As any noxious

As any noxious totalitarian knows,
human morality is easily warped so that
the murder of the so-called freakish, the vile,
the foul is now downright legal—But what if
your very body rebels against this crass trick
of the legal, this mediocre warp of your morality,
to asphyxiate you down until you gag?

As a boy I thought that no matter
what anyone was drinking, they would
have preferred to drink an orange soda
My brother Matt thought everyone’s
favorite color is red—look at the
Coca-Cola can he said, bright red
(just like our bloodiest wounds)

As she carries the food to her bed-
bound ill husband, she stumbles, drops
it, stubs her toe, breaks it, angrily cries out
“God damn it, I’ll get it myself,” he
screams, but nausea churns within
him now and he can’t get up
Life’s cruelty is a distinct red rose

Is this the suffering of the damned
and, accordingly, should we be glad?
Dad’s death shatters my view
The slaughter block—
the rapid onslaught of oblivion
We’re bit players here and on
this crass big stage we drown

Stale visuals, familiar forms, different
ways—she makes a pact with the fitness
gods and thinks “I’ll never be ill”
He wasn’t seeing other lives, he saw,
instead, the imprint of his own gaze
He was a troubadour who turns
our life into song, who saw

a ceaseless struggle for mastery and survival
When you go to war a part of you won’t
come back and no political system or
moral code will obliterate or tame our
basic savagery, our predatory natures
When the bombs fell some unlucky few
boiled to death in roiling river waters

When I was twenty Mom got sick
and I couldn’t help her
On that ceiling in Rome, God
and Adam almost touch 
She died but I’m still trying to help
her—They’ll never touch, because
sin is real and grace is not

“She’s a mediocrity like me but
she writes like an angel”
We can refuse to be the victims
or their executioners, human malice
so intractable, human luck so irrepressible
They almost touch but never do
and I couldn’t help her

I saw a blackish, brackish furred squirrel
scratch its ear with its back foot,
leap from the sidewalk and clasp
a brown barked tree, cling to it
on all fours, all in one leap—god damn
you’re good at this squirrel, you’re good
She wasn’t a performer, she  

was an artist who never paid
enough attention to her lovers
to know whether she hurt them
What if we meet in a street full
of splendid strangers?—Recovery is
always a mess and talent doesn’t relax
An ancient artist carved, without

metal tools, a gigantic tiger’s jaw
within a human head in stone
How do we overhear ourselves?
What do we tell ourselves when
we talk to ourselves—who is left to speak
to us then?—With whom do we go
mute, who do we talk to, who is left?

-October 19, 2019-