The lenders have an axe to grind.
All afternoon the clocks flurry to a pause,
sniggering at hags fired by stones.
There is a back channel, somewhere
across the street from the bank,
pimps falling over themselves to heal
naturally. We buried that tall pyramid
out of sight, somewhere in the Gulf
perhaps, or in the Keys? Hot fires
have suppurated into back talk.
Peel the label for the cruciferous
bounty nature has been pounding
its head over. There are classes
upon classes of ordinary folk competing
to be the first healants. If we
shorten the radicals multiplying
like ants in a line, we permit old
wrinkles to die. There is a glass
half full there, on that counter
where money is never counted.
Oh, those presidents with a noontime
fetish to break peace, those hardheaded
advisers with guns to load in their
cool anatomically correct backpacks—
those silent fences mended while we sleep,
guns for butter, butter for guns,
whatever the talented tenth have got going.
Oh, that vision of melting glaciers atop
the planet’s hard hat, our only fighting chance.
Where I was on welfare, back at home,
I punched the clock of eternity twice
in its rabid face. Twice I hollered
at the blonde woman ahead of me to please
spare no honesty. I can take it like a
man. You see that fence wound
like a noose around my land? You see
how the dogs know to stay away? Alone,
we make our bed of love, alone we live.
In Poland a gate opens. In Siberia
the trains pause with their nose in the frozen
dust, like panthers stopped short by
the likeliness of the moon. It is cold
in this line, hands chafed in the wool
pockets my mother sews for me out of
bread and misery. It is cold as long as I
grip the horn of possibility. I can read
into the distance where the letters dance.
It is a winter day greedy for me to pass.
In this talent for grief, for the child
left marooned in the womb, deprived
of air weighty as sugar, I have no
competitors. Then as now parents took
no chance on coming home unmolested.
Home is where molestation is finished
as a thoughtful act. These divisions
multiply, it is too easy to leave out the truth,
when we sit down for breakfast in June.
The garden is everyone else’s job.
I wouldn’t trip you up at the door.
The heavy oaks have withered
under roomy skies, beating down gratitude
and honor code decade after decade. To make
a moldy bed for you, from flattened
wet newspapers, soaked with dead thought,
we have demolished the last barricades.
Whose eyes watch your burning promise,
dripping to waste, like plastic candles?
Whose dead hand brushes against your thighs?
We held the doctor’s hands across the desk.
Tell me I have ten more years to live,
and I will auction off the last remaining grief.
It’s how we were raised as children, how
we opened dead rooms to dead orchards,
dead flowers caught in dead hands,
that repeating cycle of unfinished stories,
sleep in the arms of the frightened one,
that causes the disruption to the soul.
Each time we cheat we are a little more clean.
We send you off to fight the wars,
equipped with the proper helmet,
and gun, and boots to march through
the black marshes of the icy lands
whose people barter chicken and eggs.
We send you off immune to germs
and viruses that plot against finality.
We expect you to live a full life,
eighty-five years old and desperate still,
to touch that one person who eluded you.
He has a slight stutter.
He lingers over “our boys,” fights off boredom.
His eyes are a shade of lemon,
his lips dismiss genies invisible to us.
He has been made to look like a banker in a bunker.
Or a movie star tired of the stuntman’s blaze.
He reverberates with high hopes,
sent his way by mothers in Ohio,
wary but convinced of his finality.
He says we have a duty and a rose
and a garden and a rope and a reputation
and a choke, and it is for him to
decide who gets to win.
He says he gets sunburnt too easily.
He says there’s water under the bridge.
He says he has no fight to pick,
he is skinny and a dope, such a pushover
when his daughters come to play
in the Oval Office. If he could, he would dream
of the Mayans circling the tomb
suddenly sprouting in the desert brown,
wondering what possessed their predecessors.
But he only dreams of playing with
his daughters, the lovely and the lovelier one.
Men become great in crisis—
or wither. He knows which is which.
He almost winks, as he dissolves into white,
leaving that perfume of power behind,
burning our nostrils, cutting its way
to the dead center of our brain.
Anis Shivani’s books include Anatolia and Other Stories, The Fifth Lash and Other Stories, My Tranquil War and Other Poems, Karachi Raj: A Novel, Whatever Speaks on Behalf of Hashish: Poems, and Soraya: Sonnets. Books forthcoming in 2016 include Both Sides of the Divide: Observing the Sublime and the Mundane in Contemporary Writing and the novel A History of the Cat in Nine Chapters or Less. Anis’s work appears recently in Western Humanities Review, New Letters, Subtropics, Gulf Coast, Black Warrior Review, Boulevard, AGNI, and elsewhere. The poems here are from a recently finished manuscript called The Moon Blooms in Occupied Hours.