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EXCERPT FROM EMERE’S TOBACCONIST (FROM DIATOMHERO: RELIGIOUS POEMS)

Nothing is to be preferred before justice.

-Socrates

 

There are roach motels

Set out around almost every portal to heaven.

Watch for them, but do not beware, my love

For when the sweet die

The adhesive turns to honey on their feet.

I

There was one point

When I had rolled over slightly to the left

When I thought I felt a slight peace.

I just seemed to bleed out faster that way .

Once someone bent down and lapped a stream from my ear-

A childhood friend of mine

Twenty years ago in rural Ohio,

Long since spread out into middle age,

Across a landscape fate would sow for her.

I wanted to reassure her, Rachel, you’ll live.

I was already halfway in paradise,

 

Waiting out my death.

The destruction to my body was like a pedicure.

As I flipped through magazines,

Mercy sat down and spoke to me.

“When you died you were beautiful,” she said.

“May I show you around?”

But then Justice came in, in her big white robes

And let her hair fall over me, and lifted my shirt,

And gently put her mouth to my nipple

And let my story fall open.

At one point, it seemed,

While my assailant

 had stopped momentarily,

and gone to piss behind a tree

(An inane act of discretion)

Somebody had come along,

Taken my destiny from me

Placed it in a basket,

And sent it down the river,

A baby Moses

For someone to find, among the reeds

As others were finding my body with the bright recognition

 of finding an Easter egg

And the spreading numbness of coming up upon a snake

Coiled at their feet in the brush,

A snake curled ‘round an egg.

My  white-blonde  hair was due to deepen to gold at sixteen.

But the hairdresser in my DNA

Simply sat there, in a darkening studio.

My menstrual cycle was due to start when I was thirteen.

But it stopped, like a jammed washing machine.

The movers arrived a few hours later. My teenage and adult years were packed up and put into freight.

Then they came and boarded up my memories of my last moments on earth.

“Don’t go near yourself,” I was warned.

We set off through the woods

Passing those sent to find me,

And I caught my foot on a snarl of hair

And a snare of rotted clothing.

“Don’t worry…that’s Snow White,’’ somebody reassured me.

“She accidentally fell out of her glass coffin,

And no one bothered to put her back in.”

I didn’t understand my death any more

Than a two year old understands the language

Of a room of adults talking around her.

I kept fidgeting under the table as they were discussing

 how I had been killed,

Playfully biting them, like the kitten I had had when I was five,

Pulling at the hems of their gowns.

Justice took me on a tour of the facility.

“The roach motels you see set out at every entrance,” she said,

“Are not our only way of keeping evil out.

Recycling here is a lot like recycling on earth:

Not everything that comes to us can be put back into the cosmos.

The bins you see at the gates are only for redemption-based products.

Some think they’re getting away because they’ve existed

Inside the camera of the body for so long,”

She explained,

“But when they get up here we simply pull the film out…

And expose it to the Light of the World.”

Other children were brought up on the escalator.

They had no adolescence and no adulthood,

And had to wear hand me downs.

Some of the lives were too big for them.

“I can barely fit into your teens,”

One complained. And:

“My, your old age is vast! Look how it hangs off me!”

In the baths one day

I met Heide Goebbels.

“‘Misch, Misch, du bist ein fisch,’”

I called playfully, on the stairs,”

She said,

“Not realizing my next incarnation

 was already plunging down the Elbe towards me

On a fishing line that could still be cut.

Rapunzel bent over the drain we circled

So we might climb back out of death on her hair;

As we eddied down,

sending the maiden back into her myth with bald spots.

There was a blockage in the pipes

As if our guardian spirits

Knowing we were only children

Had sent any premonitions to us

Watered down, like a toddler’s apple juice;

Gauging, as responsible adults will,

The impact of traumatic imagery on the very young.

So we didn’t know

That our lives had quietly begun hemorrhaging

Til they woke us in a bed wetting.

As soon as we realized what was happening

My sisters and I

Seized as many memories as we could as we

Tangled into the drain

Hoping the Lord wouldn’t notice

As we climbed into a wayward dinghy

Taking no oars, being absolutely silent.

There was a benefit to dying in numbers

In a mass pandemonium

Where the stars, already overcrowding paradise

Were temporarily indistinguishable

 from the numbers coming to heaven.

For a long time we drifted;

Occasionally legends passed:

Peg Powler, pulling Ophelia in her teeth;

The head of Orpheus

Singing sleep, little ones, sleep

To Willa Harper’s children, in their skiff.

There were other children on the banks, at night

Dressed in hospital gowns,

Who had not died, but were hovering on the edge of it,

Who stared at us,

Eyes thick with morphine,

Half looking forward, dreamily

To going to heaven

Bundled into their illnesses like storks;

Others in the dense riverbed foliage

Who’d crept by night into Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights

Thinking they were going into A Child’s Garden of Verses.

By the time they saw the

Asses,

Upturned, in the greenery

Spurting chlorophyll,

Pain was spurting dark green

The cool foliage of the garden where they crawled to die

And woke up, ten seconds later

Pulsing like pod people

In the dawn flower beds

Of Eden.

After we had gotten X amount of centuries out to sea

We could look back in time and see the sepia clouds of World War II behind us

As others would look back en route to Catalina later

And see smog hanging over Long Beach.

Days past the point

where billboards along the shore appeared

Advertising classes

For atheists, coming into paradise

With no language skills

Like immigrants off the boat,

We washed up,

Flickering like flashlights whose batteries were about to go dead.

We had carried mystery in us as long as we could

Knowing that it must die

So that we could live.

When the last Titanic victim died, at 97

And entered the heat of the Light of the World

She melted out of that berg

Like an Arctic mummy

And stood before herself in 1912 again: a soggy little girl.

Her first night there, when she woke in the dark and asked for some water,

They brought her a glass of the sea she’d died in.

This is frugality ,

The transmigration of elements.”

But there were dangers:

Once, when they went to hose down the screens

They’d put down to stop the damned from rising

They were appalled to find

Millions upon millions of ascending prayers

That would have been answered, decades or centuries ago,

Had they not been intercepted

A plea to survive the Spanish American War,

Desiccated in the screen & drifting down in an exoskeletal snow

With a plea for a Tonka truck at Christmas 1978.

Once I lifted a waffle iron

On a soul that was still forming

And the batter clotted,

And the spirit was ruined.

I crept out guiltily,

As Cook raised her fist at me darkly .

There were many being reborn.

But often, they were difficult babies.

I saw one who had been a horse

Trying to come out as a human

Which rendered him a centaur.

“You should have seen one of our reincarnates last week,”

One physician told me, rolling his eyes.

“In her last life she had been an idea. Can you imagine the

difficulty that kind of transition presents…delivering

something intangible

Into a human form?”

The kennels of reincarnation were also in a constant state of disarray.

There were many species

Becoming confused by the mating odors of other species…

Wolves lurching toward humans, and such.

Eventually

I decided to be born again

My memory of the afterlife, they said

Would last only through my early childhood,

After which the skullplates of forgetfulness would grow over it

As forgetfulness scabs over the incoming dead,

To present the Lord with a perfectly smooth knee.

I was taken

To the border of Samsara

To be seen off.

I saw my former lives jumping, like dolphins, in the west

And my future lives jumping

Out in the east.

How beautifully they both played, in light and air!

For a time, I just drifted through variations of the afterlife,

Picking up jobs here and there;

For a while as a  migrant worker

In the Elysian Fields

Until I thought I should be reborn somewhere.

I wandered upstream in the snow.

Rabbit was being born by Old Man Bickle’s farm.

For three years, I was a rabbit.

 

Then got word downwind

As I was an old hare,

Close to dying

That a family one county over was going to have a baby.

 

I lived to be 85 that time

And dropped off the radar for a bit.

Last word anyone had I was a hunting dog

Drowsing at my master’s feet

By a hearth in Lake Tahoe.

_____________________________

Lisa A. Flowers is a poet, critic, vocalist,  the founding editor of Vulgar Marsala Press, and the author of diatomhero: religious poems. Her work has appeared in The Cortland Review, elimae, Tarpaulin Sky, The Collagist, Entropy, and other magazines and online journals. She is a poetry curator for Luna Luna Magazine. Raised in Los Angeles and Portland, OR, she now resides in the rugged terrain above Boulder, Colorado. Visit her here or here.

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Fox Frazier-Foley is a Los Angeles-based poet who hails from New York and Virginia. Her chapbook, Exodus in X Minor, is winner of the 2014 Sundress Publications Contest. She is a creator and Managing Editor of Ricochet Editions. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as Paterson Literary Review, Western Humanities Review, Denver Quarterly, Midway, Spillway, and Jerry, among others. She is an initiate of Haitian Vodou.

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