the wounded americans
They were bleeding on the sacks.
We handled them roughly
and they seemed to deserve it -
there in the square beneath
the scrawled obelisk and its idiot thrust
toward a drained sky. Its shadow
fell into them like a clockhand,
swiping chunks of time from their hides.
One lurched on tiptoe,
his blasted heel swaddled in gauze.
All of the air hung still and stung the lungs.
A trash cart squeaked by behind its burro,
up from Baja through stinking chapparal dust.
Their kids scrambled toward it,
eyes roving for anything shiny, lips puckered
for dugs, heads dented by a doctor's tongs.
They were the next American hatch.
The elders watched for those that might make it.
They began to tell their story.
It was one story and seemed to fit them all.
They tilted toward the speaker, who changed
as the story shifted from mouth to mouth.
It was a long story. I drifted in and out of it,
like a cormorant skimming a harbor.
They told of hot rain that fell
on the boy who entered the murmuring
forest, prairies flecked with zinnia,
the spangled estuary rushing inland
to mill towns; they told of a priest who
with a jagged bottle-half severed the tendons
of his member, which swung sapless as a polyp;
they told of the spires which became visible
come August and pollen clouds
blown from scotch pine, and the flock
they pulled behind them in a wheeled cage.
There they were, staining the shale,
waiting for any gust of strength.
I saw the artery that linked them.
Some were kneeling. One fed
millet to a macaw, which flapped
and croaked. They leaned against
each other as if it were the last
thing to do. Were they out of work?
Out of meat? Their story continued
sporadic as starswirl floated through night.
I saw one combing another's head.
What did they want? What did we
want from them? All our want
got ragged, broke and drifted
like a scrim above our gathering.
Where was our next dwelling?
We sunk sleepward.
ben nez the winged
told me to be calm and I tried.
Told me to burn my shirt, stained
with salt rings and stale sweat.
Told me to burn the straw inside
the violin case protecting the glass cube
within which was a cocoon plucked from
a verdant sprig abloom on Asian hills.
Before the valley was smote by passage.
Before the placentas of the women emerged
gray and splotched. He told me.
He touched my neck, which trembled
like a pipe carrying smoke under a mountain.
I threw a handful of gravel at the mirage,
which stayed. I wanted to be protected.
He told me nothing could be. He himself
was naked and large, a pale
mushroom from some barren zone.
He looked like he didn't have any bones.
He told me his roots grew inward.
He wore a makeshift crown of shingles
ripped from the plunder of the last village,
bound by a vine dangling withered leaves.
He wore it over his bald and peeling scalp.
I pointed to his crown: that's protection.
He told me it was an offering, that every-
thing was federated in a general sacrifice.
He was sweating and drawing up tufts
of parched grass and stuffing them in his sack.
The sun was very very hot and we hung in that land
like game skewered above the makeshift pyres
of splintered carts. I brooded and backed away.
To avoid a quarrel? Because I wearied of what
he told me? I didn't know. I slid away on my rail,
he on his, each to his own traversings, each
with his own idea flickering in the great dark.
But he called to me over the cooling dunes,
a strip of sunset on the rimrock.
He told me to be prepared and I wasn't.
He told me he'd come to suck in my last exhale.
Now I drag my boots to smear my tracks.
I tear feathers from chickens.
I stuff them into hot and
spattered chutes where
blades twist, where fire grows
pale and slack on the sheer
steel tables of our hunger.
I'm the one who throws them
from their bodies into meat.
I'm the one who cinches the thread
and dangles them in the smoke.
How do I catch them?
I lie in the damp moss and the chickens
walk right up my outstretched arm.
I feel a god fastened to us,
a god coiled at the bottom of the sea.
Then I pry the chickens' chests open
with my beak and with a fly-buzzing sack
of them I ascend the road to work,
my talons plunging in gravel, my head
jerking beneath a frenzy of stars.
What helps? The sun?
The tribal mask I hold
between it and me?
The grass? The hiss
of gases burst from mud,
borne on winds
that scour trenches?
Where is the true food?
I climb through a day
that eats me, like a weary
orgiast on the morning
after the debauch, when
a limb is again a limb
and river detritus still collects
in sooty heaps beneath docks.
In whose custody am I?
What returns? I hear a child
shouting from the cellar
of the sagging farmhouse.
An animal's blood stains the fence.
Whose arthritic hand do I see
splayed on sheets
through the bedroom window?
A cloud uncoils above wheat.
A storm passes through the forest.
To what does it cling? What thing
is not a hindrance? What eye
doesn't narrow with wrath?
Drunk on the blue musk
of wilderness, wolves gambol beneath
the sky's balm. I follow the orchard path.
What tethers me?
A stable is strewn with urine-soaked hay.
A magician staggers
from a carnival tent, staggers
past me through a fog of gin. Who
wakens the psalm from the pit, who
slaps me from my sleep? At night -
windmills pulse. In the ravine
I lick the bark of a gnarled tree.
woman with door handle
She stands in her leather hood blackly
draped in a heavy cloak that smells
of burnt lamb and last night's smoke.
A crimson sleeve encases a flabby arm
ending in a chubby fist of chapped knuckles,
which seizes the severed door handle
from the house where she was as a child
raped into silence. And grew fat and forgotten
so the soldiers didn't hear her as she hid
while they unseamed her clan with rust-
flaked bayonets. Her other arm was born
lame and stunted and stays pressed splayed-
fingered against the fleshy mound of her hip.
Her bloated moonface has stiffened in the cold
and she stares as if from eyes behind her eyes.
She sucks a wad of bread she keeps
between teeth and cheek. She makes
a salivary sucking sound and a bird screeches
from a crevice in the volcanic peak that juts
jagged on the lake's far side. The lake is
cold and fishless and absent of waves. The lake is
deep. As if a stone dropped would sink and
sink. The lake's black lid dimly doubles
the peach hue of dawn infused in a blue wash
of sky eclipsed by a brooding bank of cloud
dragging wetly across the charred rock plain.
No grass. No leaf. No green to stop the sound
of cavalry hooves tramping the ochre wastes.
The sweat of the night's journey clings coldly
to her wool, which chafes a rash into her.
She stands all day her idiot shoreline post
and the roving bands leave her to her mute watch.
Nights she walks around and around and
around the lake. She gets her food sometimes
from what she kills and sometimes from soldiers.
Then she stands still and sucks it.
Two kids once came from a migrant camp
and smacked her leather hood and shouted
into her distended face in which nothing flickered.
They tried to yank the handle from her hand.
They couldn't. They gave up and fled and were later
found dead sprawled on the hard distant slopes.
A frigid light spreads in the windless land.