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The Cage

Bat-handed, two-pronged digits,
your fingers are the eyes

inside the wood. As much Eloi as Morlock.
At the sphinx’s paw, think of the bright forest in the back
of my skull: echo

of an edible chamber gate;

surgical probe
for leisurely feeding, larvae-rich. Lemur me;
murmur eel. Ease me up, little one. Sing Liliata

rutilantium to Eve’s brood, to too many fire-folk
in the branches.

Would be too breezy to bring the end of days into
the year 802,701, past the green porcelain dome, when fire
trucks will long have been forgotten,

when an emergency will not die into this fiery wake
until there’s not a human thing to see.

Little old aye-aye, why did I glimpse ancient industry—
armadillo tank
broken from a volcanic egg?

My alter argos, my dwarf Ophelian
that the ugly homunculi feed on:

Could you really have come up
this short

holy fool—which is to say,
was your shadow of light

this fragile, this tinderbox-


Dark Spot, Midnight, Midtown

Up from where newspapers scuffle and trunks
of worn morocco are shouldered down steps into trucks;
under celestial exits of cloud

in a blind hotel of which only the night-wind sings,
a woman on a leopard coverlet re-poses,
smooth as an odalisque by Pierre Dominique Auguste Ingres.

Linked and lacquered at her window, she does
not insist that bridges be like fires in a sky
of ember waves, but remembers another city,

her face steeled in flashes of many marquees
vertically trickling across the street, chill as the drips
of salt that cross her cheeks . . .

Her plants cast spirey shadows that rise and collapse
on the walls, blinking abandoned peaks that recapture
her breaks with the past in dark spots where

the way was lost, where parting propellers, or horses
and sabers, cracked through the nights of Paris,
where time cried defeat, or the winds threw the sheets

from her bed. Back then the flashes of many marquises,
in storm-tossed heat of autumn afternoons,
entered the room, where they died and were the nights

she remembered. Then again, to box out each checkered past!
The thought of letting go seemed soothing and cool as a bath
in a marble tub in a dark chamber in a hot land.

Not even the last man would follow her
into that final square. He seemed so unhappy, fumbling
in echoes and dark for a scratch of old music, a scent

as her hair shocked a pillow quilted with portraits
in silk; he took back every vow he’d pledged,
expecting her to crack, like a figure in paint.

She leans back over the spots on her redolent fur.
Even this night cannot frame me, she thinks, its windows
lit up like her teeth. Why don’t I pretend to forget them,

alone with the New World of wind and the news of the war.  


Stephen Massimilla is a poet, critic, professor, and painter. His co-authored book, Cooking with the Muse, is forthcoming from Tupelo Press. His latest book, The Plague Doctor in His Hull-Shaped Hat, was a selection of the Stephen F. Austin State University Press Prize contest. He has received the Bordighera Poetry Prize for Forty Floors from Yesterday; the Grolier Prize for Later on Aiaia; a Van Rensselaer Award, selected by Kenneth Koch; an Academy of American Poets Prize; and multiple Pushcart Prize nominations. His volume Almost a Second Thought was runner-up for the Salmon Run National Poetry Book Award, selected by X. J. Kennedy.  Massimilla has recent work in AGNI, American Literary Review, Barrow Street, Bellingham Review, Chelsea, Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, Epoch, Fiction Fix, The Literary Review, Marlboro Review, Paterson Literary Review, Provincetown Arts, The Southern Poetry Review, Tampa Review, and many other journals and anthologies. He holds an MFA and PhD from Columbia University and teaches literary modernism, among other subjects, at Columbia University and the New School.