Those Goddam Stars

to my dearest Brenda

By day, only our mown fields keep the hiding stars under surveillance—
keep them from infiltrating down—from doing God-knows-what
to God-knows-whatever we had imagined was supposed to take form
in the familiar solar, rather than the astral, operating light.

But when the Milky Way arranges snowfall, it gives stars a window
to perform their calculated misdeeds—small-angle mating,
assassination and the spreading of confettied evidence first onto,
then within, far-flung tureens of soil right under our grass’s nose—
without anybody making notes. They will pay us off, in hay.
Physicists pretend the stars shed blank, information-poor photons
like empty calories—ignore the basic fact that we are one of heaven’s
great gods’ outcast landfill scows toward which they jettison thoughts,
words and acts that don’t comport with their pristine self-images
as splendid, consummate, supreme, pure and sublime.

We’re only a fluke zoology of the assorted rot which grows on it,
yet resistance puts down root, sprouts leaf, expels a pollen
of its own onto the wind—collective conscience taking hold—myriad 1’s
and 0’s in the attentive blades of our sturdy meadow-thatch.

Skymasters are called to task—each boson, meson, hadron
parsed, interpreted, critiqued. Our exile distance is the air we breathe,
but space’s giant squids devised a way to ink their secretive excreta
underneath the flickering syntax of ice-crystal lattices.

Our mown fields vigilantly watch and listen although they’re steeped
in the galactic mystery smuggled to their roots behind snow’s cloak.
Their stubble senses—and is nourished by—the magnitude of crimes,
but cannot inspect the details of the evidence. Amen.


Goddam Meadow Edge

She waits.
Twilight grows dim.
The buck is late
but she doesn’t start
grazing alone.

Nighthawk and bat
describe the dark
with delicate drawings
of the hunt
and the kill.

She stands
still as a statue,
frozen by what makes
this last dusk
smell like a trap.


Goddam Black Bull

“…simple life arose almost instantaneously on Earth…”
Washington Post, Oct. 20, 2015

Why wait?
Back then, we didn’t mull “the glacial pace of speciation.”
It was dog eat dog, frontier days, rootin’-tootin’,
let the good times roll—
you either lived, yourself,
or some rapacious, wild-eyed, gonzo, quasi cell slid up
to chop you into double-helix hash.

We had no “quality of life.”
Mutation ran amok, a melee.
Foul volcanic sulphur was the air we breathed,
the gamma bath was rad and temperatures extreme—
in hindsight we were little more than reproducing sludge
within which birth and killing gabbled,

Crude, dazed, but free,
we robbed and shared our hithermost amino acids
without grudge or generosity,
incestuous, hysterical, a band of brothers,
vagrant chemicals dragooned to strut and fret
our minute or our hour on the globe, organocarbon idiots—
then mute again.

Are we rueful or nostalgic? No.
There were no “good old days,”
no dreams, no happy deeds,
but just reaction, re-reaction, until blinkered accidents
twined into patterned loops, habitual—
behavior, if you will,
though bastard child of astasia and panic, in perpetuum.

Still, we did.
Your primogenitors were no foot-dragging minerals—
“Not now. Perhaps some other eon. What’s the rush?”
Unasked, involuntarily
we seized the bucking black bull by the horns,
and here you are today
still sizzling on the griddle in a Giorgio Armani suit.


Goddam Gruesome Moon

After so many nights of lying together,
at last the moon exposed its verities to me,
not slim and round, but lump-shaped
like a massive dog-gnawed knucklebone,
no longer shining white, but dingy sepia,
no features reminiscent of a jocund face,
but knobby blushless wens and crusty pocks
without a welcome constellated silhouette,
low in the sky, the unattractive slouch
of wreckage, murder, and dismembering.

No more enchantment! We will lie no longer
limp-eyed and infatuated! Instead we’ll wallow,
sunk in the contempt of lengthy intercourse.

Who else? How many veteran insomniacs
have seen a moon divested of mystique
but kept it under wraps, believing it a weed
sprung from the reeking tilth of mental illness
rather than a gift of unobstructed sight?
Who else has parted with the blossom
to embrace the ugly obligation of the fruit?
Who’s also lain awake and wondered,
What disfigurement do I myself consign
to the collection plate of graying love?


Goddam Pressure

I don’t care who I am,
what noble clan produced me,
if I want to spend the whole day
idly fluttering this small red marker flag
somebody put up in the center of the field,
I can.

You yen to send great ships across the sea,
conduct cymbalic choruses in trees,
choke villages with dust or sand,
or stampede rain.
Go right ahead,
nobody’s standing in your way.

Turn 10-ton windmills,
shepherd thunderheads around the heavens,
knock yourself out,
I’m entertained enough
by this thin swatch of cotton on a slender stick,
and it’s reciprocal.

You want to call it puppy love,
then call it puppy love,
just spare me
all your puffery and huffery
about wind’s solemn obligations
to comport like one of Earth’s Prime Elements.

We’re not all cut out to be gales.
Flag-waggling is fun,
has art to it.
Go storm off on some weighty cause!
I’m light, my heart is light,
and you’ve no brief to nag me otherwise.


Goddam Sheol

God created heavens and earth—
then I, this home for shades.
I dwelled 800 years alone here,
reams of time to contemplate
my Maker, parents, slayer—
ample time to shape this precinct
to my personality and tastes.

I’m still amazed it took so long
before my first guest came,
considering how maladjusted
my whole family was, unarmed
with law, art, any sort of culture
to inspire, guide, or comfort—
quite amazed it was old age.

Amazed and proud. My brother
didn’t simply shrug and roast
my ewes and billies one by one
but clearly was disturbed—

distraught—by what he’d done.
My parents sought to honor me,
named homicide the premier felony.

Dad had never in a million years
imagined me this solitary soul—
a lone inhabitant in empty Sheol.
He collapsed in tears.
I reassured him: his not knowing
was a blessing. Was he going
to have Cain kill Seth as well?

He complimented the decor,
the way I let black billows wash
in all directions unopposed,
as if a shoreless, starless sea.
He said he found it comforting,
like he imagined it had been for me
when I was in Mom’s womb.

Did I have any memory of that?
A shame, he thought—
then burst out weeping once again,
to think how pregnancy had put
that next-world smile on her face!
I finally asked him how she was,

but he just wailed. Old! Old!

Eventually, he soothed himself
enough to bring me up to date.
So many babies born, grown tall,
then reproduced, in turn—
so many of them shifty characters,
he was amazed as well
they hadn’t murdered someone else.

And Cain? I dared to ask.
Again, Dad lost himself in sobs.
The plagues! Cruel plagues!
It won’t be long till he arrives!
Will he be welcome? I said yes.

He quieted again. The deep black
gently rocked us in its arms.

It’s good to have you here, I said.
I couldn’t see, all by myself,
the possibilities of haunting.
Seeing you, though,
now I have a clear idea of how
we can torment the living with
our sorrows and dissatisfactions.

Let’s begin with Cain. He’s due,
you said yourself. The ebb tide
that admitted you reverses now—
I’ll swim it back
to stir the light in Lamech’s eyes
so that he takes my brother,
stoop-backed, for a browsing boar.

Dad nodded. Yes! Once Lamech
has his taste of human gore,
it won’t be long before he slays
a young man purposely,
and bitter bloodshed starts to fill
this ocean with companionship.
Raise high the roof beams, son!

I command the gloom to creep
in all directions, boundless.
I exult to see the realm
elaborated by my wounds surpass
God’s own two, both in amplitude
of populace and motive—ghosts
imbued with inky biles and griefs.


Image Credit:Neil Tackaberry
Tom Riordan lives in New Jersey. He’s a retired restaurant worker and teacher, and dreams about becoming pope for his next career.

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