SURVIVAL BALLAD
by Michael Atkinson

 Investigations

“All detectives are in love, and all detective
stories have beds.”
– Guillermo Calderon,
screenplay for Neruda

All detective stories are clocks, swallowing
secrets and measuring the worries of sunrise
down the alleys streaming east.
All detective stories lie, claiming holistic loveliness
but faking it the way faked orgasms
are said to sometimes sustain a marriage.
Detectives are bees, as likely to be humping around
in one lily as another, little men lost in giant soft vaginal folds,
detective stories have beds and also pillows                          
flecked with blood, and pocks in the plaster
where the frame hits it as we fuck, and
crumbs from saltines you can never sweep out.
All detectives were once children. All detectives
lose themselves, like dogs who strain their chains
and bark away from the house at exactly
the fact that they have nothing to bark at.
Detectives are scientists of the moon’s jungles,
of the bacterium that form anxiety,
of the laws of aggravated motion
that prescribe how balloons, just unleashed, ascend
into oblivion, delighted to be free
of the smallest hand, and finally lost.
All detectives are flamingos, struggling
to swoop out of the marsh when all they want
is to flutter, like the small birds trapped
in the chests of women after they come
by the tongues of their beloved.
Once resolved, the stories, they say, can
cure lonesomeness, but not for long,
as inoculations stick us with a bill
for salvation, and then complacence.

Come Home

after Jack Gilbert

Language isn’t, just as water isn’t when we fail to cup it.
There it goes, absorbed by everything.
Steam in the sky. Try it: say mercy, innocence,
dementia, Sudan, blood pudding,
and you’re no nearer. You say
listen and we both begin dreaming.
I say noonlight is the boy in the sand with tiny engine noises,
because boy and sand is the closest I can get to it.
The ancients had no rules, their words were words
their neighbors knew, and that was it.
Cocodrille was cocodrille.
The ancients would say: Love is every word,
but today it’s pistachio.
Vaults of flax are the unmentionables between your thighs.
Eucalyptus is this uncertainty,
this wavering, were it so serene, between then and whatever’s coming.
I say these things and wish they were mine,
just as I wish you were mine, to rename
and reaffirm, but they’re really no one’s,
just the sounds of ideograms
dropped from a height,
just pieces of whisperings
overheard as the possibilities I nurse
in my wordless daydreams, of things
I’ve heard or might’ve heard,
and saw or wished I’d seen,
before it was time to come home.

My Own Doomsday Website

The world’s back folds for good

when the scorpions surrender, their axes in the air and their tails high like flags,

when the children don’t squawl from smacks but only feel the heat in their cheeks,

when the lakes grow still and the lily pads grow so large trees take root on them and we cannot find the lakes again,

when cement grows soft from the heat of anger,

when falling hickory leaves cut you as you try to escape the autumn,

when we see how cuts “healing” are actually and only the wreckless growth of scars,

when no nurse will work except in maternity,

when dogs dream so badly they chew off claw traps that aren’t there,

when the children, still slapped, forget their mothers and fathers,

when the Mexicans of Virginia begin planting books in the beet fields in hopes of impressing the sky,

when the secret police decide to speak only to each other and to their dogs,

when every egg holds two yolks,

when meat, red in your teeth, begins to taste like anise,

when the doorknobs fear the keys,

when we can no longer tell eclipse from dusk, can no longer count the minutes or wait to see if light returns,

when the bald men terrorize those with hair,

when we choke in duststorms of peeled sunburnt skin,

when the blood oranges bleed but bleed orange,

when the nation of the sky votes a smokestack king.

Survival Ballad

The walking stick is no one’s prey,
The jellyfish garden to seed.
From mule meat comes the battlefield’s mums,
To the gravesite comes the weed.

A boa once ate a Labrador,
a pike once fouled the boat.
The geese are lost all winter long,
the wolves all love the throat.

A starling is your guilty ghost,
the grubs she eats your remorse.
A louse makes house in your sweaty folds,
and worms infiltrate the horse.

Panthers hunt the quiet lawns,
in the bat’s teeth lies the fly.
You eat your extra skin as it curls.
The mantis cranes for sky.

Those who eat will grow beautiful,
and those who don’t shall yield.
Grackles bark at every dusk,
and darkness inks the field.

About the Author:

Michael Atkinson‘s first book of poems, One Hundred Children Waiting for a Train (Word Works), came out  in 2002. He’s the author of six other books, including the novels Hemingway Deadlights and Hemingway Cutthroat (St. Martin’s).

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