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During the Other
                        after C. K. Williams

Do they know how much love is left
on the earth? Five tiny bits of love are left,
seared on one nerve like a birthmark.
And how many joys there still are? One joy,
and another and the next one and this one.

And there is one betrayal left, judging
by the taste of the poison and one
apartment and one knife and one groan
of recognition that rises from the disappearing
cities and the wind-scoured hilltops.

And so this evening, anticipating the second
joy from the last, knowing pleasure in
my first skin, chips in the paint,
flies in the Vaseline
this evening, for someone who’s not even
certain he exists, I contrive smiles.
I add up the tax and the tip.
I howl. I pay for everything.


Holy Days

The seasonal displays are going up
all over town. Across the street
my neighbors light one candle
in each window, drape pine swags
from all their porch rails, spill red
velveteen in one large bow down their
front door.
                        Signals reach us in our cars.
AM talk shows, FM news. Reports
from the Iraqi war, bowl game match-ups,
losers, blues. There’s no reason to repeat
any of this. No reason to recount a rumor
that’s been circulating about the Taliban
leader, Mullah Omar, how he forbids his
people music. As if the music of his own
name, and the names of far cities like Kabul
and Kandahar, were not enough to delight
a weary ear.
                        When the infidels raided his
compound, it is said, Omar fled, leaving
behind his limited edition Toyota Land
Cruiser.  One reporter claimed he witnessed
this, claimed he climbed in with an Afghan
soldier who turned it over, unprepared 
for the blasting bass-line of the western-
pop CD the mullah also left behind, cranked
up in the player.
                        A silly story, still, it gives me
hope. It makes the evil ones seem almost
human. Almost as human as Larry and Barbara        
there across the street. Superstitious barbarians.
Look at them, stringing up their talismans. 
As if green boughs and silver foil could
save us from the daily growing dark.


Last Call, 1989

It’s three in the morning.  I could leave
a message, for all the good it would do.  

Not to say anything profound, just to admit
something mundane and essentially meaningless.

I watched a documentary today about wolves. 
Seems they’re nearly extinct on the Great Plains. 

Certain activists hope to restore the species
in its natural habitat. Others have tried to breed

hybrids, crossing native stocks with calmer canine
strains like huskies or German shepherds. 

But people have been attacked by some of these
chimeras—the experts claim nothing can drown out

the faint, feral soundings of wild blood.  This might 
explain our human fits of rage. How trapped we can

become inside the groping, ersatz language of 
a fight.  The things we save or choose to throw away.

Like the cassettes I packed up with our old answering
machine. When one got broken in the move I tossed it

from a third story window and it tangled in
an inconvenient tree.  The tape, slowly unspooling

in sunlit gusts across the lawn, easily gave up its coded
versions of our voices.  I dodged the dark knots of it

a hundred times, going back and forth, carrying things.
Until I found myself looking forward to the predictable

fear of tripping over it, feeling vindicated as I managed
each small uncertainty. Unlike this dread that sets in

sometimes when I’m climbing my new staircase in the dark.
Some nights I lose count, step up blindly toward something

that should be solid pine but it’s not there. Funny how the heart
panics, instinctively, startled by the hard fact of thin air.


Grand Illumination: A Koan

It’s taken years of planning and more than a few
lucky accidents to arrive here, at this moment
of truth. The crowd is growing wild.

What we must contemplate is just how many glances
fit within the match-flare’s finite release
of energy, its visible spending.

Imagine a stadium as large as imagination
might make it, so many seats that all of history
could be seated there.

So many eyes that even the dozers,
the nearly passed-out, dull drunkards
fresh off the boats from anywhere

amount to little more than a hoard
the scalpers could handle, hawking chits
at face-value just to break even.

In the salient darkness at center field
a solitary figure stands, ready to smoke
one ‘cause she’s got it, to taste the rolled nightshade

like her own ache as it becomes immolation.
Way up in the nose-bleeds you’re paying close
attention, but, never the best relativist, you fear

the breeze is stiff enough to ruin the experiment,
snuff out her flame so fast it just won’t register to all
the gathered throng, the obverse of that falling tree.

For argument’s sake the crowd is so large
that any random sampling will suffice to drain
the passing flash down to its last quantum.

Who’s left in darkness here? How many fail
to see that sulfur spark of yellow-blue she’s lifted
toward herself, inhaling what she’s barely set alight?


              after David St. John

I have always loved the word.
And, though I have never known gypsies,
I have always cherished dreams of them,
nomadic and not loved enough by the world
they wander through, scattering ballads.
The world could never pay them back for that.
Or you, little niece, little C-section,
who spent two days trying to enter it
through the bloodied gate of your mother’s
body, only to find it shut against you
by the bony hand of her pelvis. After
that much struggle, I could never praise you
enough. Still I look forward to spending
my spare time with you, riding nowhere
in my truck. To the way we’ll listen together
for the automatic metallic jerk of the blinker
unkinking its twisted arm and plan impossible
perfect weddings for you, with elements
of voodoo and pagan ceremony
beside a chlorinated pool. I foresee
white doves, jessed with lace and tinny
bells, held in festooned wicker cages
fluttering and jingling, out of time,
their netted bones a charm against the evil
such soft music can’t repel. Your sullen cousins,
pulled from little league for the afternoon,
will carry the birds before you and after you. 
You see, it must be afternoon, late enough
for you to make your promise and release them
just as the sky releases the setting sun
from its day lit cage.  The summer breeze
will be the one hand gentle and invisible
enough to raise itself against the closed
circle of skin you carry, your bouquet
of cymbals perfuming the air with trembling
song. And, as you round the familiar corner
of your vows, the signal of daylight winking out
behind you, look up, take in their dark eyes,
their white wings to zils struck in rhythm
for good luck escaping, rising away, clean.
I’ve always loved the word tambourine.  


Randy Marshall earned his MFA in poetry from Virginia Commonwealth University. His poems, essays, and reviews have appeared in the Richmond Arts Magazine, GSU Review, Cream City Review, and Blackbird, where he currently serves as senior literary editor.