Jesse Glass: poems

  Jesse Glass

  poems
 

  JPR 07

Black Magic Song
Empty Room
Blue Ice
Envoi
Health
The Tree
Plastination

The
cock’s head

buried

at the
cross roads

crows

in its
little

box of
tin.

The
cock’s head

buried

at the
cross roads

crows

in its
little

box of
tin.

The
cock’s head

buried

at the
cross roads

crows

in its
little

box of
tin.

One line
for a beak

one line
for a feather

fly

into

the sky!

One line
for a beak

one line
for a feather

fly

into

the sky!

One line
for a beak

one line
for a feather

fly
fly

into

the sky!

Empty Room

Blonde girl, stay in this empty room
& sleep your infections away.
Dust settles on the coverlet
& runs to the soft suction
of your thin nostrils
& flees from the small sirocco
of your heat-cracked lips.
Your hands clench
& point beneath the coverlet;
your pale feet catch the light
outside the scarlet border of the quilt.

Crowds wait for you to rise in your
wrinkled shift; rise in Pre-Raphaelite
splendor, sick in soul and womb;
rise like a billboard Marilyn
by some Oklahoma highway
where not a single car has passed all morning.

Your daddy stank of alcohol,
& told us how your beauty humbled him
as you stood before us with your hair
twisted up, the best way to look ‘fancy’
that you knew. We held our breath
in Billy’s Bar as your voice took us to a far, sweet place
& kept us high in our cooling sweat
till your daddy stood to leave, and pocketed
my ten to see him down the road.

Before he left he pressed our hands together
& told me to take care of you,
his gifted girl.

That night I asked for ‘Amazing Grace’
& you sang it in your slip.
We finished off the Walker
as the sun came up
over Lake Michigan.  The tall ravens
landed in the yard,
& barked like skinny dogs
& dueled for leathery droppings
in the street.

Before you closed your eyes
You said you wanted me to sing for you
in my own fashion,
bitter and low,
from out of my cockeyed, handwritten book
& willingly accepted my words
for your adornment
like those long intricate ear rings
making soft music on the pillow,
as you laughed & wept & dozed.

The radiator squatted
on gryphon feet
& fell into the sun
with no more sound
than a tea-kettle on the boil.
It was your friend & protector
through the autumn hours of that dry Monday
till I returned from work with mostly empty hands.

All I can give I gave you then:
a mattress on the floor,
canned beans and ground beef,
one hundred dollars for the doctor,
a white plastic radio,
a mirror for your own applause.

Now finally — these words:
they’ll be here when you awake again.

Blue Ice

‘The bite of the tarantula fixes a man in his purpose, that is in what he was thinking about when he was bitten.’

 — Leonardo da Vinci

Shatniel — I begin by writing the name
of an angelic being found at random
(more or less), in Gustave Davidson’s
A Dictionary of Angels — because
I am fond of celestial citizens,
having spoken to one as a dreamy boy, and
later, staring at the east, when
puberty finally arrived, I saw in clouds
above the barns and silos, the angel
Gabriel, his silver horn, and the crossed
nails of sorrow.  (The great warriors
of the air come less often to me now,
and the gift of seeing the signature of the
invisible powers in minerals and flowers
faded as I became a man.  Now,
like the scarab beetle, I roll my pill of dirt
along the ground.)  ‘Shatniel,
… a name found on an Oriental charm for
warding off evil. — auspicious sign
for a reader of Swedenborg, and
The Seeress of Provorst, but for the rest of us?

Mid-day, the collapsing
sun sucks at our insteps. Now
it rains.  Drear winter
keeps coming.  Downstairs
a child writhes in arms
it abhors.  The clock
Ticks & Ticks & Ticks & Ticks.
We are immortal for
precisely 52 seconds.
Then the Scream
finds us, rides the air
for nanoseconds of eternity.
We are hushed in
its presence (i.e.
not immortal).  It
jostles the cardboard
planets beneath the
ceiling, settles in
our lungs. The child
explodes in a fistful of red clay.

I throw the first card
down.  You read.  Shrug.
Drag the cup to your
lips.  Can’ t we remember
a better time?  A pale
woman on a beach
adding rows of numbers
in her head just to
delight us?  We found
a horse shoe crab half
buried in the sand — it
brought glad tidings from
an obtuse world
of amethyst and amber.
An osprey sliced a wave.
You pointed it out —
called it ‘Frater’
or ‘Soror.’ (I forget
which.)  One cyclic claw
yanked a fish to the
sun; one drop of sea
from a cloudy fin
colonized the flat
of your hand.  You
thought it an omen, a
talisman — you were
careful to guard this
 — ‘hint of immortality
in the girl-scented
beach house’ —
till the wind reclaimed it.
Then you dug into the
clay & we witnessed
the instant
bone turns to elegant stone,
while dog-like reptiles
frolicked in the surf:
like us they gloried
in their youth.  Like
us they never saw
the sword flash above
the mauve horizon.
Gravity was gentler
then, objects never
fell when dropped, but scratched
like miraculous
roses at our finger ends.
Breath followed breath
through our lips
like widows
waltzing
to their husbands’ pyres.
We gladly knelt upon
the butcher’s block
as if to tempt the
aleatory gods,
but knife & mallet
turned to scrolls
incised with the nib
of inexorable law.
& All that night
the glittering pistons
of the moon moved the
metaphysical
carousel, and each
zodiacal mount
skewered on a twizzle
stick, carried a
thoughtful muse, her
knuckles on her brow.

                   

Now turn, now scratch
a Jack of Diamonds
across a seven.  Blond
heat sifts through the grate.
In the wall a cricket
pulls on angels’ robes, its
song a relic of that
summer day. Snow’s grown
rotten by the lake.
Blue ice cracks
with a Berliozean
fervor.  Diesel fumes,
like pretty children,
turn on a single toe.
The Italian barber
apes the white frenzy
of Socrates, his
dance among the
admiring men.
Nothing happens.
No hemlock cup.
An old man carries
trash to a dumpster.
I yawn.  Stretch arms in
a gesture of the
microcosmos, for

empty thrones orbit
above us.  The rich
do not eat styrofoam
but dine on the flab
of Leviathan.
They are Marduk and
Astarte, waving
as they pass the bread
line.  Toll-free numbers
tell us to be poor.
Two placards grace
two churches:

SINNERS TAKE HEART

A rat-torn lip
gives the tongue
more room to articulate.

O BELOVED

The dead are happier
than they know.

What exegeses
can a lover give?

                   

Deal a new card to
me, I will crack these
walls wide enough to
sink a fist between
the continents and
loop the orange cords
of longitude and
latitude around
my knuckles.  You would applaud
this gesture. Instead, I push
a pile of matchsticks
in your lap.  You mention
holocausts, then drop
your eyes, embarrassed
by the obscene pressure
of the word.  I invoke
Goethe, The Dignity
of Man, but the Scream
reappears with epaulets
of blood on either shoulder.
It nods.  Points into
darkness where we
step like timid children,
fingers without rings
pockets full of ash.
And if we ever
return I’ d wager
we will be half-blind
bat-like things, tapping
our puckered brows against
the lintels of the wind.

Envoi

How can one dream in a place like this?
The sun leans its terrible weight upon the city.
The golden lash rises and falls.  Buses
sigh at the intersections where we stand
clacking our gums in the heat.  Shadows
contain our boldest thoughts, and if we brave
the day we find ourselves watching the lake
clap its hands in idiotic glee, then tear
at its own flesh.  A ragged arc burns
through new clouds.  As the orb brightens
 — becoming more perfect —
we close our eyes against it, yet
the black disk remains drifting above
brain-grey marl.  You lift a curio
from its cabinet.  Smile appraisingly.  A head
with a crown of fractures glows dimly
in the belly of a pebble (handed down,
you say, for many hundred years.)  Its eyes
are furred with scratches and its mouth gapes.
‘Press this rock against your forehead
and see the angels burn upon their thrones.’
I throw the stone away.

Health

Dog skulls,
monkey ribs,
bear paws
crawling with flies.
Caked cords
of desiccated flesh,
leaf-flecked,
dense as marl
laid out on muddy
quilts
by a bicycle-mad street
where the Mao Jackets
hocked
& spat
& cleared their septic
throats
under a sky threatening
rain
& pale-eyed Northerners
with braided beards
‘not to be trusted’ (translator’s
whisper) rehearsed
to noon loafers
the wonders of Tao,
dragon bones, lion teeth cures.

Dressed in robes
of luminous smog, one
pats his lower back
& mimes a cup of charnel tea

downed in a gasp.  Another grabs
his thing & laughs!  Good health!  Pee free!
He sings the price in black market Mao,
then artlessly spoons a nostril
with one cultivated nail.

One clacks two metal bars
to draw a crowd:
pigeons scatter in the factory yard.

He waves me near.  I shake my head.
      The loafers grin derision.
      All smirk the tongueless foreigner away
      & once again begin to dicker.

 — Fujian, 1993.

The Tree

mirror

falls
on

mirror

falls
on

mirror

birds
reflected

in the
sky

shatter

mirror

falls
on

mirror

falls
on

mirror

the tree
of blue

reflected
sky

unlimbed

Plastination

The son kills his father the King with a sword, Armand,
But the old man’s corpse is clever
And in turn chews the son’s head off;
In fact he goes on to swallow the son’s
Torso & lower extremities
In a no-nonsense manner, but the son’s
Sword-holding arm will not slide down
The patriarchal throat.  See, LIFE WANTS
TO HAPPEN, even if the complexity of the son
Is due to a rather primitive interaction
With his environment.  Furthermore, the fond corpse
WANTS to clarify itself into low-grade gold, but because
Of condemnations by church and local government
Relaxes into a pile of ancient oak leaves instead.
Nevertheless, the results are stunning.  The son’s phantom limb
Moves at right angles to civilization as we know it
Casting a phallic shadow across retorts and alembics.
Furthermore, the brain can be removed from the son’s head
And replaced by a cell phone, a calculator
Or a goddess ready to erupt full-blown, depending on the latest CNN polls
And the highly charged desires of the Tourists
Who take turns dressing in the old King’s blood.
See?  The dead DO STEP in the same river twice, Armand,
But is this cruelty alchemy, science, or post-post-modern entertainment
Of questionable taste?

Poet Jesse Glass
 

Jesse Glass has lived in Japan for twenty-five years. His work will be featured in Golden Handcuffs Review, and his collected Painted Books and Sequences is available from The Knives Forks and Spoons Press.

 

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