you are in the diode archives fall 2010



Bad Magic

This hour and the next will try to pull
me out of myself, scarf after
scarf, a trick called The Human Shell,
performed to canned laughter.

When all I want is to live
without that bad magic, without a gear
that turns the wheel that saws me in half,
or an ad that makes me disappear—

without the light breaking in like a fist
that slowly (drum roll!) unfolds
once I’ve guessed
what path, what possibility it holds,

only to show me what I’d hoped for
is held in another hand.
I only want each hour hinged like a door,
an invitation, a new route, the ampersand

that fends off the full-stop’s standstill;
a light like a chord that rings
the bell of itself, that trumpets its arrival,
spills its ballast of offerings.

It’s no easy thing, since the world
expects to peer into its upturned top hat
and, voilà, find you there, curled,
the thimble-rig’s dependable rabbit.

I want that hat to go poof in self-fire;
the brutal centrifuge of the second hand
to go haywire
until it dangles, defunct.  A broken wand.


Poem with You on Its Mind

Spurned heart, bewildered one, why you should come to mind
this morning, with the whole house asleep and the birds
kicking up their day’s first ruckus outside,
is beyond me, surprises and pleases me—the way
I’ve been pleased and surprised since before I was your age
on finding that someone’s poem seemed to have me
on its mind.

Your ducks—and they were cute ducks, cuddly and young—
were all in a row, straight as the road your house
would sit back from, where you and your future husband
would raise the kids, have a little pond, maybe some
actual ducks.  And then he said no, your boyfriend; he
didn’t want that.  He’d changed his mind, you said,
as if you were telling me he’d grown wings, turned into a bird
from one of those stupid myths.

You said you prayed for hours, now, every day, trying
to understand, trying to believe in a universe that considers
our wishes, that knows we’re here and how badly we need.
Spurned one, boggled heart, this poem won’t offer
that belief, or much else—you can’t put your hair back
with it; it doesn’t have one outfit idea, one scrap
of relationship advice.  And perhaps it would only bewilder you
more to know I am writing it, to know that at this moment
the one thing in the universe with you on its mind
was a poem.


Ruins, with Giant

Admonishment occupies at least
a choice position, if not chief,
on a giant’s menu of moods and modes:

You’ve been content to dither with pebbles,
no?, for instance, his loafing pose
and open shirt casting allusions, aspersions,

as he stands beside a massive block
of toppled stone.  And the sun seconds
that beef, spreading vast shadows, glaring.

If I had come to quarrel I might answer
pebble and pediment are mother’s bones,
both.  Life will spring from each.

But what beckons here bests the urge
to bicker.  I’d expected the rocky dirge
and dust—but this fall’s got a raucous feel.

To go by the rubble’s whiff, time
is a fragrant thing, a giant’s cologne. 
Collapse is how it paints a town red.

Look: how the high delight that wrought this
outlives the naught that it came to,
haunts the mind, where it rises again.

What stood in this place proved too much
to live up to.  Good.  If the terminus
be tumble-down, let it be from such heights,

like children perched on giant shoulders,
where we might survey awhile the reach
of what is ours, and where it ends.


Song for St. Cecilia’s Day

Your martyrdom’s blade was no Roman henchman’s
as the hagiographers would have it,
but an f-sharp to the thalamus,
and off went your head, practically—
the cortex sung holy; it hung by a thread
the day you were wed to Apollo.

            O, your angel flapped his flaming wings
            and gave you a crown of lilies, of lilies,
            and gave you a crown of lilies.

The divine lay’s G chord quickened your virgin womb.
Triad cum trinity hummed
in counterpoint out from your center,
over your loins;
it strummed your strung veins
and rose to be your throat’s low moan.

            O, your angel flapped his wings of fire
            to the diapason of your soul’s desire,
            and he gave you a crown of roses
            as the melody climbed higher, higher,
            as the melody climbed higher.

Lutes trickled their rivulets,
piccolos played the part of air,
fiddlestrings flickered over earthtones of oboes.
Such a harmony was struck up there
as holds this universe together;
it sang out on your marriage day,
it sprang like a myth from your body’s dysrhythmia.

            O, your angel flapped his wings of flame
            to the frequency eternal,
            as music shuddered through your frame
            and he gave you a crown of laurel, of laurel,
            and he gave you a crown of laurel.  


Steven Reese is author of Enough Light to Steer By (Cleveland State University Press) and of the forthcoming American Dervish (Salmon Press), and translator of Synergos: Selected Poems of Roberto Manzano (Etruscan Press, 2009).  His poems, prose, and translations have appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry Northwest, Green Mountains Review, Artful Dodge, West Branch, and other magazines.  He teaches at Youngstown State University in Ohio, and is a faculty member in the Northeast Ohio MFA program.