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Archive for October, 2015

Two

This poem first ran in the Fall 2008 edition of Grub Street Grackle. It appears here online for the first time.

This poem first ran in the Fall 2008 edition of Grub Street Grackle. It appears here online for the first time.

The flower on stage
Representing a garden
Blossoms in the mind.

Later, dreaming, the mind
Catches the scent and restores
Every knotted tree.

And words well-spoken
Whisper in the clamor
Of later centuries,

Enduring, lingering,
And listening, as if
From eternity.


Original bio from the Fall 2008 edition:

Ben LaVergne has found it necessary to replace more and more of his brain with incredibly powerful microchips to facilitate his quest to know everything about everything.

 

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Death of a Cat

allegory

This poem first ran in the Autumn 2007 edition of Grub Street Grackle. It appears here online for the first time.

It’s not so much that I am grieving. That
would be an overstatement. Still there is
the blur of loss that flickers through my gut
whenever I recall the dead body
as I first found it this morning, stretched out
perfectly in the tall grass by the end
of my driveway. I picked her up not five
minutes after she died. She was still warm
and supple as only a cat can be.
My fingers massaged the back of her neck
absently while the policeman explained
that he had found our phone number (penned
by me just days before in case she should
get lost) on her red collar, which had come
off on impact and which was dangling now
from his outstretched hand. Six cats of his own
he said, so he could not just leave her there;
he called us from his squad car parked across
the street. I told him it was not his fault.

I carried her back to the house. Her eyes
were open but were utterly without
an animating light—dingy, opaque,
moisture evaporating rapidly.
In every other way, her beauty was
intact. Her fur was glossy black and rich
to touch, a pleasure for the hands. I felt
for broken bones but there were none, at least
that I could find. I don’t know how she died
if not by being crushed. Apparently
she misperceived the speed of death’s approach.
How strange, how sudden her mistake. Her mouth
was slightly open still, reminding me
of her peculiar trait of sticking out
her tongue—only the tip between her lips—
when she was content, lying in a lap
or napping in the sun. Her simple ways
were easy on us. She did not demand
anything, as her brother did and does.
He is more social than she ever was.
He follows us around the yard. He seems
honestly interested in the world
of men. He mews to be let in at all
the windows. His enthusiasm is
his charm. But charm has other faces too—
a quiet calm, a delicate approach,
a distant modesty—and these were hers.
I always thought that she would outlive him.

We buried her under a pine among
some other pines. The earth was cold and hard.
I had to dig with vigor in the clay
to make it deep enough. The broken roots
along the bottom held her there in place,
a place prepared for her. I know a cat
is just a cat and death is just a small
undoing of familiarity—
we are forever growing used to it.
I had grown used to her in one year and
a half. I will forget her in much less.
But in the disappearing now, she is
the shape of sorrow I have come to love.


Original bio from the Autumn 2007 edition:

Michael Larson lives in Winona, MN and has three (3) kids and one (1) wife. He is interested in monarchy, geocentrism, Zeno’s paradox, law, Aquinas, modernity, relativism, traditional Catholicism and many other things that he claims to have forgotten. His What We Wish We Knew (2005) is free if you already own it.

 

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Lay in a Deep Confusion

This poem first ran in the Autumn 2007 edition of Grub Street Grackle

The stone was in the ground, the body,
as though delivered from mere surface,
was out of sight; the unreflective
soil lay over it, and that was
that.

For days, he bore it, grieving sorely
but not despairing; death, whose quiet
approach had more than once already
come near him, to his thinking was not
strange:

the thought was in the grave; it rested
with her, allaying discomposure,
as though by veiling it with knowledge
of what had laid her
flat.

But more than grief befell this mourner,
when some days later, after every
funereal sentiment was settled,
rain drenched her grave as much as any
place else, and stirred into the soil
and in his soul a muddy, heavy
change.

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And With a Fit

This poem first ran in the Midsummer 2007 edition of Grub Street Grackle. It appears here online for the first time.

And with a fit of overwhelming story,
a recollection of your rage and glory:
is it possible—do you think?—
to decline,
when you sink
to the bottom of your past,
the invitation,
which comes at last,
of Forgetting?


Original bio from the Midsummer 2007

Sean Mahoney requires no elucidation, which is to say that he requires every possible elucidation. For what more demands explanation than that which admits of none, being somehow explained ahead of time?

 

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Misinformation Dissemination 7

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This essay first ran in the Fall 2013 edition of Grub Street Grackle. It appears here online for the first time.

It’s a common misconception that the “theoretical” in “theoretical physics” means that what scientists are learning by splitting atoms and measuring the red shift of distant celestial bodies can’t be directly applied to everyday situations—an uninformed belief that often goes along with the idea that Galileo didn’t really invent bowling, or that the Large Hadron Collider isn’t really an exceptionally well-funded experiment in male enhancement. But it’s not your fault: the elite class of scientists don’t want you to know that there is a practical infinitude of ways that the discoveries of theoretical physics can be put to work for you, right now or in the near future.

Here are the four that I myself am most excited about:

The Uncertainty Principle

We’ve all heard of it. At least, I think we have. Anyway, I’m pretty sure it says that reliable measurement is impossible because observation actually affects what is being observed! But the uncertainty principle also has all sorts of useful, concrete applications.

Take, for instance, trying to hang a picture on your wall. Have you ever noticed how, no matter how many times you measure and re-measure, the picture always looks just a little bit crooked when you stand back and look at it? Well, now you know why: it is precisely your naïve attempt to measure the thing that is giving you problems! Every time you try to measure where you should hang the picture, you are warping the space-time fabric of your wall. (Why your wall is made out of fabric at all is another question.)

I used to spend hours trying to get my pictures to hang straight—now I just close my eyes, stick a nail in the wall, hang the picture, and—BOOM! Problem solved. No measurement, no worries. And if your friends come over and point out, as sometimes happens to me, that all your wall-hangings look conspicuously crooked, just remember: they probably haven’t transposed themselves from a Newtonian to an Einsteinian frame of reference yet.

Buckyballs

You may know of buckyballs as a hypnotically entertaining magnetic desk toy. But did you know that scientists also use them to push the boundaries of physics?! Neither did I, actually, until I skimmed the Wikipedia article just now. Evidently, scientists shoot buckyballs at two slits in some sort of screen—and the buckyballs don’t just go through one or the other, but both. Scientists think that the way they move indicates that they actually travel every possible trajectory simultaneously!.

But what use are buckyballs, you ask? Well, the buckyball experiments prove that everything is sometimes everywhere all the time at the same time. Which should cut down majorly on your commute.

More Dimensions!

There are three dimensions, right? Wrong! It’s four, right? Wrong! There are actually ten or eleven or maybe twelve dimensions! But half or more of them are curled up into a tiny little ball for who knows what reason. Just think about it—ten dimensions (or so)! That means that, in addition to the four dimensions of space and time or whatever, there are at least six other dimensions tucked away somewhere, just waiting to be put to good use. Now, I’ll be the first to admit, I haven’t actually used these extra dimensions yet—but I’ve got some great ideas, and my friend Wally who took a correspondence course on “Extra-terrestrial Physical Science” thinks they might actually work.

Now, it’s not cheap to rent a storage unit, and if you’ve got anywhere near as much excess junk as I do, you need somewhere to put it. Well, think about this: I bet those curled up dimensions were just as gigantic as the other four dimensions, before they got all squashed. If we could find a way to just uncurl one or two of them, we’d have all the room we needed—and I doubt the laws of physics charge $25/month.

Here’s something else: lately, 3-D movies have been making a comeback. They used to be gimmicky and totally not worth the extra cash—but now they’re pretty all right! Imagine seeing a movie, not in 3-D, but in 5- or 6- or 7-D. Actually, you can’t—it’s beyond the imaginable. But I bet it would be a totally immersive experience.

Oh, and I forgot to patent any of this stuff, so can you all please just sit tight for a couple of days after reading this, until I can get that done? Thanks!

Miniature Black Holes

We all know that a black hole sucks in everything that’s nearby; anything that goes past the event horizon gets sucked in, no exceptions. Nothing can escape from the black hole—it’s like a galactic IRS. Well, some scientists speculate that there are miniature black holes at the bottom of the ocean, because there are some weird gravitational forces in the depths of the sea that we’re not quite sure how to explain. How these mini black holes don’t suck the whole ocean up is beyond me, but there was a special on the science channel on it, and after a day-long marathon on how the aliens really built the pyramids, you can imagine how refreshing some real, hard science was.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I find it nearly impossible to sleep in a room that isn’t dark enough; and where I live, there’s constant light pollution. But I was thrilled to hear that a patent was recently filed in Japan on a “Personal-Sized Black-Hole-Powered Light Reduction Apparatus.” It uses the science behind these miniature black holes at the bottom of the ocean to create a pitch-black sleeping environment. (Light-block curtains, your days are numbered!) Evidently, this contraption plugs into a standard electrical socket like a nightlight, but instead of making light, it sucks it all up, so your room is completely dark. It hasn’t been approved for use by the public yet—evidently there have been a few issues with the black holes sucking up pets and such. But you can bet this handy technology is right around the corner. And the black hole powered vacuum cleaner might just be the next step.

There was a time when advanced science was only for the few, the elite, the willing to sit down and read a book. But now, thanks to human ingenuity and my wi-fi connection, everyone can have a little fun with physics. So, just remember, when the universe stops expanding and gradually shrinks to a super-dense ball of ultra-compressed matter, the only thing that will really count is that you got a good night’s sleep for once before the universe annihilated itself.

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hearth gods

This poem first ran in the Spring 2015 edition of Grub Street Grackle. It appears here online for the first time.

This poem first ran in the Spring 2015 edition of Grub Street Grackle. It appears here online for the first time.

gram and pop have been so long,
it’s hard to imagine that they’ve gone,
no longer rocking in their chairs,
knitting or napping, jawing there.

when mom and dad finally split,
they stowed us with them in week-long visits,
and gram was stone-silent, while pop
came to crackle, roaring with talk.

he’d built the entire place with his hands,
except for the fireplace, which as ever stands
apart and gray and blackened with use,
eternal as anything, and old as truth.

mom seems to come by (despite dad)
to sit near the old stones and brick stack
amid pop’s carefully laid lumber and gram’s
sturdy old afghans, still warm,

and though dad won’t leave the study,
we hie the wood in and stack it deep,
and in the fireplace the little flames go
swimming to life while he seethes alone.

the fire’s four-foot perimeter fills with odor
of warmth and the hissing of heat, though
it fades in quick steps past that—
we glow together, missing only dad.

the wood poppops and pops and sizzles,
while the thin white smoke knits little
strands of something to be finished above
us though started in this room, near this hand-wove rug.

dad’s bourbon glass rattles in his room;
our breath mingles with the wood’s soft groan;
if you listen it speaks a slow invitation:
tend to the home fires; come tend home.

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Wrong Way Radcliff’s First Ride

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This story first ran in the Fall 2013 edition of Grub Street Grackle. It appears here online for the first time.

Right now, in every town or city in the country, the same thing is happening: some kid who has recently learned that he is supposed to feel limited by his environment is trying to think of a way to twist the name of his town into a variant of “Nowheresville.” You used to get this in small towns but now it’s everywhere. Probably in New York itself there is a 12-year-old boy trying to outgrow the Star Wars bed set he is sleepily ensconced in, thinking “No-You-Can’t… Nowhere-k… New Yuck.”

I grew up in Norfolk, Virginia, so you can imagine. Norfolk, if you didn’t know, is a populous port city which hosts the headquarters of several major transportation corporations and the largest naval base in the world, which by the lights of defensive adolescent cynicism makes it a total backwater. So I grew up knowing, with greater certainty than any country boy ever knew he was destined for big things, that I “had to get out.”

Whatever I thought that meant, it certainly did not mean that by collaborating with the engines of commerce I should secure the means and relations and powers to position myself in the world. The idea of a position then had no charm for me. Having a “position” was about like having “status” — in other words, being static, stagnating, staying in the heart of nowhere. Which I guess is at least part of what I thought I had to get out of.

I didn’t want or need a diploma, a degree, a career, honors or accomplishments of any kind. As far as my personal ambitions were concerned, I might have done best to spend my time on a street corner learning how to play guitar and avoid the police. But school wasn’t so bad and there was plenty of time for perfectly good arsling within its walls. The gym was right next to the lunchroom, so it was easy to sneak out of PE and play chess with my friend Lon. The biology teacher was half-blind so I could read for English class during that period, which meant another solid hour for video games when I got home. And the authorities were impotent blusterers, which fit my picture of the world perfectly.

The problem for me was that the approved next step was alway so simply and obviously laid out for me at each stage that it would have taken such a concentrated effort as I had never learned to muster in order to change course. Besides, I actually liked my parents and didn’t want to disappoint them. What I really needed was a sudden and unavoidable calamity to cut them down so I could leave town under a cloud of grief and begin the romance of my existence. Don’t laugh, because I truly had this exact thought many times in my youth. Perhaps on my way home from school today, I would muse, a grim pillar of smoke and ashes would rise before me as I turned the corner of our street, and there with his dogs rooting through the hot, charred remains, counting blackened corpses, would be the arsonist himself, some secret enemy of my father bent on the destruction of his line, and I would dart quickly into hiding, the tears streaming down my stricken face as I fled through the backyards and over fences to the open country.

All the same, my travels did begin, in the most simple and obvious way. And in case you’re guessing that means I joined the Navy: no. That was a clear impossibility because I was a Pacifist. (Sometime I will have to tell you too how I stopped being a Pacifist, but anyway that was a few days later.)

It just happened one night that Lon and I — You know, Lon was all right, but it seemed like he wouldn’t do anything good until I twisted his arm. He would just be in his books or even sleeping when I’d call him late at night and tell him it was time to get on and have ourselves an excursion. And then he’d go on for a while about what an important day tomorrow was or needing to finish a project. Or just not feeling like it it this time. And I’d have to stir up some high talk to get him dragging his feet out the door. Once I recited the St. Crispin’s Day Speech, which I’d memorized for English class that week. I was always one for memorizing things, even if I didn’t know what they were about, so if Mr. Sandys gave us a choice between writing a paper and reciting a speech, I knew what I was going to do.

Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day.

That would get him. Then we’d be out wandering around for an hour or two, getting nowhere, and finally I’d have to find something for us to do to match the grand promises I’d made in verse or prose. Usually this meant we had to break some law.

So on this particular night, as we were out trespassing on the grounds of a shipping depot, we found on the other side of these grounds, only a low chain link fence away, a long train just beginning to inch forwards. Why it was stopped there in the first place we didn’t know, and I still don’t, since there was no one anywhere near to have been loading it or unloading it. Ahead, the tracks turned slightly right, so that the engine was out of view, like the train was lumbering off into the absolute distance. Nowhere and everywhere. Out.
Naturally, we had to hop the fence and set our hands on this rare creature, as you know you would have to do if you opened your front door tomorrow and found an elephant loping casually by, practically begging you to come feel its heft and might for yourself. (If your first thought is that you might get trampled, then I guess there’s just no talking to you.)

The thing about freight trains is you normally see them hurtling along full speed at railway crossings and bridges, not ambling past at a crawl. So it was like turning the world inside out to walk a piece feeling as though it was we who were leading the way, ridiculously tugging on the leash of a reluctant behemoth.

But the train sped up. Not wanting to slip back out of this fantastic world, as a dreamer will push backwards into his memory, groping against the current of his waking thoughts, I quickened my pace with each step to keep a little ahead of the train’s acceleration. Moments later I was running, my right hand now clasping the cold handle at the back of the train car. Now the only way even to match the train’s speed was to be on it, and so on I went.

Nothing else I have ever experienced has quite so much made me wonder what in the name of a drunken pig I was doing as did the sound of Lon’s panicked and hollering voice, already almost inaudible over the growing racket of the train, quickly and more quickly fading into the distance behind me. Why was I clinging to the back of a rushing train car on its way to who knows where in the middle of the night on a Wednesday? What was I going to do exactly when the train stopped? Would Ms. Jenkins give me an extension on my lab report?
But anyway, there I was.

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Goldfish

This story first ran in the Spring 2008 edition of Grub Street Grackle. It appears here online for the first time.

This story first ran in the Spring 2008 edition of Grub Street Grackle. It appears here online for the first time.

A soft wind in the willow branches, minnowing the water of the pond. A huge moon of orange gold. In the black water, minnowed with golden light, ribboned with orange moonlight, the goldfish are playing. Playing under the water the way the moonlight plays on its surface.

The goldfish talk to babies. They flirt their tails and bat their eyes and talk to babies, whom they don’t like. They say things to babies to get them in trouble and then they flirt, they shrug themselves away and become silent again, low lying orange streaks under the water.

In this great house of patios and porches and tiled roofs, there is a golden cradle where the windows stand open and the moon pours in. In upon the lucky little prince who gets more moonlight than any other child in the kingdom. The little prince speaks to the goldfish. They are pretty. He would like to catch one and even to eat one. He likes the goldfish, loves them. He only wants to eat them the way he wants to eat all shiny things he loves. He reaches out his hand to touch the goldfish, his fat little hand patting the water. And oh how insolently, how sleekly they dart away from him, how mockingly. They do not like babies, the goldfish. Sleek, they let the water preen their insolent faces, leaving the big baby to cry on the shore for vexation.

They tricked the baby. Yes, they tricked him. It was their fault he fell into the pond tonight. So tonight all the little goldfishes lie low, flattening their ears in the current, hanging there like willow leaves hanging on the breeze. And there are lights on, burning in the great windows of the palace. There is no sound. Even the mother is breathless.

The baby is not alive. The baby is swimming, he thinks, swimming. The baby tried to get the moon. The goldfish told him to. The goldfish told him that there was the moon in the water, go get it. And they flirted their tails and away. Now the baby thinks he is still swimming and the mother and the father and the doctors in the great gold room think he is there with them. And the goldfish lie low and guilty in the water.

But the baby begins to cough. And one by one the goldfish come to the surface, eyes and mouths questioning. The baby begins to cough and water pours from his mouth and nose. He looks so confused coughing and then he begins to cry. They have made him alive again.

Relieved, the goldfish turn malicious. They flirt and flirt their happy little backbones. The soft wind flows in the willow trees. Round, orange, the solemn moon.

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An Aristophanic Impossibility

This story first ran in the Late Winter 2009 edition of Grub Street Grackle. It appears here online for the first time.

This story ran in the Late Winter 2009 edition of Grub Street Grackle.

(In Which Rainscape Becomes a Crossing Guard and Other Diverting Incidents)

This is a work of fiction: names of persons and places, products and divinities bear no relation to real life persons and places, products and divinities with the same, similar, or in some cases quite different names.

I am insane. I no longer doubt it. Allow me to convince you. This morning I found myself desperately trying to put milk in cereal instead of cereal in milk. Always with the same result: the cereal in the milk, and not the other way round. I’d gone through three boxes of Grandy O’s and two gallons of milk before I gave up on breakfast. Last evening I read twenty pages of a novel… backwards. I only realized something was off when at the end of ten minutes I got to the beginning of a chapter. When I confide these things to my friends, they try to soothe me: “look, Rainscape, you’re just a little distracted… Get some rest… Try and exercise a little more… Go out and talk to people… You’ll get over it.”

Yes, I am distracted, I tell them.

I have tried resting, but my dreams are of wayward sentences that either run on in different directions past the point where any period will contain them, or are matter-of-factly stated ambiguities following one upon another until the words, continually so self-assured, become to me so frightfully senseless that I wake up between panting and laughing, not knowing whether I should be terrified or amused, and walk to the sink to throw cold water on my forehead and stare at the frightened and confused expression reflected there in the electric light from just outside my window.

Exercise, yes. There’s nothing like physical activity and fresh air to restore the daylight sanity to a maniac, I agree. I go on walks: sun, rain, moon, or windy skies. Sometimes, when I feel myself becoming happy, I skip. Sometimes, when I feel drab and gray, I hum, and try to shake it. One day, not too long ago (I think), I stopped at a busy intersection and watched the streams of traffic each stopping and starting, diverging and converging each in their turns For so long. . . and at last I grasped their dynamics so completely that to my bewildered mind I could only be the traffic director himself—myself… . So I took charge of the intersection and managed it, for a while quite as well as any stop lights in the world. But then I got a little too cocky. It started out pretty innocuously. I was having a splendid time sneaking left-turners into the occasional gaps in the two-way oncoming traffic so that when their turn came the opposite stacks of left turners would be equal, and the flow of traffic perfectly balanced and expeditious. Never have I been such a satisfied servant to society. And never have I managed any situation with such grace, such finesse. For now I began to innovate, to discover the momentary path for every passing car that barely had to slow its pace, much less stop. More and more, the streams of humming automobiles ran without resistance like soft sand through the fingers of my mind. I wove the strands of traffic in a mighty pattern like a Celtic knot, but woven into it the mass and power, the steady thunder of the big Mack truck, and the maneuverable speed of buzzing Fiats and Festivas! The ecstasy! I was a four-headed Janus! I was a Herm! I was the intersection, the exchange of roads, the origin of new directions, the still point of the turning world.

But every Hubris has its Nemesis. Mine came in the form of a Peugeot; yes, a mere cyclist interrupted my apotheosis. You see, traffic direction as a fine art is entirely dependent on the accommodation of contingencies; the medium in which you work is whatever objects are coming down the road toward you at whatever speeds and from four different directions at once. The first principle of the art is this; no two objects can occupy the same space at the same time. In other words, you have got to find a window in the space-time continuum For each one, and that window is going to be limited by all the other objects for which you have to do the same. So, as you’ve got to be continually estimating speeds, sizes, momentums, accelerations, yadda-yadda-yadda, all the time intuiting a pattern in what is potentially chaos, you’d do well to simplify it as best you can. There are some general rules of thumb: like, make sure you’ve provided for the biggest and most unwieldy objects first; if you save them for last you won’t be able to squeeze them in at all. In the hands of the expert the smaller ones start to take care of themselves, almost… and you can work them in with dazzling intricacy once you’ve more or less got the bigger pieces in place; that‘s the really fun part. However you must not let even the smallest tile in your four-dimensional mosaic give you the slip.

Now I’m gettin’ it, that’s what you’re thinking, he forgot to leave room for the bicycle. No, ladies and gentlemen, I provided a needle’s eye for the cyclist to thread. It was a far more ludicrous error that spelled my fate. It was myself that I forgot. As Archimedes boasted to the Syracusans, “Give me but a fixed point on which to stand and I will move the world!” Silly, if you think about it. But Archimedes’ riddle was a joke on me. For in a kind of other-worldly trance, alive no longer to the growl and screech of rushing steel and rubber, but only to the ever-flowering pattern through which they rushed, I found myself within that needle’s eye. The blazing sun off the front reflector of the elegant French racer all but obliterated my vision, as with beatific satisfaction I watched the slanting cycle, a faint shadow following that brilliance, as it swerved into its appointed path. Then suddenly my legs were clipped; my head came back to the concrete with a kaleidoscopic explosion of pain. And the cyclist, her flight as perfectly projected as an Archimedes’ catapult upon its target, caught up with me and brought our spheres into shell-shocked collision.

Fate is always contact before sight. If you can gauge its approach, and see it coming at you, you retain some control over the situation. But fate is out of your hands, it annihilates, empties, slices you in half, re-does, fulfills, and empties you again, and all before you have a chance put a word in edgewise. Looking back it is as if that one event had so much sheer velocity collapsed into it that it has never yet stopped happening. So somehow there I am still, stunned, bleeding at the head, in midst of the now and forevermore hopeless confusion of those crossroads, that beautiful girl on every side of me, stunned: the two of us thrust into hopeless proximity by the miraculous impossibility of my happening to be standing right in the needle’s eye of the kosmos, and just then and there forgetting my existence.

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St. Sebastian

This poem first ran in the Sep/Oct 2006 edition of Grub Street Grackle.

This poem first ran in the Sep/Oct 2006 edition of Grub Street Grackle.

Trembled by the muscle’s clustered grip
On each shaft’s head, the sprouted wood began
A bird wing’s measured beat, as if to fan
The crisp air with the lifeblood’s giddy clip,
Pulsing the measured rhythm’s rise and dip,
And flapping the awkward scaffold of the man.
It wasn’t according to the archers’ plan,
To place, symmetrically, two at each hip,
Two buried in the ribs, and the last two
Odd-angling from the shoulders. Nor could they
Deny the strange result: With each drawn breath,
The white plumed arrows, arced in just that way,
Fluttered, grotesque with grace, bearing, in death
The youth on terrible wings, too wildly true.

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The Grackle is a production of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Imagine Dallas Literary Arts, Inc.