art by Lucy Collin

 

 

Temperature Check

ghazal for Portland, summer 2020

 

You wouldn’t put your hand in the fire and ask what’s wrong? to the flame.

The fever feels like what’s wrong, the flesh held too long to the flame.

 

You’re on the six pm train and can’t lift your face to the window.

Turn on the tap: the water burns cold, flows headlong to the flame.

 

Ghosts, names of ghosts, crawl the headboard, panting. You don’t

like conflict, never liked it. Let others belong to the flame.

 

Let’s settle all this calmly, the way you’ve blown out candles, tamped

down the campfires. Breathe deep now. Blow onto the flame.

 

But even breathing feeds the fire. You can’t reason with virus: the cool

will kill you. It’s your own will to breathe that’s drawn to the flame.

 

Small life, liberty, pursuit of stillness. A port city, signs reflected on the

harbor. It lights up things you didn’t own but longed to, the flame.

 

The fibers of your body found a way to burn you clean. Lie still. Other

bodies have crawled the length of that hell, humming a song to the flame.

 

The fever, the heat of it, is the healing. Behind your eyes, barges burn

on the river. They smell like thunder. For a little longer, hold on to the flame.

 


 

 

No Punchlines

from Gregory Corso’s “Puma in Chapultepec Zoo”

 

Long sad true slow stuck time

What music does the little wired

dancer hear, when the lid is closed, 

when the key won’t wind? Always 

there is something you meant to do:

vacuum the floor / make a call / hear

a lecture / fix the cellar door. Instead 

you’re like that puma in Chapultepec 

Zoo. After work, there’s no texture 

to your afternoon, save the 5 o’clock

news, where everything is canceled

but a string of jokes without punchlines,

no punch pulled / no mercy. How many 

Amazons does it take to kill the council?

What did the Homeland Security

officer / say to the city cop? What

are the words / on LeBron’s jersey?

When will the wildfires stop? What 

bleeds money but keeps on running?

Long true stuck slow sad time,

here we’re the painted dancers locked 

in some small furnished box, wanting

the music to find us finally worthy,

strong enough, awakening, sensitive,

wanting to know whether we’re 

truly wealthy / or just expensive.

 

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