The Brooklyn Rail

APRIL 2021

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APRIL 2021 Issue


Death Style 11.23.20

First Snow, "Live Music Returns to the Gazebo"

First blood, first snow
live music returns to the gazebo
and I think it must coldly clatter there
and gather in the hexagonal vertices
impossible to determine now the scale of the scene
so far from its first happening
first feline whipcars of snow
first catlike swoosh of the jordans
entering air
as the midshipman neighbor
matriculates at the warcollege
for every lady arm must bear its lamp
and every war its matrices
wide eggy solar notes
come flooding the zone
up to the gym rafters
spilling and lowing
out to where
the highchool choir
clambers up on risers
inside the gazebo
to sing and watch the snow burn
what's not divine
is cut out and thrown in the river
the mortal part
must be cut away
so only the god remains
as the hymn separates from the choir
what makes it holy
what coldly gathers
freon, neon and ozone
cans of concentrate
revolve in the atmosphere
clattered by solar wind
and all the brothers who can't sing
come careening like oxen
with the trunk of a sacred oaktree
snowchained to their trunks
come swift or come struggling
down to the gazebo
which appears to have lifted off
just in time
or is it an illusion
caused by the risers
that lift the teen choir
red scarves stretch stiffly from their throats
like thought bubbles and speech bubbles
the lengthy watchman's report
that relates the catastrophe
and thereby spares us the expense of staging it
I climb up to the roof to watch the scene
a splinter buries itself in the quick of my thigh
I carry it with me always
a charm of bad endings and nerve endings
carillons back through the decades
through novocaine and iodine
freon, neon, and ozone
a needle always pointing away
to the agonal gazebo
in the cleaned-out noumenal park
hosed clean of crowds and evidence
of ought but snow and tennis business
and cleanliness itself
and cold
grows sharper and more concentrate
til it pricks awake the sleeping toddler
who rises in his crib
and kicks the wall
to illustrate
how a dreamcat was freed from a hole
then the dreamwall breaks
then the gazebo tumbles out
and goes flying through the air
like a cat kicked clean of wall
and vomits up a comet as it goes
and saturates the scene
with fang
and firstblood
and livemusic

Death Style 11.19.20

The Serpentine, New Jersey

The serpentine taps my grown shoulder anymore
I mean the wind I'm not wearing no one wears anymore
It's made from the not-healthiest strands of hot feeling
melted down in the seventies when I learned to be grown
then a flammable flight of gins tilts and goes chin-chin
Datsun-sunrise on the New Jersey side from the airport
estuary next to the cement plant carbon-
-canary that smoked its last, and croaked --
   And even now when driving westward
along Gary's wastewater treatment plant
inexplicably Art-Deco-domed
like a jelly mold on my left and a mill
drooling vaguely on the lakeface on my right
the way waste is sealed into barrels and hid
under ocean or mountain-- it's gonna leak and rise
like a werewolf rises at night on his lotus
from his horrible locus
to kiss his mother the moon
I want her moonboots
her gloves that change colors
and her press-on nails for teens
I want to ride around in her coupe
let me be the rip of all this seam these guardrails
lead to the Burlington Coat Factory or Filenes
bucking and biting
for the desireable marked-down
factory second sheer propellant for each new brand of sheen
now the serpentine wind taps my shoulder
now the tap has run dry and the money has flown
maybe it'll come back to the coop when it's tired
like some weather-worn note in a seventies song
that crinkled green bill even now holds wisdom
spills its gust
from its stent
from its polyester vest
that's some lovely next-level revealed moon goddess magic
wrist flips to the B-side
and the dead rise on fishy footfalls
or a dead star falls this way not that
smashing or sparing a lickspittle pine forest
In the mirror universe of the women's dressing room
in the kodak booth where the girls sit on stools
and huff developing chemicals
it's called a sussurration, but I can't be sure
it's coming back this time tho time's
coming-back-from-commercial-break music
rings always now around the bleached-out flagpole's
rush hour
rush the milrace by the onramp
the programming hole the water gap
where ducks have loose tongues to lap it
up loosefingered bunker hill wallpaper dawn
keeps nobody warm
not even an fullgrown adult angora rabbit with a lap
band a bandoliere or even
a lilac colored purple quilted
careerware overcoat belted over pearlseeded
rabbit mask will not prevent a rabbit war
gold wheat sheaf in formica chafing dish
party food miniaturized and peculiarly sheened
for the cookbook shoot
with gelateen
this book about rabbits
this clubdown you were thankful for
these cokes and these coke-bottle-goggles agog
chemistry set all afire
this planet's chemical plant features
swollen bolusy over the airport
dusk swinging its flashlight
down into Liberty's eyes
her spiked visor
her drive to Vermont to peep leaves
with her lover, even now,
leatherette suitcase in the trunk with its buckle now
New Jersey cosmos
you crooked team-time of my birth
adult ashtray wore its dream down to divorce
the lampshade was for lovers
your bumpersticker
coffeecup t-shirt
wanted life to be better
than it was
then it was

Death Style 8.25.20

Hospital Planters

I'm sorry you had to throw away the new earthenware cup
and all the natural-fiber clothes you bought at the men's store on the corner
for bearing the taint of men's
purple auras
mauviene, synthesized by some undergrad trying to make quinine
and fuchsine, later renamed after the battle of Magenta,
Mauviene, fuchsine, magenta, maybe it were better
you were never born
I'm sorry you never wore the navy blue singlet
we bought to escape from all that baby girl pink
we escaped it all right
even the cartilage on your ears went bent and rigid
as a cartridge
you couldn't bear a secret there
even if you tried
and you tried
I'm sorry for that
sorry we didn't recognize the purpuration of your ankles for the sign it was
despite the nurse's signals
sorry I got worked up about the sore on your knee and exasperated the nurses
I was afraid it would get infected! Your little knee.
You were just a little fat
I'm sorry we didn't take you out to feel the rain on your face before you died/or after
sorry we didn't take you up on the roof
or out on the breezeway amid the hospital planters
pale concrete things crowned with improbably fragrant grass
a precious scent
like something from the song of solomon
ankle graceful as an ankle strap
kidsole of the comet flashing by
I'm sorry you didn't survive
reverse aubade
every time the sun rises
I want to crumple up
this whole heliocentric universe
still the helicopter rises from its crumpled cup
outside the hospital down the hill
and I race out toting your foster brother to wave at it
Good bye good bye
come back this time
Knit booties and the eyedropper of a kitten
you revolved in a catball eye
till the skin of the water burst
like the film where they shoot the apple
and its crown drops into the milk
thread a little camera into the uterus
watch what beats there
so glad you came and went before all this badness
of which you were the advent
your name on the parking pass which for some reasons sticks around
fishing itself back up every so often from the muck in the back of the hatchback
like a bone in the fish's throat
self-cannibilizing fish
in love enough with itself
to choke on its own bone
a leveret and a loach
go out rowing in a nut
on planet fish
in a Japanese song
i ball my hands together and thrust
like a parody of prayer or wish
just below the sternum
and try to dislodge what's lodged
at the urging of my digital instructor
I'm renewing my foster license
just now I want to live
in the pyramid on the money
inside the eye inside the park
look out from that pinhole camera
at the sphinxes patrolling the New England graves
not telling their secrets
not giving them up
the hospital planters
shake their aromatic heads
in the night
in the sodium light
how we petted them, brushed against them like cats
so the scent stuck around in our fur
and emanated a third cat
as we rounded corners, climbed steps
bathroom, ballustrade, embankment, berm
all the locks we had to work to get to your berth
like a couple of tomb raiders
infiltrating your sacred chamber
converted to devotees thereafter
trying to live in the tomb
everytime we left or returned we met
that oily scent
more amber than lavender
more persisistent, more regretful,
more distended, more vengeful
like a cur the scent recurs
drips from its own jaw
like in the movie called 'white god'
the teen goes pedaling in the street
on her way home from orchestra practice
the whole orchestra of curs
rises around her
in that organized way of the weather seen from space
bad thoughts and bad news
a nasal rawness
as if someone had mowed down my frontal cortex
carved your name into my brain
weather and porn feeds loop and revolve
everything needs to be shaved
made barer
mounted again
the vapidity of mammals
the elegance of a riparian
snaking an egg along its length
your blade spins close, spins away
up and over me
as luckier women
stagger the halls held up by balloons
oh get me a beret
to hold my brain in
the creek gotta rise
in the birthcanal
in parking structure
in the retaining wall
in the hospital planter
let something rise
then let it fall
no censer no chancre
was ever so bereft
of your scent


Joyelle McSweeney

Joyelle McSweeney is the author of ten books in an array of genres, most recently Toxicon and Arachne. She co-founded Action Books, works at Notre Dame, and lives in South Bend.


The Brooklyn Rail

APRIL 2021

All Issues