Monthly Archives: January 2013

Rabbits, rats, and toothless Welsh vets…


At three years old, near the end of his life,
my rat developed subdermal fatty tumors
the size of jellybeans scattered at intervals
beneath his glossy chestnut fur.

They slid around under his loose skin,
tenuously connected
to any tissue not themselves.
They caused him no pain.

The vet I brought him to was an old Welshman
with an upper jaw that was tooth-smooth
and blank gummed when I first knew him.

He tried to save the rabbit kitten
I found in a shrub, a scrap of pelt
and raw hard bones that died shivering.

I knew he was good when he flipped the blank-eyed,
still-breathing body over, spread the hind legs
and pointed towards the odd, human-like vagina.

‘Female.’ His hands were white-knuckled,
furred with clear hairs. ‘She’ll not last long.’

And then he nursed her
with milk from a dropper
to prove himself wrong.

Now I took my rat out from the gray pocket
of the cheap hoodie I wore above my liquid skirts.
I set him on the table and watched
him sniff cautiously around the metal edge,
his fastidious hands and small brain encompassing
the brave new world he found himself in
that smelled so strong of prey and predators.

The vet had found some teeth somewhere,
a loose plate, he sucked them with a sound
that was startlingly old-fashioned.
Discovering past flavors.

My rat ran right to him,
stepped into that wide, flat palm.
The old man palpated a tumor.
Slid the soft shape beneath the skin.

‘He’s three years old and near the end of it.’
The vet stroked where my pet most liked it,
instinct drawing the nail to the gleaming patch
between translucent pink ears.

‘I could take them out, but that would hurt
more than heal him. You’ve done well, Bach.
He’s run a good span.’

I felt like it was God speaking.
It felt like God. The judgment,
the longed for compliment.
Acceptance of past failures
washed in redemption.

My rat came, reluctantly,
back to my hand.

‘The next stage is less pleasant.
There will be ulcers. They will smell very bad,
swell up quite large, obstructing his movement.

‘When they dry and have thoroughly hardened
you will be able to ease his pain,
if you choose to, by opening a scratch
with a heated pin, piercing the core
of it, and drawing it out.’

The vet looked at me,
implacable slate-eyes impossibly warmed.

‘The spent pustule will smell terrible,
like spoiled cheese. It will have that consistency.
The drawing out will hurt him.
But afterwards there will be relief. For a time.’

A few weeks later the first wound formed
large beneath the pit of a bird-bone leg,
balking hands he needed as much as I needed
my own to scribble out verses.

I waited a few days. Pierced it.
My rat struggled, trusting me enough
to refrain from biting as I loosed the core.

It did smell terrible,
but the arm could move again,
for a time, freely.
I flushed the white knob down the toilet.

Afterwards he licked the blood from my fingers.
Added to his den a few shed strands of my hair.
For a while, he lived.


Sex Without Love

My father built the green platform tree house
high in the parched straggle leafed oak.
A square Robin-Hood nest
with the live trunk in the centre,
supported by thick radial branches
that sprung from that heart.

I lay flat on my bare stomach,
tanning through leaves around the edge
of my briefs, my grass-colored swimsuit.
My brown hair spun and raveled with leaves,
narrow face buried in the bright skin of an orange,
cheeks sticky and clotted with pulp.

Across the aluminum chain link fence,
in the neighbors razor-burned yard
(they sliced the trees at the root for easier mowing)
between the blue wound
of the above-ground pool
and the feculent, fish crowded river,
a cluster of mongrels put on a show.

My chest was bare and cagey with ribs,
flat little-girl nipples still five years from breasts
kissed the splintery pine boards.
The left one, grooved like the slit of a flat-headed screw,
burned with an ant bite that raised
to a pustule and longed for scratching.

I slouched forward on arms
hard and gray at the elbows,
lost in the fight.

The bitch stood still and panting
in the packs hot centre,
a white pit-bull mix with strong teeth exposed.

Her vagina, blood-swelled, puffy
as lips padded with collagen,
or the site of a particularly vicious infection.
As the males writhed and bit each other,
pouncing, rolling, exposing their tender bellies
and bright red erections,
she whined and whined for satisfaction.

For me, the fighting was the best part.
The impersonal violence, the sudden blood.
The way gaps opened at the throats of the rivals,
ears, flopping, black, erect, tattered like silk
slicked over with water. The barks and the howls.

Even my Dalmatian wanted in on this hunger,
though he was neutered.
His empty scrotum hung like a slack cold purse
flapping behind his penis
which pushed like new lipstick
from its white fur coat.

He strained at the rope
which bound him to the orange tree.
I shouted reassurance at him.
‘Shut up, boy. It’s all right.
You’re not missing anything good.’
Like I knew anything at eleven years old.

The winner was mostly Rottweiler,
a great dark thing of muscle and force.
A good face, I thought.
Broad and dog-grinning with tan painted eyebrows.
His equipment much larger than my dog’s,
the color of raw steak, matching her cleft.

They were made for each other,
drawn together like halves of the same creature,
separated by force. They slotted in close,
sword into scabbard, hiding the wound.

The vanquished foes dispersed at the first thrust
and even my dog found the slack in his rope.

A flurry of motion, the black haunches jackhammering,
the white tail pulled awkwardly up,
four ears laid flat against two sleek skulls,
both mouths alternately peeled from teeth
and open for nipping at nape or taut neck.

I watched from my perch, easily bored
now that the thing which interested me
was over and past.

Afterwards both parties looked smaller,
a little ashamed of themselves, without satisfaction.
They couldn’t detach.

I discovered, much later, that his head
had swelled to arrow-point,
forming a plug to keep his sperm in and all others out.

He lifted his large paws from her ridged spine
and rotated sideways, round their point of intersection
until both their tails were pressed together,
jutting out towards the yard.

Crouched against each other’s backs,
genitals welded for hours,
they stood there between the river and the pool,
on the dead grass studded with dandelions,
Their hind legs shaking, waiting
for the infection to pass, the fever release them.

Lying on my hot boards I bit the skin
of a new orange, my mouth flooding with bitter oil
that gave way to sweetness.

My attention wandered, entirely taken
after a moment with a large bull anole lizard
perched on a high branch, expanding his scaled neck flag
the color of strawberries, his spine and tail ridged
with a fleshy crest that signified maturity.

I watched him signaling with pushups.
The female, small, brown, flagged,
Approached, hungry, across wood.

You know what? Here is a whole series. It is nearly Easter, right?

The Kiss

After the loaded quiet in the garden, there were faces,
Red and sweaty, lit by flame. You listened
To them coming for you, wielding their torches
And swords, led by a man bought by silver,
Enough to refurbish the temple, sold for blood.
You could hear them over the healing

Patter of your awakened disciples who asked you to heal
Their weakened flesh so that they could face
The night with you, be alert in their blood,
Never knowing that you were distracted, listening
For the feet of the men who would slay you, they are silver-
Painted in the moonlight, sweat dripping from torch-

Heated skin. You tried to set a fire in their hearts, torch
Their false self righteousness. You wanted to heal
Their hidden wounds, the places base silver
Could not touch. You would have taken his face
In your hands, kissed him gently, listened
To his poisonous words and removed the bile from his blood.

Instead, he comes, as he was meant to, hungry for your blood,
To splash it out on a skull-named stone. The torches
Are visible now, glowing in the groved olives. Listen.
You can hear the footsteps. Your healing
Hands are by your sides and you’ve composed your face,
For them, the man who could not be bought with silver,

They are the good men to whom silver
Means nothing. Time is funny now, moving blood-
Slow, as slow as a congealing incision. Their faces
Are showing through the trees. Peter has seen the torches,
He draws his sword and makes a wound for you to heal.
The soldiers ear falls to the ground, severed. Listen.

There is silence. Shock. They will listen
If you speak now. Say something about swords, silver-
Glinting in the moonlight, they can never heal
Anything. You pick up the ear, like dried fruit, blood
Still wet, you put it back where it was. Iscariot comes into the torch-
Light. He pulls you close, whispers something, kisses your face.

The sweaty, torch-lit faces around you are silent,
For a moment, moving when the healing was done, and the blood
Flowed in the silver light. Listen. Listen. It is finished.


The criminal walked between us on the road,
With little provocation. He carried the cross
That slipped across his lacerations where the flesh fell, veil-
Like, exposing the muscles underneath, tearing
Visibly. I was impressed by this, usually they try to cut
And run at any opportunity. Maybe he’d lost too much blood

To have any go left, but he was walking well in spite of the blood,
Stumbling only occasionally. On this rough road,
Where even rested horses stumble, it was impressive. The thorn-cuts
On his forehead, someone’s sick joke, crossed
Out any of the original contempt I would have felt. The tears
Of the women trailing us didn’t hurt, their veils

Muffled the sight of them, their vision, not the sound. The veiled
Woman swooning in the heat, with elderly hands, supported by a youth was blood,
Most likely. The criminal’s mother, or aunt, something. Her voice was tear-
Clogged but mature, ululating. They kept pace with us on the road.
Admirably so, I thought, considering. The top cross-
Bar of the crucifix was visibly wearing him down, more than the beatings, cutting

Into his flayed shoulder, the tattered skin. His fingers were rimmed with small cuts
From Jupiter knows what, not providing much grip, tips slipping. I veiled
My eyes from the high sun, midday light making me cross.
And really, I’m all for games, but he’d lost so much blood
Already, he’d probably bleed out walking this road
If Aeschylus did not, inevitably, tear

The barbed flail across his back, always careful not to tear
The badly-dyed robe the criminal wore, wanting his cut
Of the money we’d get after, when we’d take it down the narrow back road
To the rag shop. It wasn’t of very high quality, no dainty veil
For some rich senator, but the colour was almost blood-
Purple, scab shaded, saleable, and his partners, me included, would be cross

If he destroyed it on the journey. The weight of the cross-
Beam had rucked the fabric down around his waist, un-torn
So far, though blood-stained. That could come out. He was sweating and blood
Mixed with it on his face, a thin veneer of red from cuts
Along his hair-line. I allowed a shop-woman to come close with her veil,
The corner of it, remaining modest, to wipe the sluice onto the road.

We crossed the road to the skull-hill, avoiding tear-stained widows
With nothing better to do, veiled against the sun and splatters of blood,
Cutting the feculent air with their tongues.

Place Of The Skull

Last night you held the cup and said the wine
Was part of you, whispering over it, your blood
Racing at the thought of what was coming, the die
Rolling underneath your hanging feet, your back
Raw from the hooked flails, ingraining with the wood,
Splinters from the board you hung against, your skull

Aching from thirst. You are above the skull-
Place, this large domed rock, thirsting for wine,
Offered a sponge soaked in vinegar. The olive-woods
Are a long way off, splashed out like blood
Against the smudged horizon, the sky on your back
Drying your welts. Yes, you know you must die,

You know that redemption is not cheap, and dying
For these creatures is a fair exchange, their skulls
Guard a great potential, a hint of it, calling you back
To them, their lovely entireties, as varied as wine.
But you wish for less pain, less copious blood,
For grace without suffering, saplings that grow into woods

Without fertilizing rot, if flame could live without wood,
If that Pentecost could burn in them without you dying.
Death was invented to perfect immortality, spilled blood,
Yours, the only redemption, the door. You hadn’t expected skull-
Splitting pain, but you can accept the refinement, wine
Comes from crushed grapes, blood from the holes in your back.

Your lungs hurt, aching. The furrows on your back
Are weeping. Bonding with the rough-hewn wood,
And gravity is crushing you, turning you to wine.
You love them all, all of them that ever were, enough to die,
You love the ones that will be, and wont, the hanged skull
Lolling next to you, coughing up thick ropes of blood,

The woman at your feet, weeping, fingering the blood-
Soaked wood, your blood, without knowing it, your back
Aches from the whip and you love the man who wielded it. Your skull
Aches, aches from so much love. You see them as they are, real wood
In a forest of shadows. But sacrifice implies that someone must die
For life to outlast it, and you, only you, can pay that cost. You are the wine.

You died on a Friday, blood slicking the wood, your skull hung down,
Back slumped against the crosspiece under a red sky. Your back dripped wine.


I hold my offices above the vast sprawl of Judea, judge
To Jews and citizens alike, pouring out my libations to Zeus, while the people
Slaughter lambs on the threshold of their temple. I cross
The room to the window and look out onto the flood-wash
Near the killing-fields, barren save for raised split beams, the place of the skull.
My wife tosses in the night, thrashing in her ill-made dreams,

They came again last night, she said, the image of my basin filled, dream-
Vivid, with fresh blood. It pools and scintillates beside my judgement
Seat, waiting for my fingers. I lather, rinse and she could see my skull
Staring up at her from the surface of the gore, the swath of people
Around me, seeing nothing. The sky is dark now, early, but will not be washed
By early rain. My rooms are wide, and empty, now. I cross

To my throne, rest my head and ponder…nothing. Cross
Again to the window. The plaza is silent, dark, dream-
Eerie, as though even the market was holding its breath. The wash-
Holes are free from women and lepers, I’d judge
That the earth was rendered desolate, her people
Lightning blasted from the soil, save that something must be left, a skull,

Femur, a foot in a thong. But there is nothing. Silence. My skull
Throbs as pressure builds behind my eyes, I cross
My hands over my face, my heart beating, beating, and some strange loud people
Fill my mind with yesterdays voices, shrieking up at me, dream-
Like, calling for the one I would not choose. I am meant to judge
This rabble, this vast, unquiet crowd, whose accusations wash

Away sanity, the semblance of it, their fists, raised and clawing, wash
Away all talk of guilt or innocence, prying the decisions from me, skull-
Greedy. And how did I do this, who moved my hand? How can I judge
Anything, or anyone, much less this bleeding man across
From me, the one so dry-eyed calm, as an oasis in a dream
Who looks at me through a filter of blood and says, these are my people,

They know not what they do.’ Who made everything, the people
Yelling, shouting near me, the illusion of my choice, wash
Quietly away and cease to matter, less real than day-dreams,
Less solid than mist. Lacking the undeniable reality of the skulls,
The bones collected in piles, yellowed, reddish-black, off-white beneath the crosses
Gathered on the hillside. And he looked at me, so quiet. They said they want a judge.

The people set a man across from me, unwashed, blood-stinking, a dream-
Turned-nightmare man, skull visible beneath his thorns, And I was not the judge.


You stood on the hummock and tied the rope
To the overhanging branch of the yew, leaves silver
In the moonlight, the lady herself, a coin
Hanging bright in the sky. Your last meal of bread
And sour wine is heavy in your gut. It feels death-
Like, pallid, the sodden roots of a tree

Gone soft with rot, never flowering. A tree
Too spoilt to ever be hewn into planks. The rope
Is tight around your neck, your sweet death
Is not that far away. You paid for it in silver,
Heavy slugs imprinted with the face of a king. New bread
Is not sweeter if bought with a higher coin.

Gold isn’t brighter when purchased with blood, and coins
Cannot free you from every prison. This tree,
For example, is a prison itself, lacking the bars. No bread
Can satiate this hunger, the only remedy is this rope,
Tight on your larynx. The hemp glows silver
In the distant light from the stars. You taste death

On your tongue, not yours. Some other, greater death
That you bought, and sold. It sets in your stomach, a coin
Cast from lead, weighing you down. The darkling silver
In the bag on your belt is merely painted base. This tree
Is the only real thing around, and also the rope
Rough as it is, itching, brand-new. The fibers smell of bread.

It’s the same color, the color of the crust of bread,
A new loaf, broken down the middle, portending death,
Some gross death, aided by the thin mercy of rope
Purchased with bright, blood-stained coin.
And now, what do you have? You own this tree,
The field surrounding it, bought with the silver,

Gore-spattered and filthy, the tarnishing silver
You got for your lord. No one will sell their bread
To you, not in this village, not for that cost, you bought the tree,
The barren plot of bone-scarred earth it stands upon, full of death
That is waiting for you. Place that blackening salt-coin
Underneath your tong for passage. Step off of the rise, into the rope.

The tree sways under the weight that hangs from strong,
New rope that smells of fresh bread. Silver coins spill
Out in moonlight, packed with death.

The Gardener

It’s hardly morning and already it is strange. The streets were empty,
Unusual even this early on the day after Sabbath. There were no soldiers
In the market holding their watch, no chattering women opening shop. The sky
Still held that weird dark colour and the deep, impenetrable quiet
That covered the streets like a cloak, combined with that red
Sunrise made my work-day journey seem all the longer. I could see the rot

That lines the roads to the garden cemetery, home itself to contained rot
Made palatable, or nearly so, by the blank faces of stone, empty
Seeming, disguising their forms, those slipping pools of red
And black, the glimpse of meat falling from bone, and there are soldiers
Here, guarding what? Nothing that I can see in this quiet
Warrants their attention, just plants in need of weeding, the sky

Calling for rain it won’t receive. There is a pool near the tombs, the sky
Reflected in it, a strange, idiot eye, looking away from the rot
That spreads down here, taking up the mountainside. The wrong kind of quiet,
Spreading, growing like the tendrils of some ill-made plant. Empty,
The town was so empty this morning. Yesterday as well. If these soldiers
Were not here, I would believe the world already putrefying, falling into red

Meat-slurry, all those bodies in Judea staring up, eyeless, at that red
Morning, waiting for me to plant them. Waiting, looking at the sky
For some kind of answer and finding nothing. Not the false order of the soldiers,
Certainly not the God they buried Friday night, that rotting
Meat pretending to Godhood they took down, as empty
As the rest of us after the last breath. But oh, this awful quiet

It seeps into the cracks, drowning me. This spreading, somehow vivid quiet,
Not peaceful, has the feel of a growing thing, growing red
And gaining force, preparing. Something ready to fill the empty
Hole we call the world, a living body for the grave. And yes, this awful sky
Frightens me badly. This thing that grows, inevitable as the rot
That festers under stones, but stronger. Implacably light. The soldiers,

Stirring slightly in their sleep, look up, as I do at the crack. The soldiers,
Flailing for a moment by the wall of the tomb, and oh, that quiet,
That awful light. The light, solid, somehow real, burns the rot
To fertile dust, and the scent that gathers with it, flavoured red
And rich as flesh, live flesh, good and terrible to eat. The sky
Tears across its hinges, letting in another light. I am trembling, so empty.

The soldiers, slumped over, head-cracked and healed, guard a split-hole,
Empty of rot. The sky is so bright, tinged redder than blood; the air, so quiet.


In this dark place where light
Is alien and the air smells of life’s
Opposite, the stench of rot was growing
In gaseous billows, the white bone
Rising up through loose, liquefying flesh.
In this black grave carved into hill-earth,

This is the way of it, as it is throughout earth,
Every thing falling, flailing from light,
Falling into this nacreous ruin of flesh,
In this place where there is no life
Save for the roaches scuttling on bones
And the thing beneath the rancid sheet, growing

Mould, the stench of old blood growing
Sour, attacking the things that clean the earth
With tooth and proboscis, leaving only bone,
These things that live with no use for light
And scatter at the slightest hint of life,
Fearing nothing more than breathing flesh.

And yes, something is stirring in this flesh,
Something other than the stench of growing
Rot, the slight ticking beneath the cloth, a life-
Like stirring, alien to this desolate earth.
There is the sudden scent of crushed roses, light
And delicate, as far from liquefying bone

As the grave is from sunlight and the vast bones
Of dinosaurs are divorced from sweet flesh.
And now a sudden, bizarre light
Spreads out from under the winding sheet, growing
In intensity, scattering insects, sounding like rent earth,
And the thing beneath the sheet breathes life,

The smell of rot and scent of roses are subsumed in life,
And the small sound of muscle rejoining bone,
Of ligaments rebinding, wounds filling, recovering as earth
Does after winter passes. The firming flesh
Inhales, the blinding light, the healing light is growing,
The great door cracking, crumbling. Let there be light.

The light feeds the growing life encased in earth, the flesh
Cleaving onto bone, the smell of desert roses, the sacred breath.

An Abrahamic Sestina

Fathers and Sons

When you had seen one hundred summers, you took your knife,
Glinting, ready to smear with the bright blood
Of the first get of your life, the cause of wife-laughter, your son
The singular branch of your near-extinct tree.
There he is, leaf without blemish, branch without thorn,
Proving you, at last, not desolate waste but live ram.

And you are stubborn also, animal like, you ram
Your way to the burnt place of the knife,
Ready to pierce him, his translucent skin, your thorn,
Glinting, driven by the voice you hear at night, calling blood
For burnt offering, for taste of flesh scorched to a tree,
And you, bitter, embittered, you wanted a son.

You prayed. You fasted. He promised a son,
Promised you children, a nation, he gave you a ram,
A sacrifice, to burn, to feed a tree’s
Roots with the life of your body, your knife
Sharp against the bare throat of that boy, drawing blood
Quick as the opening, the slit from a thorn.

This is your grievance, your argument, the thorn
In your side. He, who you trusted, asked for your son,
Asked for this when he promised a nation of blood
That you would foster, spread like the seed of a ram,
Flocking everywhere, unafraid, never knowing the knife,
Growing, living, always under those spreading trees.

And what is it, with Gods and their trees?
A method for blood-letting, trees and their thorns,
Feeding sons, or threatening, to the immoral knives
Of innumerable damned. Abraham, Abraham, your son,
You pile him onto an altar of twigs meant for a ram’s
Slaughter. You will do it, he asked. Let the blood

Flow down, let it feed indebted earth, the blood
That would stain the thin grain of that tree,
Hewn and gathered, your child is the ram,
Flawless and perfect, set aside, not yours. Thorns
Binding, piercing that skin, the flesh of your son,
Who was leant you, who lies there awaiting the knife.

You took your only son up there, bound to the hewn slats
Of a tree, ready to smear with blood. You took your knife
And bent to him, just barely glimpsing the ram caught in thorns.

An old one, but it deserves another posting


You slipped through
the blood-dewed lips
of her vulva, flesh-parting
head brushed by dark wire-hairs,
your open mouth catching
her skin on your way out,
as though you were eating.

You left behind placenta,
veined, frightening in light,
so terribly nourishing.
It followed soon after, drawn
by the luminous cord your human
father severed a few minutes
before rubbing your flanks free
of bowel-waste.
He settled you to suckle.

Your brain was still forming;
how much could you know?
Seedlike, you had all of the world
in those pink folds,
waiting to grow.

A few decades away
from that hay-filled cave,
after the slack-jawed hymns
of the shepherds had scattered
their vibrations a few miles
past the sun, you knew
the feel of birth again.

Your body, veined, made frightening
in light, so terribly nourishing,
shrugged off on that tree.
All of the universe held
in the folds of your nail-split palms,
seedlike, already unfurling,
ready to grow in the flesh you
sloughed off. Waiting to breathe when
your father cuts the numinous cord.

Vines and Branches

The Vine and The Branches

They came with the office,
leather wingbacks in cracked cadmium yellow
upholstery smelling strongly of leather
and the in-ground sweat of many people,
bracketing the bookcase containing many
and varied works of God and psychology.

Love is a Choice was the title of the book
I was reading that day after work,
sitting with my father as he drew his sermon from air.
My waitresses uniform riding high up the cleft of my ass,
my thighs sticking, open pored, sweating,
to the bright yellow cover of that smelly old chair,
I read what I could in the bright light of evening.

Dad typed away hard on the keyboard
of the computer he made for himself out of parts
scrounged barely functioning from the hospital dumpster.
He was always good at creating a purpose
for the waste that he found.

We hardly spoke then,
I was young and constantly aching-
and not just from working eight hour shifts
on an ankle that would later turn out to be broken.

All my words rushed inward, filling my centre.
There was no surplus left to fill my mouth.

I read what I could in silence punctuated
by the hymns and new wave synth pop
he let fly under-breath, the chorus to the Cars-
Just what I needed.

Five in the evening and the room was still baking,
the corrugated roof slow to release the bright Texas sun.

Sharon, the plump pompadoured secretary,
had checked out early- just as well, really.
There was work to be done.

The first thread of red spread on the horizon-
blood caught in the quick of the world’s fingernail-
and the patients were coming.

I closed my book and got up from the chair.

I took Sharon’s place in the small low-walled cubicle
by the plywood front door.
I lifted my foot up, blue-black and throbbing
from too long toting hamburgers to trucks,
to the soft white people crouched in the cabs,
rolling on skates from the kitchen, my tray fully laden.

I rolled my sock up over the bulge
pretending that the pressure was enough
to do any good.

The light door opened while I was examining
the source of the nauseating throb.
The man who entered was short, curled over,
crouching. I could see light flyaway hair,
a scanty crown.

He knew my father well enough
to slide in through the door, and close it behind him.

I lowered my foot and laid out a well-thumbed
deck of solitaire in the smear where my heel
had scuffed the deal,
placing kings and aces without cheating.

I won three games out of four
before he called me.

I slid the cards into their pack and grunted
at the shock of standing.
It was always worst at first-
pain responds favorably to being ignored
and waitresses, ministers, people who live by serving,
are rarely insured.

I opened the door.

My father was standing over the blond man
hunched in my chair.

Dad was gathering up a white bag full of rattling
orange bottles that he found, who knows how or where,
for the use of the poor.

The man in my chair was bleeding all over it,
blood seeping from the foul yellow-edged lesions
that made his skin more a series of interruptions
than any proper covering.

His green shirt, his blue jeans stank
with the sweet odor of seepage,
rot from the disease a needle he depressed
years ago squirted into his veins,
mingled with the drink of forgetting.

‘Now Lyle, remember the dosage.
Take the cocktail three times daily-
no skipping doses.

‘When you run out, come back and see me.
I should have more for you by the end of the month.’

Lyle smiled with a mouth empty of all but grey gums.
The hand he held for shaking
was a Dantesque tree branch-
bleeding and speaking in a suicides tongue.

The yellow leather he vacated held the shape,
the stench of his whiplash body in fluids
which veined out and frayed
in the cracks of the skin stretched and ageing.

The ghost of a man who was dying
lingering after the body
had passed through the door.

When Lyle was gone completely,
a mirage of the street, a shadow wavering,
Dad turned to me, tired, his round shoulders sagging.
‘We had better get started. I need to get home.’

I fetched the clean rags from the hidden cabinet,
he fetched the bleach from the jug by the door.
We kneeled together, my wounded leg aching,
and left the leather upholstery a little lighter, a little softer,
than it had ever been before.

For my much-beloved brother


I cannot write about you yet, my brother.

Golden son our mother loves-
your red-rimmed eyes are always brimming,
have been brimming over since infancy
with what you leave unsaid.

Sorrow makes your lapis pupils vivid,
makes cracks along the forehead and jaw-line
of your kouros’ armored mask.

Each breath you clutch for enhances your beauty.

The body you tend well, fashion into a bulwark,
the muscles that bunch and slide beneath your skin,
has finally learned enough to darken
into a shield of bronze age leather.

When you were a child, doing what we do now,
a day at the beach, parched in afternoon sun-
your translucent flesh shone for a moment
with the light coming through it
before reddening suddenly and sloughing to wounds.

When the pus dried into bubbles and puckers,
our mother peeled away the layers in strips
which she piled in a flurry of leather
on the light green-colored coverlet
of her teak four-posted bed.

I watched your tearing face come loose in her hands.
Forehead, nose, eye-orbits, your lips in flakes,
bleeding drops onto the tongue you remain so careful with-
so cautious with words, you let nothing slip.

You trained your skin to darkness
through long exposure to the rays
of the miles-away, implacable sunlight of Kansas.
Building that bridge with your sweat in the cracks
with those other boys and men who laughed when you bled.

You studied theology in your room for an hour each night,
letting scorched layers accrue, ignoring the itching-
knowing at last the value of scabs.

Sitting here beside you, so close
our bodies are nearly touching,
I claw into the sand with my chewed nails
and tell you nothing you haven’t in some way
already said.

The sea and your eyes are matching in color.
Your tongue, finally loosened, and your eyes are red.

Your skin has hardened, a sheath like a kouros
tempered by long centuries spent buried in sand.
Cracked, with edges fractured, a fine nose gone-
It is no less beautiful for injury.

I still have no idea what comfort to give.
I will not peel the armor that keeps you connected,
times shifting mask.

Only, know this my broken, well-loved brother:
you are not wasted.
Skin suppurates, it bleeds, dries, dying,
and then it scabs.

The kouros that survive being buried
are all the more valued
once time has put an end to dying.
We savor their cracks.

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