sticks to the ancient bison bone
at Rancho Le Brea
in Excavation Pit 91, Los Angeles.
Barnacle locked to rock. Mind
locked to barnacle. The coupled
prevails.

The left eyeball nailed to a telephone pole,
I think about telephone poles.
The right eyeball, a bloated tick attached to an animal's neck.
The third eyeball: claw sunk permanently in the government's back.

The world's prefigured in this: you're at the nipple
and won't let go. Focus
gets us through the night. Silence
follows so much crying

3. Then and Now
in memoriam

“Let's count the bodies again,” he said
miles to the north
while here Gladys climbed down from the tractor
and looked into the barn where, at the far end,
sunlight blazed through the space between two planks
like an unreachable idea
shining briefly in the mind.
She remembered, from last evening, the turnips' weight
in her hands and the televised airplane
afloat among clouds and Teddy Volker, complaining
about something at the grange, saying
“I'm not sure I want this anymore.”

All these years later in a spot where the willow's
vines almost touch the ground, a stone
marks her grave.

Again it happens, but differently. The rewired soybean
colonizes the land. In the silo's
shadow beyond Creek Hollow, Volker,
in a wheelchair pushed by his eldest daughter, smokes
a cigarette while wondering where he is. In
another place, a laser
targeting device locks onto a cicada's antenna tip from a mile off.
Even in our sleep, we marvel at
how nuanced exactitude's beauty is.

Footsteps come and go. Known
and unknown faces hover at the edge of things.
Where Teddy's sister once broke her toe
on a log, someone's husband, a San Diego plastic surgeon, explains
while showing photos of burkha-hidden faces
how once the material's ripped away
the noses can be remolded.

Gladys's two sons, John and Bill,
lie forgotten in the plots next to hers.
Long before she died, they fell in Can Tho Province
There, the pineapple plants' lavender flowers:
frozen in the moment.
No breeze. No sound.

4. To Kamala Das

Amma taught you what some thought only the parrot knew:
a green so green it seemed unreal on a coast
where the squawk's sound is its only meaning.
On the branch, the bird tilted its head. The surf roared.

In the hot season, a man arrives from the hills
and deals his fortune cards in the dusty marketplace.
In a voice nothing like the white men's Isaiah's, he prophesies
the existence of betel nuts and magazines.
A carter lugs a rice sack into an alley, the pot mender
yells at a customer in his store.

My mouth smeared with mango pulp, I would
have kissed you if you'd let me.
Instead, I studied jellyfish in the sea's beached froth.

Years later, a gang of workers dig a pipe trench along the road.
Their sweat's smell is all I know of you now.

I once stood in the palm trees' shadows
as you recited your poems to others.
After memorizing how you looked and what you said,
I knew I had to leave. And did.

Years later, riding the train north, I leave again.
Days afterwards, I watch women paint geometric designs
on whitewashed walls near Rupsi.

The camelherder looks me up and down
not far from a stunted tree on which
a bee-eater perches.

You taught me well.
Because I know I don't belong here, I belong.

5. It's Where

I turned
the corner. There, the dirty river
in which are plunged
the dead dog's balls.

The water's
dark swirl, Jesus's
toothless universe of a mouth,
in which, in which . . .

What marches toward me?
Is it the rose stem's thorn?
OD'd Jimmy's lost guitar?
Maggie's last dirty fingernail?

Pigeons roam the sidewalk, hunting
the one crumb in which resides
the key to pigeon heaven.

How did a sperm gob
get on the public litter-basket's rim, sliding
downward, the ooze
that's left from another
century's sonnets?

There, where the bridge descends: the soup factory
across the river, closed.
How many people don't have work now?
The mayor's being sued for graft.
A bad-assed bearded man once walked
somewhere over there, looking
for huckleberries. Do you
fucking care?

This is where I live,
seeking solace
when my lover disappears.

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