Sep '03 [Home]    Degree 365—Year One of 9/11:  Sep '02


(Photo Source: NASA)

Pied Piper
Paul McGlynn

Perseus and the Lime Trees
Catherynne M. Valente

Grief Duties
Claire Moroney

Washington Nachtmusik
Wil Hallgren

Landscape and Being
Iain Britton

Bad Things Happen Near an Equinox
An Abundance of Material Must Be Shaped and Pondered
Daniel Gallik

The Rights of Man
Nicholas Johnson

~ . ~ . ~

Pied Piper
Paul McGlynn

He leads your children away singing,
Takes us all away.
Something's happening, I know,
Been happening. I never noticed,
Till the priest showed up, cleared his throat.
Incense and formaldehyde.

Six pallbearers, laughing,
Shooting craps outside St. Leo's.
Come on to Papa, Jesus,
Let it be eight. Save your soul,
Or find a quarter between the cushions.
The children leave. No one sees them.

I look in the mirror
And I see my father's ghost,
My mother's haggard eyes in mine.
I used to be a kid, play ball, play tag;
Can't find that kid anywhere.
The priest talks about eternity.

Young girl waves bubbles from a wand,
Little brother watches popeyed.
Then they follow the stranger out of sight.

~ . ~

Perseus and the Lime Trees
Catherynne M. Valente

The U.S.S. Kitty Hawk and elements of her battle group
were deployed January 20, 2003 on exercises off Iwo Jima.
It is not clear whether they will be directed to the Persian
Gulf at the conclusion of those exercises.

Under lime trees
bearing their green fruit like leering
I stand in Persean sandals
and a ridiculously red dress,
watching the grey-haired sea
laugh as it swallows you whole.

My face breaks open along poles and meridians—
I have no bones—
the sun drives a howl of wind through my womb.

The lime leaves slice my throat,
a thousand tiny crescent-cuts—
my voice dyed black as a gun barrel
I fire my choked 5 inch cries
over the breakers.
Bronze shells clatter at my ragged feet.

What grinning earth
can my pretty gold sandals touch
that will not be washed by waves
flaunting their foam like summer whites?
Where can I escape
the taste of your absence
like old batteries?

Under lime leaves
like a salmon net
I stand in a cap of darkness
and silver earrings,
clenching my body tight
against thudding sea-boots
whose ice-blue heels scald my breasts.

You are gone
and every coffee-and-fried-egg morning.

The sea shrugs and is satisfied.

~ . ~

Grief Duties
Claire Moroney

Faux leather
'cause the meat is diseased.
Outside, the breeze barely lifts the smell of rotting hides.
The leather factory that has been eaten by its own acids
inside rows of blackened shoes of multilevel heights
washed down in acids to achieve a quick softness
disregarding the small enjoyment
of the wearing and breaking of the skin.

Store door swing shut
and random raindrops mist the window front.
The air current cuts off
as the clerk guards the walkway until the sale is through.
Entombed, I select
shoes of dark European fashion
to walk her down in the procession
then to bring back home and wear
in nightlife gothic style
without meaning—too.

Whether it's the drunkenness of the previous hours
of trying to still the unexpected null
or the chill of her shadow shopping with us
I sweat and gasp.
Others ignore us
as I grasp the door swing outside
she follows in silence.
The church, empty at the top of the hill,
visible from every corner of the Irish Square
greets me and she files past
blurring the gray street into buildings and sky.

Floral wreaths atop the ground
too pretty to be thrown under
the need to be practical in the choosing emerges
as though we would use them more than once.
As people pass, the color comes back
The sky reflects the emerald space
which surely surpasses death's pallor
I chose black wedge clogs for the hearse.

~ . ~

Washington Nachtmusik
(Around midnight July 4, 2003)
Wil Hallgren

1) John Ashcroft relaxes with a covered statue #1

What if her veil should fall?
She's just a statue after all.

2) The incredible shrinking Condoleezza Rice

I have lain in the crux
of his ear and folded
it over me like a comforter.

The only National Security Advisor
ever to wear such pretty shoes
and look so good in a mid-thigh skirt,

I have seen slavering Southern
and Mid-Western Senators of various
renown stumble over my title.

The only woman in the room,
a cuttlefish among Intelligence hands,
a clanging yet echoless voice,

I, too, have had the Bible Study
Showdown, the moments clear, crisp
and certain locked in eternal dichotomy.

Only now I seem to whisper,
out-elbowed by the old boys
and cradled under the father's hand.

Oh where are you going
my little one.
Oh where are you going
my dear.
Oh where are you going
my little one,
your troubles lie far
and near.

3) John Ashcroft relaxes with a covered statue #2

I pass, a hand or button trailing …
An accident, not a moral failing.

4) Colin Powell's metronome

Floor-wall … glove.
Floor-wall … glove.
Floor-wall … glove.

The stunning regularity
of McQueen in the sweat box,
six reps per minute,
sixty minutes per hour,
twenty-four hours per day,
and fourteen hundred sixty-one
days in a four-year term.

At the end of each
third rep
there is time to think,
to mull,
to plan,
and there is the rhythm
as time comes round again.

Floor-wall … glove.
Floor-wall … glove.
Floor-wall … glove.

Only somewhere near five million more …

Floor-wall … glove.
Floor-wall … glove.
Floor-wall … glove.

5) John Ashcroft relaxes with a covered statue #3

If a holy man gave in to sin
with no one there to see him…

6) Tom Ridge dreams of Uncle Billy going to the bank

Tie a string around my finger. Why?
Oh yes, of course, of course. A horse.
A dark horse and horsemen. Tut, Tut,
it looks like rain. Polyethylene and
duct tape. No, no not again. From
Wobbleton to Wibbleton is fifteen miles.
Down the rabbit hole and who the hell
is under my bed? It's Tony Blair. Now
there's a good boy — deserves fine. Yes,
he does. Fines? Fines for what? Fines
for something that shouldn't be done.
Memo to John, John will know. Brother
John. Sleeping. Sleeping Bill. Clinton?
No, not Clinton. Never William Clinton,
not in my dreams. Bill … Bill of Rights.
Number two has got to go. No guns
running around for Tom Ridge but
Dick, John and George won't go for that.
Some Freedom of Religion … or Freedom
of some Religions, that's okay I think.
Turn the other cheek and all that. Turn
cheeks. Ben Doon and Phil Mc'Cr.…
Oh, oh, don't go there, not in mixed
company. All company's mixed these days
and … Eureka! Dammit George, that's it.
I've got it now, by golly. We can put the fix
in. Tie a string around my finger. Gimme
power boy and I'll outlaw me some things.
Keep 'em clear, clean, and all the same.
It's just what John wants, George, ain't it?

7) John Ashcroft relaxes with a covered statue #4

A marble hand is smooth and cool.
To fear its touch is to be a fool.

~ . ~

Landscape and Being
Iain Britton

What is it makes me want to
hop into someone else's
landscape and not be content
with what I've already got?

Why is it I have to go and
jump the fence
push through a door
break a window

to get my fill
of somebody's
or lack of it?

How come I have to be
like the rest and
impose myself
on abstract natures

or the picture postcard
simplicities of others
whose lives I don't know
don't want to know and yet I do?

Look at me in that frame
standing between the flat
featureless plain
burned brown

by a summer drought
and that solitary power pole
splitting the picture
in two.

It must be midday
my shadow's a thalidomide
stunted at my feet.

My eyes stare outwards
a frown darkens my face
obliterates the expression
that softens my age.

There are hills in the distance
rolled out like bread
and a column of smoke
rising from a gully.

How puny's my permanence
on this landscape.
It's not even mine
and yet I stand

in the vast emptiness
of someone else's making
and no matter what
I can't be removed

can't be budged
will never be
even when I walk
leave the room

leave myself
trapped in another's stare
and go out and kiss the sun
and moon goodbye.

~ . ~

Bad Things Happen Near an Equinox
Daniel Gallik

"This tenor was large
and fresh as the orbic
flex of his mouth. It
poured forth large bits
of sound. He was black,
well, at least, he did
look the color." All
the hate of a fat, pale
man sang into the gutters
of his second floor roof.

His wife pretended to
gaze at Uranus. Flies
hung that summer near
every window. The town's
grand opera that season
played a woman's heart's
complaint. The fat man
added, "And we call this
being." Death came to his
garage in August; his Ford.

~ .

An Abundance of Material Must Be Shaped and Pondered
Daniel Gallik

This dupe says the search for meaning
is an irreligious search and his wife
adds that irreligion is a response to
the dual reality of having to die and
paying the bills. Their two children
sit watching the tube eating kumquats.

A religious animal knocks at the door.
He errs because he first asks for $,
and then, chats about the Father and
how there is order in all things. He
is wearing a black suit, white shirt,
and black tie, tied wrongly. Mortals

hate mortals who talk of God. Dupes
talk too much. Wives add way too much.
Kids watch too much tv too much and
yack too much about stuff they do not
watch. And words, well, words mean…
too much; are just composed of letters.

~ . ~

The Rights of Man
Nicholas Johnson

      after Magritte

I'm just a man on a pedestal, more like the idea
of a man, looking out
over the promenade at the bric-a-brac

of the sea, smug as the harbor.
I resemble the lamp post, a light
house that warns of accidents,

an accident myself perhaps, but proud
of my views. Because my head is a cannon,
I can shoot off my mouth. My right:

my glass full of water will always be full.
Arbitrarily, I hold up a leaf in one hand
as a green index of consistency.

The French horn in flame at my feet
plays The Liberty Waltz, a few bars I know
by heart. Like the idea of The Just World,

a hypothesis, as constant as leaves taking their turn.
Here the sea breeze rises with the drum roll
of clouds—only a red cape on my shoulders

wards off the chill of liberty.

~ . ~ . ~

Paul McGlynn's work has appeared widely—and frequently in 12. He lives in Michigan.

Originally from Seattle, Catherynne M. Valente is currently on hiatus from her master's program (Comp. Lit.), living in central Japan and working on a book on Greek drama and her third novel. A specialist in Homeric literature and Greek linguistics, she recently presented at the World Conference for the Humanities in Greece. Her poetry or fiction has appeared in Approaching El Dorado, a California anthology, the Pomona Valley Review, and Poetic Injustice. This is her first appearance on the magazine.

Claire Moroney lives in Massachusetts. This is her first appearance on the magazine.

Wil Hallgren's work appeared on the first in the magazine's "Degrees of Apprenticeship" MFA series in Dec '00. He lives in Brooklyn.

Iain Britton's poetry has appeared in Takahe, Poetry NZ, JAAM, Spin (NZ), Manifold, Links, Iota, Orbis (UK), Slope 16, The Drunken Boat, Conspire (USA) and recently John Tranter's Jacket 22 (AUS). Poems are forthcoming in Tinfish, Free Verse (USA) and Carillon (UK). He lives in New Zealand. This is his first appearance on the magazine.

Daniel Gallik's poetry and fiction have appeared in A.I.M.(Americašs Intercultural Magazine), Parabola, Nimrod, Limestone (Univ. of Ken.), the Hiram Poetry Review, Aura (Univ. of Ala.), and Whiskey Island (Cleveland State Univ.). He lives in Ohio. This is his first appearance on the magazine.

Nicholas Johnson is the magazine's Senior Poetry Editor.