—D.R. Wagner, Elk Grove
He didn’t look at all as he imagined
Himself to look. When he came
Upon himself reflected his view
Was always, seemingly, oblique.
Obscured at times by serious
Happenstance, flocks of birds,
The whipping of lianas or palm
Fronds against the windows
As the light from the oil lamp
Bounced the reflections off
The glass, it was not likely
That he would be in any
Space where a proper mirror
Might be found that wasn’t smoked
Or distressed by having the lovely
Mercury scraped from its back,
Making him look tearful or
Extremely lonely as an old
Waltz might be lonely,
The music unable to bear the weight
Clarity would require and become
Indeterminate, a misfortune.
He became a hostage to his ideas
That everything he saw was
Infected in this way and
The only places comfort could
Be found were either blasted
Clear of living things or so totally
Overgrown that passage through
To pure sunlight was also seemingly
Impossible. He betrayed himself
To a distant idea that could
convey little, stripped of any
Possessions of perception
He himself might have beyond shadows,
Wings unable to fully open,
A disguise that passed
For recognition with no
Feeling except in irritating memory.
DUSK AND DAWN
Words are a scab over our dreams
Of communicable marks and sounds
Placed in a sequence of deceptions
That allow us to see any manner
Of things both beautiful and
Filled with great horrors
Of description, digressions unable
To come to the end of understanding
Without prompting a sickness in
The body, sacred fevers, half-
Hearted charts purporting to teach
Us that something is amiss
Or something is inescapable.
They are alive to us, stuck
To our skin, making us stink
With bruises, flights of fancy
Flocks of pigeons gathered into lines,
Bound in books, or
So Dusk and Dawn often spoke.
‘TODAY, DURING MY SIESTA, I DREAMED
ABOUT PLACES. PLACES WHERE I’VE SPENT
LONG, EMPTY HOURS, AND YET THEY’RE
FILLED WITH SOME SECRET SIGNIFICANCE.’
...Alvaro Mutis, from
"The Snow of the Admiral"
My sleep is littered with the parts
Other dreams have dropped while they
Were happening. Most of these things
Are not useful in any way: a gray
Coffee cup with a broken handle, a bicycle
With dozens of backpacks strapped to it,
Both tires flat but with a new paint job.
A collection of windows piled against
A wooden wall, some panes broken,
Others reflecting people passing by with
Armloads of paper, even though the room
Was empty. The flattened corpse of a dog,
Dry and almost unrecognizable. A
Small fire that did not warm anything
But also did not consume the pile
Of clothing upon which it sat.
I became afraid to get on the boat
Again. The gangplank had sunk into
The mud of the riverbank and only an
Inch or so still rested on the edge of the boat.
Miguel walked by with a long pole.
“Watch this,” he said poking at
The night sky. When he did
The stars trembled as if he were
Poking a painted canvas. He laughed and jumped
On the boat. “Hurry up man. It is
Nearly morning and we must get back
Before the stop lights change again.”
The stop lights were attached to tall palm
Trees where brightly colored parrots
Argued with each other.
Someone lit a cigarette and I watched
The smoke move up into the trees.
There was no longer any reason to wait here.
I picked up a canvas bag decorated
With stars and jumped to the deck.
THE CAPTAIN’S PRAYER
(from "The Snow of the Admiral"
by Alvaro Mutis)
High calling of my protectors, those who have gone
before me, my constant guides and mentors,
come now in this moment of danger, extend your sword,
with firmness uphold the law of your purpose,
revoke the disorder of birds and creatures of evil omen,
wash clean the hall of innocents
where the vomit of the rejected congeals like a sign of
misfortune, where the garments of the supplicant
are a blemish that deflects our compass, makes our cal-
culations uncertain, our forecasts mistaken.
I invoke your presence at this hour and deplore with all
my heart the manacles of my equivocations:
my pact with man-eating leopards in the mangers,
my weakness and tolerance for serpents that shed their
skin at the mere shout of lost hunters,
my communion with bodies that have passed from hand
to hand like a staff to ford a stream, and on whose skin the
saliva of the humble is crystallized,
my ability to contrive the lie of power and cleverness
that moves my brothers away from upright steadiness in
my carelessness in proclaiming your power in customs
offices and guardrooms, in pavilions of sorrow and on pleas-
ure boats, in guard towers along the border and in the corri-
dors of the powerful.
Wipe away in a single stroke all this misfortune and in-
famy, save me,
certain of my obedience to your bitter laws, your abu-
sive haughtiness, your distant occupations, your desolate
I give myself completely to the domination of your unob-
jectionable mercy, and with all humility I prostrate myself
at your feet
to remind you that I am a traveler in mortal danger, that
my ghost is worth nothing, that those who perish far from
home are like trash swept into a corner of the market,
that I am your servant and am helpless, and that these
words contain the unalloyed metal of one who has paid the
owed to you now and forever throughout pale eternity.
SNOW: ON THE APPEARANCE OF THE SACRED HEART ON A STREET IN IZBICA KUJAWAKA, POLAND
No one comes to this
Part of this city any longer.
The people who live here
Are slow as a Winter’s night.
Even their voices are like the snow
Falling through the streetlights.
A single violin playing over a repeated
Small figure on the piano.
The ground is uneven, there are no
Footprints leading to the doorways.
There are few lights in the stone
Houses pushed together with narrow
Alleys. There are no animals.
It was here that the Sacred Heart
Was seen suspended in the air,
An alley in the night, above
The snow, beating, circled with
Its crown of thorns, burning in the night,
Its cross pulsating, a glow, blood
Stains on the snow.
The desire of the everlasting hills just hanging
In the air above the street. No one
Saw it. These words are the only record of this.
THE BOOK OF SHIT
(invocation to the muse)
What fire then?
To give myself to children?
Oh woman run free before me
and let your hair come down, a winding sheet
for the fairest of the fair, the daughters
of the wind, your hair.
To be left alone somewhere in 1959
listening to fur piece bands play over
and over again, Night Train, memories
of bottles and stale smoke visions of black
haired girls dancing, legs spread, everybody’s
hustlin’ brother, get your ass out there
and get it on. And my guitar kept playing
thru Bill Doggett, spending a portion of your life
looking out the window of a smelly men's room
looking at the traffic going down Niagara Falls
Blvd., taillights like sores across the parking
lot. And the band played on.
Sometimes I drank.
My first wife, dream bitch, falling
asleep on the couch and letting me rape her
in quiet of sunday afternoon after weeks of
not coming near my body, my brain warping
out on its own jetstream of her working and
not coming home till two or three in the morning.
She didn’t wake up the whole goddamn time.
Just laid there and I stuck it in and worked.
My heart, coming so close to the dream
and she laid there, later to say, “Don’t
try to fuck me when I’m asleep” and I had
no more words, walked out on the porch
and watched the street lights
and cars. All the music little purple fires
in the ends of my fingers. she said
listening to me read something to my best
friend, “Why not call yr first book:
THE BOOK OF SHIT."
It was a joke, we all laughed.
She could not understand
what I was doing and I wrote harder to keep
her away from what was my self, the damage was
already done. I wanted to keep a small part
for myself, some place where I could be pure.
Finally, waking up to orange juice and glucose
after 21 days of shock treatments for an anxiety
reaction, which means I wound up huddled behind
a door afraid to open it to anyone. Anyway it worked.
I didn’t care about a thing.
Thorazine and hands moving in my dreams.
All that was left were the words.
All that was left was the part I had kept
for myself, the poems: THE BOOK OF SHIT.
Class of ’61.
Writing is the hardest work in the world. I have been a bricklayer and a truck driver, and I tell you—as if you haven't been told a million times already—that writing is harder. Lonelier. And nobler and more enriching.
—Medusa (with thanks to D.R. Wagner for today's work. By the way—in celebration of WTF's 4th year, Issue #13, Spring 2012, the front cover photo by Sandy Thomas is currently hanging at the Sacramento Fine Arts Center, 5330 Gibbons Dr. Carmichael. Last chance to view is today, Sat. Feb. 18, from 11-3pm. Copies of WTF, edited by frank andrick and Rachel Leibrock and published by Rattlesnake Press, may be had for free at The Book Collector, 1008 24th St., Sacramento.)