PHILLIP LEE DUNCAN
Liebeslieder für Untermenschen (love songs for scumbags)
GEWOHNHEIT IST EIN HIMMELSCHATZ (THE HEAVEN OF HABIT)
From The Hospice Orgy (order here)
Death Of an Egg Timer (Birth of a Metronome)
My virus was beautiful under the mousewheel-
Powered microscopes of Dr. Chow Lin, unreal
Herbalist extraordinaire: twelve black umbrellas
Opened inside a single-celled teahouse. All bad
Luck, straw strewn to the subatomic winds, jealous
Of no Chartres, St. Michel, Rouen, or Petrograd,
Architecture was ecstasy in minutiae,
So I told myself as the old man drew my blood.
My virus was a true mother, an Erl Koenig
In drag, always protective of her white tunic
Full of mutants, those dodecahedrons of starch,
Protein and fatty acids whose dark fists rising
Banged numbly on the antibodies root and bark
Until gold leaves fell, the orchard atomizing.
She said:"O, my child, we shall work our cunning way
To the heart, the lungs, the liver, the balls and brain,
I will shield you." It is so late, so tongue-clamp cold
When I wake Dr. Lin in his swamp seraglio.
But I know my virus has changed. There. You see? Cups
And swords vibrating around an open red hand
Of twelve nub-fingers that slowly curl up then erupt.
Dull days go by, as days force a moot saraband
Around that burning pile of books, boots, shirts and skin
Where you loved me, ash on your sleeve, irrelevant.
Before I was infected, you loved me, almost ...
Fiercely with the same tiger tongue, the aminos
The doctor gives me, the ones I leave on high shelves
Because you loved me. His bitter roots, gray mandrakes
(Twisted like washcloths for pulling teeth by yourself)
Are nothing to your salty fingertips, the taste
Of twelve tears that buttoned me up, belly to throat,
A schoolboy ready, knowing Psalms and Job by rote.
I am ashamed I replaced you so readily
With black dots and dashes, my hot flash telegraphy,
Orange skin, a crippling shiver. But the virus
Has rare conduits, high wires that lead to the one
Optic nerve that I have left. One must bear witness.
The old hand job will not do. There is no serum
That flows serendipitously, dissolving weight,
Despair and strange gold flakes from the pillowcase.
Lately the doctor has refused me an entrance,
He sees I'm no better, his cinnamon essence
(So carefully dehydrated, spiced, plucked, primed, pruned)
Was left for orphans on the forest's broken path
Where I am lost, but much better now, a living sand dune.
Much better, my grit in your mouth, my head in your lap,
Teacup in hand. Oh these woods are cruel ...
Like my virus, its twelve syllables, its rhyming double moon
Blinding above us, not headlights yet.
A Detective in her Twenties (via a Neighboring Duchess)
To see her now, a failed Sherlock
On her hands and knees, her eye
A blue fried egg in the magnifying
Glass, as she burns down the backyard
Blade by blade, the gardener laughing in Portuguese,
Not seeing the ladybugs burst, the hidden dime
Blinding, the clue itself grown worse,
Bonding to all others, a reef of loss:
It is, yes, endlessly humanizing.
Her father has done such a good job
Keeping it out of the papers, keeping
The wretch's hair combed and clean.
I help wipe her mouth sometimes,
All snot, milk and chicken grease.
She had saved our village a thousand
Times, yet now this (someone swore she
Was a psychic or a New Age witch.)
Her father says her room is crystalline:
The bed is made, the atlas is shut,
Except for the telescope,
Which is blinded by dust.
The windows are still of a piece despite
Occasional fists; but otherwise
Put a pencil in her hand and let her
At her lists (according to Mr. Drew)
Lists of impossible groceries
And dead-end suspicions,
State capitols, the arcs and azimuths
Of antique munitions, puzzles and tests,
The 52 colors found in a shadow,
13 sizes of horse shoes, the bones in a catfish,
The phyla of distances, the varieties of teeth
On a key, the scentless, tasteless heavy gasses,
Etcetera, one through thirty-three.
Her most recent list was her name
And the hundred ways of its being spelled,
Signaled, smoked out, illuminated:
Nancy in medieval script, Nancy shoddy
In dashes and dots, Nancy in mirror-scrawl,
Nancy in flashes of light from a distant ship,
Nancy the lion-headed, bird-bodied hieroglyph.
I congratulated her on her thoroughness,
She said they were all forgeries; her last
Chance at identity theft, the first lines
Of an anonymous elegy, a slow death in bad checks.
Sweet as she might be in her ambiguities,
She is no Belle of Amherst.
She has all the art of a pissing doll.
I can still remember that brunch,
(Cucumber sandwiches, crusts cut off,)
Her rising from the cellar,
Bloody up to the elbows,
Saying, “it is solved, it is solved."
For forty years, I have abandoned her at the lighthouse,
The old mill, the haunted boys school, with only a lantern
And a book of manners to keep herself alive.
I have swallowed her whole: oyster, pearl, and sand …
As Valium, as vodka, as diatribe, but the girl we were
Will not go down. Once at a dinner party, someone
noticed her hair ribbon stuck in my teeth.
But she will not die.
My sixty-five years, are, granted, a bit of a pyramid
Scheme, but they are nothing compared to
The finder of lost dogs, the re-tracer of shallow steps.