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Thirteen poems.

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
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.

--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.

(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,
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.
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Article Details
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Author:Lux, Thomas
Publication:The American Poetry Review
Article Type:Poem
Date:Nov 1, 2002
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Next Article:Five poems.

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