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Issue 10 - A Journal of Letters and Life
Six Poems
by Josh Bell
Zombie Sunday (a short poetical history of Spring)

Gentle handed holy father, or whomever,
I mentioned daffodils, and the crowd went wild.
I had them, briefly, nibbling from my blistered hand.
Then I called attention to the dandelions,
popping forth like sunny, tethered corks
from the busy lawn, and the crowd went
home. Lucky for me they left. Mine
was a short list of flowers beginning
with "d," and too late, skulking through the park,
did I recall the daisy, the dahlia,
too late did I invent the dog-wort
and the dwarf poppy. Modern ways.
April. Motorcycles have begun thundering
down the wet avenues like armored bees
slick with the shattered, puddled blooms
of fragrant gasoline and oil, and I've noticed,
from a distance, that in early Spring
the trees don't, all at once, jump to life
like you've read about, but gather to them
a smoky cloud of blue, like tall children
puffing on cigarettes, until, late April, they cough up
a few green leaves. That was my mistake.
Chaucer couldn't name his flowers, either,
or he could name them, but couldn't tell
them apart, or I missed it if he did. It was
Spring. I was involved, moaning in the hedge
and watching college kids whack golf balls
into the drive-in movie screen, which seems,
at night, across the field, like the forehead
of a giant, worried monk, bent over and tending
to his proliferating, moonlit vegetables.
Speaking of monks, I need to read
more Chaucer. Then T.S. Eliot, about
a hundred years later, wasn't he clever?
Bravo, Tom. I can barely look a lilac
directly in the "stamen," a word that never seems right,
no matter how I spell it, a word little more
than a word, if that. I think we thought
T.S. Eliot would ruin sex for the common
fornicator, Our Father, like you and me. I think we
guessed him sort of mortuary in the sack.
That, or (your theory) he was frightened
of the shadow of his penis, rolling unbidden,
like a scuttled go-cart, across the grooved sheets.
And the hyacinths, oh the hyacinths, a flower
I'd like to take by the pistil and fling, if only I could tell one
from a hydrangea, my second flower
beginning with "h." But about old master Eliot
we both were wrong. How like me he is.
I imagine him now, sucking flowers into the tunneled earth
where he riots like a cartoon gopher,
he was a petal hoarder. I much rather
would have slept with Williams, though he did
nothing for Spring, at least in the anthologies,
our able doctor, tapping out his poems
while a lithe America undressed in the little
examination room across the hall.
Read Williams in a paper gown, you tell me,
and all your dreams will come to pass.
But I forgot Emily Dickinson. We all
wanted to sleep with her. She was right
about Spring, if she wrote about it, and she
had those tendencies. My new neighbor,
homeless Jack, greets Spring with a holler.
Emily would have hated him. Me, too,
though she had a thing for abomination.
But what's Emily Dickinson got to do
with the price of methedrine, Jack might
ask. Bravo, Jack. And Rilke, Jack, Rilke was an "autumn."
The tree-line overtaking the movie screen
warbles. The aforementioned flowers,
all varieties, rise like European soccer fans,
and charge the field. Spring, you sent the rain
down this rented stretch of gutter-pipe
on the retched corner of Thomas and Lafayette.
The college kids whack arc after arc
into the monk's forehead, into the tree-line,
into the onanistic wave of oncoming
flowers. I wish I could welcome these days
when the blood begins its rolling boil,
and like a chef, in my palpitating white hat,
I could use the blood to cook a meal
that would finally please you. Daylily,
digitalis, delphinium, dianthus.

The Wherewithal Riff

This poem is yours and you are
obligated to sleep, then burn your
house down, with it. It's named

"The Wherewithal Riff" and it
speaks in the voice a butterfly
uses while pretending to choke

on gravel. It moves like pliers
to the situation. In the high-speed-
come-apart arena of love, many

have made their mistakes. Circus
geeks and E.R. doctors owe their
livelihood to the human body's

capacity for putting strange things
inside itself. That's not funny. This poem
knows its way around inside

yourself, where you dream of
ice-cream in the spin-cycle and bed sheets
where they shouldn't be. It has

the time to bleed that you don't,
since now the doctors are coming
to rip it from you. Pray that the geeks

get to you first, with their kindly
teeth and awful hair. As in "inspiring
awe." It's all so crazy. This poem's voice

is sometimes mine. I use it when all them
good animals have gone to sleep. I use it
on you occasionally. Forgive me

not for this, but for several un-
disclosed hush-hush missions I have
made, carrying your flag. I have borne

your standard in strange locales (the
voice in this poem speaks of them
and is a voice with more wherewithal

than I know): A second story bathroom
in a Frank Lloyd Wright filling station
where I wrote the name you should

have been given on the stall door.
This poem should have a different
name, too. One closer to its

true nature: "For Fuck's Sake," or "Pretty
Guilt," or "The 'I am really afraid
of your terrible beauty' Poem," for

example. That is funny, the voice
in this poem has bubble gum on its
breath and a penchant for lying

with its eyes closed, which, by the
way, are the color cerulean, that
shade of blue gone to college,

and This bridge of yours, says the man
on tv, but I could say the same
thing to you, in this voice. This

bridge of yours just keeps on bridging.
You had to sacrifice more than a few
stuffed animals to get so tough

or get this far. Your eyes are far bluer
than poems and your mistakes are much
bigger than your eyes, sad darling.


Meditation on The Consolation of Philosophy

And on that final night I tore eye-holes
in a black pillowcase, slipped it over my head,
made love to myself in the mirror,
and couldn't bring myself to finish.
I've begun telling the truth and now
I need objective help. Certain things
I need to do can't be accomplished
without a circumspect accomplice.
A girlfriend. Back in the good old days
those condemned to death hustled up
cash to tip their executioner; a sharper
blade, a meditated stroke, etc, but the last
woman I bade wear a black pillowcase
while she made love to me didn't (make
love, wear the hood) even though
I put 10 dollars on the night stand
services rendered. My surrender,
of sorts, to the animal largesse lurking
behind the puzzled genius of the hood,
and who'll complain if the blade's on its fifth
neck of the day, or your executioner
shows up drunk? You? "Off with your....
arm. Damn. Here we go." Look, I'm not
really into that kinky stuff, but a body
requires service. Take Boethius, whom
I haven't read. He wrote his uplifting
Consolation of Philosophy
in prison,
then they cinched a wet leather helmet
on his head, and tossed him to the sun.
I bet when the leather dried, shrank,
cut in, I bet it gave, a bit, as the convict's
blood got it wet; enough for false hope,
a peek at slack jawed Romans standing
around with clean hands. Boethius
got lucky. I mean, he never had a chance
to take it all back, to plead for exile
and promise to burn his manuscripts.
What would the sun say to that? It wouldn't
be good. You can't reason with a star,
friend, or the people you put in your will
or your bed. That's why we give advanced
directives to those who handle our bodies
during the few hopeful seconds they have
call to handle them--sex, hospitalization,
death in beds, closets, coffins, coffee tins
(like your Uncle Mike)--it doesn't matter:
Someone has to promise that they'll pull
the plug or man the screws, and then
follow through, no matter how badly,
when the time comes, we want them not to.


Watching Students Enter Thompson's Woods

There was a time it didn't scare you,
but now your tests have come back positive
and the results imply one thing: You've done
too much Ovid, and this might be why it aches
to witness nature, the one-more-button-
undone of Spring, the abrogate sun
on the quad, zaftig robins on their nests,
nubile maidens on towels in the woods
behind the library. And all the time, baby,
it's you there breathless, you braced,
you the nondescript voyeur tuned up
for the sacrifice, taking in the scene
from your office window and waiting
for the jealous gods to drop down
among the vasty barelimbed coeds
in order to redefine what it never means
to be deep in human skin. How
long did it take you to figure out
you slipped that bullet-headed rose
into a bottle of misinterpreted gin?
You never would have bet against
the apparent vase-ness of that bottle.
So what? That rose died in your kitchen
and you broke down and cared less?
Call that winter. The light tricked you.
Light was that rare. All the other plants
grew lovesick anyway and leaned into
the glow of your tv. Then Winter
weakened and gave in to the musclebound
anabolic verb that Winter gives in to,
and now you watch the bad squirrels pimp
and wig-wag through the sticky trees.
Students enter the woods with purpose
and leave transformed with the fresh,
routine blush of the sybaritic halfwit
on their cheeks, their depthless faces
wide like mystified, dope-fed owls.
All the florists in Christendom agree
that bullet-headed roses never open,
and you've always understood it
as a figure for what it takes to resist
Spring--dying folded--though that's too
simple for even the likes of you,
a brain on stilts in a book lined office.
Springs pile up. They have unheard of
half-lives. They hold you tight like
the dirty love of a bad green doctor, a knife
in one hand and a bucket in the other.

Surviving Love

Don't talk to me about the rain or
what inconsequential oblivion awaits,
what infirm clock-watching angels spill
dark-wise from tiny cars like clowns.
A plastic thermometer in my chest
pops and tells me that we're done.
Breakfast then comes pouring in
with the new shadows, and coffee.
Clouds re-approach. Lies flood
the bad neighborhoods of my tongue.
You move to turn on the light
and it's some time before it lights.
Hello...hello...hello? Your navel
proves to me that you were born.
Remember me, like a mouth that
opens on the dark, I'll forget you
like a grave recalls what filled it.

Love Affair on Monkey Island

Monkeys on the periphery. Lips all over
the place. Bloodstorm. Lovers of fish?
I've already seen this movie.
I've never seen a bunch of snakes
in what is called a "breeding ball."
You refuse to meet my parents.
I hang towels on my fire escape.
For the most part, lovers treat each other
like rented automobiles.
I hate to write about the moon.
The moon looks like a picture of you
looking for a tissue.
How blue am I? I never thought of it
that way, but I am blue as a wet Swedish fish
riding a penny loafer to the barber shop.
Showering is a heavily eroticized sport.
I love you with water up your nose.
Then you don't say no or anything.
You win again. I promise to wash the dishes
for a week. I promise to wash your victims,
starting, not to mention me, with Ted.
Old ladies hang me from the fire escape.
For the most part, lovers treat each other
like a fruitcake rides a coffee table.
Do you love me like you used to,
with the crusts cut off and the sardines
in their immaculate rows? I eat, you hate me.
Do I hate to write about the sun?
The sun grins like an old man
in Florida, bragging about the sun.
I started writing an Art of Love
but you came home with jellybeans.
Now I have twenty chapters on jellybeans.
You put jellybeans in my souvlaki.
This proves you are terrified
by an overwhelming desire to treat me better.
When the lord made me, he put a cage
in my stomach for two dancing girls who
do the splits when you leave a room.
When the lord made you, he put a dwarf star
in outer space and a head, I suspect,
in your refrigerator. Who are you?
I whisper lines from movies in your ear
at night. Welcome to oblivion. If only
you could see what I've seen, with your eyes.
The moon meets you at the airport.
Didn't we have some good times, he says.
Yes, old friend, I think about them every day.
Your heart's in the right place, your old
loved are everywhere. That moon rumbling
in your attic like a 10 pound bowling ball.
Hold this. I signed my name to it.
You can't ask me to draw your picture
from memory, so it's a planet, mostly.

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