Bradstreet's Reply

                         When the mouth dies, who misses you?
                                                            —John Berryman

Why write me? This proposal a corpse
scabbed in verse, seduced
upon a desk, neither heaven nor divorce.
Why wed poetry? To comb its beard,
midwife a mind, wear some hoary name?
— The only miracle I know a page.
—Beginnings once blessed.


—Southern winter too warm to really die,
a sentimental poem this suicide.
—Art is imbalance, a forward slant,
life tucked in, straight as a rhyme:
kiss, seal, and submit. —Abandon?
—They say you waved, death’s brave clown.
—Great touch that lie.


But what luck this falling. Hell below,
unclothed angels above,
limbo a tepid form of soft porn.
—Silly boy, shaking like my eldest bird
gorged sick on berries. I held him close
while scolding. My body spoke:
you err and are loved.


—Nests are prisons for the plucked, love
the most punishing form.
Even winged, Henry cannot feel.
—But flight survives —A merciless dream,
promising us the sky, bones light as lead,
always there, hovering over Henry,
a feathered gunman, still warm.


—Here you are, writing his death again.
—It was, but was not just.
—The pen always nudges a carcass,
ink always a thievery in blood.
We cannot explain the blade, holding Cain,
talking of paradise and shame,
mouths filling with dust.


—We answered that broadside summons:
Ships sailing express!
Fertile plots! Make it New World!
Wild nights seeking wilderness! Pay with flesh.
Indenture the soul part-time! Suck lemons!
January’s mild! Never lose your hair!
—The gossiping elect.


I have my own carping tongue,
my pen, my firearm.
I sight inside, fire into this dark
(that howling is also mine).
—The wild is a beast spreading its thighs.
I hear a wolf licking at my insides.
—The woods are without charm.


—Let it rise, your breast, lashed to heaven,
a fleshless thrill and thrall.
—Hell’s wordless blast. We cry
in speech, praise a curse, and all is burned.
Loss: to let just one slip into the pit.
Love: turning back to write it.
—Stench of verse done well.


I follow through the library window,
though we are not one.
Books our bed, studied fellatios in prose,
so long as eyes are we. —Something else
here breathes. We know no one in poems.
—I kiss this paper, growing gray again.
This out, then done.


—Words could never nurse my sharp mouth,
a watch this wound
that time can’t heal. Unhand this malediction.
—A rotted heap of laurels, stench gagging
even the prayerful tongue. Senses choked,
the master wipes his lips. I’ll fetch a rag.
—I prefer a spoon.


—Pinched in stained fingers, a gasp of smoke,
wilderness a cough
building inside you. –To hear a voice.
To smell tobacco wrapped in a word.
—I have felt this, returning to the wash,
sheet pinned tight into a perfect fold,
my English heart aloft.


—I write to steal back life, to pare
down groping flesh,
cheating always towards death, this name
perfect for senseless notching.
The prison of a thousand fancies:
washerwoman, wife, pioneer,  
a woman’s sacred slouch.


A lark for youth, a ribbon for sickness,
beauty shaped like a fist.
—Opened in the promise of a kiss?
Pockmarks weaned me from such sin.
—But your carnal heart? I read the words.
—We love the part we cannot cure.
Survival means this.


—I exist: words controlled profess it.
—Life’s no final draft,
revise this body blessed to fall
or fly. —Someone sounding the horns again,
walls desiring dust, eyes darkness, bones a pit.
Count me among the ones
who did not trust.


—In a tub, I find you, reading razors,
artist killing man.
I’ll play no wife or wet-lipped nurse.
Verse never the best part of man
or boy. Too much your own brimstone.
—Always a lover,
never a son.


—Fearing a mouth grown mild,
you scoured filth,
terrible darkness like water in your beard,
a steel lash knotted in your throat.
If only wickedness could digest
bile made stone.
Heady as a crucible.


Come wolves, the mind is a lamb,
its meekness your meat.
—Witness me devour this writing limb.
—The boy lies. —Then trades
his oeuvre for the barmaid’s number.
The idle work of a lifetime,
darling, this fanged feat:


A brain on fire, a wild sycamore,
spit of pilgrim to bless
this unleavened seraphic loaf. Bake me a sin,
jaw me some jive, paint your face.
—How wearying.
—Holy moly, me sucks a milksicle.
—Hush Henry. Less.


Too little barb inside that scruff.
—How to translate this:
I whisper in the deity’s ear,
a prayer of wet hair sliding and a mole.
—We all fear being touched.
—We fear wandering, but mostly bliss.
—Yes, bliss.


So much error in these hands. A bloody
child struggling.
Let the poem be good.
—I swear a woman kissed the keyhole dark,
choice thin as a blade, the poet
counting his cups to cure the shakes.
Come muse, frigid, loose.


—You urinate in bed, charwomen
fill your dreams.
You choke their corpses with desire.
Shuffling, side-walking boy,
shirtless in the mirror, gently
lusting to name a stone.
—I did it with my brain.


You did it with your death,
a mortal cry
your verse, loyalty no insurance,
once you risk a birth.
—For this you pull me from the past?
—Who will miss us
when the mind goes deaf?


—In death this all is done. What’s left
no art will feed.
In a ditch, starving, a sullen wolf.
—Fat seasons thinning in time.
Jaws locking calmly on loss.
Too easily our hands touch.
—Let love go? —To seed.


Poetry, a murder of order.
I wished for this.
—No one wishes to outlive his verse.
—When rivers lose each other,
seas cease to exist.
If depth and water make a song,
we singing drown past.


—How not to love a desk awash in notes,
taut line of ink,
reeling furiously. —Every I a mast.
Slippery muse, hook-tipped lips, desperate
dry-heaving foe. The idiot’s temptation
to write once upon the end.
Morality a dangerous continent.


—You call this poetry? A beast,
kissing the bunioned stink
of some woman’s towering shoe.
You leap from tree to sky to womb.
—God’s logic is clear: madman’s saliva,
righteous guns that click, sin
baptized in ink.


—We bully the body into lines.
A mother’ child,
weeping, fills the space
inside her heart. We brine
the self in human seas. One by one,
He takes us —We are taken.
—Death a final trial.


—Half done prayers call to me:
Fail to save.
I come quarreling through the trees,
a child weeping for a stupid rubber ball.
The sunshine continues its inhuman
pretense. I walk the rail, knowing
nothing and almost brave.


—You and I here inside. Let us usher
the sun into the ground.
Write it high: cure the book.
A hymnal, powerful as obscenity.
No questions —Wander the only answer left.
—Endings always a stinking mess.
—This fading past in sound.




[Allen C. Jones is a literature professor presently teaching in Norway. His work has appeared in b(OINK), Moss Trill, Slipstream, Bird’s Thumb, Whale Road Review, Pilgrimage, Third Wednesday, The Deus Loci and the Lyrical Landscape, The Bitter Oleander, Fiction Southeast, The Louisiana Review, GSU Review award edition, The Southern Anthology: Louisiana, Ekleksographia, Two Hawks, The American Journal of Nursing, Flaming Arrows, Korea Lit, Maudlin House, and various other journals.]

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