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   f l o o d    l i g h t

--- B E N   L E R N E R

A translation of pure will. Tense, I feel a cork
assembling in my stomach. What to make of it,
the French, the referenced French, the rhythm
of the bulb's moth death, and you, sleeping like the tracks
of some great man. Or "man." Sing more clearly
you plead. I'm reading while you shift, pale
on the paper bedsheet, when abruptly, this book,
heavy as an infant, refuses to mean.
"You don't speak the language," you remind me.
And suddenly I desire my club or a handful of your hair
to convince you that I could have gone to war.
And all this time the cork is pure mathematics-
the flakes like tiny boats in crimson seas
have congealed into a dangerous debris.

It is not about the woman or her thighs, although this one, dreaming now, seems never to attach, staying like the imagined lake, clean and threatening. Rage, I have for her and smile, disdain I have and kiss her brow. Always reining in my tumbling tongue. "What a bitch you are," I like to say, and she, her smile a red mud slide, completes the line: "historically..." It's more about her ironic cooking, marvelous, fatty, burning the pan until it blackens beyond function. Then returning to our clumsy rhythm * she makes me wear the apron. Commanding me to admit my youth, my clang disorder. Sometimes I think she'll turn on me and say "Tell these nice people I am only the image that you shook out of the page." It's true I'm lonely, the room is always white, but sometimes I think such sparse and gentle things... So this is the beginning: plugging through a book, sexless but abuzz, everyone undone but still conflating for an audience. Fever dream, I'll have to let it break... Nineteen and still I'm looking back like painless bleeding in a plastic sack. II. Rumor had had it. She'd depressed the cold side of half the pillows in town. I imagined her black tongue placed at the base of my cock, paralyzing me like a bass. So we were wed. It was a circus. Picture the tent topped with a stammering flag. Conical, walled, but floorless. Now you see what I'm getting at: my teacher placed his hands on my small shoulders: "You need to be honest. You're not making sense." So I placed my hands on his shoulders and blew my cold breath through his hair. Mean and feminine, this hurt's been with me since the crib. Christ, I begged her like a dog for explanations, only to be told my degradation * was the lone end, a chill star in the distance, for which the town had made its sacrifices. While she's asleep I'll tell you how they kept the streets clean, the baseball diamonds chalked, to emphasize my unruly image. The worst part, of course, is that they'd never known exactly why they were the way they were, until my lowly begging gave it meaning. Although once they faltered and I saw an orphan drowning in a public pool. "Enough," they told the teenage lifeguard, but he pumped until her lips were thinly slicked with blood. If it were me, I thought, I would surely love * everything so severely as it slipped away, it would color my cheeks, stunning the lifeguard into thinking he'd revived me. You see what I've done? I've switched places with the girl. She spits up, shivering and joins the other children. While I, bone white, water logged, and puffed, fail to vomit back. And because I'm now an orphan they will bag my cold teeth one by one. That's the law. In my dreams she returns with fetal gills. (The dead are always getting younger.) And while this might come off as opportune: I remember crying when I learned the slow light of the stars can never burn * on time. Anachronistic heaven. The moon sits like a target on the black back of a turned head. A suicide note, wide ruled, written in crayon, skates and flutters across the empty playground. My past has a sheen like a magazine hidden beneath a mattress, like cafeteria jello trembling on its tray. I know you're clever, but you would have to feel it worm its way down your throat to understand. That's why I read the binary printout, the computer's inane applause, instead of your heart's flat reports. I birthed this sadness. Now I teach her how to swim, I pack her lunch, kiss her pasty cheek. And god I love her fiercely when he weeps. III. The new skald, democratic, fuckable housed in the verb and reverb of my clotting, insists that I paint only what the blind can dream: her head hitting under water, the slow expansion of that sound, how it outlived her. Nothing this diffuse could be malicious. You've made me suffer because it was all that you could make me. I make nothing, make it slowly and enormous, confusing my mother for her life sized photograph, my happiness for the recorded laugh- track misfiring in the most climatic scene... All this time you've said our continents were heart-shaped, guiding my hands across your hips, * but now I've learned those maps are figurative: my drame bourgeois in the campus of your thigh. I'm a people person, but I believe in turf and so go nowhere, unless you count my fattening. This is what I meant by rifling through the text: Abstraction wilting like a singed hair into more abstraction. The shut-in - hero going sour in his furnished underground. This might be the great commercial epic. The rigging of my jaw is European, but the idiom is taut and regional... What would you think the key a fragment of having never seen the lock? The tongue's dove- * tail into its box is weightless as a prison alphabet. They use pocket mirrors and the sun. But here the good light's in decline. And death keeps pissing in the milk of our profession. There she is again, mucking the whole shebang, while I was thinking something sleek and urban- casting my eye down the slender backs of young women smoking between classes, imaging how I'd leave them: pressing my cold and regal forehand to their cheek as if to say good-bye to someone sweet and deaf. I know you've taught me better, but loving you I've learned to love the rostrum and now I crave the lettered like a nostrum. IV. And in this room I keep my trophy case. The golden plastic figurines arch over vague inscriptions. This one reads: Participant. They hold their pose like divers that have sprung from some plank so dire only form becomes important as they fall... Love, do you remember at our wedding when from atop the Ferris wheel, the next town slowly slid into our view? "Dodging pain is also pain," I told you. And in your single tender moment, you became so ugly I could read the way your cheek bones formed parenthesis. You took my hand and led us towards the clown that let me keep the doll that I knocked down.

© crossconnect, inc 1995-2003 |
published in association with the |
university of pennsylvania's kelly writers house |