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What they are discussing, and two more poems.

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By JESSE GLASS

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What They Are Discussing.

              Toothless
Or teeth filed flat
Slathered with cinnabar
               Or powdered slate

Eclipses gnawed away
Sun                     Moon
as
Warrior ants a leaf

All circling emptiness

Jaguar-centuries
Dragged bird men from their cries
Or disemboweled Quetzel-feathered shadows
Rippling down sunlit
Temple steps

When Xipe Totec
Danced his not-not-not
Among the maize,
Roots were forgotten
Lank drinkers in cenotes

They asked for hands
–Denied
Nose flutes
–Denied
A steel bell—
All denied

They asked for elongated
Heads, crossed eyes
From the Makers
Who fashioned,
Positioned them with care

They asked for the morning sky

But were given instead

A jade wood-pecker
Broken beautifully in two

Lost: Three Versions.

1.

A being neither young nor old
contained in a glowing point,
            found the mammalian wrestling
     on a bed stript of sheets
            an air conditioner humming
            in the background
the seed inexorably asurge
in the blood-engorged vessel;
     found the 63 letters
     engraved on the egg.
 
Helix spun, unsprung by the swimming key,
     became a dimpled sphere
            an undulating tube
through which an angel’s voice whispered
     night & day for 9 months
     & blew its form
     upon the red wax,
     the impress of all 48 genes
     & the misjointure
     of the inevitable lethals,
 
fell to us
the nacreous cord like a lunar harness,
     first breath tasting of the tart liquids of the womb
& strained to lift its head,
then slept itself back once more
     to the fountain of the 72 worlds,
 
saw the Number & the Name split & fall away
like the 2 halves of a fossil fern
as its Crown of Light burnt dim
& darkness crowded the eyes from their sockets.

2.

Step near in the light
of burning sutras
& hear me praise
not a thing.
                            Instead
it’s time to sing
of everything taken 
away -- the null sign
we mull over
fat & greasy on the pane
of the eye, music
drawn back into resonant wire,
varnished wood,
a song-torn mouth
propped on emptiness.
 
              No monads yoked
in pre-established harmony
swarming across a golden lens,
but the skin 
from a child’s hand
coming off in your grip,
& the child tumbling end over end
into the abyss
taking your secrets with it.
 
The child becomes theoretical,
cross-hatched, an elaborate clock of fish bones
pointed to the east,
                            & you, Listener,
stranger at the feast
hear the worm in the nut
shape its own sepulcher
with tireless jaws.

3.

It is not Franz Marc’s Red & Blue Horses
I am thinking of now, nor his
Fighting Forms, but a canvas
on the wall of a vault -- a painting of ripe grain
just visible at the end of a slate-lined corridor --
& projecting around it pale roots like the fingers of children
cast a nation of shadows when we hold the lamp
just so.
              & I am not thinking of Barlach’s melancholic sculptures
                            of bird-men, stoic
                                          cast in bronze
                                                        & suspended by chains
                                                                      among the clouds
but delicate hands wrapped in cloth,
a small face turned to the wall.

727.


We're in the airport
There's a grandmother with great legs
        Over there
And a fat man in a striped shirt
  Reading USA TODAY
His hand on his chest--I see
His gold watch rise and fall like a buoy in an adipose
           Sea
    A baby is crying on the seat next to
Its indifferent mother and a totally neutral
    Disembodied voice says: "Carol Mousie
    ”Please use the white courtesy phone”
I think of the poets who are dead
                     Or dying
    And aren't around to celebrate the marvel
Of a grandmother with great legs
    (Smiling secretly as she reads Investing In
             Money Markets—1987)
     And won't ever have a chance to fly
A 727 from San Francisco to Baltimore
           And eat totally bland
   Jet food
           And wonder who the hell is Carol Mousie
                Does she also have great legs
                 As she hurries to the courtesy phone
                     Her dress rising and falling
                        Over heroic knee cap, monumental
                             Thigh?
I think of poets dying or dead
    Lined up before the executioner's guns
They offer no resistance
    The executioners joke
        At the expense of the poets
           But the poets are meekly brave
            They say WE FORGIVE THE WORLD
              As they gently fall
               And beautifully bleed
                 Making no more sound
                  Than a lady's scarf settling
                      On a matador's pride.
 
(The fat man swallows tortilla chips whole
     His throat jugging like a frog's
The fat man wipes his fingertips on his shirt
     His lean wife frowns.)
 
     Shadows cast bird-shapes across my hands &
I think of Villon, B.V., Edgar Lee Masters,
     Dead poets making no sound;
     I think of you sitting next to me
Participating in airport waiting room suspense
             And of our 727, each seat a floatation device
                 Each wheel guaranteed puncture-proof
                 Each lion-colored wing
                    A mirror for the sun
                    Due to leave us in 5 billion years
                    As we are due to strain the suspenders of gravity
                               in 10 minutes
 
& I think of dead poets everywhere
          Riding their silver words
                 In a world beyond memory and desire    Then
 
                 I turn to you, Eternity
                 Muse with the greatest legs of all,
                     And I close my eyes.



Jesse Glass has lived for 25 years in Japan where he writes poetry, plays, fiction, and paints, draws and sculpts.  His books include, Lexical Obelisk; The Passion of Phineas Gage and Selected Poems; Lost Poet: Four Plays, and Black Out in My Left Eye. Tate Britain features a collection of his artist’s books and conceptual works.

“What they are discussing” is based on an Olmec tableau of jade and serpentine figurines found in situ by archaeologists at La Venta, Mexico in 1955.  


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