by Joseph Coroniti
(after, long after, Li Po)
Mounted on a phoenix and wielding the whip of Jade,
you let me have it. I must admit, however, you do look radiant
in your leather chaps-and that smell, your smell of cloves . . .
Just when I thought the vicious cycle of feathers to flame to ash
had spun out and you were ready, after long centuries
to rest in peace at the bottom of the hibachi-
But no, you let loose your, by now legendary,
skull-cracking scream as the fat from the burgers
drip-diddley-dropped on what was once your-
and we're going way back now for this-
your milky-soft baby's bum skin.
Jade, piedra de ijada, stone of the flank is hard on the head
and, notwithstanding the ancient apothecaries' lore,
not much help for renal colic.
If you, my Jade, knew the exact location of my kidneys
they'd ache like hell. You'd mount your burnished steed,
wield your whip of Jade, and let me have it.
Things weren't always this way, way back in the early days,
remember, dear? We shared a steak and kidney pie on our
honeymoon in Zanzibar. Years later, settled down for centuries,
we got an estimate for a kidney pool we never had dug.
But there was always that hope of a better life, a next time.
Time and time again we brushed off the soot
and made resolutions for the coming epoch.
But things never change. I know that now.
This spontaneous combustion has got to stop.
After your last transfiguration two-step, I was in the burns
unit for a year. You were eating a hamburger, insisting
that turkey burgers were less healthy than the real thing.
Then, ZAP! a ball of flame. Immediately,
I started fanning the ear-piercing smoke alarm.
One hand on my ear, the other waving for dear life
the unread Times, fanning, fanning, wishing on a star,
sick unto death of the Eveready Bunny Beast
screeching from the ceiling.
Your mount, your familiar, your phoenix
is doubtless an exciting creature to sit astride-
no-one side-saddles a phoenix.
I can't remember the last time you opened your legs that wide
when not "one" with your beast.
Sometimes I find myself longing for a scraggly chicken
that gives birth astride an automated egg collector,
picks a peck of chicken feed, clucks,
sotto voce, a cluck or two, then dies,
pure and simple, without all these pyrotechnics.
There you were again, engulfed in a four-legged
orange flame. Before I could get to the faucet,
you and your mount were a pile of ashes.
You've no idea how close I came to sweeping you up
and flushing you down the hopper-Whoosh!
But, a slave entranced, I blew on the embers
and watched you burn back to being.
Oh Baby in green leathers! your broad biker chaps flaming
lemon lemon yellow yellow, carousing the pyramids
on that hot bird. You've come back to me, my sweet!
I only started seeing Alice because-well, I thought-
I thought this time you really had joined that Taoist
nunnery with your girlhood companion, Rise-in-the-Air.
I knew you'd always yearned for "greater things,"
the life you were meant to live.
I thought I was free, free to rebirth myself
in my final phase. I'd knock the ashes from my pipe
onto my dessert plate. Nowhere, nowhere to be found:
your loving look of utter and irrevocable disgust.
Mounted on a phoenix and wielding the whip of Jade
you teach me that love's an ever-fixéd mark
right about here-ouch! not so hard-
a mark that's born out
even to the edge of doom.
Her kiss the kiss
of death, or, at the very
least, some aggravating
hoof and mouth
She is the vampire of midweek specials.
Her kiss-never mind
that-just sharing a beer
with Her leads
to penetration of the Over-
She has left her mark-
a fox bite
a barbecue fork gone berserk.
I hold my fingers to check
the patient's pulse-the dike
will not hold. The blood
I turn my pockets out under
a complicit moon: garlic,
with an expiration date from the last
millennium, a plastic crucifix, whose
Christ has been
at the feet
She is bloated, downright
fat-her eyes a lunar sliver in
a satiated haze.
When she hovers over my
bed, I muster all my
strength and whisper,
"We can't go
on like this"
from her eyes and reaches
toward my cheek.
I stay fixed
on the light until-her
tongue in my ear-
she covers my face with her hair
it exists at all hangs
upside down in a
shut black barn
to its head
The raven if
he speaks at all does not
to the general
at the head of the army
marching into the ambush set
The raven sings if
this is a song at all
of unalloyed joy
or simple indigestion
Perhaps the raven ate too
much of whatever ravens eat
and mutters wordless oaths of self-
Only the Chosen can divine
the mystery of Ravenspeak
weightless throat music
bones picked clean
Perhaps the raven's sound
is the pleasure of warm
sun on blue-black feathers
the majesty of sunspots
spectacular for their
The Boys of the High Wires
One morning the boy
wakes to the sound of his own
voice an octave lower-
his blond curls an electric
Hendrix halo; he can barely
wiggle his toes in his
His hair grows darker; still,
he is a boy. He insists on flying
higher, "higher than anybody ever,"
until, as everyone knew he would,
he makes his fatal
error, misreads the winds
and is caught up in the buzzing grip
of the high tension wires
He is a legend among us.
Fathers take their sons
to the Parkway to gaze up
at the death defied boy of the high wires-
a profound lesson in arrogance
Sons crane their necks to watch
the boy fixed in flight
above them. Their fathers tug
their arms, "You've seen enough now.
The boy's heart grows larger
each year. It radiates
through skin as thin as a wasp's
wings. The boy's great
wings, devised in a garage of dreams,
have lost their feathers to the years,
the sun, the insatiable hum
of the high tension wires
As Christ forms the apex at Calvary
of fliers rooted in the rocky earth,
the boy of the high wires
flies fixed at the head of a V formation
of boys beyond count-
boys who, at last, have learned
Gryphons ruin my day
at the beach. They roar
obscenities at each other
through ill-equipped beaks
from beach chairs
on Nantucket. To make
matters worse, their boss,
the sun, sears my skin
on the grill
An old woman and a one-
legged sailor play tug
of war with a loaf of Russian
rye. The old woman wins.
She does a jig on the black
sands and hurls mightily
the sweaty loaf into the sea-
weed sky where,
by appointment, it is
caught up in the paws
of a cowardly eagle
I could stay out here
in the sun forever
but for the Sea
Captain sitting next to me
on the peeling bench
picking his bulbous
Wives and neighbors armed
with rakes tear through
the thick underbrush.
I, meanwhile, devise intricate
plans to drug the Gryphon
guarding the treasure. I will
have it all
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