Thirteen poems The Devil's Beef Tub There are mysteries--why a duck's quack doesn't echo anywhere and: Does God exist?--which will remain always as mysteries. So the same with certain abstracts aligned with sensory life: the tactile, for example, of an iron bar to the forehead. Murder is abstract, an iron bar to the skull is not. Oh lost and from the wind not a single peep of grief! One day you're walking down the street and a man with a machete-shaped shard of glass (its hilt wrapped in a bloody towel) walks towards you, purposefully, on a mission. Do you stop to discuss hermeneutics with him? Do you engage him in a discussion about Derricla? Do you worry that Derrida might be the cause of his rage? Every day is like this, is a metaphor or a simile: like opening a can of alphabet soup and seeing nothing but Xs, no, look closer: little noodle swastikas. Debate Regarding the Permissibility of Eating Mermaids Cold water mermaids, and only on Fridays, said Pope Ignace VII. Summerian texts suggest consent if human parts predecease fishy parts but cuneiforms detailing this lost to tomb robbers. The British Admiralty, 16th century, deemed it anthropophagism and forbade it, though castaways, after 60 days, were exempted upon the depletion of sea biscuits. Taboo! Taboo!, said the South Sea islanders, though a man could marry one if his aquatic skills impressed her enough. Conversely, a woman, no matter how well she swam, could not marry with a merman. Uruguayans, Iowans leave no records on the matter. The Germans find it distasteful though recently declassified WWII archives suggest certain U-boat captains... No problem for the French: flambeed or beneath bearnaise. The official Chinese position is they don't have a position! --But I grow tired of this dour study, tired of the books wherein this news is hidden, the creaking shelves in museum basements, the crumbling pages of the past and future, I am tired of this foggy research to which I've devoted decades trying to find the truth in these matters and what matters in such truth. Burned Forests and Horses' Bones are all we see when we cross the river to this land. Two or three days, we guess, since the fire reached this shore and went to sleep. This is where it stopped, not where it started. Why didn't it leap this narrow river? We see but wisps, locally, of smoke. We can't go back the way we came. Before we crossed to this scorched shore, we knew: we can't go back from whence we came. The trail is charred, with drifts of ash, but passable. We are nine men, three women, seven children, three mules--two pulling carts, the third, a pack on his back--one dog, one duck. We see nothing but the burned bones of horses, not for miles, nothing not gray or black. Because his whiteness (though going a grimy gray) offends us, we'll eat the duck. Three more days we travel between smoldering stumps, crossing sooty streams, no sounds but the screech our feet make on the black and squeaky ground. At night there is no wood with which to build a cooking fire. Tomorrow we'll hack up an armoire and kill and roast the dog. Not one of the children will cry. We have three mules yet, two carts. We have one mission: to arrive where the fire started and pass over it to the place before the fire began. Dry Bite When the krait strikes but does not loose his venom: dry bite. What makes the snake choose not to kill you? Not Please, not I didn't mean to step on you. He may be fresh out: struck recently recently someone else. But: if he chooses to withhold his poison when does he do so and why? Can he tell you are harmless to him? He can't swallow you so why kill you? There's no use asking the krait: he's deaf. In that chemical, that split-billionth of a second, he decides and the little valve to his venom sack stays shut or opens wide. Dry, oh dry, dry bite--lucky the day you began to wear the krait's snake-eyed mark on your wrist and you walked down the mountain into the valley of the rest of your life. Prothalamion --for Cecilia Until canaries carry away a mountain on their backs, until gnomes declared extant, until ripe apples, wind-fallen, make the deer sad, until concertina wire gives concerts, until Vietnam is forgiven and forgives, until humans can lick their own elbows, until the last leprosarium closes its doors, until double tropical dropsy, until for every tunnel there is an alternate bridge or road across the bay or through the rock, until baseball enters the Trinity (deposing Whom I care not), until man and burro recognized as separate species, until the pastures beyond the fields, across lost meadows and over some greeny hillocks, are unattainable, until your father is no longer dead (so I may have the honor of shaking his hand), until also arisen X, Y, and Z, until all trout defoliated of their roses and gold, until each peace and no-torture treaty honored, until vaults and deserts no longer used as metaphor, until pigs can gaze starward, until lungs become wings, until I no longer need to belabor and belabor the fact of my demise, until then, until that time you will be my love and you will be my wife. Can't Sleep the Clowns Will Eat Me it says on the dead author's ("the author is dead") daughter's T-shirt. He sympathizes with this line and his daughter who wears it, and recognizes that its author (also dead) wrote the line to describe and mock dread, insomnia, fear. The author (continuing to be dead) bought the shirt for his above-mentioned child because she likes the line. The author (dead as a brick) is glad his daughter likes and understands the line, that it's funny, parodic, odd. This pleases the author (a rotting corpse) and--forever, down the boulevard of elms and ash, forever beside the indeterminate river into the long night, forever with his child and their blood-on-blood--he will; he will be happy learning to live with being dead.
Letter to Walt Whitman from a Soldier He Nursed in Armory Square Hospital, Washington, D.C., 1866
dear Walt, kind uncle, its near two years since I left Armory Sq. & I'm home now. The corn grew good this summer and we bought 2 cows. My leg ain't right still but it's still my leg. When you prommiced they wouldn't take it was the first time after the grapeshot got me I didn't want to go to the world where there is no parting. Dear Uncle, we have had a son borned & we call him Walter Whitman Willis, he is well & Bright as a dollar. Yrs Affectionately, Bill Willis
Can Tie Shoes but Won't, --for Brendan Constantine it said on his report card, five years old, the boy so slung against the river's current he was later lost in his paper canoe, paddled himself lost, or half-lost, or less lost than most, not in the mid-river flotilla with all the other boats fighting the main and churning current, but instead along and beside and even under the river's banks--the place of overhangs and eddies, sloughs and whirlpools, the shaded place beneath the bug-brailled leaves, the python-laden branches, the place beneath the bank's cool clay, between the roots, where the toothy creatures cache their prey for later. Did he travel always on one side of the river? No. How did he cross to the other side? Carefully, cutting the current without fighting it, giving up some distance to it, in order that, just so, the shades, the light, the slight un- dulations of the river's bends, are changed, with intention, and for years, upstream, a lifetime, this way, upstream he goes, this way, upstream, on his voyage. Goofer-Dust (dirt stolen from an infant's grave around midnight) Do not try to take it from my child's grave, nor from the grave of my childhood, nor from any infant's grave I guard--voodoo, juju, boo-hoo rites calling for it, or not! This dust, this dirt, will not be taken at dawn or noon, or at the dusky time, and if you approach this sacred place near midnight then I will chop, one by one, your fingers off, with which you do your harm. Goofer-dust: if you want it, if you need it, then erect downwind from a baby's grave a fine-meshed net and gather it one-half grain, a flaky mote, an infinitesimally small fleck, at a time, and in such a way it is given to you by the day, the wind, the world, it is given to you, thereby diminishing the need to steal this dirt displaced by a child in a child's grave. Terminal Lake Although they know no other waters and have no creation myths, the fish don't like it here: no way out, no river to swim upstream or down. Terminal Lake squats there, its belly filled by springs, oh rain and ice and snow. It's deep, Terminal Lake, and no one's gone to the bottom and come back up. All's blind down there, and cold. From above, it's a huge black coin, it's as if the real lake is drained and this lake is the drain: gaping, language- less, suck-and sinkhole. Monkey Butter Oh monkey butter's tasty, tasty, you put it in cookies and pie, you use it in cake, I can't tell you a lie: don't be light with it, nor hasty to push it aside. It's not too sweet, with a light banana-y hue, the monkeys all love it, and so will the one you call you, the you who's another you want to love you. Put it in his pudding, in her pastry puff, then sweep the table of all that other stuff. Later, leave a little in his left, her right, shoe. Three Vials of Maggots were collected from the corpse found lying in a field near a small stream. From these the lab will tell at which time the dead one died. They have schedules, the files. Some lay eggs which hatch to maggots which consume the corpse. Other come to eat flies, eggs, maggots. Hide beetles arrive to clean the gristle. It's an orderly arrangement. What the maggots and their allies do they do for you. Render, Render Boil it down: feet, skin, gristle, bones, vertebrae, heart muscle, boil it down, skim, and boil again, dreams, history, add them and boil again, boil and skim in closed cauldrons, boil your horse, his hooves, the runned-over dog you loved, the girl by the pencil sharpener who looked at you, looked away, boil that for hours, render it down, take more from the top as more settles to the bottom, the heavier, the denser, throw in ache and sperm, and a bead of sweat that slid from your armpit to your waist as you sat stiff-backed before a test, turn up the fire, boil and skim, boil some more, add a fever and the virus that blinded an eye, now's the time to add guilt and fear, throw logs on the fire, coal, gasoline, throw two goldfish in the pot (their swim bladders used for "clearing"), boil and boil, render it down and distil, concentrate that for which there is no other use at all, boil it down, down, then stir it with rosewater, this which is now one dense, fatty, scented, red essence which you smear on your lips and go forth to plant as many kisses upon the world as the world can bear!
THOMAS Lux holds the Bourne Chair in Poetry at Georgia Institute of Technology. His most recent book is The Street of Clocks (Houghton Muffin, 2001). He lives in Atlanta.