Back to Issue Seventeen.

talk about crazy



This is the year the dead come back
in blazing headdresses.
J. Edgar sports a spoiled diaper.
Faubus blows smoke off his index finger.
LBJ flaps his ears for the camera.
This is the year the shock jocks
take a vow of silence.
This is the year they learn a gag reflex.
This is the year they slip off the cowls
to reveal their delicate pates.
This is the year I take them
on a wild goose chase.
They watch me touch the pullets
swaying on gallows strings.
They watch me touch pig brains
with the tip of my pinkie.
Of course, I’m doing this for pleasure.
Of course, I confess a little contempt.
Joe McCarthy plays with his ear
while he’s speaking into the microphone.
Jolting Joe touches Marilyn’s elbow.
This is the year I cease counting teeth.
All indices insist this is the year of abundance.
This is the year my feet begin moving.
I vault two stairs at a time in ashen light.
The citrine points predict the end of longing.
The lapis lazuli laps up the oceans of sorrow.
This is the year of elation, the lungs lifting.
I’ve trashed my uncomfortable shoes.
I’ve turned in my scowl. Enough broken mirrors.
I’ve turned in all my coupons, confetti, confetti.
I slip and spike my tailbone, each step separate,
one forward, one back, not exactly folk dancing.

I won’t wait for the remembering to start.
I won’t wait for the ceremonies to begin.
I’m swimming in the midst of unhurried otters.
The slicked-back fur and small black claws
steer me through cathedrals of algae.
I’m not against they’re drawing me
over underwater cameras. I’m not against
anything anymore. Once I reach the beach,
I will lie on my back and breathe.
Then I will pull my left knee to my chest,
fingers clasping inflexible muscle cord and fat.
I’m starting over, starting with the number zero.
So much for citations and manifestoes,
so much for triumph and satisfaction.
I’ve turned in my trimmed syllables.
This is the year of bountiful commodities.
I strike a match to the marsh punk and reeds.
It’s about time cars coast the new causeway
and watch me dance among tunnels of smoke.
Maybe I should shave my head and grow a beard.
I could get used to baggy trousers tied with rope.
I could trap the lizards and cook them on sticks,
eventually become inconspicuous, even to the trees.

Ted Kennedy kisses Mary Jo’s terse lips.
My buzzing mind still bends me at the knees,
checks my gait, tick, tock, and reaches up
to pluck fruit just out of reach, peach or plum.
Maybe as I reach up to a bulb on a string
and the filament clicks and blinks out,
I remember the doctor taking my immobilized
index finger and saying “This is the light bulb”
and tapping my C-6, “But this is the switch.”
I couldn’t make a fist for months.
Call it fear or deliberation or animal instinct—
it doesn’t care what it’s called. Before this,
I wouldn’t have given you a cent for talismans.
Now I have so many, my place looks like a crypt:
a jade horse for pageantry, a rabbit for luck,
a boat carved from lapis for passage
to the underworld, even a mummified gazelle
I cut from a National Geographic.
I’m trying not to feel the bird inside my ribs.
I’m going over the irretrievable years.
Lazarus is mumbling not this again.
I can’t taste the lips of those who’ve stayed behind.
I don’t blame my passage on the wind or the waters.
Suddenly the skies recede like bamboo fans.
There will be no need for excitement or music.
There will be no thirst, no ants on the march.
Thelonious Monk will cease brooding, the left hand
across the right to hobble every last key.
Once I surprised the catcher’s mask and guitar picks
scattered on the chest guard at the bottom
of my parents’ closet, my mother’s hat
that looks like a delicate bird nest singed in hell.
But I can’t put my finger on any of these things now.

Talk about crazy, I blew a chance to hear Mingus
in sweltering Greenwich Village, 1979.
The cabbie deposited us at the best club in town,
since we’d asked for it. I hadn’t learned patience.
I still haven’t. We did something else. We were young.
I can’t say what I was doing when Mingus lifted
like a spoonbill looking like a roseate spit off the sun.
I’ve memorized every fantasia he ever dreamt
before his nerves finally betrayed him the same year.
I can’t say which is my favorite. My favorite is
“Fables of Faubus” or “The Haitian Fight Song.”
“Prayer for Passive Resistance” knocks me out.
This is the year I’ll kiss my mother’s wedding ring
for the luck of the Irish, the crazy Irish.
What will a year of forgiveness do for my body?
I give you my tired lips, my limp arms.
Maybe scarcity will cease to hold sway.
This is the year I fold my shirts, flip the sleeves
across the buttons, and stack them in drawers,
the threadbare corduroys and the bold Hawaiians.
So what if I speak in falsetto to the cat?
So what if the synapses between my nerves burn hot?
Can I cease planning the next assignation?
Do I empty the roof of my mouth?
Do the backs of my eyes turn white?
I’m ready for love to take over my body.
I will have to rewire my nerves, teach my hands
to swoop and dive like sparrows.
I will practice silence on the fig tree and rotted fence.
The spider lilies take root where they can. One step,
and a bird crashes from brush, an affronted queen.
It took me years to admit the nuptials of pride and desire.
And once I did, what then, what next?
I will have to wait and see about beauty and grace.
I will have to wait and see about the body’s resilience.
The sunflowers drop their heads, old mannequins
with broken necks. The blackberries abscess all at once,
as if each one has to prove its absentmindedness.
I can repeat the furtive gesture of fingertips to tongue,
fingertips to tongue like a squirrel or chipmunk.
I’m not boasting, I’m barely breathing, one lung
kindling, one lung accelerant, the kiss of incandescence.


Richard Lyons is the author of three poetry collections: Fleur Carnivore (The Word Works, 2006), recipient of the 2005 Washington Prize, as well as Hours of the Cardinal (University of South Carolina Press, 2000), and These Modern Nights (University of Missouri Press, 1988). His poems have appeared in The New Republic, The Iowa Review, Poetry, The Nation, The Gettysburg Review, The Antioch Review, and The Paris Review, among others. He has received a “Discovery”/The Nation Award from the 92nd Street YMCA, in addition to a Lavan Younger Poets Award from the Academy of American Poets. His fourth book of poems, Un Poco Loco, is under contract with Iris Press.

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